Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What Are the Mistakes You See in Beginner Writers?

What are the mistakes you see in beginner writers?

By Stephanie Abbott

Unwillingness to revise. For whatever reason, many writers don’t like to self-edit, especially if they intend to use a professional editor. But ruthless self-editing is essential to improving your craft. Question the relevance of every sentence. Never use a word unless you know its precise meaning. Ferret out those times when you repeat yourself. Your editor’s job is to help you determine if your story works, if your characters are worthwhile, if the book succeeds. Not to rewrite every awkward sentence.
Trying to stretch a novella or novelette into a full-length book. Let the engine of your story, the message you mean to deliver, determine the length. Back in the bad old days, you had to hit a certain word count to be worth the cost of publication – in fact, old-school writers still crow about that. (“My editor would laugh in my face if I presented him with a 60K word “novel.”) Well, times have changed. There is a market for shorter fiction, and no reader wants to wade through padding.
A perfect lead character. Not long ago I wrote a blog post called “Why Batman is Better than Superman (And Always Will Be.) The gist: Superman is perfect. He doesn’t make errors, he always means well, he’s kind to his mom and stands for truth, justice and the American way. Batman has issues. Batman can’t maintain a normal relationship and he spends every night beating the stuffing out of nameless malcontents. He’s covered with scars and will no doubt cripple himself by the end, but the intensity of his compulsion spurs him on. So, Batman or Superman – which character is more interesting?
Underestimating your audience. This ties in to #3. Usually when I gently tell a writer their protagonist is dull (perfect) the writer replies, “I know. But if I give Mary Sue any real flaws, the readers won’t understand.” Trust me, they will. Fiction junkies are not Victorian grandmothers; they won’t get the vapors if your protagonist has anger issues, feels unappreciated at the office or takes daily medication for a chronic disease. At least, the vast majority won’t. There will always be some blue-haired, tight-lipped prude who’ll take you to task if your fiction includes sex, violence, adultery, etc. But you can’t spend your whole career writing about Barbie and Ken to avoid scandalizing a few oddballs.
Assuming all criticism is equally valid. This cuts both ways. If you have a supportive mom who loves everything you do, her boundless adoration of your manuscript doesn’t count. If you have a frustrated writer friend who “just isn’t ready” to query an agent or self-publish, yet tears apart your writing line by line, her critique may say more about her than you. Finding a good, honest critique partner is very much buyer beware. This should be someone who has no vested interest in building up your ego OR tearing it down. Such a critique partner is hard to find, but worth their weight in gold.
About the author - Stephanie Abbott is the face behind the popular pseudonym, S.A. Reid. Well-known for her “real and likeable characters”, she also writes paranormal fiction (a new series titled Past Lives is currently being penned), fantasy, and sci-fi. Additionally, she also pens cozy mysteries as Emma Jameson.

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