First-Time Author? Avoid These Common Beginner Mistakes
Are you writing your first book? Congratulations and good luck! Not to spoil the creative mood, but this is just the time to alert you to something important: There are some common mistakes first-time writers make, and you’d do well to know what they are and how to avoid or correct them. Doing so could improve your chances of getting published.
If you aren’t sure how to rectify these mistakes, you can easily get help from professional editors. A good revision will identify any mistakes you might have made. We have a team of experts ready to help any author who requires editing services.
Let’s take a look at what first-time authors should strive NOT to do and how they can avoid these missteps.
Serve everything on a platter
Don’t tell your readers everything; instead, show them what’s happening. Telling is equivalent to summarizing, which isn’t interesting. Showing, however, resembles a performance, which is much more fun and actively involves the reader.
It’s important that you don’t tell your audience everything—let your characters’ actions and words show what is happening. Allow readers to use their imagination to figure things out; you don’t want to insult their intelligence. Instead of telling them that a character is funny, for example, show them by having him or her joke around.
There are several ways to show something in your story. Dialogue reveals what is happening and can give the reader enough clues about what’s going on. It is also helpful to use the characters’ five senses to move the story along in an exciting way. Their actions and reactions also offer strong hints about the storyline. All these methods allow a writer to create a compelling read without a boring narrative account.
Of course, there are times when you’ll have to resort to narration to advance the plot, but you want to make sure you aren’t relying on it too much. Dialogue is the best way to reveal characters’ personalities. After all, your characters will all speak in different ways. For instance, one may use “like” a lot, while another may have a penchant for coining words. All of these details are great ways for readers to get to know your characters.
Rely on excess verbiage
Don’t be too verbose. First-time writers frequently use too many words without realizing it, especially adjectives and adverbs. It’s an amateur mistake to describe or explain something to the hilt or include redundant language (such as “hurry quickly” or “past history”). An author should get to the point without drowning readers in information.
It’s also important not to add words to get to a specific word count. If something can be conveyed more simply, then it’s a good idea to be as concise as possible. Readers certainly don’t want to go through a string of adjectives in a row (such as “the thick, black, silky blanket”). Too many adjectives can clutter your sentence, and in some cases, they can even obscure the overall meaning. Pare your sentences down and make sure that every word is necessary. You should also ensure you’re using the best word you can—for instance, “muttered” is more impactful than “said softly.”
Try to eliminate words that don’t add to your story. Go through your text sentence by sentence to see if every word contributes to your meaning and propels the story forward. Often, you can easily remove adjectives or adverbs like “very” or “extremely.” It also helps to write in the active instead of the passive voice. If you focus on making your writing clear and precise from the start, you probably won’t have this issue.
Overindulge in descriptions
Don’t thoroughly and excessively describe your characters and settings, especially all at once. Descriptions should be provided at the proper time and in the right place. Does your reader need to know a character’s face shape, hair and eye color, body build, dress, scars, etc.? If one of these details doesn’t relate to the story, leave it out. If the information doesn’t matter, the readers will get bored. After all, no one wants to hear every little detail about a person or a place. There are times when it could be important to know more about a certain character or setting, but for the most part, less is more.
In addition, you don’t need to keep telling your audience that a girl has “sea-blue eyes,” for example. Repetitions of this kind can annoy your readers by implying that they didn’t catch this detail the first time.
Your best bet is to use the characters’ actions, reactions, conversations, and body language to describe them. A reader would rather see a character acting in a jealous way than simply reading, “She was jealous of her sister.” Keep in mind that there are lots of ways to describe a character. For example, if you mention that they have chipped nails or wrinkly clothes, your readers will understand their personality better. Does your character use too much cologne? Does she talk too loudly? Is he fidgety? Does she hum while doing menial tasks? Such details can tell readers a lot about your characters, offering good ways to branch out from simply describing eye and hair colors.
Juggle multiple POVs
Don’t jump all over the place with the point of view (POV), particularly in one scene. While you are familiar with your story and know what’s going on, your readers don’t. You risk confusing them so much that they give up on your book.
It’s fine to get into the head of more than one character if there is a purpose to it, but you need to be clear where this exchange is happening. The best place to switch to another POV is at the beginning of a new chapter. This is acceptable and can give the reader a glimpse into other characters’ thoughts and feelings.
Go overboard with dialogue tags
There are two words that should be your key dialogue tags—“said” and “asked.” First-time authors often scour the thesaurus for other dialogue tags and end up creating distractions. You want your dialogue tags to be invisible. It’s the words and actions that are important, and they will clue the reader in to what is happening.
This is not to say you can’t use creative or clever dialogue tags. You can, but they must serve a purpose. If you use them sparingly and in the right places, they will be more effective. It would feel odd reading a conversation that uses too many dialogue tags. You also don’t want to be too repetitive with dialogue tags. For example, don’t use “shouted” too often in a single exchange.
In addition, if it’s clear from the context who is talking, skip the dialogue tags. It is okay to use fewer dialogue tags, and there’s no need to refer to the speaker of every line.
Don’t make the mistake of being inconsistent with spelling, punctuation, verb tenses, format, characters, and plot. Readers often pick up on these errors, which make your work look sloppy and unprofessional. Your audience will feel as if you can’t be trusted and may wonder what other mistakes you’ve made.
If you use “Sean” early in the book, make sure you don’t refer to “Shawn” three chapters later. If you spell out ten in Chapter 1, don’t use the numeral 10 in Chapter 5. If your main character has brown eyes on her first date, don’t make them green at her wedding. These are the types of common mistakes that editors frequently catch.
If you start out using the serial comma, use it consistently throughout your work. Depending on your style, follow dutifully the standards in either U.S. or U.K. English (or whatever language you are writing in).
It’s also important to research anything you write about, especially when you’re not familiar with it. If one of your characters is an Olympic gymnast, make sure you learn all you can about gymnastics. If you don’t know enough about something, you are likely to make mistakes and introduce inconsistencies, and your readers will detect them. You may have a friend or family member who knows more about a certain topic than you do, so feel free to reach out to them for assistance.
Finally, a major don’t: Skip editing
Don’t neglect editing! This can’t be stressed enough. You need to consistently look over and edit your work. Don’t let these common mistakes weaken your writing or identify you as an inexperienced author. After you feel satisfied with your revision, let a trusted friend look over it. Sometimes, you are so close to your work that you miss small errors and inconsistencies. Check over all your work and try to eliminate these first-time writer issues.
Make the investment in expert help as well. Hire a professional editor who can catch all the errors and weak elements in your writing and point out those pesky spelling and grammar mistakes and typos. Our paragraph and sentence editing services are ideal for all kinds of authors.