I thought I was done talking about this topic until I looked at the opening paragraphs of a book and found yet another blunder that stopped me reading--contradictory actions (blunder #6). I remember in high school a boy joking, “Some people can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.” Ha ha. Those are possible for most of us. But when actions don’t work at the same time it stops the reader’s suspension of disbelief.
Here are a few examples where one character can’t do both at the same time:
The fixes include:
Blunder #7 – oxymorons
I should probably clarify and say “unintended” oxymorons or contradictions. Oxymorons are used with purpose and many have become accepted phrases in our culture. But those times where the words make a reader stop and think, that’s not possible, those are the ones to avoid.
Some examples – you can find many more online:
Blunder #8 – incorrect chronology
Remember cause and effect. I see writers put the effect before the cause. E.g. He opened his umbrella because it started to rain. The sentence is technically correct, but what happened first? The raindrops. Let the reader see and feel that instead of being told about it. E.g. A cold raindrop hit his nose, so he opened his umbrella.
Here are a few other examples with better chronology following:
What caused the character to react, should usually come first.
Blunder #9 – duplicate actions
This is when the character has already done an action and repeats it, but it’s not logical to repeat it. E.g. Jon scooted out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table. Usually there’s some dialogue and then it appears the writer has forgotten that Jon already sat down. E.g. Jon plopped down in a chair at the kitchen table. Wait, what? He’d have to stand up first before he could sit down again.
Blunder #10 – obtrusive taglines
Instead of using the almost invisible said and asked, if a writer has characters growl, intrude, insert, exclaim, proclaim, cry, etc. it quickly becomes annoying. Sure, an occasional shout or yell or whisper is fine, but for the most part other words show the writer is trying too hard. It’s commonly the mark of a beginner.
It’s often hard to catch our own blunders. That’s why critiques and professional editing are necessary.
guest post by Lila Diller
If you're thinking about starting to write for a career, you need to think about more than just your story or what you're writing. Begin with your brand.
When I began my author career, I didn't know where to start. The first thing I did was write my rough draft, edit it a couple of times, then impatiently self-published my book on Amazon. After I hit publish, it was time to look for help from some experts. That's when I found that I should have done that before I hit publish. Experts can get you started on the right track; but be warned: you still have to do all the hard work. In fact, I didn't get the results I expected from any of these and either asked for a refund or canceled my monthly subscriptions after I ingested all the content I could.
My first little tidbit of advice is to gorge yourself on a lot of free content from many different gurus. Put into practice what applies to you, and forget what doesn't.
Your brand tells your audience what to expect. It's the mood you set with colors, fonts, and images. Before you just pick something you think looks cool, ask yourself three questions:
1. Who do I want to help?
Narrow it down as much as possible.
Mine is: Christian women who love to read fiction as an escape from their less-than-fulfilling marriages.
Editor note: mine is women who want to be encouraged by fictional women who live Godly lives, and who read for enjoyment.
2. What main message do I want to get across to them?
You have to make it about the reader, or it's not going to resonate with anyone. It can't be about you. My readers need hope in their situations, to learn to lower their expectations, but be encouraged to work hard at what they can control in their relationships--themselves.
What are your readers looking for?
3. Just get started with one book.
Don't wait until it's perfect; keep tweaking it.
If it still hasn't resonated with anyone after a set period (maybe try 6 months), then it may be time to reevaluate and choose another path.
I hope this all helps. :-) If you have any specific questions, please contact me at email@example.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/loveisseries, and I'll try to answer your questions.
Now, go get 'em!
Lila is outnumbered by a houseful of males: husband of 15 years, two energetic boys, and a hyper dog. When not homeschooling her boys, you can find her studying the Bible, reading, singing, scrapbooking, or binge-watching Netflix. You will only find her cooking or cleaning when she can’t put it off any longer. She loves to help readers not only to escape from stress in an entertaining and believable story but also to fill their minds with the truth and hope of Jesus.
Find out more about Lila on her website: www.liladiller.com
My test of whether I want to read a book is opening to page one and start reading. In part 1 of Blunders that Stop Me Reading, I wrote about the overuse of “as.” (Go here if you missed it.)
Here are some other blunders that will probably make me set the book aside.
Blunder #2 – passive voice
To me warning signs of passive verbs are verbs preceded by "are," "were," "was" and verbs ending in "ing." "Began to," "started to" are also passive. I just want the character to do the action.
If your novel or story is written in past tense, it would be “John walked down the street to the hospital.” Not “was walking.” If one continued in the vein of “was walking,” then wouldn’t it be correct to say, “was opening,” etc. e.g. “He was opening the candy bag and was eating the toffees one by one.” Wow, the “was”es and gerunds are going to get old really fast. In present tense it also simply be “walks” or “opens,” etc.
