Are you ready to churn out the next bestseller? Getting a book published—whether by yourself or through a publisher—can be tough. Especially if your book possesses all the tell-tale signs of being written by an amateur. Fortunately, these reasons are ones that are easily remedied. Sometimes, publishers reject a book because it “doesn’t look professional enough”—that’s just an industry term for a book with sloppy writing, crappy grammar, and dreadful plots. Improve your writing by avoiding these common writing mistakes.
Plot and Style
Plot refers to the sequence of events that happens in a story. The plot is the basic skeleton that frames the story. Typically, the plot contains five parts—the exposition, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the denouement. It can be argued that there are only a number of plots. In fact, according to author Christopher Booker, there are seven basic plots (i.e. overcoming the monster, rags to riches, quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, rebirth). However, this does not mean that there are only seven ways to write a story. No! In fact, this is one of the pitfalls of an amateur writer writing in English.
Remember, the plot is like a pathway that your story follows. Just because you are writing a ‘rags to riches’ story, it does not mean that you have to stick to a Cinderella-formula. Remember, there are many ways to tell a story. For example, Harry Potter and Star Wars both have the ‘overcoming the monster’ plot but use different elements to tell the story.
Next on our list of common writing mistakes deals with a plot element—clichés. A cliché is anything that has been used over and over again. If you want your writing to be taken seriously, you have to avoid using clichés. Not just in plotting, but in characterization as well. How many times have we seen the bumbling sidekick or the hot, mysterious stranger from a faraway land? If you cannot avoid the use of clichés, then maybe you can try to switch it up—why not make the sidekick hot and mysterious instead of a clumsy idiot? When it comes to writing, new is definitely always better than something everyone has already seen.
The point-of-view refers to how the narrator tells the story. There are three ways to present a story. The first-person POV uses the pronouns I, we, or us to tell a story.
Next, the second-person POV uses the pronoun you to tell a story.
Last, third-person POV uses the pronouns he, she, or they to tell a story. The third-person POV has two types: limited and omniscient. Third-person limited only focuses on one character. That is, the narrator only knows what that character knows.
On the other hand, the narrator in a third-person omniscient POV is like an all-knowing god that can follow multiple characters at once, and knows everything and anything that is happening, even if the characters are not aware of these things.
A lot of works get rejected because of the use of the wrong POV. Remember, a good writer does not just know how to tell a great story, a good writer knows how to present it as well.
Nothing screams ‘Amateur!’ louder than purple prose. Purple prose is a kind of writing that sacrifices simplicity for intricacy. Novice writers want to impress their readers, and in doing so, make this common writing mistake. And most seem to think that the best way to do it is through the use of intricate language. Writing that is rife with purple prose is like reading someone that had too much fun using a thesaurus. Editors hate this kind of writing because first of all, it does not really add anything to the story. Second, it always sounds out of place, especially when done poorly. Last, it is just clutter.
Take a look at the example below. The excerpt is from the novel, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. It is a fan favorite, and it is a very good example of purple prose.
“His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn’t sleep. A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal.”
There is nothing wrong with using big words, especially if you want to showcase your writing talent. But, like everything else, there is a place for heavy use of this kind of writing (e.g. literary fiction), so thread lightly.
Showing vs. Telling
If a piece of writing contains more telling than showing, it can only mean two things. First, that the writer was too lazy. And second, that the writer lacks imagination. Take a look at the two passages below:
“Harry slammed the door. He was angry that none of his friends remembered his birthday.”
“Harry slammed the door. He stomped his way towards his bed, brows furrowed and teeth clenched. It was barely evening, but Harry went to go to sleep, rather than waste the whole night waiting for nothing. None of his friends remembered his birthday.”
The first passage tells the readers that Harry is angry and frustrated. However, the second passage shows the readers that Harry went to bed early because he was angry. See the difference? Telling merely informs the reader of what is happening. Showing, on the other hand, allows the reader to immerse into the story by using his or her imagination. Don’t want to be tagged as an amateur? Then, try to write something that is more show than tell and avoid these common writing mistakes.