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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.