In this first blog I wrote back in 2013 (!) I listed the three most common mistakes first time writers make and it resonated with a lot of people. Since then I’ve had lots more fiction pass my desk and I’m seeing three more common mistakes which I’m going to address here.
To recap from the first post, it was too many adjectives, repetition of the same word in sequential paragraphs and overusing common phrases and metaphors.
In this blog I’m going to be looking at;
- Too much explanation – not enough showing
- Dialogue – he said, she said
- Names beginning with the same letter (sounds obvious, but it’s extremely common and quite frustrating!)
Too much explanation – not enough showing
So, you’re keen to explain your character. They are complex and exciting and you have a whole bio – what they look like, how tall they are, their likes and dislikes. But this is where first-time authors get it wrong.
I don’t want a list of character traits, I want to read about them… tell me about them in dialogue and situations. Let me figure out what they’re afraid of, good at and their flaws.
Let me give you an example:
John was tall and muscular. He had blonde hair, a nose that had been broken and eyes the colour of slate grey. Having suffered from PTSD after his tour in Afganistan back in ’08 he was also a recovering alcoholic and was trying hard to give up smoking. His physique would tell you he was in pretty good shape, but the scars on his body showed a different story.
Instead, you can build John’s character within dialogue… for instance;
“Fancy a drink?”
John paused. The bar was crowded and noisy, just the type of place he felt safe. A drink was something that would really put him at ease.
“Nah, you’re alright, thanks.” he shifted his slate grey eyes downwards hoping not to give the game away. Alcohol was not his friend, even though at one stage he thought it was. He briefly flirted with the idea of a cigarette, but he purposefully left his pack in the car. Out of sight out of mind.
He sat down heavily on the bar stool, his hip causing him to wince. No matter how many miles on the treadmill he did, the damage was done. He might look in shape, but the scars on his body told a different story.
Do you see the difference in how I told the background story of John? Now I haven’t divulged all of his character traits (unlike the first example) but I’ll drip feed these details into the story. This is what you need to do… show not tell.
Dialogue – she said, he said
Now, did you notice that I hadn’t attributed the “fancy a drink” to a particular character? Hopefully, by writing the dialogue in a certain way I shouldn’t have to say who is saying what. In fact, always adding ‘he said, she whispered, he shouted’ can be extremely clumsy and irritating.
Let me give you an example;
“What time is it?” She asked.
“Five past four, why, you in a hurry?” he replied.
“Well, not so much as in a hurry as bloody starving!” she giggled. He took her hand and led her away from the station exit.
“What do you fancy then?” He asked, looking left before crossing the road.
“Oh, I don’t know, what are you offering?” she whispered, a smile forming on her lipsticked mouth… her eyebrow raised in a challenging arc.
“What time is it?” She asked.
“Five past four, why, you in a hurry?”
“Well, not so much as in a hurry as bloody starving!”
He took her hand and led her away from the station exit.
“What do you fancy then?” He looked left before crossing the road, his mind now on where to go to eat.
“Oh, I don’t know, what are you offering?” She smiled inwardly, raising her eyebrow in a challenging arc…
Can you see the difference? Hopefully, you still know who is saying what, but just not in an obvious he said, she said way!
And lastly, names beginning with the same letter. I know this may seem incredibly obvious but I’m amazed at how many well-known authors have characters named similarly and it’s really hard to keep track.
Don’t have Johns, Jacks, Joes, Jasons… mix them up. And you don’t always have to use the first and last name either. Credit the reader with being able to know who is who, although if you decide to use Jacks and Johns you might have to!
So, there you have it. Three more common mistakes that first-time authors make – I hope you’ve found this useful, please do feel free to add in any of your own bugbears!