7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Writing Novels
Readers may or may not articulate why they like one novel over another. But your sales will reflect if your novel was one they liked. If you stay mindful of the following pitfalls, you will have a greater chance of keeping your reader engaged and converting them to your fan!
1 - POOR EDITING
To keep your readers, editing must be a priority! I've heard several authors say an editor isn't in the budget, so they'll have a friend do it, or worse yet, do it themselves. BIG MISTAKE. Skipping this step can cause you to lose a reader for life.
To properly edit your novels you'll need to do several rounds of edits BEFORE handing it off to a professional. I suggest using an editing program, such as ProWritingAid. Though there are others on the market, ProWritingAid is my go-to because of the abundance of features. Check out this blog to learn more. The key thing to keep in mind is this: Your editor's job is to take your novel to the next level. Therefore, you want to submit your BEST work to your editor.
Hire an editor who edits for content development in your genre AND a line editor who ensures your grammar and spelling are on point. This may be the same person. It may be two different people.
You want an editor who helps you develop your story while allowing your voice to still come through in your story. Before hiring an editor, request a sample of their work and have them edit a chapter of your novel. Be very clear about what the editor brings to the table. Find out if their edits are one and done, or will they give it back to you to make changes and then review the changes? Ask what books they've edited and then go look. This is one of the most crucial steps in your journey.
My story (or should I say, my mistake): I hired an editor for my first book and she was inexperienced in my genre. I had to unpublish the book, spend money—again—to have it re-edited, and then put it back on the market. It was costly, but worth it to save my name and reputation.
2 - IRRELEVANT DETAIL (the sin of overwriting)
Irrelevant detail is another major mistake authors make. They are missing the art of PACING. Watch out for too much background information, scenery details, etc. Every word you write should move your book forward, otherwise, readers will become bored and put your book down. Or they'll suffer through it and that will be the one and only book of yours that they read.
Every word you write slows the reader from reaching the end of the book. This thought may seem counterintuitive because people are picking up your book to enjoy a great read. But the words are in the way. LOL. Bore the reader with enough detail to create your point.
Here's an example of what I mean:
A. He walked across the room.
How did he walk? What room? Who's walking?
B. Dorian's Kenneth Cole black shoes, with the thick soles, click-clacked and he lumbered from one brightly lit side of the bedroom to the other, slightly dimmer side.
Does the reader need to know the brand of Dorian's shoes? Are his shoes important to the story? Does the reader need to know one side of the bedroom is brighter than the other?
C. Dorian lumbered across his bedroom floor.
The reader knows who was walking. How he was walking. Where he was walking.
Example B provides a lot of detail. If any of the detail enhances the story, by all means, include it. The point is to think about each word you write.
Side Note: ProWritingAid is also very helpful with pacing. There is a feature in the program that will run a report on your pacing and show you areas of opportunity.
3 - LITTLE ATTENTION TO LANGUAGE
How’s your vocabulary? If you want to keep your readers engaged, you'll need to discover different ways of saying the same thing.
In any book, you’ll probably have your character “look”. Looking at something, someone, somewhere, etc.
But you don’t want to write “look” fifty times. Instead, mix it up, depending on the context in which you’re using the word. Have them glance, glimpse, see, stare, squint, view, watch, etc.
A thesaurus will be your best friend. ProWritingAid is helpful here, as well. The program combines a thesaurus with artificial intelligence. When I write my first draft, I'm simply "throwing up" on the page. I have to get the words out of my head and onto paper. In that draft, I will write "look" a million times. When I edit, one check I will run is "thesaurus" in ProWritingAid. The program will underline all the words in my document where other word options are available. But what makes me love this feature is the fact that they base the suggested words on the context of the sentence. I never accept every suggestion given, but each suggestion creates a reflection point. Have I used the best word, or is there another word that better articulates my point?
4 - LACK OF IMAGERY & USING CLICHES
Cold as ice
Hot like fire
A clean slate
Pain in the neck
Ace in the hole
Can of worms
A dark and stormy night
Writing cliches is the same as lazy writing because it takes more energy, effort, and time to take a cliche and rework it until it’s your own.
