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Writing mistakes fiction authors make: 14 insights from experts

Are you looking for ways to improve your writing skills and capabilities? 

First, you need to learn how to spot mistakes authors tend to make. Then, find ways to fix or prevent them before introducing your book to the world. 

Even if you are an already established author, it’s always a good idea to learn from past mistakes, look up, and move forward. 

We have collected 14 solid insights from industry experts on mistakes fiction authors make when writing their books. 

Keep reading this article and learn:

  • what are the most common writing mistakes authors make
  • how to avoid them at all cost
  • tips and advice from professionals on best writing craft techniques

Ready to unlock the secrets of fiction writing? Let’s begin.

14 common mistakes fiction authors make when writing a book 

We have listed 14 common mistakes fiction authors make when writing a book. Below you’ll find a brief description of what might have gone wrong in your novel. Scroll down to instantly find a solution coming from field experts. 

Let’s hit the road. 

Mistake 1: Poor introduction

First impressions matter. Have you ever been in a situation when you tossed out the book right after reading the first few lines? Ouch. You don’t want the readers to do the same to your novel, right? Believe it or not, your first sentence and first paragraph are extremely important. The aim is to hook the readers and promise that something truly fascinating is coming their way.

Some authors have difficulty coming up with that opening. It’s totally understandable. As a writer, you know everything about the story, the plot, and the characters. Guess what? Your readers don’t know that yet. And the introduction is exactly the place where you need to pique their interest.

Enough empty words. Check out these 10 tips for writing the first chapter of your book from the one and only Jenna Moreci.

Mistake 2: Not enough research on the genre and topic of the story

Nowadays, there are many subgenres out there with their own set of rules about the word count, characters, age, setting, conflicts, etc. Make sure you clearly state what genre your book falls into, even with hashtags on Amazon and Goodreads. Some authors tend to put #romance and seal the deal. And then it turns out that the book has some erotica vibe or young adult trends. The readers didn’t expect that when they signed up for what they thought to be a light warm romance read. 

The same goes for the topic research. You need to know what you are writing about and can not assume that the readers already have some background knowledge on the topic. In our recent interview, Patricia D. Eddy made an excellent point:

“ Because I write military men and women, I try to read as many autobiographies and biographies of soldiers, intelligence officers, and first responders. Not only do they keep me informed, but in many cases, these non-fiction books are read by the authors themselves. I can’t tell you how amazing it is (and horrifying in some ways) to hear about the aspects of war from someone who has lived it.”

Another useful trick is to read enough books in your genre to better understand the style of writing and what the audience might like or dislike.

In this short video, Tim Knox shares a few ideas on how to do market research for your book to avoid mistakes fiction authors often make.

Mistake 3: Bad dialogues

A lot of writers struggle with dialogues. In most of the cases, well-written dialogues are a crucial element that helps introduce the character, their chain of thoughts, and build up their personality. 

First of all, you don’t want them to sound too literary and formal, in other words too unrealistic. Do you really want the reader to think, “Who talks that way?”. Unfortunately, with the written word, you don’t have additional support to convey the facial expression or the conversation’s tone. Make sure you use correct terms. Has your protagonist just shouted, exclaimed, yelled, or whispered? See what we did here? Let the readers feel that tension, excitement, struggle or desperation through a short dialogue line. 

Don’t get us wrong. We realize it’s hard work. Take a look at this video guide by The Creative Penn on mistakes authors make when writing fiction, called “Improve Your Dialogue With James Scott Bell”.

Mistake 4: Words that tell, but don’t show the story

Let us ask you a question. How would you hint to the first sign of a love interest in your story? Would you write a paragraph saying that the main female protagonist already immediately felt her heart beating faster? Wrong. It would be best to show the readers that there might be something going on without clearly stating it. The bestselling authors often recommend engaging your readers’ five senses (see, hear, touch, smell, and taste) while describing a scene. You need to show them what’s happening using the written word’s power, not just tell everything upfront spoiling the experience.

Experts also recommend using special verbs that will help you show what’s going on. In this video, Derek Murphy shares three great tricks on identifying and removing “telling” from your writing.

Mistake 5: Issues with characters’ development

First of all, you need to make sure that something is going on with your protagonists on the mental level. Otherwise, they become too dull for readers. Explain how they react to some events, what strain of thoughts occurred in their minds, and how that influenced their actions and decisions. The characters should grow and develop together with the book plot. Their personalities should start blooming at one point or another so that the readers will begin feeling sympathetic, sorry, supportive (insert the emotion you’d like to evoke). To do that, you need to write a few words about how your character felt before, during, and after the high moment, or some plot twist.
Spoiler alert: something’s gotta change.

Alexa Donne is here with a few brilliant ideas on how to develop characters.

Mistake 6: Not having a realistic villain figure

In a podcast, for Self Publishing School, Ramy Vance stated that one of the mistakes writers make when writing a story is creating an “unpunchable” villain figure. “But my story is not about the villain”, you might object. Sure, this might not fit your genre, or not even be a part of your writing. If that’s the case, skip this part. If you do, in fact, have a villain figure, make sure it’s realistic enough. The readers should project their hate (too strong? Ok, let’s call it hostility) on a real person or creature. Making the water, thunderstorm, or a deadly virus, your main antagonist, might not be the best idea. 

