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Top 30 Amateur Novel Writing Mistakes


It's one of the paradoxes of life: Everyone starts out as an amateur, but no one wants to be identified as one. To help you avoid looking like an amateur, I've compiled a list of the top 30 amateur novel writer mistakes.

  1. Waiting for someone to ask you to write your debut novel: Amateurs often wait for someone else to give them permission to write; professionals give themselves permission.
  2. Mimicking the voice or tone of your favorite writer instead of finding your own unique voice: Many writers might start out echoing their literary heroes, but if you continue writing every day, you will find your unique writing style.
  3. Using adverbs: Adverbs are often an indicator of a weak or inexperienced writer, because adverbs modify basic verbs to make them more descriptive. To ensure that you are not filling your novel with adverbs, search for "ly" in your document. For each result, substitute a more descriptive verb for the basic verb and delete the adverb. For example, instead of saying, "He jumped happily" you could say, "He leapt with delight."
  4. Forced dialogue that doesn't advance the plot: To avoid writing bad dialogue, remember that readers do not expect you to relate every word that is exchanged between characters. Instead, use dialogue to convey important information or to give readers insight into a character's thoughts or feelings. Well-written dialogue can also reveal how characters relate to each other or how they feel about each other.
  5. Every character speaks with the same exact style, word choices, and rhythm: To individuate your characters and make them feel real to your readers, make sure that each character has a distinct voice or a specific manner of speaking. If all of your characters sound the same in dialogue, you might as well not include dialogue at all. If you struggle to give individual voices to each character in your novel, pay attention to how people around you speak. Everyone has certain words or phrases that they tend to repeat frequently in conversation. If you start noticing the differences in how people speak, you will find it easier to assign unique voices to your characters.
  6. Telling your readers what is happening instead of showing the action through your characters: You want readers to feel as if they are experiencing things along with the main character. You cannot immerse readers in a story by just telling them the basic facts of what is happening. Consider the following example, which simply tells you what is happening: "When he saw the wolf round the corner, he felt scared and wanted to run away." To write the same scene in a way that shows readers what is happening, you could write something like, "He saw the wolf round the corner, and his stomach tensed at the haunting look in the wolf's dark eyes. He tried to turn and run towards home, but his legs seemed to be paralyzed with fear."
  7. Switching points of view or head hopping: Amateur writers often forget to stick with their chosen point of view throughout the entire story. Most novels are told through the eyes of the protagonist, so if the protagonist doesn't know what someone else is thinking or feeling, the reader shouldn't know either. If you suddenly switch perspectives and provide a glimpse inside another character's mind, you will confuse your readers and risk losing their interest.
  8. Not including enough conflict or tension in the story: A good story will have the perfect balance of conflict so readers feel engaged in the action but not frustrated or bored.
  9. Resolving the conflict without any true struggle, pain, or growth: If your protagonist achieves everything they've always wanted without ample struggle, readers will quickly lose interest.
  10. Failing to show how the characters grow or change during the story: Characters do not always have to experience drastic growth, but if your main characters are exactly the same at the end of the story as they were at the beginning, did the story need to be told?
  11. Including too many characters: Featuring too many characters will make your story feel messy and hard to follow. Stick with one to four main characters and only a few supporting characters.
  12. Providing unnecessary details or too much backstory: You might need to write elaborate backstories as you find the plot and get to know your characters. The difference between amateurs and professionals is that professionals recognize which details to cut from the final version.
  13. Not reading your manuscript aloud to find errors or slow parts: Reading aloud will help you find awkward passages, grammatical errors, or continuity issues.
  14. Not asking for feedback from people you trust and respect: It can be humbling to ask your loved ones to read your manuscript, but getting honest feedback from people you respect will help you address issues before they are printed and bound.
  15. Using too many exclamation points: You never need more than one exclamation point, and you rarely need one. You can use exclamation points more often in dialogue, but in general prose, find ways to express enthusiasm or excitement with your words.
  16. Writing in passive voice: Passive voice removes the subject from the sentence, so it can be difficult to tell who performed the action. Passive voice also puts distance between the reader and the action in the text, which is the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.
  17. Using cliches: Cliches are overused and unoriginal, so avoid them like the plague. Your work is unique and engaging, so consult a thesaurus and find new ways to express common phrases.
  18. Incorrect punctuation marks: Know when to use a comma, semicolon, or colon, and learn how to punctuate dialogue. If you are unsure, consider hiring an editor to correct any erroneous punctuation or incorrect grammar.
  19. Using "quotation marks" on random phrases: Only use quotation marks when you are writing dialogue. It becomes "really distracting" if someone "overuses quotation marks."
  20. Relying too heavily on spell check: Spell check will not find all of your errors. It's astounding how many misspelled or misused words will slip through spell check undetected. Read, edit, and proofread carefully.
  21. Confusing homophones: This is important, because if you refer to "a heard of buffalo" instead of "a herd of buffalo," you will lose credibility with your readers. Familiarize yourself with homophones and ensure (not insure) that you use the correct word in each context.
  22. Choosing names that don't fit your characters: It can take readers out of the story if a character's name doesn't fit their personality, so you chose a name that really resonates with the character you've created.
  23. Failing to create relatable characters: If readers don't relate to your characters, they have no reason to continue reading. Create well-rounded characters with relatable flaws that will feel familiar to readers.
  24. Inconsistencies in the story: Readers will catch any inconsistencies or contradictions within the story. If you have established a character as an only child in chapter two, do not have her mention her sister in chapter 22.
  25. Creating a timeline in the story that is unclear: You don't have to provide precise dates and times, but readers need to be able to grasp the story's timeline without flipping back and forth to consult previous chapters.
  26. Writing bad metaphors or similes: Good metaphors or similes will paint a vivid picture for your readers, but bad metaphors will jolt readers out of the story and show your lack of experience. I once worked with a client who filled his short story with similes like the following: "He looked down at the girl like a person looking down at a girl."
  27. Excessive angst or wallowing that feels melodramatic: Allow your characters to struggle and experience pain, but do not let them fester for too long before they start working to improve their situations. Readers will lose patience if your protagonist wallows for too long.
  28. Characters making unrealistic choices that they would never make in real life: Sure, your protagonist can make some questionable choices, but make sure that those choices are in the realm of possibility. Readers will lose interest if they feel like characters are unrealistic.
  29. WRITING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS: I've encountered three books this year that contained entire pages written in all caps. All three books were written by first-time authors, and it showed. Do not do this.
  30. Once you have wrapped up the story, tie up any loose ends quickly and end the book: Have you ever read a book and thought, "This book could end right here," but there are still four chapters left to read? End the book as soon as possible after the resolution.

I hope this list of the top 30 amateur novel writer mistakes will help you avoid making any of these common mistakes as you write your novel. If I missed any amateur writer mistakes, leave a comment and let me know what mistakes you've noticed in amateur novels.

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