Ain't Misbehavin' (Melissa Robbins)

Mistakes in writing.  Made them and some I didn’t know I did, but today, I am posting about the mistakes our characters make or letting our characters make.  I can’t remember where I found it, but someone wrote don’t ‘parent’ your YA characters.  As a parent, I need to allow my kids to fail so they learn from their mistakes.  In my crazy mind, my characters are like my kids, so the same theory applies to them, and like my kids, some misbehave more than others (more about that in a minute.)   Think back to many YA characters.  Where were the parents?  Would you let your kids get away with many of the ‘adventures’ those kids got into?   You wouldn’t have much of a story if your characters did what they were supposed to do.  My husband said he could never be a writer because he couldn’t imagine his characters to doing stupid stuff.   

            So what is a writer to do?  Let your characters fail, even if it breaks your heart to see them hurt.  We have all screamed at the TV, “Why did you do that!?”  Use those emotions you feel toward your characters’ feelings.   There’s that GMC (goals, motivation, and conflict) rearing its ugly head.  It is times like this that I prefer mystery writing over romance writing.  I want my characters to be in love, not fighting or apart because of some world war, but that stuff really happens/happened, so you have to do it. 

            Back to my characters misbehaving.  Reminds me of the B-17 ‘Ain’t Miss Behaven’ (there were several ‘Ain’t Miss Behavens’ by the way). It’s funny to me how characters can take on lives of their own.  Not parenting them can be rewarding.  They know better than us, sometimes, but then as parents, I mean writers, we have to interfere when things get really out of control and nudge them in the right direction.  I have one pilot (not my hero) that’s so naughty, he corrupted my heroine and I had to rewrite an entire chapter and one scene.  I know what you’re thinking.  That corruption could be good story telling, but no, they both carried on completely out of character.  Okay, maybe my pilot acted like he feels (he can’t help it, he’s wicked that way), but not my heroine. 

            That’s the joy of storytelling, unlike real life, even if our characters do major mistakes, they get giant do-overs.  In the end, it all works out for our characters.  At least, I hope it does.  Torture your characters, but for the sake of my heart, give me a happy ending. 

**side note – The B-17 ‘Ain’t Miss Behaven’ of the 452nd bomber group was named by the pilot Oliver Wright, because of his newly marital status just before the crew went to England.**

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?


What’s the worst writing mistake you ever made that taught you a valuable lesson?
This one is easy for me.  Not easy in picking which mistakes, because there have been oh so many the last ten or so years.  Easy because there is ONE huge mistake that stands out above all the others. 

It's something we probably all struggle with, but handle differently.  Something that I still struggle with today, so if anyone has any magic answers to how to end the vicious cycle feel free to share.

One word sums up my biggest mistake:  PROCRASTINATION   

My biggest mistake so far in a nutshell:  Not following through.

I'd been writing about 3 years and had started doing well in contests.  I'd even managed to final in RWA's 2005 Golden Heart contest.  My writing had gotten requests, and even made it as far as an editor asking for revisions.  And what did I do?  I didn't follow through.  I let life get in the way and kept promising myself SOMEDAY I'd get to that, SOMEDAY I'd finish the revisions and get more out there.   

What in the world was I thinking? 

I wasn't thinking I guess.  I let life get in the way.  Life can be a really tricky thing, but life is something that we all have to learn to deal with in our own way.  If we let life keep us from our dreams, are we really living to the fullest anyway?  Knowing what I should be doing and doing it are still not coming together as nicely as I'd like.  Right now I have a request from an editor to see more of my writing and I've been sitting on it.  Those some day thoughts dancing through my mind. 

Just the other day I took a small step toward kicking my own rear in gear.  I took the letter out of hiding and framed it and hung it over my desk.  Now I at least have to look at it every day and be reminded that I have something I SHOULD be doing.  Seeing the letter makes me stop and remember my past mistake of putting things off.  Continued putting things off really never gets them done believe it or not.  Just took me a few years to wrap my mind around that one.  Still wrapping and still fighting that battle every day.  

