New writers have to handle a lot when they write their first novel. While you are writing, keep these 10 tips in mind to try to avoid or fix in your manuscript.
Too much description
Many times description can help the reader understand the world you are trying to build, especially if you’re creating a whole new world. But if there is too much description, they might feel lost in the sea of words and never get to the next paragraph. Or they will skip over what feels like an unneeded description.
The best way to combat this mistake is to slowly reveal the details into the story, rather than info-dumping in one spot.
As you’re editing, you should be trying to think like the reader. Is this description needed for understanding later in the book? Do you really need to explain that the character is wearing a specific type of pants in every scene you have that character in?
The answer to the last question is no unless they chose to change pants for a specific reason that helps the reader understand the character’s personality better or furthers the plot.
Oh the cliché
One of the mistakes many new writers make is that they begin to write clichés. It’s not your fault, it’s just very easy to write a cliché since they are very commonly written and seen in both literature and movies.
One of the ways you can avoid this is to find a list of common clichés and attempt to not write that way.
That being said, not all clichés are bad. Sometimes authors write a cliché for a reason. It happens to fit in the narrative, it says something about those specific characters, or they can use it ironically. However, you will want to be careful if you plan to use it ironically.
One of the pieces of advice you will many times is to learn the rules before you start to break them. You need to have full control of the rule you are breaking before you go on breaking it.
So you can have clichés in your story, just try not to have them be the main focus.
Point of view misuse
A very common mistake in writing that everyone makes is misusing the point of view. The writer will accidentally switch from first to second to third person without even realizing it. One of the easiest ways of fixing this is reading through your story many times. Sometimes out loud, sometimes in your head. It also helps when you have someone else read your story in both methods too.
Sometimes the fix is simply changing a word from “you” to “one” or from “I” to “he/she/they” depending on the pronoun specific to that character.
However, there are times when the point of view needs to be changed from some things to make sense. If your narrator is supposed to only know things about the main character but can tell us what other characters are thinking, you might want to play around with how you want the story to go.
Many times authors will hear that this or that character falls a bit flat. What this means is that the character has no dimension. They seem to only have one personality trait and that they fall into the background when they shouldn’t.
This is especially important if they are talking about your protagonist. That character should be full of depth and conflict since the story revolves around them and their actions most of the time.
Don’t shy away from making the side characters have depth as well. Depending on which ones you’re focusing on, they can have more or less depth than the others. Many times the side characters’ multiple traits can help outline the ones of the protagonist, especially in the way they interact with the side characters.
One way to fix a flat character is to fill out a character sheet. You can find templates of these online in many different forms. Many of the traits about the character won’t even appear in the novel and that’s okay. It’s mostly about you coming to understand your characters more so that you can write them how you see them in your head.
These details that you come up with can be in the story in small ways, or big ways depending on how you want them to affect your character.
Many new writers will find that as they write, side plots start to form in the narrative. That is completely okay and expected, as long as they don’t overtake the main story or become more interesting than it.
If this happens, the plot begins to disappear which is never a good thing. If you find yourself stuck on the main story, go back through the novel and find where the paths started to diverge and try to fix it. You might have to rework the side stories so that you can fix the main one.
One big piece of advice new writers will hear is to never be married to your work or the words. You should be willing to change something if it just isn’t working for the story anymore.
More telling than showing
This is a big one. New writers will feel like they need to do what is called “info-dumping” so that readers can understand their world better. Some popular writers do this and can get away with it because that’s their style.
As new writers, you will want to try to show more than tell. What this means in writing is that, for example, if a character is upset rather than just saying they are upset you can let the reader know how the character is acting. What their body language is. Many times we can tell when another person is upset solely based on the way they are acting rather than them telling us.
The same goes with describing a room. You can have the characters move around a room and interact with the objects in the room. “X character touched this object as they passed the sofa”. Immediately the reader can begin to see the room and the placement of certain objects.
Some new writers might find that they struggle with dialogue. It’s either stiff, unnatural, or just unbelievable.
This one is one of the easier fixes. What might sound natural in your head sounds very different when spoken out loud. You can either choose to speak the dialogue out loud to yourself, or have someone you trust to read the other set of lines with you. Many times an extra set of eyes and ears goes a long way in editing.
Assuming the reader knows what the writer knows
This is a very common problem among new writers and more experienced writers alike. They are so into their story and have spent so much time editing and perfecting the world that they might have forgotten to add details here and there that the reader would never know.
This is when you bring in someone who knows nothing about the world you created or the story you are telling to read the manuscript. If they have to ask you why something is the way it is and it was already supposed to be explained earlier, make a note of that.
This goes with the environment, the characters, and anything else that could be important to the story or scene.
Punctuation is key to understanding certain types of sentences. A sentence can be read in one way with a comma but a different way without on. A very common example is “Let’s go eat grandpa” vs “Let’s go eat, grandpa”. The two sentences read very differently depending on how you use punctuation.
A sentence can also be read differently if you choose to use a period vs a question mark vs an exclamation mark. Each has their tone that they provide to the sentence and understanding them is key when you want to display a certain emotion or action.
Overuse or disruptive dialogue tags
With dialogue tags, the less variety the better. You can do much more to display an emotion than just saying someone “yelled” or “bellowed”. If the character is the type to display their feelings physically, have them do that instead of telling the reader that they yelled. Or you can also use an exclamation point since that does the job just as well as telling the reader the character yelled.
Oftentimes just saying he/she/they “said” or any variation of that word does just as well when you use the area around the character properly and have them moving in the scene.