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Mar 20, 2020

It’s not just you, it’s every writer: Common Mistakes

By Chelsea McCard.
Whether you are a novice, just starting your journey into writing, or you are a seasoned veteran with several books under your belt, writing is a process. Part of that process is making plenty of mistakes. We all have made them. And sometimes, we hardly even notice we are doing it. Even the most accomplished writers make simple blunders at first. And this is perfectly fine. These mistakes are often fixed as the writer polishes up there pieces in various stages throughout the span of each manuscript.

So, how can you spot these errors in modern writing? What should you look out for? And how can you fix these? Here are nine of the most common problems all writers have and how you can be more aware of them.
Tell versus show:
A lot of writers will tell potential readers how a character feels rather than showing them. No matter what point of view a story is written in, this is an absolute no-no for pieces meant for readers that are above at least an elementary reading level. Explain what the character in question is feeling through descriptions and body language. This will not only better your writing, but it will also give your character much more depth.
Tell: “Annie was sad.”
Show: “Tears slipped down Annie’s cheeks. She bit her lip, stifling a sob, and averted her gaze.
Just saying that Annie is sad is not enough to convey what sort of person she is to the reader. We wouldn’t understand how upset she was or how she expressed it, either. Showing allows us to connect with Annie and possibly feel for her.
Using too many punctuation marks:
Yes, you can use too many punctuation marks. This can be done in a few ways, as well. First, using an excessive amount of exclamation points throughout your piece is generally frowned upon. A lot of modern writers stick to the general rule of 3 to 5 for an entire book. Explain, don’t exclaim.
Then, you have those that use “…….” during an actual line of speech. There is no reason to do this. Stick to three. “…”
And last but not least, sometimes writers will use “!!!” or “!?!?!?” Don’t do this. Leave it to one. Or if you really must use the later, “!?” will suffice.
Unnecessary Had’s:
Sometimes, in our rush to fill our quota on how many words should be in a specifically sized script, we tend to use too much filler. The most common one one is the use of “had.” Be wary of it. Sometimes it's not always easy to see when it is not needed.
“I had eaten all the pizza. Then, I had taken a drink before Jenny had and had drained my glass. We both had sweet tea, and she had almost a full cup left. I had asked if I could have some of hers when I finished.”
Though grammatically correct, this excerpt can be hard to read or understand.
“I ate all the pizza. Then, I took a drink before Jenny and drained my glass. We both got sweet tea, and she had almost a full cup left. I asked her if I could have some of hers when I finished.”
Removing the unnecessary “had’s” made the writing much clearer.
Extra-long sentences
Sometimes, when we get really into our writing, we will go on and on, causing super long and really boring sentences that could not possibly have an end in sight because we just can’t help ourselves, and we have a lot of information to give out.
See what I did there?
That single sentence is long and people will find it annoying. I could have broken it up into a couple of sentences and conveyed the same point to my readers by breaking it up into bite-sized chunks.
“Sometimes, we get really into our writing. We will go on and on, causing super long and really boring sentences that could not possibly have an end in sight. We just can’t help ourselves. We have a lot of information to give out.”
Much easier to read, eh?
Over description
Description is a wonderful tool and should always be used to help your readers visualize the scene you want them to. It’s an absolute must for any story. But when does it become too much? Ask yourself if the reader already knows the information you are about to tell or if they can see the scene without specific details.
“The sky above was dark and grey, filled with dark-colored clouds. Those clouds covered the sky as far as the eye could see. Not even the sun could break through.”
This is an example of too much detail. It’s repetitive and gives the reader too much of what they already know. They know about the clouds. They know its dark. And that would mean that obviously, the sun wouldn’t be visible either.
“Grey clouds covered the dark sky, stretching as far as the eye could see.”
Straight and to the point without all the extra fluff.
Information dumps
Setting up the world of your book is one of the best ways to get your reader invested in your creation. However, dropping an overabundance of information on the reader is generally not a good idea. Yes, your reader knows very little about your world, but there’s a time and place for everything.
