Updated: Jan 14
Writing fiction is a rewarding hobby, passion or career choice for anyone who enjoys creating new worlds and characters, and loves the art of writing. However, whether you’re a new writer or have self-published a series of novels, several common writing mistakes will make you stick out like a sore thumb to agents, editors and your readers. These mistakes are relatively easy to rectify if you know what to look for, but many writers don’t and assume they have written a masterpiece, only to be disappointed when they face rejections and no book sales.
So, I have compiled a list of the most common writing mistakes I have come across as an editor at Stand Corrected Editing. Some of these mistakes may seem obvious, but if you recognise any of these errors in your writing, make sure you spend some time unlearning these bad habits. As a result, you’ll instantly become a better writer and will stand more of a chance at representation, or growing your audience after self-publishing.
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1. Writing started to or began to before an action.
While editing manuscripts, I have noticed that many writers make the mistake of writing started to or began to before a character carries out an action.
Here are a couple of examples to show you what I mean:
Merlin began to create purple flames with his bare hands.
Merlin started to run from the executioner.
Although these sentences make sense grammatically, adding started to and began to only prolongs the sentence and kills the pace and tension. You may be comfortable writing these phrases, but your sentences will be much tighter and more exciting without these clunky additions.
Merlin created purple flames with his bare hands.
Merlin ran from the executioner.
See how these reformed examples get straight to the point and provide more urgency? Well, these are how your sentence should look if you want to keep your readers hooked!
2. Info-dumping in the middle of your story.
You may or may not have heard of info-dumping, but if you haven’t, it’s when large sections of information, context or backstory are randomly given to the reader all at once in the middle of the story. Info-dumping is always to be avoided as there is nothing worse than dragging your readers out of your story for no good reason. Furthermore, info-dumping can cause great confusion for your readers and will make your writing appear all over the place and poorly structured when it should be smooth to read.
Here is an example:
Merlin created purple flames with his bare hands, and Arthur watched in awe. Merlin had taught himself to conjure magic from a young age. He never had any family to teach him or show him how to control it, so he had to master it on his own. His mother and father were unknown, but he had Arthur now, and Arthur would always protect him from harm.
So, in the example above, Merlin casts purple flames with his hands, but we’re then faced with a load of unnecessary backstory about his family without any action. In addition to that, it’s information that Merlin probably isn’t thinking about as he conjures magic in front of Arthur. As a result, the reader is given a chunk of information the author thinks they need to know, but it does nothing to benefit the character at that moment or to help to further the plot.
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3. Double spaces after a full stop.
I never thought I would need to correct double spaces as an editor, but these extra spaces always find their way into many manuscripts after a full stop. I’m aware that some writers naturally double space due to how they were taught as a child, but they were most likely taught to type on an old typewriter, so they had to use double spaces as single spaces weren't sufficient. As we don’t really use typewriters anymore, we no longer need to add an extra space, and doing so makes the manuscript appear unfinished, so it’s best to stick with just the one space.
4. Not using your characters’ names.
In some manuscripts I have read, I have noticed how easy it would be for the reader to lose track of who is speaking at certain times and which character is doing what. This confusion is down to the author forgetting to use their characters’ names. They may introduce their characters, and then we don’t see their name again for a while, we only get he/she/him/her, which gets really confusing, especially when there are more than two characters in a particular scene. However, you don’t have to go and replace every pronoun with your character’s name, as that would appear unnatural, but there should be a perfect balance between the two so your readers can stay on track.
5. Starting sentence with On.
Before I explain why you should avoid starting your sentences with on, let me show you a couple of examples:
On walking back to the forest, Merlin creates purple flames with his bare hands.
On heading back to the castle, Arthur thinks about Merlin’s magic.
While there is nothing grammatically wrong with sentences like the examples above, you should really try your best to avoid beginning your sentences with on. Not only does it slow the pace, but it also makes your sentences longer and much clunkier than they need to be.
If you know that your manuscript is full of sentences like this, here is how to revise them:
Merlin walked back to the forest and created purple flames with his bare hands.
Arthur headed back to the castle and thought about Merlin’s magic.
Can you see how much smoother these examples are? Furthermore, by writing your sentences like the new ones above, you make your writing less passive, and you remove the gerunds (the words that end in ING) which do nothing for your pace.
So there we have it, those are my top 5 common mistakes that writers make when writing fiction. If you're eager to learn more and get ahead of the crowd, you can take my copy editing course which will teach you how to edit your manuscript to perfection! In the course, you will learn when you should begin new lines and paragraphs; how to effectively show instead of tell; how to perfect your grammar and punctuation; how to remain consistent in areas that you probably haven't ever considered; and last but not least, how to remain clear for your readers. If you want to improve your writing craft, take the plunge here!
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm the book editor and proofreader at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent literary consultancy in the UK. I help passionate writers and authors to get their novels ready for literary agents or self-publishing.
In weekly blog posts, online courses and daily Instagram posts, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!
Let me ask you something...
Do you seriously want to pursue your passion of writing and publishing books people actually want to read?
Are you currently planning, writing, or editing your manuscript?
Are you ready to become a successful author?