I first fell in love with fiction when my mom read bedtime stories to me before I could read myself. It’s a love I’ve carried through into my adult life. When life seems a tad hectic and I need to disappear for a bit, I always find myself falling into a really great novel. I can spend hours lost in an author’s created world and when I set the book down and re-enter my own world—I feel better for the time I spent away.
I give my utmost respect to fiction writers—it’s not easy to create characters that walk, talk, and act like real people, develop a plot that holds readers’ attention, and tell a story that keeps readers coming back to read “just one more chapter” before bed each night. Needless to say, there is a lot of work that goes into creating those fiction stories.
Because I love reading fiction, I also love editing fiction. I know exactly what it takes to make fiction shine, and I also know some of the common pitfalls first-time fiction writers face during revisions. If you want a better first draft, and maybe a tad less work during revision stages, avoid these five common fiction writing mistakes.
Characters and situations that aren’t realistic. While fiction is made-up (or loosely pulled from life experiences the author had) characters and situations still need to have a realistic feel to them. If your main character is a lawyer, you’ll need to take a deep dive into law and what the life of a lawyer truly looks like. If you don’t, any lawyer who reads your book will instantly lose interest because the character has no credibility. Whether you’re writing sci-fi or beach reads—research is a huge component of writing a book. For instance, if you write a book about a developing colony of humans on Pluto, dig up all the facts you can find about Pluto and how a colony of people could actually survive on the planet if you put them there. Even when making up a story, you have to get readers to buy in, and believability is one of the best ways to do that.
Using the wrong narration. I see this most often when a manuscript starts out with the protagonist (main character) also narrating the book in first person POV. It’s not wrong to write from the main character’s POV, but it also limits the telling of the story in extreme ways. For instance, if the protagonist is also the narrator, then that character has to be in every, single scene in order to be able to see it, which in turn is the only way the character can narrate the scene. To make writing as easy as possible, I always recommend writers use omniscient or limited omniscient POV for their narrator. If using an omniscient POV narrator, the narrator will see everything and know what all the characters are thinking. A limited omniscient narrator will only know everything about one character (including thoughts) and will have a limited POV because of that.
Not having an actual plot line. There’s an age-old debate about plotters and pantsers in regards to outlining a book, but in reality every book needs a plot structure. There must be a ramp up in the story, a climax, and a resolution to the story. Main characters must change in some way or another (do they become a better person? Do they become a villain?) Each scene and piece of dialogue must drive the plot forward, otherwise the manuscript will simply turn into a string of events that lead nowhere. I can’t recommend Plot & Structure: Techniques for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish enough.
Lacking descriptions or descriptions that are too plain. The best way to immerse your readers into the world you’ve created in your book is to describe what you’ve built and who your characters are. It’s also important to extend descriptions beyond physical attributes of characters and delve into their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, what makes them tick, etc. Yes, readers need to be able to imagine what your characters look like in a physical sense, but they also need to know your characters. The same can be said about setting scenes in your book. Whether you set your book in a real location—like Savannah in some of Mary Kay Andrews’ books—or an alternate world entirely made up a la The Hunger Games, make sure you give ample details so readers can envision your places in their minds.
Overcomplicating dialogue tags. Oftentimes I see dialogue tags that are far too complicated or simply don’t make sense. For instance, “I like you a lot,” she smiled, is an example of a dialogue tag that doesn’t make sense, we don’t smile words, we say words. Keep dialogue tags to “said” only and save your brain power to be witty somewhere else. “He said” and “she said” is the best approach to dialogue tags. Then, if you want to work in physical elements of someone’s speech, do something like this: “I like you a lot,” she said, a smile spread across her face as the words danced on her lips.
What fiction writing tips can you add to this list? Leave a comment and help other fiction writers navigate the world of novel writing.