Grammar, spell-checking, character development, story development, and so much more; there are so many things to consider when writing that it can be overwhelming. The writing process feels daunting for many people, and in turn, puts them off of it altogether.
Suppose you are planning to write, whether as a hobby or as a career, it’s essential to learn the most basic principles before you begin trying new things. Once you’ve covered that, you can branch out and put your own spin on things.
The mistakes I will be talking about are all things I’ve learned throughout college and freelance writing. I’ve made these mistakes and have witnessed many others make them too. So, keep reading if you want to avoid the most prominent writing mistakes right from the start.
I also have a free PDF download available of an example story bible below!
- Not Revising Enough
- Flat Characters
- Not Enough Conflict
- Not Enough Detail
- Plot Holes/Inconsistencies
Not Revising Enough
You must read and re-read your work–not just once, but many times. Having common spelling/grammar mistakes will instantly make your writing seem more amateur and take the reader out of the story.
Revise your work after you’ve had a chance to step away from it to gain a fresh perspective. Having other people look over your writing can also help, but even just using a program like Grammarly can be beneficial.
Don’t just rely on spell-check as it’s not super reliable. It’s essential not only to check for spelling mistakes but to make sure you don’t confuse homophones like to/too, their/there/they’re, and commonly confused words like affect/effect. Mistakes like these are why spell-check isn’t always accurate.
The most boring characters are the ones that don’t change. Your characters should be dynamic, relatable, and should grow throughout the story. For example, a character at the beginning of the story who is arrogant and selfish, who then goes through a near-death experience, may realize the value of family and change for the better. The character wouldn’t go back to being that same person, and if they did, what’s the point of reading that story?
On the other hand, you may have a character who starts the story loving life and being carefree, but after a series of hardships, they become resentful and bitter. Even a negative change is dynamic. As long as some change happens (as a result of the events in the story), your characters will be more lively.
There needs to be some change, an arc, whether for better or worse; by the end of the story, your main character should not be the same person they were at the start.
Not Enough Conflict
A story needs conflict–that’s just that. Do you know those movies where you keep waiting for the story to come to a head, only for the credits to start rolling? Where the tension keeps building, but nothing ever happens? Yeah, that’s the epitome of disappointment.
Throughout the plot, you need some sort of conflict. In every scene, in every chapter, there should be something that moves the story along. Filler content is boring and can just drag the story on and on. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, whether that be building exposition, foreshadowing, etc., leave it out.
A great way to remember this is to think of every scene as its own little story (with a goal, a conflict, etc.).
Think of an episode of your favorite show as an example. In this case, we’ll use the Dinner Party episode of The Office. The scene where Michael and Jan’s guests arrive starts, and they want to give them a house tour–that’s their goal. The conflict happens throughout as they bicker and fight, and the scene moves the episode along by showing the audience their relationship dynamic.
You never want to talk down to your audience. You want to give them room to draw their own conclusions and use common sense to fill in the blanks.
For example, “He threw the glass across the room because he was angry.”
Obviously he is angry; there’s no need to add the “because he was angry,” so you don’t need to spell it out. This also follows the show don’t tell rule where you want to show the audience what’s happening instead of explaining everything like you’re just reciting a story you heard.
Explain the actions and not the reasons unless it’s necessary (like in some first-person stories).
Not Enough Detail
When writing novels (even more importantly, fantasy and sci-fi), you have to describe everything–the world, the characters, the rules your world follows, absolutely everything.
Since the reader can’t physically see what’s happening (like in a movie or tv show), you have to be vivid enough for them to be able to paint a picture of the world you’re creating.
This may sound contradicting to the previous one, but it’s crucial to describe the right things and leave common sense to fill in the others–the difference is in being descriptive versus narrating. Or, in other words, people and places (things) versus actions. Actions should explain themselves and the emotions behind them, but things like locations, characters’ appearances, etc., need to be described.
Not everything needs to be described, and some things are up to you to decide whether you want to be specific or not. For example, you may wish to depict a character’s hair color, height, race, age, etc., or you may want to leave room for the reader to paint the person in their own mind. Things like that are lovely either way.
If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, and your story has something like magic, it’s necessary to set rules for your world. This is not only so your readers know what to expect, but also so you remember what is possible and what isn’t.
When a story takes place in our world, we know what’s possible (like people aren’t able to fly or mind-read), but when you add magic or superpowers or anything unique to your world, those rules go out the window.
For example, if people in your world have superpowers, you may make a rule that only those born on a leap year have that ability. These rules might not come up often or at all, but it’s necessary to set them ahead of time in case they do. This is also important in avoiding the final mistake: plot holes and inconsistencies.
It’s hard when you’re on the last chapter of your book, and you suddenly need to remember the color of a character’s hair that you only mentioned once in chapter two. Instead of flipping back through and trying to find that one detail that you may never see, it’s easier and better in the long run to keep track of all of those details.
When you plan on writing a series, and again, when creating your own world, you need a way to keep track of your characters and their quirks, appearances, and personality traits, as well as locations and world rules.
You may have a minor character in your story who is quite shy and introverted, and all of a sudden, when you write about them again, they’re outgoing and loud, the readers will be confused.
This is where a story bible (or something similar) is critical. A story bible is a document where you put in your story’s details like rough sketches of the characters, illustrations of their houses or important locations, details about their appearances, etc.
If you would like to create your own story bible, you can download an example of one that I created back in my Developing New Worlds class in college. The link is below!
If you would like to download a story bible I created to help you avoid common writing mistakes, you can sign up for my mailing list and download a free PDF. Keep in mind, the example that you will be able to download is from when I was a student, so it’s not perfect and is only to show you the types of things you may want to keep track of.
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