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  • Sue Fitzmaurice

Common Mistakes All New Writers Make

Writing is not easy. There's a massive amount to learn and practise to become good at this craft. Like any other craft, although with writing we're quick to proclaim ourselves a bad writer before we've given ourselves enough time to learn. When I began editing, I realised very quickly that every new writer makes the same mistakes - some of them very important, some less so. In no particular order, these are some of the things I notice the most:

  1. It's the 21st century. Adding two spaces between sentences was something we did in the 20th century. Just one please.

  2. "Show, don't tell." This is the one that takes the most practise. Look at these two sentences: "It was a dark and stormy night." "The wind tore at the trees, flinging icy rain from the pitch-black sky." The first sentence is 'telling' and the second is 'showing', and the trick to showing is to allow the reader to feel it, and very often to figure out for themselves what's going on. You can't 'show' all the time though or you'll exhaust your reader.

  3. Don’t write that your character "opened the car door, got out of the car, walked around the front of the car, locked the car, walked up the path, fumbled for a front door key, unlocked the door, opened the door, went in, closed the door, took off her coat, and sat down." This happens because you’re writing with a camera in your hand instead of a pen, and thus you’re concerned about the placement of people in your scene.

  4. Less is more. Not dissimilar to #3 but everyone always uses way too many words to say something. Cut things back and make crisper, lighter sentences.

  5. Cliches. The point of writing is to say something new. Avoid them (like the plague). Don't even let characters say them.

  6. Adjectives. Limit them to two in describing a thing. Your reader doesn't share your same need for precision - you bog them down with extra.

  7. Tone of voice. Rarely do you need to add a speaker's tone of voice. There's nothing more annoying than getting to the end of some dialogue and discovering the writer wanted you to read it in a different manner. It pulls the reader out of the sentence and you want to avoid that. Allow the reader to apply their own tone of voice. Unless it's essential to the story, 'he said, she said' is often sufficient.




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