Assignment 2 – Study and Learn about writing mistakes then edit a work in progress. You do not need to turn this assignment in. This is purely for your learning and practice. Should you need help contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These Writing Mistakes Lead to Knee-Jerk Rejections
By Vonda Skelton
In order to move from wannbe writer to published writer, I had to learn to overcome the many mistakes new writers–and even long-time writers–make in the CRAFT of writing. So today I’ve gathered a collection of rejectable offenses. Search your writings for these mistakes and you’ll greatly increase your chances of publication.
1. Wimpy verbs and overuse of adverbs
Did your character “go” across the street? If so, how did she go? Did she dash, skip, stroll, or stagger? Each choice of verb would tell a different story. She may dash if she was afraid or eager. She might skip if she was lighthearted and happy. If she was nostalgic, we might see her stroll. And a stagger could mean she was either sick or drunk.
b. Search your piece for any form of “is.” Was, were, are, and is can indicate that we’re writing in a passive voice. Instead of “He was wearing torn blue overalls…” write “His worn overalls….”
c. And remember, overuse of adverbs usually indicates we’re using wimpy verbs.
d. For more information about wimpy verbs, check out my blog post, Don’t Wimp Out on Good Writing.
2. Confusing POV
a. To stay in correct POV, imagine your character is looking through a camera. That character can only reveal what she can see, feel, hear, and know. So if she sees a man and woman across a crowded room, she can describe their clothing, their expressions, their closeness. She may even hear their laughter. But she most likely can’t relate what they’re actually saying…because she can’t hear their conversation from across the room.
b. Each scene should only be in one person’s point of view and each book will generally have no more than four POVs.
c. POV should not be confused with “Person,” as in First Person or Third Person narrative. And remember, a piece written in first person would always have to be in the first person narrator’s POV.
d. For more information on point of view, check out my blog post, It’s All in Your Point of View.
3. Telling instead of showing
a. Don’t tell us that the character was mad, show him being mad. Did he jump up from the chair, slam his first on the table, get in her face, and yell, “I did not”? If so, you don’t have to tell us that he’s mad, we can see it. Lazy writing tells the reader what’s happening. Good writing lets us see it in our minds.
b. Don’t say he was dressed like a cowboy. Just describe his clothing or his swagger and we’ll be able to see the cowboy coming out in him.
c. Don’t label an emotion or a feeling. In other words, don’t say he was sad or hurt or scared. Instead, describe him being sad or hurt or scared. Don’t say he “felt” lonely. What does lonely look like? Let us see it.
d. For more information about Show, Don’t Tell, check out my blog post, Show, Don’t Tell
4. Lack of conflict
a. Many times authors try to set up the story, creating page after page of no conflict. Jump into the midst of conflict and you’ll be more likely to grab the editor’s attention. You can always add in backstory as the story progresses.
b. Put your character at risk, and then ratchet up the pressure.
c. The protagonist must want something and the antagonist tries to prevent it.
5. Unrealistic dialogue
a. To be honest, most of our first drafts will be full of unrealistic dialogue, and that’s okay. The question is, what do we do with it in the second and third and fourth rewrites?
b. Read your work aloud and you’ll hear the clunkiness in it.
c. We speak in contractions. Our characters should, too.
d. We speak in fragments. Our characters should, too.
e. Our conversations are usually interactive, with at least two people bouncing comments and actions back and forth. Our characters should, too. Look for long passages with only one person speaking. Most likely that’s unrealistic dialogue.
f. Be sure the dialogue is age-appropriate, using speech patterns and word choices that fit the age and setting of the character.
6. Inappropriate attributions/speaker tags
a. Believe it or not, the word, said, is the word we should use most often to denote the speaker.
b. Be sure the attribution is a synonym for said.
• Correct: “But you can’t stay here alone,” Jessica said.
• Incorrect: “But you can’t stay here alone,” Jessica smiled. Jessica might have smiled after she said those words, but she can’t “smile” the words themselves.
c. Use speaker beats to avoid too many attributions.
• Jessica plopped into the flowered sofa. “I’m not leaving.” In this case, you haven’t used said or any synonym of it. You’ve simply given Jessica an action and then added her line. The readers know it’s Jessica speaking because they can see the picture you’ve painted with your words. (Remember to start a new paragraph with each speaker. That will also denote that the speaker has changed.)
• “You watch me.” Mark picked up his luggage and headed for the door.
d. Avoid a repeated pattern of speaker beat/dialogue. This is equally aggravating!
Jessica stood. “You can’t go.”
Mark crossed his arms. “I’d like to see you stop me.”
Jessica took a step. “I will if I have to.”
Mark put his hands in his pockets. “You and who else?”
e. For more information about speaker beats and tags, check out my blog post, Said is NOT a Four-Letter Word!
7. Incorrect formatting
a. This is critical. Incorrect formatting shouts “Lazy writer!” Through a simple internet search, writers can find hundred of samples of correct manuscript format.
b. The standard is now ONE space between sentences. Two spaces won’t likely trigger a rejection if the writing is good, but it does say that you’re not up on the latest guidelines. You can either retrain yourself (as I did), or you can use the “Find” tool in you Word document to find and replace two spaces with one.
c. For more information about formatting, check out my previous blog post, Formatting Basics.
Avoid these common mistakes and you’ll increase your chances of getting the editor’s attention, instead of his rejection!