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8 Common Novel Writing Mistakes Even Good Writers May Make

8 Common Novel Writing Mistakes Even Good Writers May Make

Let’s look at some common novel writing mistakes which any writer can make, no matter how many novels you’ve written. When I wrote my first novel, way back in the 1970s, a publisher bought it, and I thought I had it made. I knew how to write novels! That joy soon turned to horror when I discovered that writing one novel hardly made me an expert. Over the years, I’ve made many mistakes.

Vital tip: there’s really just ONE mistake you can make when writing a novel: you fail to finish it. All of your mistakes can be fixed, except that one.

Let’s look at some common mistakes so you can avoid them, or fix them.

Mistake 1: You try to write and edit at the same time.

Whether this is your first novel or your fiftieth, your head’s packed with rules when you write. Do this; don’t do that. All those rules will cripple your writing. When you write, just write. Leave the rules for later, during the editing process.

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If you try to edit while you write, not only will you stifle your creativity, you’ll end up with writer’s block. Yes, some writers can edit while they’re writing. They’ll write a scene, and will edit it immediately. Perhaps this is your writing process. If that’s so, you’ll know it, because you’re energized by it. On the other hand, if you start doubting yourself while you edit, complete the first draft, and then edit.

Mistake 2: There’s no conflict. Everyone gets along.

Tolstoy started Anna Karenina with the sentence: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

He didn’t write about happy people. Happy people, no matter how wonderful they are in real life, are boring in fiction. If everyone in your novel is happy, your readers won’t be–they have no reason to read. By all means, have a happy ending, but make sure that your characters suffer along the way; make them work for their happy ending.

Tip: no one gets along in your novel. Just as in real life, we may love people, but we nevertheless dislike them occasionally. Think about your relationship with your partner, or your siblings. How often do you agree with everything they do or say?

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Make sure you have conflict on every page of your novel.

Mistake 3: Your novel’s predictable.

Read in your genre. Currently in romance fiction, billionaires are hot. If you want to write a romance featuring a hero who’s a billionaire, by all means do so. However, remember that readers who read these stories read a lot of them. They know what the tropes are. Even though you need to meet your reader’s expectations for their genre, you also need to surprise them.

Read novels’ descriptions and reader reviews on Amazon. The reviews will tell you what readers enjoy, and what they don’t. Avoid making your novel too similar to others, so that you can avoid being predictable.

Mistake 4: Your characters are cliched, or stereotyped.

Every genre of fiction has its cliches. Avoid them, if you can. Sometimes they’re unavoidable. What would historical romance be without the rake who’s transformed by love? Shady ladies who have hearts of gold are staples in many genres too.

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If you must use a cliche character like the rebel with or without a cause, give the cliche a twist.

Mistake 5: Your lead characters are unlikable.

If your heroine is a whiner, the reader will toss your book against the wall, or will delete it from her Kindle. Your leads need to be likable–people who deserve their happy ending. They need big problems, and the strength to win out when everything seems against them. They need to be admirable–even your villains need one admirable trait; otherwise, they’re cartoons.

Mistake 6: You keep writing when you’re bored.

If you’re bored with your book, your readers will be, too.

Raymond Chandler’s advice was: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”

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If your carefully plotted novel puts you to sleep, bring on the man with the gun.

Mistake 7: You write what you don’t read.

It’s tempting to jump onto the currently hot genre, whatever it may be. If you can’t read paranormal novels (vampires make you feel ill, and you think shape shifters are ridiculous) you won’t write a readable paranormal novel.

Write in genres which you read with enjoyment.

Mistake 8: All your characters sound the same.

In your first draft, your only job is to write through to the end of your novel. In your second draft, it’s time to think about your characters, and ensure that each character acts and speaks like himself.

Writing a novel is a huge, but very rewarding, undertaking. It’s easy to make novel writing mistakes. As soon as you become aware of them, do your best to correct them.

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Last Updated on February 25, 2020

Face Adversity with a Smile

Face Adversity with a Smile

I told my friend Graham that I often cycle the two miles from my house to the town centre but unfortunately there is a big hill on the route. He replied, ‘You mean fortunately.’ He explained that I should be glad of the extra exercise that the hill provided.

My attitude to the hill has now changed. I used to grumble as I approached it but now I tell myself the following. This hill will exercise my heart and lungs. It will help me to lose weight and get fit. It will mean that I live longer. This hill is my friend. Finally as I wend my way up the incline I console myself with the thought of all those silly people who pay money to go to a gym and sit on stationery exercise bicycles when I can get the same value for free. I have a smug smile of satisfaction as I reach the top of the hill.

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Problems are there to be faced and overcome. We cannot achieve anything with an easy life. Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to gain a University degree. Her activism and writing proved inspirational. She wrote, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

One of the main determinants of success in life is our attitude towards adversity. From time to time we all face hardships, problems, accidents, afflictions and difficulties. Some are of our making but many confront us through no fault of our own. Whilst we cannot choose the adversity we can choose our attitude towards it.

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Douglas Bader was 21 when in 1931 he had both legs amputated following a flying accident. He was determined to fly again and went on to become one of the leading flying aces in the Battle of Britain with 22 aerial victories over the Germans. He was an inspiration to others during the war. He said, “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.”

How can you change your attitude towards the adversity that you face? Try these steps:

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  1. Confront the problem. Do not avoid it.
  2. Deliberately take a positive attitude and write down some benefits or advantages of the situation.
  3. Visualise how you will feel when you overcome this obstacle.
  4. Develop an action plan for how to tackle it.
  5. Smile and get cracking.

The biographies of great people are littered with examples of how they took these kinds of steps to overcome the difficulties they faced. The common thread is that they did not become defeatist or depressed. They chose their attitude. They opted to be positive. They took on the challenge. They won.

Featured photo credit: Jamie Brown via unsplash.com

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