Hello and welcome back to the blog! I finished the final draft of my work in progress earlier this week, which is the second book in the unpublished Breaking Character Series. Query number thirty for From Darkness Comes… hit the electronic mailbox moments before I started writing this post. When I started querying the goal was an agent or fifty plus queries. I’m well on my way to the latter. Writer pitfalls is on the docket for today. Originally, I had planned this being for beginning writers, however, my interactions on Twitter this week have caused me to rethink that. Even veteran writers make an occasional mistake. Thanks to the members of the writing community on Twitter for participating. We’ll start off with their pitfalls.
- Writers should write the story THEY want to tell. Don’t be influenced by what others think should be written. Jeff Botzenhart @JBotzenhart
- Thinking your novel has to follow in the stead of what is perceived to be popular or marketable. The story must come first, write what needs to be written. Robyn Hunt @RobynHuntWriter
I think we can all agree that Jeff and Robyn are saying close to the same here. Following popular trends can be a slippery slope to say the least. I remember years ago when Twilight sent everyone into a frenzy. Writers who wouldn’t ordinarily have done so started writing vampire stories. Soon there were so many people writing vampire stories that most horror magazines wouldn’t touch a vampire story (Come to think of it, I don’t think I have written a vampire story because of this early roadblock). The point is, don’t follow trends or try to tell stories others want you to tell.
- Thinking the first draft should be perfect. The first draft is the story you tell yourself. Editing and revisions are when you make it marketable. Tammy Deschamps @MmeDeschamps
Tammy said it perfectly, though I do have a few things to add about editing later. The rest of these are original to me.
- Writing without a plan. Planner or Pantser? I’m sure if you’ve been around the writing community long enough then you’ve heard this question. I feel a story is a living, breathing thing that should be listened to, but that doesn’t mean I write without a plan. Even a rudimentary plan will help make sense of the complicated turns that navigating a novel can come with.
- Not listening to the story. Did I confuse you by putting this after “writing without a plan”? Yes, I plan some and I feel the story out some as well. My planning is the minimal amount I feel I can get away with and still be flexible to change things on a whim. THE STORY IS KING! Sorry for yelling, but if you get anything out of this blog, let it be that simple sentence.
- Editing as you go. Look, I understand that everyone has their own way of working their way through a short story or novel. In most cases I would say to each his/her own, but I cannot budge on this. Editing a story before you’ve finished the damn thing is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard of (For those offended by this, I’m reciting the Reese’s motto from the last year or so. #NotSorry). Yes, editing is about cleaning up what is inevitably dirty and making the story readable, which, theoretically, could be done as you go. However, that’s not all that goes into editing. Theme, continuity, character development are just a few of the things that can’t be done editing as you go. It’s a big picture process that should only be handled while looking at the big picture. I’m aware that some writers do this because they’re a contrarian or because once the draft is done, the book is done. I wont bother addressing the former—I’d be wasting my time—but to the latter I’d ask a brutally honest question. It may be done, but are you sure it’s good?
I’ve dogged other writers enough for a while. Let’s talk about one that I have been guilty of in the past.
- Slipping tenses. Not all the pitfalls or mistakes on this list are complicated or debatable issues. It’s simple, slipping from past tense to present tense during a story is bad. It’s a simple problem that can be hard to see at first and even harder to fix. The fix involves reprogramming your brain to catch tense slippages while editing. This was an ongoing problem that I wasn’t aware of for years before I finally saw it. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. I did so much editing involving tense slippages that I started to catch myself in the process of committing the error. As a result, I can’t read a novel written in present tense without my brain trying to correct the problem. It takes me about twice as long to read a book written in present tense, so I tend to avoid them.
- Underdeveloped Characters. I’m sure we’ve all read a book where the characters had the same dimension as a box of delivery pizza. I try to negate this by writing character bios for every major character that appears in the book. While I’m writing I often look back to this for reference. Dialogue is important for ensuring characters differentiate from each other, after all, we don’t all speak the same and neither should your characters. Also, this is where a good reading and editing session—yes, done after the entire story is finished—comes in handy. I’ve added entire scenes while editing to fluff up a character that I wasn’t happy with.
- Not reading or writing as much as they should. Daily. Enough said.
- Sharing your work as you’re writing it. In his book On Writing Stephen King said, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being for just you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right—as right as you can, anyway—it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.” There’s a time for getting someone’s opinion about that half-baked story and that time is not while you’re writing it.
- Caring too much about vocabulary. I’m sure every modern-day writer has searched for a word to make themselves sound smarter or better fit what they were trying to say. Guess what? The word that comes to mind first is often times the word closest to what you mean. For those that are worried about sounding smart, keep this in mind. Last year, I had a short story published and praised for the imagery displayed utilizing simple language. I wasn’t trying to be profound or anything. It’s simply how I write as a middle grade writer, even if I’m writing an adult story.
- Using too many adverbs. I’ve had Twitter battles—and been blocked—because of my opinion on this subject. Stephen King thinks they’re evil, though uses an adverb on occasion. While I can’t say I feel as strong about adverb usage as Mr. King, I can say they should be used sparingly (yes, I did that on purpose), and never after dialogue tags.
I had more in mind and the list of possibilities is endless, but, alas, we’re out of words and I’m out of time. If you would like to see your response to a question on the blog, all you have to do is follow me on Twitter and keep an eye out (I will specify if it is for the blog). @StephenRoth316 for both Twitter and Instagram. For free email updates on the blog, click the follow button in the lower right-hand corner, then enter a valid email address. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.
Stephen Michael Roth