7 Writing Mistakes to avoid in fiction

That readers’ attention span is dwindling is no secret. It has been said that an average reader takes less than a minute to abandon a book or a piece of writing. Reason? Not captivating enough. Writing mistakes take on many forms. There are instances of fiction that start off on a very ‘promising’ note and leave the reader feeling cheated at the end of what can sometimes be a long tedious read.

Our guest writer Preeti Milind More, a voracious reader herself, has compiled a list of what she calls Super Bloopers (ahem!) that generally ticks her off when she is reading fiction. So whether you are writing a short story or something longer, avoid these writing mistakes like the dengue (why not plague? Hmmm, you haven’t read our post on avoiding cliches in creative writing).

7 writing mistakes to avoid while in fiction

1. Unhooked

You read, read, read and…tedium! Boredom. A hook serves to keep the reader interested and drawn to the story. A point of tension and some drama all serve as hooks. Have you heard the term ‘unputdownable’? That’s what you need to achieve.

How? Throw open a question and don’t answer it for a while. As a writer, your script is similar to a painting. Each and every stroke is vital to your final picture! Read your book like a reader would; do you think there is a phase of dullness in between?

2. Cut!

So, you can write a 1000 page book? You can. Sure. But, should you? Being wordy gives you a surefire shot at rejection. It is not about showing off your English vocabulary. It is about using only those words that the story needs.. Read your script; see if the book actually requires those 1000 pages of material. In most probability, you would have only 600 pages of the essential story and the rest of unnecessary words hanging here and there!

Rationalize. Remember an unedited story is an agony for readers. They are reading till the end of your story just to know what happens in the end. So make each section of your story an acceptable experience for the readers. As a writer, ensure you don’t go the routine way of information over feed. The audience wants to be entertained and not instructed and jaded. Make sure you send out your crispest version to literary agents and publishers. Nobody has the time.

3. Adverbs…No, No

Choosing the right verb is very important because it brings about a sense of action. An adverb (the word class that qualifies verbs and usually ends in ‘ly’) on the other hand dilutes the action. Consider these sentences:

a. He decided to confront her and he walked angrily into her room
b. Deciding to confront her, he stormed into her room

Which sentence emotes better? With the second sentence you the sense of action is clearer.

4. Copycat

After the Harry Potter series many writers, all of a sudden, began writing stories with magic as a central premise. After the Twilight series, every other manuscript that landed on a publisher’s desk was about vampires. Don’t fall prey to a seasonal topic.

Never ever copy other authors. Yes, you can be inspired by some writers; the way they use words, the way they bring about twists and turns, but be original! You are different and that is the sign of uniqueness. If readers feel your writing is similar to “……..”, it is not a matter of pride; it means “You are just one of them!”

Ensure you are inimitable, distinct and matchless in every sense and you will have a winner in your hands!

5. Flashbacks

Flashbacks intend to give more information about the relevant characters in your story. But too much of it confuses the reader and often, makes him think why it is there! Insert a flashback only if the story demands it. You don’t want a reader to think, “Okay, all that happened then. What’s happening now?” Think. Is there another way that information can be provided? In light conversation perhaps or maybe you can break up the information and feed it to readers at different points in time.

For instance if the suicide of the protagonist’s mother is an important plot point, instead of pages and pages of flashback about what happened and why she ended her life, you could write about someone trying to cheer him up. Add a line about how it has been a year since his mother ended her life but how he still dwells in the past. Don’t add why.

That can come in later. Use it as a hook.

Often a flashback instead of taking the story forward pushes the reader back to square one. As a writer, think whether the flashback is overdone. Never extend your story with a flashback. Readers do not want to know more than what is necessary about the character.

6. The Faded Picture

Using precise words add to the reading experience. Choose words wisely. The word ‘cry’ has close to ten variations: weep, sob, holler, squall, cry eyes out, blazon out, shout, shout out, outcry, exclaim. Choosing the right one will give the right picture.

Variations in writing: “Her rosy cheeks…” can be “Her cheeks turned the shade of crimson…”
Words like “ran” could be replaced by “raced” or “sped”! Paint a beautiful picture with your words; words need to be apt and what the readers would like to see.

Detailing:

Rich detailing enhances the reading experience. Instead of saying, “he gifted her a beautiful diamond necklace,” describe the necklace, the cut, the carat, the color, how it was wrapped and packaged, whether it was tied with ribbons, her reaction…. A clear picture not faded picture!

7. Inconsistent Point of View

As a beginner writer, you might have a lot of characters in your story. When you are narrating a story from the point of view of one character, try and avoid reiterating the story from another’s point of view too. Of course it has been done before but don’t attempt it without understanding the craft. I recently read a story where the book had consequent chapters; one from the antagonist’s eyes and from another important character’s view.

The result was utter confusion and complete lack of drama and suspense. Through each chapter I came to know what the antagonist had in store for the protagonist. As a beginner writer, practice and perfect one point of view. Experienced writers do play around with point of view and get it right. It needs complete understanding and mastery. Let the reader predict the reaction of the other characters. As you gain writing experience and practice, slowly work towards point of view shifts.

Do you want to add to our list of Super Bloopers? Please leave a comment!

About Lavanya

Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind | MBA | Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Special Prize (2011) | MFA in Creative Writing programme (City University of Hong Kong) | Her literary fiction novel will be published soon by Roli Books.

2 thoughts on “7 Writing Mistakes to avoid in fiction”

  1. Mayank Upadhayay

    Hi Lavanya,

    Long time, How you been?

    I`m progressing well through my book. Have few doubts, and would need your views.

    1. Use of contractions- Where to apply, and where not to..is there any specific rule. Like in your article.. it is not a matter of pride; it means “You are just one of them!” can be re-written as it`s not a matter of pride; it means “You`re just one of them!”? ……I`m little confused on this.

    2. Use of italics- Do we need to italic uncle-ji, beta or beta-ji or sharma-ji or any conversations in hindi? Italics I`ve read in your blog, mostly used for insistance but widely used for hindi dailogues by indian authors, except chetan-ji

    3. Time stamp- I have big issues here. I know one should be consistent in the format, but what if, if at one instant I need to mention date&time as 26th January, 2006 and most of times I have to use three days later, or a month later.
    Is there any specifics, or trick, as using few months, weeks or days later repeatedly is quite monotonous.

    4. How you use rupee as in 5 rupees or Rs 5 or 5 rupaiye?

    5. And that`s last-:), Which one is correct: ‘It was my mom who’, or ‘it was a great moment’ versus ‘that was my mom who’ or ‘that was a great moment.’

    Thanks & Regards,
    Mayank Upadhayay

  2. vikkas

    hey …I found this truly helpful. help at initial stage of writing is like light at the end of tunnel. .. u guys r so motivational nd doing a great job..
    and the answers r so helpful. ….
    Thanku so much..my half queries r answered by just reading other’s queries. .. 🙂

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