Instead of: cold as ice
Write: She was more frigid than an ice cube
Instead of: a clean slate
Write: we agreed to pretend the past never happened
Instead of: a dark and stormy night
Write: the gray clouds of the tornado swirled around our home
ProWritingAid has a feature for cliches. You run the tool and it will highlight all the potential cliches in your work. I recommend writing the cliches in your first draft because you are getting the words out of your head. During your editing phase, take the time and rewrite all of them that are written outside of dialogue. Cliches within dialogue can be fine because your characters are speaking and people say cliches.
5 - ALL 5 SENSES AREN'T ENGAGED
This is interesting, and most likely an area that many don't think of when writing. All of us gravitate to a particular way of expression.
Sight: I gazed at the birds dancing among the clouds
Sound: the birds sang as they flew among the clouds
Smell: I sniffed and the salty air filled my lungs
Touch: I felt the wind kiss my cheek
Taste: The salty air kissed my cheek
Some sentences may engage more than one sense, and that's fine. ProWritingAid has a sensory report. When you run it, you'll quickly notice the sense that is your preference. For me, it's sight. 75% of my descriptions will appeal to sight. My challenge when editing is taking some of my "sight" descriptors and turning them into touch and taste. But what I find when I do this, is I create a more compelling story that reaches and engages a wider audience.
6 - POOR DIALOGUE SKILLS
When writing dialogue, particularly in fiction, there is an art to making it sound real.
Let's say you are writing a scene where one friend calls another.
"Hey, what's up?"
"Nothing. What are you doing?"
“Why? Do you want something?"
"Um, not really."
"Then why did you call?"
"No reason. Have you talked to Tommy lately?"
"Yeah, he called."
"What did he say?"
"Girl, he wasn't talking about anything."
Big Yawn! Who wants to read that? You'll lose your audience.
When writing dialogue, what you're actually doing is IMITATING true dialogue. Remember, your goal is to keep moving your story forward. Every word must count. If it doesn't, then delete it.
I swiped my cellphone screen to the right. "Hey, Chele, what's going on?"
"Not a lot. Have you talked to Tommy lately?"
"Yeah, he called, but he didn't want anything. Why do you ask?"
"Because his brother just left my house and said Tommy is feeling you."
Do you see the difference? I get to the point of the phone call in 4 lines of book dialogue, versus 12 lines of true dialogue and you still don't know the point of the conversation.
Sometimes, as I'm writing my manuscript, I will write actual conversation, just to get my words on paper. Then, when editing, I clean it up.
7 - COMMON GRAMMATICAL & PUNCTUATION ERRORS
As I stated before, a poorly edited book will kill your writing career. A reader will immediately pick up on common grammatical errors.
Know when to use “it’s” or “its”
“you’re” and “your”
“whose” and “who’s”
Also, know your struggle words and be extra careful to review them when editing. "It's and its" are one of my issues. Even though I know "it's" is a contraction for "it is", I will screw these two up throughout my entire manuscript. Because I'm aware of this weakness, I run a report during editing and search for all the times I write both words and make sure I've written the correct one.
I mentioned ProWritingAid several times because it is an excellent resource when I'm editing. Editing involves much more than what's mentioned here, but being mindful of these 7 tips is a great start!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey! I'm Monica Lynne Foster!
I hope you found this article helpful! Here's a little about my writing and me.
With my women's fiction novels, I hope to take you on a mental vacation, where you can become immersed in the world of my characters. With my inspirational nonfiction, I share my life's trials (like my heartache when my brother was sentenced to twelve years in prison) hoping I can encourage someone else. For aspiring writers, I offer a Writer's Resources section on my website, www.monicalynnefoster.com, where I share apps, services, and recommended reading for indie and traditionally published authors. Personally, I'm a wife, daughter, sister, niece, aunt, friend, Delta, and Christian.
My life's motto: If it costs me my peace, it's too expensive.
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