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How to Fix Writing Errors

I tutor, lecture and teach writing. I have also penned eight bestselling novels, and have found that authors often struggle with some aspect of storytelling. Whatever you find difficult will no doubt be a problem amongst other authors. It is often comforting to know you are not alone. Even bestselling authors have issues. These are the ones that I have found to be the most common.

Show - Don't Tell 

 

This is the most common struggle. Telling is when the narrator informs the reader of everything from backstory to what is happening, from setting descriptions to relaying emotions and revealing intentions. While showing is when the characters interact with each other through actions, dialogue, expressions, and body language. Of course, It is more difficult to show than tell, which is why this mistake is so common.

 

Let's face it, telling is our default setting. Even when we are tell a friend about something that has happened, we tell them what went on. We give them the facts and maybe a bit of dialogue. So, since the narrator is the one telling the story, it feels natural for us to “tell.” But describing everything characters see and experience by relaying facts keeps the reader at a distance rather than making them feel like an active participant. They want to be immersed in the story. They want to feel what your characters feel.


Let me give you an example to explain the difference between telling and showing: 

 

Telling

 In high school, Mary was shy and had only one friend, Jenna. She didn’t like parties or even go to the movies. She liked to hang out at home or at her friend’s house, where it was only them and their families. Sometimes, even the families were too much for her.

 

Showing

 “In high school, you were shy,” Jenna said. “You didn’t like parties. We never went to the movies. We just hung out at our parent’s. Sometimes, you couldn’t even handle that.”

Mary rubbed the handle of her coffee mug. “You were my only friend. I appreciated that. I still do.”  

 

You can see that by turning the narrator’s explanation into dialogue, the reader will feel closer to your characters.

Weak Hooks

 

You have less than 10 seconds to hook your reader! (Honestly.) That amounts to only four to ten lines of text, so for most genres, an introductory narrative or backstory doesn’t work now.

 

In our current society where everything is about immediate gratification, many readers will stop reading if the story starts by explaining background to the characters or story. Today’s fashion is to start with something more exciting.

 

I advise that you try beginning with some type of action. It doesn’t have to be an alien attack in progress or exploding bombs, but a character should be doing something. Not working up to what he is going to be doing. It could be as simple as ‘Lucy punched the back of the bus as it pulled away.’

 

While you may be tempted to tell the reader she missed the bus that would have taken her to work or to her date. But do not underestimate your reader, they will understand she missed her ride. And where she was going could be revealed through her next action or statement.

 

“That’s just great. I’m going to miss my audition?” She switched her violin to her other hand and pulled out ten dollars from her sweatshirt pocket. That will get me exactly nowhere. 

 

The narrator shouldn’t go into where the audition is, why it’s so important, how many years she’s been practicing, or describe what the street looks like. All that information isn’t exciting enough to keep the reader interested. Instead, reveal these things through action and dialogue.

Lack of conflict


A lack of conflict is most noticeable when things come too easily for the characters. I’m going to put poor conflict in this category as well. An example of poor conflict is when issues could be solved if the characters simply talked it out.

 

For external conflicts, the characters should try and fail, their plans should be thwarted, the antagonist throws a spanner into the works. Internal conflicts should also be present. The ‘should I, shouldn’t I’ debate or deep contemplation about their feelings, their past, their future. While your characters will win sometimes, in almost every scene, they should be worse off at the end than at the beginning.

 

Conflict leads to tension and suspense. Most likely the reader knows the character will get out of a bad situation, but it’s the how and when that keeps them up at night. Without conflict, the story reads flat. Even uplifting happy novels have conflict, so the reader enjoys their success even more. Make sure your story has enough conflicts, both internal and external, that your reader worries about them and roots for them. Increase the severity of the conflicts as the story progresses to build tension and suspense in your novel.

 

When things come too easily for characters, your readers can’t relate to them, and they want to feel like they are part of the story.

Read Your Story Out Loud


One of the ways to minimise these issues in you finished story or novel is to read your draft out loud before you consider it finished. Good luck! And enjoy your writing.


 

 


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