Sometimes, writing is a science. You can't perform an experiment without a little trial and error, and you hope you don't create some grammar-mutant in the process. Here are just five errors I personally made when I first started experimenting and how to avoid/fix them. Enjoy!
It seems so simple, but you'd be surprised—I know I am—when you look at your manuscript and see the word "look" or "see" littered across the page. A good way to avoid this is to look at it paragraph by paragraph and highlight any repeating words. Then you can go back in and see if you can completely delete some or change them to something else.
Repetition can actually be an effective tool in your writing, but only when it is intentional.
He looked at her. "You look awful."
It was hard waking up. It was hard getting out of bed. It was hard doing anything after he died.
The first sentence is an accident and can be seen as being lazy on the writer's part since they didn't take the time to comb through their words. In contrast, the second one has repetition of a certain phrase in order to form a voice for the character. It also shows the struggle within the person speaking by utilizing short, similar sentences.
Again, rhyming isn't always bad. However, when you have words that rhyme in the same sentence, you may be mistaken for trying to write a really bad song instead of a great piece of literature.
In order to save face, he decided he had to win this race.
It may go unnoticed, but if you read things out loud (which I also highly recommend when you're revising), it's like a train of awkwardness. Just make sure that if you're rhyming, it has a reason (see what I did there?).
3. cliché sayings
These are the things we hear all the time—things that are expected. We have heard and seen them so much that they are no longer new and exciting. Therefore, if you use them, clichés can make your writing seem less new and exciting, which is definitely something to avoid!
It was pitch black.
He told her that blood was thicker than water.
You look like the cat that ate the canary.
Cold as ice
Still as stone
White as a ghost
They wouldn't hurt a fly.
There are tons more, and although they're fine in everyday conversation, you don't want to put them into your narrative. The only time I think it's understandable is when it's in dialog since, well, people are talking.
Think of it this way: your prose should always be stronger than something someone always says. You owe it to yourself to make your work as interesting to the eye and mind as you can, and clichés take that away from the reader.
What if you took something commonly said and changed it so it was unexpected, interesting, and new?
My heart sank and I realized I was as weak as a kitten.
My heart became a stone in my chest and plummeted into my stomach as I realized I was as weak as a newborn kitten, eyes closed and helpless.
This is an exaggerated version, of course, but you get the idea. In short, cliches are more or less similes and metaphors. You don't want boring ones that readers expect.
4. Pop-up Characters
You, Heather, and Jim are having coffee.
"My coffee is too hot," says Jim.
Glancing in his direction, you say, "But you haven't even had any yet."
"That's because he's spilled it into his lap." Heather laughs.
"You're so clumsy," Greg tells him.
...Uh, who the hell is Greg? You don't know him. Where did he come from?
This is how a reader feels when you've sucked them into a scene and suddenly introduce someone they weren't aware was there. When did Greg walk in? Were you supposed to be meeting him? Is this a surprise visit? These things should be clear. No one (including you) is going to believe you have a new friend named Greg who just materialized for a cappuccino.
5. Point of view changes mid-scene/chapter
This is something I was never aware of until I wrote my first third-person book, Animal. When my workshop partners saw the very, very rough draft (sorry, guys), this was one of the things they pointed out.
Now, there is such a thing as Omniscient POV, but most of the time this mistake is made when the story is being told by one person or if the story is told by multiple people with no distinction between them.
Unsuccessful POV shift
Mike was having a hard time getting his dog to sit still as he took off its collar. It was his first bath and Mike was nervous he would freak out. Martha could see the dog was a Labrador and she loved them—especially puppies.
This is Mike's "story". He is just a regular guy and can't see into other people's heads. Therefore, unless this is a paranormal book where Mike can read minds, he can't know what Martha is thinking or feeling. He can only assume or infer.
Successful POV shift
Mike was having a hard time getting his dog to sit still as he took off its collar. It was his first bath and Mike was nervous he would freak out.
Martha could see the dog was a Labrador and she loved them—especially puppies.
This is an overly-simplistic example, but it's just for illustration purposes. Here, we have a clear break in the scene and the asterisks separate the two characters and what they are thinking. This way, the reader knows that someone else is telling the story from their point of view. This is not the only way to accomplish this; you can start a new chapter or even label things "Mike" and "Martha" if it fits your style. Ultimately, you want to make sure things are clear and you do everything you can not to confuse your reader.
There are so many things to think about when considering the POV of your story. I plan to write a whole in-depth post about just that, so stay tuned!
So there it is, five tips and hopefully some helpful tricks to avoid bad writing. Are you the victim of reading any of these? Are you guilty of doing it yourself? Comment below with your thoughts!
See you next week,