Tuesday, March 6, 2018

5 Mistakes New Writers Make & How To Fix Them

by Alycia W. Morales      @AlyciaMorales

Editors are like treasure hunters. We work to find the gems in our clients' novels so we can polish around those bits of quality writing and make the entire manuscript shine. When working with first-time writers, I find many issues in craft or grammar and punctuation that are common pretty much across the board.

If you're a new writer who is ready to hand your baby over to an editor for polishing, consider going through your manuscript to find the following ten issues before you do so.

New writer? Here are 5 things to look for & how to fix them before turning your manuscript over to an editor. {Click to Tweet}

1. POV (Point of View)
Writers need to stay in one character's point of view at a time. Many new writers will start in one character's POV and then switch to another's in the same scene, paragraph, or even the same line. It's standard practice to be in one character's point of view for an entire scene. If you need to switch point of view, it's important to use a hard break on the page (designated by a # or * centered on the page).

How can you tell if you've stepped out of point of view? Look for areas where your character is suddenly hearing someone else's thoughts. Or seeing something outside of their immediate surroundings (like on the other side of a wall, in the next room, or outside when they're inside). Another way to tell is to look for paragraphs or scenes where you've switched to someone else without providing a break, as mentioned above.

To fix it, get back into your character's head. Remember, they can't see, smell, taste, touch, or hear something that isn't in their immediate surrounding unless it could happen in the natural (for example, hearing a helicopter approaching) or they have some kind of superpower that allows for it. Again, if you need to change who is seeing or hearing something, use a break and change point of view.

Note: this should NOT be done just to write in one or two sentences and switch back to the original character. Ask yourself if it's imperative to the plot to show that switch in POV or if you could have the main character of the scene observe the same thing.

2. Repetition
Repetition comes in many forms. I'm going to focus on three of them here, as these are common in new writers' manuscripts.

The first is repetition of words. Reading your manuscript out loud will help you identify these. Watch for the same word within a sentence or paragraph on the same page. To fix these, simply delete the repeated word and replace it with a better one. You can also rearrange the sentence structure to avoid having to use the word twice.

Pet words are very similar to the repetition of words. Only you will find them throughout your entire manuscript, and they will show up more than a handful of times. Some examples are: starting sentences with conjunctions (and, but, yet, although, etc.); adjectives (we don't need the person's eye color every time we see them); adverbs (used to describe verbs), and verbs (used over and over again because we can't think of some other thing for our character to do, such as sigh, smile, laugh, etc.). If you think you've discovered a pet word, do a search of the document for it.

The second is repetition of sentences. Now, you won't find the same exact sentence written in a row (hopefully), but you may find you've written three sentences to say the exact same thing. I see this a lot. Pick your favorite of the three and use that one. Delete the other two. Fixed!

The third is repetition of emotions or actions. Your character should not be feeling the same thing in chapter one as she is in chapter ten. If her emotions haven't changed, you haven't given her a character arc. She needs to be growing past the sadness or shock or depression or anxiety, not remaining in it throughout the manuscript. This require a bit of character development in order to fix it. Try going back through and giving her some hope she'll overcome that conflict she's facing. Write it in. Change her mood, and you'll change the reader's mood. Hopefully they'll keep going now instead of throwing your book in the trash. Do the same for actions. Go back and think of ways the character could move or respond that aren't the same every time.

3. Starting with Backstory (or using too much throughout the manuscript)
If you have to tell your character's backstory, maybe you're focusing on the wrong plot line. It's okay to include a little bit of backstory in your novel, but it should come out naturally via a conversation or in a sentence of a character's deep POV. But it shouldn't take up an entire chapter or paragraph. If your character's backstory is that interesting to you, consider writing more than one book. Or use it as a blog post to introduce your reader to a character. But don't start a novel with a chapter of backstory (or flashbacks). Start with the current action happening and move forward from there.

4. Information Dumps
An info dump happens when a writer believes they must explain something (usually in detail) in order for a reader to understand why their character is doing something, what is included in a setting, or some other facet of the story.

To locate info dumps, read through and ask yourself if you've included an explanation of a procedure, the artifacts in a room, why the character is doing a particular thing (like picking a lock), or anything. Info dumps are telling, rather than showing. I've seen these a lot in historical novels. These particular info dumps read like a history text book. Instead of showing the reader by putting the character in the scene and having him or her react to it, the writer will take an almost omniscient point of view and describe the history lesson as the character waits to continue their dialogue or move through the scene. Anywhere you feel the story slow or break as you step out of the character's point of view to provide a lesson, you've discovered an information dump.

To fix these, put the character back into the scene and remove the dump. Show what you're trying to say via the character's dialogue with another, their observations of the room they're in, or something they remember from that era via deep POV moments.

5. Over-description
Many newbie writers use multiple adjectives to describe one thing, whether it's the character's eyes, the object the character is holding or observing, or the room the character is standing in. The sentences look a lot like this: Mary gazed into Tad's deep-blue, sapphire, cold-as-ice eyes.

How to fix this? Pick the adjective that says the most and delete the others. You could even go a step further and show the reader how the eyes affect Mary, like this: When Mary gazed into Tad's sapphire eyes, a chill ran up her spine.

This is only a handful of the things I see first-time writers do in their novels. But these are extremely common. So, if you've been writing and are considering hiring an editor to help polish your manuscript, go through it first and look for these five mistakes and fix them. Your editor will love you for it.

What are some errors you've noticed in your own writing? (We all have them.) We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. Hey, I have a blog and an author website, I hate absolutely hate seeing 'no comments'. LOL Therefore, I'm leaving a comment for you. Wink, wink. Good job. So far I've enjoyed what I've read.

    1. Thank you so much. We appreciate you stopping by. We love comments! Blessings:)

  2. Great tips Alycia. I need to print and post these near my computer.


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