The Learning Curve of a First Novel
Writing your first novel is a big project. Taking your story idea from idea to a finished manuscript takes fortitude, a commitment to writing, and tuning in to your imagination. You have so many things to learn and so much to internalize as you write.
Background research, character development, scene and chapter sequence, beats, story structure—so much surrounds your writing.
In spite of all the planning and preparation, actual story writing is a new process. In the midst of the process, it’s easy to derail your story.
Let’s look at some of the common mistakes new writers make. Then, more importantly, examine ways to fix those mistakes.
Too Many Characters
Your story needs to hit your reader in the clearest possible way. “Movie-extra” characters can feel like adding color and dimension to your story. In a mystery, your focus needs to be on your sleuth and the suspects.
You can check your cast of characters by asking these questions:
- Does the character contribute to the storyline? How?
- Does the character contribute to the protagonist’s development? How?
- Will the plot/story suffer if I eliminate this character?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, kill the character. I don’t mean kill them in the storyline. Get rid of that character. That’s it. Keep your story clean.
If you like the character, save them for your next story.
The Flaw-ful Protagonist
We all have shortcomings. You give your protagonist flaws to make them believable and relatable for your readers.
Your sleuth has positive attributes that make him the best person to solve the crime. Along the way, you want to gain empathy from your readers by giving her some weaknesses…but not too many.
Refrain from making your hero one long sob story. Cancer is OK. Overcoming an addiction is OK. A brutal childhood is OK. But all of them in one character alienates your reader with an unrealistic protagonist.
Keep your character real. Give them one or two big weaknesses and then stop.
The Perfect Protagonist
You want your hero to be good a solving crime so you pour on the talents. A character without flaws is just as unbelievable as one with too many.
Your sleuth runs marathons, has deductive powers, charms the ladies, and runs a self-help group. You may feel as though you’ve created a well-rounded character by giving her diverse talents, but she is just too perfect. Your reader won’t relate.
And, you’ve created a flat character with no room for growth. Readers enjoy characters who make mistakes and learn lessons.
Again, keep your character real. Too much goodness is too much.
Word Genius Writing
Clear, simple language keeps your reader reading. You may want to fancy up your prose by using a Thesaurus for alternate word choices. You don’t need to sound smart. Readers don’t care how smart you are.
Just tell the story.
Don’t send your readers to a dictionary in order to understand what you say. They want a good story not a vocabulary lesson.
If you use a Thesaurus to change out words, you may end up using a word incorrectly.
If your writing is so complicated your reader can’t follow the story, you’ve undermined the purpose of the story for your reader. They want a good story they can understand.
Descriptive Dialogue Tags
Focus on said. School teachers and essay professors may have encouraged you to vary your wording. But dialogue tags need to be unobtrusive. Use character actions and the words they say to convey emotions.
Exclaimed, interjected, cried aloud have no place in your dialogue. You want the dialogue to read smoothly as though the characters are speaking to each other. When you use fancy words as dialogue tags you take your reader out of the dialogue exchange and out of the story.
Readers skip said in their head as they are reading. Keep dialogue tags simple. Keep your reader in the story.
Long Opening Narrative
You’ve created a fascinating backstory for your sleuth and built a world for your story and you want to tell your reader everything. Scatter pieces of information throughout your story rather than trying to tell everything at the beginning.
Your story hasn’t started yet.
Your reader won’t care about backstory or the story world until you bring them into the story. Start with a small problem for your protagonist to overcome.
A giant info-dump won’t make your reader care. All the work you put into creating backstory and building the story world is important to you. Build depth in your story by adding elements piece by piece as the story progresses, not all at once at the beginning.
Give your reader the opportunity to explore as your story builds.
Conquer These 5 Beginning Writer Mistakes
When you avoid these writing mistakes your story will shine with engaging characters that matter, provide a smooth read, and keep your reader in the story.
As you continue writing you’ll recognize these story stoppers as soon as they arrive. Skip them and give your reader a good read.