7 Big Mistakes Made by New Authors

If you are new to the craft of writing (books specifically), avoid these common mistakes; if you are experienced, you probably made some of these, as I have.

  1. Focusing on ideas rather than execution. This is very common with fantasy writers, who like to spend time imagining an alternate world, complete with maps, magic systems, and economies. The problem is, none of those things are stories, they are background to stories. Likewise, political ideology is not a story, whatever success Ayn Rand has had. A great yarn is focused on the character drama and the action, and you should focus on doing these things well – that means good prose, good pacing, and above all, good dialogue.
  2. Engaging in personal fantasies. When it comes to inspiration, usually you start with what is appealing to yourself. However, once you enter the realm of outward-facing work, you have to also consider what appeals to the audience. Mary Sue characters must become human. Characters must not be iterations of yourself. Passive characters aren’t interesting and plain characters aren’t attractive.
  3. Head Movies. Books are not “head movies.” It’s okay to be influenced by the dramatic side of things, but you should avoid writing a book or a story like a screenplay, which is focused entirely on the visual aspects, since a film cannot contain things like thoughts, smells, tastes, inner feelings, direct exposition. Good prose does more than just describe visuals.
  4. Writing too much. A very common pitfall is to simply spend too many words and pages on things that really don’t matter that much to the story. You may have something amazing in your head but that doesn’t mean it needs to be in your book. You may like the funny scene you wrote between two minor characters, but if it doesn’t move anything else forward, it’s probably unnecessary.
  5. Avoiding tropes. Tropes are present, especially in genre fiction, for very good reasons. Trying to avoid all tropes in an attempt to be “original” will often leave your reader bewildered, or even worse, bored. Common devices are common because they work. Character archetypes are useful because readers readily understand them.
  6. Hitting the genre too hard. A bit of an inversion of the above, some new authors that love a particular genre will write a story that is so influenced by said genre that it lacks any defining characteristics and plays out like fan fiction of the most popular genre works. Writing space opera shouldn’t be a checklist of space ships and laser swords, but a wide setting type that can serve up some new experiences.
  7. No plan. Lots of new writers jump into a blank document and start writing “from the seat of their pants.” Usually, this results in a book that must be abandoned, writer’s block, or a book that must be heavily edited to be readable. It’s okay to do some story planning prior to starting. You aren’t slapping your muse in the face by approaching your work like the craft it is. There are some well-known writers who do write by the seat of their pants, like Stephen King, but you shouldn’t expect to be able to automatically duplicate an experienced writers workflow right away.

I’ll have lots more advice coming this year. You should check out my fiction, by the way:

3 Comments

  1. Should beginner writers focus less on genre in a general sense, letting themselves build a genre rather than the opposite? Or is it possible when writing genre of getting too far away from the guidelines and confusing a reader?

    • This is really a question about writing to market. If you want to write for the readers of a given genre, you should include a good portion of the things that they would expect out of that genre. It would take too long to go through every genre, but these things would include not just setting (like spaceships in space opera), but the way drama and character interactions tend to play out. Obviously vampire romance should include vampires, but it also includes a romantic dynamic where the male is a danger to female as well as being attractive. Writing vampire romance where the genders were flipped, for example, would probably miss a good portion of the reader-base. It might be interesting to somebody, but romance readers want particular things. Everything else is where you would really stretch your creative muscles and play with audience expectations.

      • So it’s really up to you and how into a genre you are. I usually say for beginners write first what you love. If you’re writing what you love you will be motivated to finish.

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