You can use a preface if your reader needs to know a particular event to understand what is going on in the world of your book. This should be relatively short and just enough not to give away your story too early.
I know it is easy to want to explain every last detail you want your reader to know all at once. More often than not, this makes for a slow-paced story. Instead, it is better to drop in information as needed when it should be known.
That doesn’t mean you can’t explain anything at all about your world. It just means to be careful not to go overboard.
Pretty much, if your first few chapters are just setting up the world and have not even gotten to the story you want to tell, then you probably have an issue.
Emotionless or voiceless characters
This here is my personal pet peeve when it comes to stories. As a writer, conveying a character well is often the key to a great story. If your characters do not connect with your reader, you are going to have an issue with others getting into your story.
By emotionless, I mean that a character doesn’t react to an event that they are involved in. For example, if someone comes up and smacks the character, I would expect that character to do something about it. Did they rub their cheek and sob, cowering? Or did the character get angry and fight back? Either of these is far more interesting than the story moving on without us getting to see something.
This also goes for characters that have no personality of their own. When this happens, the reader cannot tell one character from another. Every action should be somewhat unique for that character.
If I have a bitter old lady and a whiney young boy as characters, in the same situations, they will react vastly differently.
 If you hit such a lady, you might have her curse at you and smack you upside the skull with her cane.
The little boy would most likely cry obnoxiously for his mother, point the finger at you, and expect an adult to come to his aid.
Readers want to see the differences in your characters. It makes for a great story and conflict.
And finally, Head-hopping
I think, out of this entire list, this is one of the things I am the most guilty of doing myself. Head-hopping often happens when a writer switches which character's point of view the reader is experiencing in a third-person story. So, if I wrote the opinions of one character, and then in the next paragraph, I started to do this with another character, I would be head-hopping.
“Danny shook his head. He didn’t want to go to bed yet. It was only seven-thirty, and his favorite cartoon was on. How could his babysitter be so unfair? Couldn’t he stay up just a little more? He had been waiting for this episode all week. He would be devastated if he missed it.
June put her hands on her hips. Why was he being a brat? She didn’t want to deal with his pouting. All she knew was that the note left for her said he was supposed to lay down now. His mom said he had to be up early for a doctor's appointment, and she, under no circumstances, was to let the six-year-old stay up.”
In this example, we see two separate characters in the same scene and get inside both of their heads. Assuming that Danny is the main character, he would not know what June was thinking, nor the information she was told by his mother. Therefore, it would need to be rewritten since it takes you out of Danny’s point of view and drops you into June’s.
“Danny shook his head. He didn’t want to go to bed yet. It was only seven-thirty, and his favorite cartoon was on. How could his babysitter be so unfair? Couldn’t he stay up just a little more? He had been waiting for this episode all week. He would be devastated if he missed it. He pouted up at June as she placed her hands on her hips.
“To bed, mister. You need to be up early.” She told him, practically following him to the bathroom to make sure he brushed his teeth. Danny knew protesting wouldn’t get him anywhere, but he certainly took as much time as he could to get ready for bed. He savored her grumbles. What was he gonna tell his friends at school when they learned he didn’t get to see “Action-man and Snickerdoodle” that night?”
Staying in Danny’s head helps the reader understand him. We still know that June made him go to bed and why without the head-hopping.

It is my hope that these tips will help writers at any stage. Just remember, don’t give up and keep writing. We all make these mistakes.


About the Author: Chelsea McCard
Hello, fellow writers. I’m Chelsea, and I am thrilled to be of service. I’ve always had a love for writing but only really started to put together finished works within the last few years. With my favorite authors being Tolkien and C.S Lewis, I primarily write fantasy. My hope is to be able to create worlds that will allow myself and others to escape into. Here’s hoping I can help and encourage others on their own writing journeys.