The Writer's Bane
Common Writing Mistakes & How To Avoid Them
As a reviewer, I have read widely on Writing.Com and sought to help many writers improve their style. As I gain experience, I have noticed a pattern emerging of common writing mistakes that I am pointing out again and again. Here I have merged (some of) them into one article, so hopefully writers can learn to recognize and avoid the mistakes before they are made.
Distractions. Writing.Com was created to help writers, not to distract us. Many members spend more time "improving" their writing than actually writing! (This applies to all of us, including me.) Reviewing takes time, I am guilty of this one myself, and am determined to spend at least three times more of my life writing than online. After all, how can we improve if we don't have anything to improve on? Practice makes (nearly) perfect. So write!
Grammar. Yes, again and again and again I wade through terrible grammar. Typos are tolerable, but incorrect grammar isn't! If you want to write, please master the basics first. Understand...
Which verb tense (past, present, perfect) you are writing in, and stick to it,
When to use adverbs and adjectives (without overdoing them!),
How and where to use commas (and semi-colons), full stops and capitals,
How to open and close dialogue and how to use quotation marks, indicating clearly who is speaking,
When to open a new paragraph.
Paragraphing. This could almost fit under "grammar". I could talk at length about paragraphing, because it's a subject that constantly frustrates me. When I open an item and I am confronted by a sea of words without (much) paragraphing, or if I glance at the scroll bar and notice it is tiny, my first instinct is to close the tab. (And most of the time I do.)
It tells me one thing: boring.
Space your paragraphs nicely. Always begin the next paragraph two spaces down.
It looks like the story is moving.
It makes the reader feel they are getting somewhere.
(And a quick note: dialogue should always be in a new paragraph.)
Length. I can't be bothered sifting through a hundred pages of a supposed "short" story when I have no assurance if it's any good in the first place. Sure, O. Henry and Doyle are allowed to have really long short stories and even some really long descriptions without dialogue or paragraphs, but that's because I know I won't regret spending my time reading it. I know I will enjoy it.
So what if you have a long story? Break it into parts, for ease of reading. If it's good, most of your readers will get to the end.
Show Don't Tell. This rule is perhaps the most well-known of all writing rules, and although it has become cliché, it remains true all the same. Writers so often slip into telling the story. This breaks through the pattern and wakes the reader from the spell. I have noticed that "telling" is often caused by the writer rushing over the bits they dread writing, or if they're tired of the story already and rush the end.
However, "show don't tell" does not mean your character gets up in the morning, walks to the mirror and spends a few minutes staring at the colour of his eyes, noting the depth and soul in them, singing odes to them, discovering the colour of his hair for the first time and fingering the scar on his cheek and reminiscing the story of how he got it. C'mon. (How many times have I seen this one and instantly closed the story, or read on with a sickening feeling...?) We get up in the morning and look in the mirror every day. We certainly don't think about it (unless we're vain or incredibly ugly, and then we may spend more or less time in the mirror). In fact, most of the time you don't need to describe your characters anyway! If you can't describe them well, don't describe them at all. Many famous authors never describe physical appearances.
Cliché. Clichés kill. They're predictable. They betray you to your doom. Perhaps the writer's worst enemy is the cliché. And sometimes the best friend...
Cliché is a plot device or even just a phrase that, although effective or true, is used so much that it has become nauseating. Cliché is often caused by writers imitating their favourite authors instead of writing from their own experiences and imagination.
Fantasy is probably the worst genre for copy-cats. It is officially the most clichéd genre out there. (Sorry fantasy-lovers, but we're gonna have to do better.)
I mean, how many times have we heard of the teenage farm boy whose family is killed and he goes off to avenge them, meets up with a wizard/old mentor and some other rag-tag nobodies with special powers who hate each other, and embarks on a quest for an artifact (usually a sword or potion or oracle), kills the villain, rescues the girl and fulfills the prophecy, becoming the hero and leader of the people...etc...etc...? (And, for good luck, the wizard/mentor gets killed on the way and the villain falls to his death or is killed by his own devices.)
There is usually a language, too, full of copious amounts of apostrophes and words like Gyxokjz and Tlolmethorgor. Since The Lord of the Rings, one or more fantasy language(s) (or at least a few words) are expected, but please – cut out the ridiculous words and meaningless apostrophes.
Fantasy creatures are perhaps the most clichéd of all. How many stories have I read (on Writing.Com, at least – the others don't get past the editor) of vampires, werewolves, dragons, elves and dwarves? Create your own creature, don't copy from someone else!
PLEASE, no more! If you can't come up with something original, it isn't worth it. Stop stealing from The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Twilight. Sure, it's all right to draw inspiration from movies and books, but create your own ideas – don't copy them.
Message. Entertainment has become a popular genre, and it's all right. But entertainment has no lasting effect. Fads come and go, but the greatest works stand forever. In every great work there is a purpose, a message. The author always has something to say, an idea that they won't let go, and won't let their readers escape without meeting it.
If you don't have anything worth saying, don't say it.
Writing has always been an art about communicating, sharing ideas and expressing feelings in a concise, structured and entertaining way.
We writers need to understand ourselves before we can make others understand themselves.
I hope you find this article helpful. Remember, I am not anything more than a reader, reviewer and fellow writer. My vision is helping improve the art of writing, in myself and other writers. I try to base my observations on experience and common sense, but often express personal opinions as well (the difference should be pretty obvious!). Take and use what you will, discard the rest. And above all, write on!
~ Kasia✎Feeling better