It’s natural to observe someone accomplishing something, and then wanting to do it yourself. This can include getting a degree, choosing a career, training in a sport, or, just as commonly, deciding to write a novel. However, many jump in headfirst, without taking the crucial time necessary to research this task. The best way to get started is to know where it can go wrong. Here are some common fiction writing mistakes every author makes, and how you can fix them to be successful!

Cliches

Of course, the easiest way to begin the creative process is to strengthen your knowledge of the genre by consulting what you have read in the past. While this can provide ideas and structure, it also creates an easy opportunity in which you may end up rewriting your favorite book. This refers to the idea that any reader experienced in the genre you are writing in will be able to predict your plot and subsequently lose interest.

You want your work to be interesting, new, and engaging. A novel full of overused cliches is the opposite of this. When you begin to write, first think about the basics of your story. Are most aspects of it something you’ve read before? Not everything can be brand new, but your readers will thank you if you attempt to limit the amount of reused popular plotlines or character designs in your novel. Writer’s Digest provides a few examples of how to put a twist on expectations, where “instead of writing a scene where [their] love interests finally kiss for the first time, [they] might instead write a scene they decide to rob a bank together,” or their “main character kisses someone else.” These deviations can even lead to new plotlines and will provide your opportunity to be unique.

Pacing

It can be difficult to establish where and when things should happen in your story. Overloading all the excitement in the beginning leads to readers feeling either overwhelmed as they try to keep up, or bored once the action dies down and the story plateaus. If you save the intensity for the very last chapter, you might lose some readers before they get to it.

It’s important to find a balance between dramatic scenes and the space in between them. The best way to do so is to master the use of scenes, summary, or exposition. Amber Lea Starfire defines a scene as “action occurring in a specific place and time,” summary as a period of time condensed into a short passage, and exposition as “when the narrator tells us what they think or feel about what is happening,” or to provide context. To keep your readers engaged, ensure that you include some summary and exposition to explain previous events or facts, and then focus on using scenes with vivid sensory details to provide the current action. If writing about a family camping trip, your summary and exposition would include telling readers about where they are staying, why, and perhaps information about the family. Then, a scene would occur during a moment in time when the family is arguing, unpacking, or cracking jokes.

Lack of Conflict

Every story needs a challenge that must be overcome by the main character. This conflict is where the excitement and true emotions derive, and, without proper tension, your novel will feel dull and flat. Conflicts can come in a variety of types: they can occur between two characters, a character and the environment, or even within a character’s own mind. Whatever it may be, these obstacles are necessary to keep your readers engaged and add an element of risk to the story.

A plot map can be a great tool for reviewing and creating your outline. These act as a graphical representation of the story and allow the author to visualize key elements by filling in different categories, from internal obstacles to dark moments. Using a plot map, such as the ones provided by The Novel Factory, will help guide your story to ensure it involves the crucial aspects of fiction, including conflict. You can further break it down by studying the goals or missions of each character. Does the character with an objective obtain it easily, or do they struggle? Including an insurmountable conflict to act against them will keep your readers worried and unsure of the ending. You will also benefit from incorporating small problems that arise throughout to keep your readers on their guard and distract them from the bigger issues. Perhaps your characters begin to argue on their journey, and it results in them splitting up. Or, a massive snowstorm traps your characters inside before they must make an important meeting. These minor issues can impact your entire story, and often for the better.

 Minimal Research vs. Excessive Research

Creating content is most enjoyable when you are well-educated in the craft. If you are writing a story about a place you’ve never visited, readers will notice when you mention cuisine that isn’t local or locations that don’t exist. Writing about an arrest or investigating a crime with Law and Order as your source of knowledge may not cut it with your readers. Overloading each paragraph with stories of history or facts that don’t connect to the story, though, is also not ideal because it can lead to unnecessary clutter and distraction in your novel.

Before you begin, consider your setting, time period, and other details of the story. Then, prepare yourself by researching such crucial aspects. When writing, weave in small details that prove you know the basics. If your story is set in 1950s London, the local drink enjoyed by your character would be tea. If set in current times, coffee has become more popular, so this would be a natural choice. Subtle details such as this prove to your reader that you are knowledgeable, and thus enhance your credibility as a writer. Keep these points short and interesting, however. Readers will not enjoy entire paragraphs about irrelevant history or the origin of the cobblestones on the street, which may distract from your writing.

 Telling vs. Showing

When caught up in the moment of a writing frenzy, it’s natural to give up on lengthy descriptions and intricate word choice to ensure all your ideas make the page. However, this often leads to explicitly stating what is occurring, rather than allowing your readers to make their own assumptions and interpretations about your story as it naturally unfolds. Comparatively, showing what is occurring creates an immersive experience for the reader, as they get to feel your vivid imagery and deeper meanings that ultimately produce a work of higher quality.

As FemFounder recommends, try to “paint a vibrant picture with your words.” However, there is a balance that needs to be established between “getting carried away with unnecessary descriptions and excessive, over-the-top words,” versus blatantly stating what is occurring. Make sure each sentence has a purpose that engages the reader. Can they picture what is occurring based on your sentences, or are you telling them exactly? Are you telling them that your character is angry, or having them throw a coffee mug across the room? Do you state that they are frustrated, or do they begin an argument with their partner who isn’t listening to them? Evaluate the effectiveness of how you plan to convey feelings, places, and events.

Not Knowing Your Characters

To stimulate the plot, a common fiction writing mistake for new writers is having a character act out in a manner completely unlike them. This can happen in real life, but when done in a novel, it often has the effect of startling or confusing the reader, who then feels as though the entire development of the character has been discarded. New writers may also demonstrate unfamiliarity with their characters when they mix up their details or backgrounds, or when these aspects are misaligned with how the character behaves.

Essentially, the characters are the main elements of the novel. They run the show, and to do so, need to be fully evolved and realistic. Ensure that your characters each play a role that they can stick to in the novel, even if that role develops over time. A person cannot gain ten years of experience about anything overnight or learn a new difficult skill in an hour. Focus on what they are familiar with, where they have lived, what their motivations are, and why they are in the story to ensure that you feel as connected with them as your readers do.

To begin developing these details, try interviewing your characters and providing thorough answers. You can refer to this when you have opportunities to share details about them, such as their favorite ice cream flavor or saddest childhood memory—your character may hate vanilla ice cream because they were eating it when they found out their mother passed away. 

Now What?

You’ve probably finished this article and are now thinking, wow, this sounds more intimidating than I expected. However, just by committing to the idea of writing your own novel, you have surpassed the general population in ambition. This alone demonstrates your determination and the fact that you can do this!

Now that you know these fiction writing mistakes, you can keep an eye on your story. Learning and practicing the craft before and during any task will leave you feeling more confident and reassured. It takes time to become the best version of yourself before you can put out the best version of your work. Hopefully, referencing these while you write can help you avoid such common fiction writing mistakes and result in a work that you can be proud of!

Focus on embracing a growth mindset. With each new draft, you will improve and expand your skills to create results you never thought possible. This growth is what will eventually produce your fantastic novel, so appreciate every step of the way, and stay dedicated! Keep this, and what you have now learned, in mind, and you will find the courage to write! 

Grab your FREE QuickStart Publishing Guide!

Get valuable information to confidently navigate the publishing process PLUS a publishing checklist to keep you on track to becoming a successful author.

You have Successfully Subscribed!