1) All Characters Speaking and Acting the Same.
I see this a lot in new writers. All their characters act and speak the same. Characters need to behave like real honest to goodness people. I’m sure you’ve known people who have behaved, spoke, and acted very differently from the way you do. Admit it. You’re surrounded by them!
To be a good author you have to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes—people who think differently than you do and then you need to be able to portray that in writing. If you don’t think you can do that off the cuff, study people around you. Borrow some of their personality traits to use in characters. I’m not saying make exact duplicates of people. Some people would be very angry to find out you based such and such character on them—I mean, mad enough to sue. But it’s perfectly fine to cut and paste personality traits to create a wholly unique character. Just make sure you’re consistent with that character throughout the book.
2) Character’s Emotions Don’t Match the Situation.
Another mistake I see a lot of new writers make, is that they forget how characters are affected by previous events. If you have a character that has had a close, loving relationship with her mother, and then she witnesses her beloved mother’s brutal murder, that girl is not going to be going out and partying carefree with her friends a few days later. That horrific even will taint her actions for a very long time, and as a writer, you’d better reflect that in your story.
3) Failing to Forshadow
This is a problem I see so often with new writers. When planning out your story, you’ll come to places where you do a plot twist—or in other words, something unexpected happens. This is all good, and necessary for a compelling story, but you don’t want it to be jarring for your reader. So what do you do to prepare them without giving them spoilers? You foreshadow! Give them hints of what is will occur. That way when the big plot twist comes, they don’t meet it with disbelief; instead, they can look back and say, “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming!” And if they are smart enough to predict the event from your foreshadowing, that’s great too. Readers love to feel smart!
4) Failing to do Enough Research
If there’s one thing that dispels the magic of a story, it’s reading something that the reader knows is not correct. I recently read a fictional book that discussed genetic traits of sibling characters. In this book, the parents were both blonde-haired and blue-eyed. They had several daughters who also had blonde hair and blue eyes, but there was one daughter who supposedly took after her brown eyed, black haired grandmother. Genetically, that scenario cannot happen. Blonde hair, and blue eyes are recessive genes and two people with those genes can only have children with lighter colored hair and lighter colored eyes. I continued with the book, because I really liked the story, but each time the genetics was brought up, I was reminded this story was not real. And if the writer who made this mistake is reading this, don’t stress too much—I was a biology major in college and even Pixar made the same mistake in The Incredibles movie. Regardless, my advice for you writers out there, please do your research! Make your books as accurate as humanly possible.
5) Over Describing
When doing descriptions, it’s best to use descriptive action instead of outright description. For example, in my book, Rising, I have a minor character who I saw clearly in my mind. He was a doctor who wore a white lab coat, had white hair, a large belly, wore glasses, and was not unlike Santa Clause (without the beard). But since he was a minor character, I didn’t actually use any descriptive words to portray him. Below is the part that gives you a picture of this character:
“Hello ladies.” Dr. Bloomberg smiled as he lumbered through the door. He looked at the patient. “Well, well, you weren’t kidding when you said she was about to deliver.”
That was the extent of my description of this character. Using the word lumber instead of walk, lets the reader know he was a hefty man, calling the women ladies, implied that he was older, and having him smile made him seem like a happy, jolly man. Walla, describing through action!
6) Reluctance to Heed Beta Readers and Editors
This is something I experienced personally when I finished my first published novel. I sent it off to beta readers and then subsequently to an editor. Each person went through my manuscript and fixed grammatical errors, wording problems, but then they also gave me a heads up on things in the storyline that didn’t work for them. Now that I look back, it really wasn’t a big deal, but at the time, when I saw the things they wrote, my mind immediately thought, “The book is a mess, and it will take me forever to fix it!” In other words, I completely over-reacted. Truly, all each suggestion took—for the most part—was an inserted sentence here, a little tweak with the wording there, and a little foreshadowing a couple chapters before a plot twist. Take my advice. Don’t go crazy when someone says you should change this or that. It’s not an insult to your writing, and it’s usually an easy fix.
7) Starting a Novel with Back-story
At one time, it was acceptable to open a book with paragraphs describing in detail the setting and the history behind the story. That time is long gone. Readers want to be immersed in the book from the get go. They want to be able to feel as if they are an actual participant in the story. How can they do that if they have to weed through long-winded, detailed descriptions before they ever get to any action?
So, you might ask, how do you let people know the setting, characters, and back-story? Answer: You weave it in through the action and dialog as the story unfolds. But be careful with trying to insert back-story into dialog. You don’t want to fall into the “as you know, Bob…” trap—where the characters are saying things for the sole reason of giving the reader information. Never have characters tell each other things they already know! I mean, who does that in real life?
8) Unfilled Plot holes
Searching out and filling plot holes takes perspective. It’s easy to miss big inconsistencies, when you are worried about voice, flow, character, etc.—kind of like not seeing the forest because of the trees.
Here’s an example of a plot hole that was missed by millions of raving fans of The Karate Kid movie. The final scene has an extremely dramatic sparing scene where the main character—despite an injury—defeats his nemesis by delivering an expert kick to his face. But, if you rewind back, the referee clearly states that strikes to the face are not allowed. According to the rules, the kick that won the fight should not have counted, hence the main character should have been defeated.
That example also proves something. Even the best books and stories may have undiscovered plot holes. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be on the lookout for them and fill every one we find.
9) Understand that all rules can and sometimes should be broken!
Now that I’ve given you a list of so-called “rules” I’m now going to tell you its fine to break them! Really. You’re the author, you can write whatever the heck you want! But before you go breaking all the rules, learn them, study them, understand why they’re there, and then after you know them backwards and forwards, you are free to break any rule you want. Some of my favo
rite authors are rule breakers, and do it expertly!