What about began or started? Sure, sometimes a character starts to say something or do something, but most of the time he or she simply does the action. One “Sally began to cross the room” or one “Manuel started to eat his dinner” won’t stop me, but multiple ones will.
“There is/are” or “there was/were” can be passive too. E.g. There were many people in the concert hall.” That’s a fact but what were these people doing? Clapping, cheering? Sucking in a breath of shock? What they are doing will give the reader a more active picture.
Here’s a hilarious quote on passive versus active: “[The active voice is the] vigorous voice, unashamed to say whodunit. Passive voice is preferred by the weak, the cowardly, ashamed to name the fink who told them what they are evasively telling you.”
— John Bremner
Blunder #3 – distancing the reader
Distancing the reader is sometimes called filtering. Or in other words the action is shown through someone else’s eyes. Yes, your main character is experiencing what is happening, but don’t slow it down by pointing that out to us. “Tacy saw the man pull out a gun” is much less powerful than “The man pulled out a gun.” Show the person doing the action instead of someone hearing or seeing the person do the action. Warning signs are I/she/he “heard” or “saw.”
Again, one or two probably won’t bother me.
Blunder #4 – no sense of setting
I had a writing friend explain that no setting was like putting characters in front of a white board. I’d add that they are in a soundproof windowless room, wearing white, and not eating or smelling a thing. The reader doesn’t have any details to picture where and when the characters are.
Use sensory details to show the setting. Right now I’m sitting in my living room in a recliner with a crocheted blanket over my legs, a plaid shawl around my shoulders, and still my hands are cold. The washer is spinning out a load. My laptop hums. Down the hall in the office my husband clears his throat. Gives you a bit of a picture of where I am as I type. We want to do the same thing for our readers. Author Bruce Hale says, “I tend to slip my descriptions of setting into the beginnings of scenes, to help the reader picture where the action is taking place.”
Blunder #5 – too much description
Conversely, if the description bogs down the scene, I find myself skimming to get to the action.
Description worked in with action works the best. And not everything in a room or setting is described. I like this quote: “Best descriptions tend to be impressionistic, seizing on a few select details...letting the readers...do the rest.” – Peter Selgin
So telling me that a person is in their bedroom, I’ll think generic bedroom and won’t need you to tell me there’s a bed, a dresser, a bedside table, a trash can, etc. Instead show what’s different, what stands out in this bedroom . . . like the Haitian machete hung above the California king bed, which my then three-year-old grandson cut his finger on. Or the cribs stuffed into the open floor space—one beside the closet and the other between the two dressers—leaving just enough room to walk around the double bed.
This list of writing blunders is probably not complete. These are just ones that really bug me, especially in the opening pages of a novel. Once I get hooked on a character and his story, I’m probably more forgiving.
I’m a slow novel writer. I envy those who can get a novel written in a month or even six months. I think part of it is that I often work on more than one project at a time. I also do editing and am a writing instructor. And I volunteer for a writing organization. Plus, there’s marketing the finished works, and social media… But I think another part of it is that I let my subconscious solve some of the scene problems while I do other things. This quote by Haley Chewins encourages me, “Here's one thing I've learnt about writing books. Don't assume that because you're moving slowly you're not making progress.”
I also edit as I go. It’s part of the process that works for me. Diana Wynne Jones said, "Everyone is different and that means that everyone is going to need to write a story in a different way. You have to discover how you need to do it. There is no easy way. You can only discover how to by doing it."
One of the things that motivates me to have chapters done is my critique group. I really hate going without a piece of semi-polished writing. It’s rare for me to dash off a page, a scene, a chapter and not set it aside to look at it again before I get feedback. Even with blog posts, I usually read them over again and again before posting. While this is good, it also means I’m slow.
I can get hung up on researching just the right thing, too. When I find the fact or detail or specific word, then I can move on. I like this quote: “Spending an hour looking for the right word might seem tedious, but it's what mathematicians, inventors and creators do so that at the end, the finished product looks like it came effortlessly.” – Stephen Mooser
The holidays (Thanksgiving through New Years) usually make me even slower. This past season I spent a lot of time recovering from various illnesses—the worst was vertigo. Being sick slows my brain power. I have to accept that and move on when I feel better. Just as I accept I’ll be taking time out for friends and family during the holidays.
Look at what John Steinbeck had to say, “When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day's works is all I can permit myself to contemplate.” Starting the new year, I’m not focused on what I will accomplish for the year. Whether I will win the race with hare-like speed. Instead I plan to plod along one page at a time and like the tortoise, be successful.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.