When it comes to creative writing, particularly novel writing, there are just some errors that should not be published – at least three of which I’m finding in the newest book I bought.
I’ll admit right here and now that I’m going to sound like a total writing snob with this post. So let me clarify a few things off the bat:
I don’t treat novice writers like this. My creative writing clients – in fact all my editing clients – get my respect, my understanding and my guidance.
I very well remember my own mistakes from past novel manuscripts, such as being over-the-top melodramatic, using really hokey comparisons and adding in elements that did not need to be added in. On top of that, I very well remember my more recent mistakes, such as giving too much setting detail, getting too far inside my characters’ heads, and using way too many adverbs. And while I’m very happy to say that I or my editor catch the most glaring of those mistakes during the editing process, I fully recognize that I’m not a perfect writer.
There are definitely authors out there who make me go, “I want to be you when I grow up!”
It’s just that this particular author isn’t one of them.
I stumbled across this woman, who I’ll be nice and not name, on Amazon two weeks ago. Her novel had a compelling front cover and an intriguing concept. Plus it was set during the Revolutionary War, and the plot involved an American girl and a British soldier.
This was my competition. I had to check it out!
Turns out she’s not much competition though, even if she’s apparently an award-winning novelist. Why? Because of the following mistakes she made throughout the book…
Overused Character Names: The characters say each other’s names. All. The. Time.
Something such as, “Mother, I need to fetch some water” will perchance be followed by, “That’s fine, Martha. Here’s the pail,” which in turn could lead to the very next dialogue line of, “Thank you so much, Mother.”
Why is that wrong? Well, for one thing, it’s highly repetitive. Seeing the same words every other sentence gets old when it’s used seven to 15 times per page. (No, I’m not exaggerating.)
It’s also unrealistic. That’s not how we normally speak today, and I sincerely doubt it’s how the early Americans did either.
When we know who we’re addressing, and the person we’re talking to knows who we’re addressing, there really isn’t any reason to say their name unless we’re trying to emphasize something or make sure they’re listening to us.
So it comes across very unnaturally otherwise.
(If you're a novice writer and you made that error, don't worry! It's a common enough mistake and it's easily fixed – before you get published.)
Skipped Steps: Let’s say Martha is walking through the woods from her house to the place where she’s stashed the wounded redcoat.
She steps outside and immediately notices how cold it is, tightening her cloak around her shoulders. (That’s a good detail, by the way.) Then she takes two steps forward, noticing the crunch of snow beneath her feet. (Another good detail right there.) And then, suddenly, in the very next sentence, she’s at the redcoat’s side.
Now, I understand that nothing special happened on the journey, which means every single footfall doesn’t need to be detailed. But they should still be acknowledged, maybe with, “Her teeth were chattering by the time she reached the makeshift wigwam” or “Her back was stiffened straight the whole trek there; she didn’t feel safe until she was inside the shelter.”
Really Predictable Events: I think I read three chapters before I figured out exactly the kind of drama that was going to happen at some point in the book. Blame it on the writing style or the melodramatic manner with which the author stated certain details, but I just knew there was going to be a damsel in distress scene.
Damsel in distress scenes, or DIDs, happen when a fair maiden gets accosted by some bounder or cad, only to be rescued from a fate worse than death by a knight in shining armor who rides in to save the day.
I’m not trying to make light of that kind of situation. I promise. It’s simply that the way so many writers handle them doesn’t do actual damsels any justice.
More about that in a minute. For now, let’s just say that I started flipping ahead to see if I was right, and – lo and behold – there it was. Some British deserter shows up at Martha’s door and proceeds to accost her, only for the original redcoat to show up on the scene, save the day and collect the weeping damsel into his arms.
From a creative writing perspective, knowing by chapter 3 what’s going to happen in chapter 24 is unappealing, to say the least.
Bonus Novel Writing Error – DID Scenes in General: If you’re going to throw your female characters to the literary wolves like this, then try to show them some respect in the process. For example:
Make sure the scene is actually necessary. If it doesn’t lend to the plot, then don’t write it. Female characters can actually make it from page one to page done of a drama without being at risk of that kind of distress.
Make it as non-melodramatic as possible. Don’t use language just to hype up the scene. The scene is already going to be dramatic. DIDs are emotion-ridden by nature. So you don’t need to throw in extra, flowery language to make them even more so. In fact, the less details you give, the more evocative they might be.
Make it as non-cliché as possible. Please, whatever you do, don’t make the accoster rub his hands in glee like some cartoon villain or say really embarrassing lines like the ones I found in this novel, which are too humiliating to copy here. Just try to keep it classy.
So there you have it: some very important creative writing rules to follow, all thanks to the blatant errors I found in this novel that I will not name.