Monday, August 9, 2010

10 Top Novel Writing Mistakes

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by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

I don't know about you, but I learned to write, and am still learning to write, the hard way. I made the novel writing mistakes and then figured out what I should have done. I'm certain it's the same for many, if not most, novel writers.

Regardless of how you learn, if you keep your eyes open for these top ten novel writing mistakes, your novel will have a stronger chance of acceptance.

Beyond the common errors in spelling, word use and punctuation, I feel the top ten novel writing mistakes are:

1. Weak Characterization
2. Ineffective Dialogue
3. Poor Plotting
4. Point of View Errors
5. Flat Writing
6. Too Much Backstory
7. Summarizing
8. Failing to Target Your Writing to Your Audience
9. Lists
10. Too Much Description

Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail, shall we?

Weak Characterization: It is imperative you serve your readers a healthy diet of characters with believable motivations, realistic actions and fully formed relationships. You reader needs to know why your major characters do what they do and why they feel the way they do. Read more about CHARACTERIZATION.

Ineffective Dialogue: Dialogue is one of the trickiest aspects to a novel. It must sound like people speaking to each other when, in fact, character conversations are nothing like conversations between people. Your novel's dialogue must be much more compact and plot focused, yet, you must retain the personal aspect of it. Read more about DIALOGUE.

Poor Plotting: Plot is the bread and butter of your novel, and a well structured plot is a blend of art, psychology and the craft of writing. An effective plot requires, pace, motivations, a believable storyline, character arcs and so much more. Read more about PLOT.

Point of View Errors: POV relates to which character sees the action that transpires within your plot. Irregular shifts in POV proves difficult to the reader, and maybe even worse, POV errors can creep into your novel with little trouble. The secret is to reserve each character's POV to a single chapter. Here's more on POV.

Flat Writing: Flat writing occurs when you input narrative or dialogue that has no meaning to the plot. It shows you've lost control over your story due to lack of a plan, lost interest or maybe something as simple as you're tired. When you find narrative or dialogue that doesn't move your story forward, it's time to edit it out.

Too Much Backstory: Backstory is anything that came before chapter one. It's history. The problem is backstory tends to stop the novel's momentum. More often than not, it's not necessary to the story and should be eliminated. If backstory is necessary, work it into your story in small nibbles rather than large bites of information and only after the major plot is developed. There's more on BACKSTORY here.

Summarization: This harkens back to the classic saw of "Show. Don't tell." In lieu of simply stating a fact in your narrative, develop this information by way of character actions and dialogue. For example, don't simply say your character is good at math. Have a scene where his math skills are put to the test and he excels. There's more on "SHOW, DON'T TELL," in this article.

Failing to Target Your Novel to Your Audience: Most writers, especially those new among us, often fail to come to grips with the fact your writing is a business venture. As a consequence, novels are often written without a focus on those who will eventually purchase your product. For example, if your story lends itself to the male market, you don't want too much emotional action. In contrast, if your market is the adult female, you'll not want too much in the way of blood and guts. Save that for your teenage male audience.

Lists: A common sign of a novice writer is his use of lists within their novel. A classic example of this is with the description of a meadow. The new writer will name all the flowers in the field. It's usually better to paint a verbal picture with only a few details and allow the reader's mind to fill in the blanks. In the example of a meadow, you might mention the wavering patches of red and violet as the wind sweeps over the ground in lieu of the list of flowers.

Too Much Description: In the same light as lists, the readers imagination is what makes your novel come to life. Too much description imposes your imagination upon the reader. With this in mind, don't tell him the cloud formation looks like an elephant, unless the elephant is necessary to the story. Instead, tell them the clouds created formations in the sky and allow them to "see" whatever they formations they wish. This will make the story much more personal, and thus enjoyable, to your reader.

Are there more common errors in novel writing? You bet. However, if you focus on these ten early in your writing career, you'll be well on your way to that elusive well-received novel.

Now, which of these errors do you commit and what have you done to fix them?

Until we meet again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers"


  1. Lists and description overuse are definitely not my weakness!

  2. If they are not your weaknesses, Alex, what are?

    Care to share?

  3. Great article, Patrick. This list could easily be applied in all of our writing. Thanks for sharing these. =D