Anyone out there besides me have trouble with procrastination?  Anyone winning the battle?  Tell me about it.

Conference Oopsies

DATE: July 2007
LOCATION: RWA National Conference, Dallas, TX

Get 2000 people, mostly women, mostly romance writers, agents, and editors, together, and the setting is ripe for social gaffs.  Sure, we're all trying to be on our best behavior and hope to make good impressions on the people we meet, but we're also human.  We're fallible.  We make mistakes.

For those walking the road that may lead to that first book sale, a conference provides a place to meet and possibly talk with an editor or agent who might be interested in seeing their work.  A brief introduction with these professionals can sometimes gain a writer an invitation to submit.

For published authors, it's a chance to meet with their editor, agent, and fellow authors.  It's about participating in the book signing that raises money to fight illiteracy and is a great chance to meet readers.

For everyone, it's about networking.

For someone like me, it's an open invitation to embarrassment.

The 2007 RWA conference is the perfect example of the ineptitude that sneaks up on me at the worst times.  One of my closest and best writing friends lost her husband earlier that year, so she and I roomed together at the hotel.  The first night, we talked into the wee hours of the morning.  Wee=about 6 a.m. when we both finally fell asleep.  I had a 9 a.m. Meet & Greet to attend.  I managed to make it there on time, but I was a zombie.  When a woman walked up to me with her hand outstretched and introduced herself (first name), I shook her hand and gave her my name.  I didn't say anything else, because my brain hadn't yet kicked in.  She looked at me as if I was on drugs, then turned to walk away.  She'd taken three steps when I realized she was my new senior editor.  Now, how I was I going to undo that faux pas?  I didn't even try and felt like a fool for the rest of the hour.  It was definitely not one of my finest moments.

The luncheon with the same senior editor was a few days later, and I can't say it went much better.  The waitress didn't seem to understand that all I wanted was a salad, and it took some explaining, while all the other authors at the table looked on as if...  Yeah, you get the picture.

Friends have told me it was nothing to worry about, and although I've taken their comfort to heart, I still feel that tiny squeeze of embarrassment when I think about how foolish I was.  Does my senior editor remember?  I don't have a clue.  I haven't been back to a conference since then, nor had the opportunity to speak with her.  At best, if I'm lucky, she's probably forgotten.  At worst...well, it hasn't kept her from giving the "buy" nod to my books, so maybe it wasn't the grand oops that I remember.

Lesson learned?  In the future, I will make sure I've had enough sleep to form coherent thoughts and words. But to tell the truth, I've been known to become tongue-tied at the worst possible times, so even sleep may not put an end to embarrassing moments.  I guess that's just part of life, and it's best to forget these incidents, if possible, or to at least learn to laugh at them.  After all, we all make mistakes.

Mistake or Learning Experience?

There are two kinds of writers.  Plotters and Pantsers.  Plotters tend to outline their stories and follow the outline faithfully.  Pantsers on the other hand, write by the seat of their pants or in a much more freewheeling spontaneous style.  I slowly evolved from a dyed-in-the-wool plotter to a hybrid with characteristics of both styles.  That I needed to be more of a pantser (read that my characters needed me to be) was brought home like a proverbial 2x4 up side the head during the writing of the fourth book in my Honour series.  Honour’s Redemption took an eternity to write.  Well, not an eternity but it seemed that long since I ended up writing the first half twice.  How did that happen?  Was it a mistake?

I had always outlined my stories and was accustomed to my characters occasionally going their own way.  It usually wasn’t a big detour and the story followed the outline more rather than less.  Forgive a small aside here: I’ve never been able to understand or explain how the characters I create act like my children in that they do their own thing no matter how I feel about it.  I worried for my sanity until other writers mentioned having similar problems.  The end result is the same--if I don’t let my characters have their way the story will stall out and go nowhere.  When it came to Honour’s Redemption the characters evidently decided I need a writing life lesson.

After outlining Redemption I started writing.  Somewhere around Chapter Four my hero and a couple of my minor characters started objecting to the direction of the story.  I put my foot down or rather my finders to the keyboard, and wrote on ignoring their protests.  By Chapter Seven I was getting uneasy about the tone of the story.  It was dark to a degree anyway but it was taking on a more sinister rather than redemptive quality.  I still refused to listen to what my characters were whispering in my head.  This was MY story I was going to write it \MY way.  The outline or the highway.

Then in Chapter Eleven a minor character was raped.  This scene was not in my outline.  “How could this happen?” I asked in stunned horror.  I, after all, was writing the story.  The incident had nothing to do with my image of my main characters’ journeys-- physical, emotional or otherwise and I did not want this incident in my story.  And the story was dead on the monitor or perhaps more realistically completely, totally stalled in my mind.  I tried rewriting the chapter to take it another direction.  That went nowhere.  I put it aside for a week and when I came back to it I struggled until I admitted that I didn’t have a glimmer of an idea about how to fix it.  I put it aside again.

Two months later, and over 200 pages into the book, I came to the conclusion that the only way the book would get written was to throw out what I had and start over.  I bit the bullet, reread the outline, and began again.  But this time I let the characters lead the story.  I steeled my nerves and re-outlined when they got too far off the Roman numeral track.  At the mid-point of the story I heaved a huge sigh of relief.  While the tale wasn’t following MY outline it did have the tone I wanted.  Evidently the characters also decided I had learned my lesson.  I wrote the last third of that book, 130 plus pages, in less than a week.  I usually write faster when I near the end of writing a book, just like I read faster when reading a book.  I can’t wait to find out how it ends in either case.  I mean, we all know boy gets girl or vice versa but HOW?  That is what I must know.  This time the words, the scenes just flowed from my fingers like magic.  Gives me a chill just to recall it.

I still plot but I learned from my experience with Honour’s Redemption and never stand in the way of my characters for long.  Are your characters as independent as mine?  Or am I a few keys short of a keyboard?


This month we’re supposed to confess our biggest writing mistake and what we learned from it.  Since they say confession is good for the soul, I decided to play along. 
My biggest writing mistake happened a few years ago.  I’d entered a contest and eagerly awaited my results.  Well, wait a minute.  A little back story is probably in order.  This was my very first completed manuscript.  I knew way less than I thought I did.  I, like so many other new writers, expected to write a good book, sell the book and then smile all the way to the bank.  Write, sell, smile, bank, repeat.  You get the picture. 
Sure, I finished my book, but the domino effect starting with the writing and ending at the bank—well, that didn’t happen.  Before bravely sending it out to an editor, I decided to enter my manuscript in a contest.  You know, get some honest feedback from someone who hadn’t changed my diapers, known me from birth, attended my wedding or helped me write the sucker via some intense critique sessions.   
Someone who didn’t know me from Adam.  Or Eve.
I printed and mailed it in the nick of time—beat the deadline by mere hours.  After a few months, they sent it back as promised. 
I didn’t win. 
Once the shock settled, I decided to find out why my first chapter of my first book hadn’t wowed them.  Other than it NOT REALLY BEING VERY GOOD, I read something that surprised me as much as it must have surprised them. 
There were missing body parts.  Let me set it up for you.  In this manuscript, the heroine and her young daughter are on the run.   They have a flat tire.  It’s snowing and they walk in the dark, past a cemetery, to the only house for miles.  No one answers her knock and the heroine feels defeated.  How is she going to protect her child from the elements and the mob chasing them?  She squats down with her back to the door.  Fresh from the shower, the hero yanks open the door and the heroine falls backward.  I believe the exact lines were “Annie fell back into the cabin and found herself within inches of legs.  Bare legs.”           
I should have proofed it closer.  The manuscript I entered in that contest read, “Annie fell back into the cabin and found herself with inches of legs.” 
INCHES of legs.  Really?  What the heck happened to them?  Now this may not seem like a huge mistake, but I learned a huge lesson from it.  I proof read everything and if I have time, I employ the services of the former diaper changers, the people who’ve known me since day one and the overworked critique partners. 
Heaven forbid any of them should ever find their characters with inches of legs.