How To Avoid Common Writing Mistakes
With so many chances for new authors to publish, today’s book industry is filled with indie authors who are all making the same mistakes. We would like to take this opportunity to help you avoid the common mistakes that so many authors make. Just remember – EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES – and the worst mistake you can make is thinking your book is perfect.
Don’t trust Spell-Check! Yes, you should be using Spell-Check 100% of the time, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to edit your work. Spell-Check will help you with your spelling, and if you’re using Word, it’s helping with simple grammar issues also. However, if you write back yard instead of backyard or accidentally write she instead of he, Spell-Check isn’t going to say a word!
Be Consistent! If you start the story off with a lovely description of your character’s deep blue eyes, you shouldn’t write, halfway through the story, He was mesmerized by her beautiful green eyes, because although you’ve forgotten what color her eyes are, your reader hasn’t. For you, it might have been months since you wrote blue, but for the reader, it’s only been an hour. This is why it’s so important to write out character descriptions, both of their physical traits and of their behavioral traits, so you have something to consult whenever you’re feeling forgetful or unsure.
Don’t stop editing! There are a lot of authors out there who write, stop, edit, repeat. However, there are also authors who just write, write, write – until they are finished, leaving an entire novel’s worth of typos, grammar issues and spelling mistakes. Either way, the best method for editing is to start off checking your book line by line. Next, work your way up to paragraph by paragraph. After you’ve got that sorted, you can do page by page or chapter by chapter. Yes, that does mean you’re editing your book at least three times all the way through, but if you care about your book, you’ll respect the process.
Watch your tenses! Most novels are written in the past tense. The only time the present tense should be used is in direct thought/inner dialogue, which is in italics. For example, Stop telling me what to do, BookRix!
Read it out loud! Okay, you might feel a little silly reading out loud to yourself while you’re at home, alone at your desk, but trust us – it’s one of the most effective methods for mistake search-and-destroy. Hearing the words out loud will help you to hear when the narrative flow is offbeat, and your mouth will falter over those little typos that your eyes normally skim past. It works best if you’re reading from a print out, versus a computer screen. You can also use one of those text reading programs – the robotic voice won’t miss any of your mistakes, and it sounds funny too.
Hire an editor! It might be your neighbor who loves to read, a friend who teaches high school English class, or a professional you found online. What really matters is that you have a second (or even third) pair of eyes reading over your work. Those eyes will spot the little mistakes that your brain just can’t seem to grasp because you’ve been over it one hundred million times too many. Suddenly they’re is turned into their and you get to avoid embarrassment. Totally worth it.
Correct dialogue punctuation! You’d think this one was a given, but trust us, it’s not! Here are some simple rules to follow when punctuating dialogue:
1. Use a comma after the dialogue when you are describing the speech itself. For example, “I’ll never make any mistakes again, I promise,” she said. You need to use a comma inside the quotation marks, followed by a lower case “s” on “she”.
2. You still need to use a lower case letter, even after ! or ? – For example, “Will you please edit my book?” he asked.
3. If you are not making reference to the mode of speech (he said, she whispered, Andrew yelled, Sally screamed) then you need to use a period. For example, “I hate it when I make spelling mistakes.” Brian slumped down in his chair, looking at all the red marks on his test.
4. Always put the punctuation inside the dialogue – For example, “Writing is more enjoyable than eating.” Meghan gently caressed her keyboard, a hint of hunger gleaming in her eyes. This would be incorrect: “Expanding my vocabulary makes me a better writer because I have more ways to express myself”, said Josh.
You don’t need it! If you’re reading it and something seems unnecessary to the plot, cut it out. If a reaction seems unrealistic for your character, cut it out. If a scene is confusing in the context of the story, cut it out. If you let yourself get sidetracked and you have no idea where you’re going, cut it out. Whittle down your work until only the best of it is left.
Unrealistic Dialogue! Think about people that you know. Listen to how people talk around you. If the characters in your book sound nothing like reality, you should probably rethink your dialogue. Grab a friend and read the conversations out loud, see how fluid and natural they sound. If it sounds uptight and formal, change it! (Unless of course, the character is uptight and formal…)
The story is important! A story is about how the plot affects the protagonist, so make sure your character can experience (see, hear, feel, taste, or smell) something BEFORE she/he can react to it. Authors generally tend to write about the reaction and then what caused it. Began/started: For the most part, your characters never have to begin or start something. They can just do it. Rather than saying Laura began to shake, say Laura shook. This makes the writing tighter and more active.
We don’t know what you know! Don’t assume your readers know everything that you do. Just because you’ve been researching it for ten months, doesn’t mean the rest of us have any idea what you’re talking about! Explain youself!
Repeaters. Beware of redundancy. If you repeat yourself, the reader is going to notice. So make sure you don’t start every sentence in the same paragraph with “Then”. Beware. Beware. Beware.
Show don’t tell! This is something we hear all the time, but we’re not entirely sure how to do it. Always try to use the strongest nouns and verbs and be as specific as possible. Instead of saying Jamie walked to greet his friend, show us how he walked. Did he run, jog, or skip over? Or did he drag his feet? This makes a big difference and SHOWS us how Jamie feels about that person without TELLING us. But be careful, there are some telling words that aren’t helpful. Here are some telling verbs to avoid: watched, saw, heard, noticed, thought, smelled, etc. Remove these verbs and show us what the character saw. For example, instead of saying, Shannon saw Dan digging through Jenna’s purse, you could say, Dan dug through Jenna’s purse. We know Shannon saw this because we’re in her POV, so this tightens the writing and makes the scene more active.
Cover art! It’s the first thing a reader will see and if it doesn’t look appealing, chances are, it’ll get passed over. We’ve heard so many authors dismiss cover art, saying “I’m a writer, not an artist. I’m just happy the book is finished.” But it’s not finished until it looks as good as it reads.
When you finish your book and are thinking about publishing it – take the time to check for mistakes, and don’t forget – EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES!