Sunday, May 19, 2013
Ten Amateur Mistakes That Should NEVER Be in a Published Novel
By OFW editor:
Published: August 21, 2013
We’re going to call this edition of Take Ten a response to a poorly written novel that I will be reviewing later this month. No, I’m not going to tell you the name of it. You’ll just have to wait. While reading this novel, I’ve noticed several amateur mistakes that should never, ever, under any circumstances short of a gun held to your head, remain in a novel that you wish to publish.
Dialogue that sounds like a conversation you’d have with a friend, over the phone, about absolutely nothing.
“Hey, how are you?”
“Fine. How are you?”
“Not too bad. Heading to the grocery store later.”
Bored yet? I am. Trite conversations do not belong in a novel. Every word a character utters, especially a POV character should be important to the scene, important to the plot, important to character development – never filler. Let me repeat that: NEVER filler. Understood? Fan-fucking-tastic.
“Whoa’s” “Hmms” and “Mmms.” Save them for your instant messenger.
Because they don’t belong in fiction, especially when a character is having an inner monologue. “Hmm, I wonder what happened to my favorite lube.” Don’t use them. It makes you look like you have no idea what you’re doing.
Dialogue tags are extraneous and annoying.
She uttered. She breathed. She whispered breathlessly. He shouted at the top of his voice. It interrupts the flow of the dialogue when used unnecessarily.
Scene interjections that have nothing to do with the plot.
Just because you think a scene is cool, doesn’t mean it belongs in the novel. If it does nothing to move the plot along, prolong suspense, or develop your POV character, then cut it. Murder it. Chop it into little bloody pieces and throw it in the biohazard bin.
Pointless POV switches.
Ideally, there should only be one, maybe two POV characters. They will be your protagonists. No one else should have center stage. It’s pointless and draws attention away from the protagonist.
Adjective and adverb overload.
will always have more impact on a reader than
tears coursed down her cheeks in rivers
. Always. A reader gets the greater impact when they can draw the scene for themselves with little help from the author. They’re smarter than you give them credit for and they’ll thank you for letting them figure things out on their own.
The protagonist is uninteresting.
The protagonist is supposed to be the hero; the one facing the issues and conquering them on their own. If your POV character constantly needs help from others, or can’t handle the situation, or is a pussy, then it’s time to reevaluate the character. They can’t stand in the spotlight if they’re scared of it.
The supernatural element of the story is introduced in a cartoonish way.
Unless you’re writing satirical or absurdist fiction, then the supernatural element (if there is one) should be introduced in a way that makes sense and is believable. It should also occur at the beginning of the story as part of the inciting incident (the part that sets the story in motion) if not directly following. Slapping the reader five chapters in with a supernatural element is unsettling and will destroy any hope of the reader suspending disbelief.
Characters react to events in the story in a way that doesn’t make sense.
If your character is skittish at every scratch against their window, they aren’t going to be giddy when something truly terrifying (albeit interesting) happens to them. Well-written characters are completely, unapologetically themselves and will not react in a 180 degree fashion than how they were established at their introduction to the story. Your reader will lose faith in the character and you.
A little less conversation, a little more action please.
If your character spends all their time thinking about what just happened and not acting on it, suspense will not build and the climax will have no effect. Readers couldn’t give two shits how the character feels about the situation. Don’t give them a two page monologue. Actions speak louder than words. Show the reader what the character is going to do about it. Don’t introduce it. Don’t lead up to it. Just fucking do it or you might lose the reader before the character has a chance to leave the room.
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