August 12th, 2010
Thursday Thirteen: Mistakes to Avoid as an Author

Thirteen (random) mistakes to avoid as an author:

  1. Misuse of colons. In fiction colons are used before a list of items (e.g. There were many things he hated about her mother: her voice, her red hair and her talons, just to start. Don’t use colons instead of semi-colons, em-dashes or just plain periods.
  2. Peppering your manuscript with exclamation points. This is especially true for stacks of exclamation points or exclamation points and question marks together. Remember you are writing a story, not a blog post or instant message.
  3. Using parentheses to create an aside. There may be a few places this would work but, in general, people don’t think or speak using parentheses.
  4. Expressing a character’s thoughts in a way no person would think about themselves. Most people do not go around describing their own personality in clinical terms or telling themselves something they know. Always question how you are expressing a character’s thoughts and why.
  5. Using an en-dash where you want an em-dash. It pays to look up the use and be sure of the one you want.
  6. Failing to ground your readers in the first few pages so they start to know and care for your characters and their situation. If the reader is lost, they’ll toss the book aside.
  7. Not using all the senses possible to enrich the story. How does the air smell? What texture does a fabric have? All these serve to draw the reader in and make the story seem more “real” to them.
  8. Giving too much time and space to unimportant things. If you spend a lot of time and attention on something, the reader feels it must be important to the story. If that is not the case, the reader will be confused and annoyed. Only give significant time and words to things that matter to the story progression.
  9. Failing to grow a character. If the same character makes the same mistakes over and over, they are quickly dubbed “too stupid to live.” Even the densest character should learn and grow over time.
  10. Breaking the “fourth wall.” Unless you are writing a story with a narrator, your characters should not speak directly to the reader. In theater, this is called “breaking the fourth wall.” Readers are watching and experiencing the characters but the characters are not aware of the reader.
  11. Using ellipses in narrative. Ellipses are used for trailing off thoughts or words. They usually have little place in pure narrative.
  12. Overusing accents or foreign words. While it’s great to pepper the dialogue with them, too much ends up like your character is trying to speak in LOLCat and makes it really hard to read.
  13. Failing to do research. Lack of research can break the belief of the readers so quickly that they won’t finish the book. If you are going to include details, make sure they are correct if at all possible.

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