A few words from Abbie Emmons on how to write an unforgettable villain.

Mistake 7: Clichés and predictability

Why do readers fall in love with new authors and their writing styles? Because they can not predict what will happen next. They are eager to read one more page or chapter just to find out what is awaiting for them out there. And the successful outcome is the conclusion “Wow, I didn’t see that coming”. If you follow genre clichés throughout your story, you might not hook many new loyal fans. For example, let’s use the vampire trope cliché. 

The girl meets the boy. The boy is suspicious and mysterious. It turns out the boy is a vampire. They fall in love (obviously). Complications, drama, discussions, relationship crisis. Bam! Danger. Someone wants to hurt the girl. Fast forward. The vampire-boy saves the girl.

Now, does this sound familiar? How many book titles can you name right now that fall under this plot description?

Don’t follow the way-too-familiar route and avoid this common mistake fiction authors make if you’d like to become the next bestselling writer.

Check out these 4 common clichés that bookishpixie recommends avoiding in your writing.

Mistake 8: Introducing the scenes without a purpose

No matter how long or short your story is, each scene that you describe should have a purpose or be linked to further events in the book. To get readers to keep turning the pages, there should be a logical connection in the scenes, which either reveals something new about your characters, helps structure the plot, or creates strong pacing. 

You might try to review your piece of writing and come up with one sentence that sums up each scene’s purpose. If you can’t, maybe you should consider replacing or removing a scene to make sure everything makes sense.

Try asking yourself the following questions to make sure each scene has a purpose:

  • What valuable information does this scene carry?
  • How did the events influence my protagonist?
  • Will this experience matter in the future?
  • Can I omit this part?

Take a look at what Ellen Brock has to say about the scene structure.

Mistake 9: Lacking the POV in the scenes

If you’re writing your story in the third-person point of view, you need to pay attention to who will tell the story in each chapter and/or scene. Why is this important? The reader should relate to the point of view of the person in charge, so they could also live through it. For example, most romance stories need to shift from the main heroine to the main hero narrative.

To determine the POV of your scene, ask yourself:

  • Who has the most going on in the scene?
  • Which character will have a stronger emotional reaction?
  • Who will undertake a change?

Take some time to check out this Ultimate Guide to Tense & Point of View by ShaelinWrites.

Mistake 10: Failing to deliver the climactic scene and inciting incident

First, let’s deal with the inciting incident. The idea is you should introduce it early enough to hook the readers and set the plot in motion. In other words, the inciting incident is the scene that turns the protagonist’s life upside down. The trick is to make it exciting and dramatic enough so that the readers can’t wait to find out the rest of your story.

The best example? Hagrid is revealing to Harry Potter that he is a wizard for the first time. This is it. There’s no way back. The boy’s life has changed forever. And the best part is that now all the weird things happening to Harry finally make sense. At the same time, the readers know that this is just the beginning, and that so many more great adventures are waiting ahead.

What about the climactic scene? Basically, this is the most important part of your story, and you should pay a lot of attention to the words you use to describe it. Make the readers feel every emotion you’d like to evoke. Terrified, sad, excited, and finally relieved. 

Here are some mind blowing ideas from Vivien Reis on:

Mistake 11: Editing problems

Don’t ignore the power of editing. It would help if you had a second opinion from professionals or even friends to give you feedback based on the novel’s readability.

Misspelled words, double spacings, misuse of punctuation, misplaced modifiers, the list goes on and on. Two words for you: double-checking and proofreading. 

A few powerful insights from Michael La Ronn on self-editing your book.

Mistake 12: Boring setting description

Another thing many authors might struggle with is setting descriptions. Make it juicy and exciting. We believe you’ve worked so hard on creating that whole universe, magical land, perfect romantic scene, etc. Now, it’s time to make sure that the readers get the full description of where the scene is taking place. That way, they will feel like a part of the story and will be able to relate to it fully.

Be sure to watch this guest video post for Reedsy by ShaelinWrites on how to write settings effectively. 

Mistake 13: Ignoring trends, latest fads and genre tropes

Some authors might fail to satisfy the readers’ expectations by not following the hot topics on the genre market. Check what your target audience might be digging into now. Don’t ignore industry trends. What generation are you writing for, Millennials or Gen Z? Research what they will relate to. As simple as it is, mention a smartphone instead of a cell phone. See what’s being done around you when it comes to genre tropes. Which are the best-selling ones right now? See if you can borrow something from them.

Jenna Moreci talks about 10 worst tropes in fiction. Check them out!

Mistake 14: Disappointing ending

Make sure your book’s last chapter serves its purpose well. Is it a part of the series and you want to warm up the readers for book 2? Are you aiming at proper happy ending? Is there any other food for thought you’d like to give your readers? It all matters. Disappointing ending is one of the most common mistakes authors struggle with.

Take a look at How to Write an Effective Ending to a Story by T.P. Jagger to get the full picture.

To sum up

Hope we’ve managed to persuade you to look out for these mistakes fiction authors make when writing their books.

Have you ever fallen down the trap of making these writing mistakes? Which ones? Can you think of some more?

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2020/10/02
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