The Top Ten Mistakes New Fiction Authors Make
by Sally Zigmond
Are you wondering why your short stories keep coming back with politerejection letters? It could be that one of these ten "fatal errors"is standing between you and publication!
Lack of Editing
The best writers re-write and re-write. New writers tend to thinkthat editing merely means a brief read through for typos and spellingerrors. That's the very last thing to do. The first draft of a shortstory is like a lump of wood. Removing unnecessary waffle, sharpeningup images and choosing the exact word will reveal the beauty of thegrain.
Too many new writers don't give their imagination full rein. Theyseem afraid look beyond and beneath the surface. Their characters aredull and lead dull lives. Above all, fiction must intrigue andentertain. Avoid stereotyped characters and situations. Why can't arich business man be kind and compassionate? Why are unemployed menalways lazy and sit around in their vests swigging out of cans? Whycan't one or two learn Latin or take up line-dancing?
Too Much Irrelevant Detail
In short fiction especially, include information only if it furthersthe plot, aids characterization and provides a sense of place andtime. Too much background information makes a story all tell and noshow. Don't go into detail about characters if they have nosignificant part to play in the fiction. Never give bit part playersa name. If all a postman has to do is deliver the all-importantletter, don't say he's Stan, the postman whose wife nags him and hasa bad back after falling off his bike in 1976. His function is justto be a postman. Don't lead up to an event. Jump in straight away.Drip-feed vital information subtly. Don't drop in heavy indigestiblechunks of history or description. Make it a central part of thecurrent action.
No Attention to Language
Too many writers are so busy "telling a story" that they fail tochoose their words carefully enough. All writers should try toincrease their vocabulary; not by using fancy words just for the sakeof it -- writing should always be clear -- but by using intriguinglanguage in new ways. Wind doesn't only blow. It can rip, roar,strangle, whip. Be imaginative. It's not only what you say but theway you say it.
Absence of Imagery and Reliance on Cliches
Too much fiction is flat because it lacks vibrant images. Cliches aresimiles and metaphors that have been so overworked they cease to meananything and sound limp and stale, like as cold as ice, as black ascoal. Don't say, "she sighed with relief"; think of another waysomeone might show relief. Match your imagery to the story andcharacter. If your main character is always rushing about, useimagery relating to speed. Send him to the greyhound track to act outhis scenes or place him by a railway line where express trainsthunder past. If your character is depressed then send her intotunnels, underpasses, cellars and basements. Reinforce the prevailingmood, but avoid the obvious. Don't draw the reader's attention towhat you're doing. Just do it.
No Sense of Place
People are not only the result of their genes, but are shaped bytheir environment. Show the readers where your characters live andwork. If it's the sprawling suburbs, then show us. What does asuburban avenue, sound and smell like? How does the light shine onit? Show us its life -- a man delivering charity bags from door todoor, wheelie bins standing by gates. If someone lives in a filthyhovel behind the gasworks, let's see, hear and touch it. Too manywriters let their characters float around in a vacuum. Don't forgetto engage all the senses. Most writers describe how things look, buthow does fear taste? How does anger smell? What does beauty soundlike? Be adventurous.
No Shape or Structure
All fiction, but especially the short story, works best when itconcentrates on one person in one situation that takes place in areasonably short space of time. A short story expresses a moment ofchange and charts the journey through this change and shows whathappens at the far end. Begin the story as close as possible to themoment of change. Don't waffle on once the change and its aftermathhas happened. Don't allow yourself to be sidetracked. Learn how topace a story, when to give and when to withhold information, when andhow to create tension, speed things up, slow things down. This isdone by carefully choosing words, not only for the sound they makebut the length of syllables etc. Writing is a craft as much as anart. If a writer needs to introduce flashback, it should be carefullysign-posted in and out, to avoid confusion. Shifts in viewpointshould also be carefully introduced.
Poor Dialogue Skills
Dialogue in fiction isn't real but it must sound real. Keep it sharp.Don't allow your characters to make long confessional speeches orengage in too much cozy chit-chat. Use it to provide essentialinformation and above all to show character.
Lack of Technical Knowledge
All writers should learn or brush up their grammar by learning whythings are so. The most common mistakes, such as confusion of "it's"and "its," "your" and "you're" mark you as a beginner. Learn thereasons behind the rules and you can't possibly get it wrong. Onlywhen you know the rules inside out can you be brave enough to breakthem. The best way to learn how to do it is to read as much publishedfiction as you can. If you read plenty by a variety of authors youcannot possibly "pick up" their style. It will, on the contrary, helpdevelop your own.
My Top Tip
When you think your story is the best you can make it, put it asideand leave it for as long as possible -- minimum one week. Then readit out aloud. Your errors will leap up at you like snarling dogs! Nowrewrite it.
Copyright © 2002 Sally Zigmondhttp://www.writing- world.com/ fiction/mistakes .shtml