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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Most Common Mistakes

I've been judging a lot of unpubbed contests lately, which begs the question of what are the most common mistakes I see.

  • Starting the story too early.

    This is absolutely the most common problem I've seen. At least 2/3rds of the entries start with background, not with the inciting incident. They don't even start close to the beginning of the story. I think this might be one of the more difficult things to learn, it certainly was for me, but if nothing is happening, you've started too early.

  • Dialogue that serves no purpose except to fill in the reader.

    This problem tends to go hand in hand with problem number one. I read a lot of entries that not only started early, but then they gave me even more background information by the characters having a conversation that was highly improbable.

  • Dialogue that is pointless.

    This is kind of a 2A kind of thing. I also read entries filled with pleasantries between the characters. Yeah, this happens in real life all the time, but in fiction, the dialogue needs to move the story forward. Heck, the scene needs to move the story forward.

  • Sharing way too much about the characters.

    I subscribe to the iceberg rule. The writer better know everything there is to know about their character, but the reader shouldn't. In my own writing, I'd say the reader gets to find out less than half of what I know. My characters share their entire lives with me, they even share scenes after the close of the book. There's no need for the reader to know who the heroine's second grade teacher was unless she's intrgral to the story, so when you're writing, don't pass along everything you know. Yeah, you love your characters and are fascinated by them, but the reader won't share that fascination if you tell them everything.

  • No tension/suspense in the story.

    I don't mean suspense as in romantic suspense, I'm talking suspense/tension as in something that makes me want to turn the page to find out more. This is kind of an offshoot of the previous mistakes. If a story starts too soon and is full of conversation that serves no purpose other than to give me the background on the events that are coming or the life story of the heroine and/or hero, then that deflates any desire to read more.
So my best advice is to start the story darn close to the inciting event, and let the reader find out necessary background information later on. In very small increments. There were other mistakes in the entries as well, but those were more individual. These few items happened repeatedly. I hope this helps someone, but I think it's one of those things where one day, the writer just figures it out on their own. I'd say, though, look at the books on your keeper shelf. Where do those authors start their stories? Where does your story begin?

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