The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make (Penny Rader)

This month we’re talking about the biggest mistakes we’ve made in our writing.  

I've made tons of writing goofs, especially with point of view.  I knew nothing about POV when I began writing.  A judge (or five) kindly, uh, suggested I get out of Max's point of view.  Max is the Newfoundland dog in my historical romance Sapphire and Gold.  And he's not a shapeshifter.  

Overall though my two biggest writing mistakes continue to be:
  • trying to please everyone 
  • not writing, sometimes for months at a time.  

I poked around the Internet for some of the most common writing mistakes.  Here are a few bits and bytes of what I found: 

  1. Show, Don't Tell
  2. Consistent Point of View
  3. Deliver on the promise you make the reader
  4. Overuse of first names in dialogue
  5. Overuse of exclamation points

  1. Not knowing who their readers are.
  2. Not fully understanding the genre.
  3. Not developing a believable or likable character.
  4. Not understanding viewpoint (point of view).
  5. Not understanding the need for emotional tension.
  6. Plotting.
  7. Not understanding scenes and sequels to the scenes.
  8. Not understanding the need for the character to change.
  9. Not understanding conflict.
  10. Rewriting as they go along. 

  1. The passive hero.
  2. The stick-figure hero.
  3. Overwriting.
  4. Messing up POV.
  5. Prologue overuse.
  6. The long wind-up.
  7. Weak second act or the “saggy middle.”
  8. All plot, no people.
  9. Too much action.
  10. Predictability.
  11. Backstory dump.
  12. The lousy ending.
  13. Research show-off.
  14. Overly explicit dialogue.
The biggest mistake new writers make is setting a condition on what they will and will not change.

New writers should be willing to make whatever changes necessary to the execution of their story telling to make the story really shine, to draw in readers, and to accomplish what they really want.  New writers have a story to tell and sell.  … It's rarely the story-idea that needs fixing.  It's the presentation element.  It's how the writer is presenting their story, the writing execution, that needs fixing.

  • The slow start.
  • The sagging midsection.
  • Uneven pacing.
  • The “too nice” protagonist.
  • The loathsome antagonist.
  • Stilted dialogue.
  • All characters speak alike.
  • Too much detail.
  • Too much research.
  • Too many viewpoints.

  • What’s that you say?
  • Where are we?
  • When are we?
  • The battered manuscript syndrome
  • Shhh! I’m plotting!
  • Ex-cu-use me!
  • Coincidence? I don’t think so!


Care to share your biggest writing mistakes?  Have you overcome them?


Melissa Robbins said...

I'm cringing, Penny. Some painful reminders there. I'm laughing at the 'Research Show-off," though. Learn from your mistakes.

Penny Rader said...

Melissa, the first time someone told me my research was showing I didn't realize she wasn't complimenting my writing.

Nancy Jardine said...

In some ways the list of biggest mistakes seems to get bigger! Good compilation, thank you, Penny.
My first novel still has lots of those above mentioned errors!!! I'm hopeful I've learned a lot since then.

Sandra Dailey said...

I'm going to have to read this over a couple more times and take notes. I'm sure I'm hiding in there in a few places.

Calisa Rhose said...

Yep- that's me. Oh- not all, but I'm there. My biggest oops seems to be in-- punctuation... of every sort--... and when not... to use-- it!!!

Joanie said...

Great post, as usual, Penny. I found myself nodding with each list. Unfortunately, this isn't just to first time writers--I've found too many of these things appearing in published works now that the push seems to be to publish faster than ever. I think books get less editing now--and that's not just the writer's fault.


Lynne Marshall said...

Hi Penny!
(Already overused the exclamation point!)
I recognized myself far too often in those list you posted.

As a reader, I do wonder why many authors expect us to understand when a hero falls in love with a totally unlikeable heroine! (!)

I say keep the dog's POV. Sometimes it's a good idea to refocus life from another angle.

Loved the lists and your post.

Sibelle Stone said...

My editor still writes, "show don't tell" in the margins. I'm doing better, but it's a tough lesson for me to learn. And make sure you spell your character's names correctly. It sounds simple, but she caught me on the last book.

Reese Mobley said...

I agree, Penny. The worst mistake a writer can make is not writing. Thankfully, it's an easy fix. Just get something down on paper and the right words will hopefully follow.

Sahara Roberts said...

I'm working on fleshing out my last character's personality. I swear, I'm going to end up with multiple personality disorder if I keep this up. LOL