Friday 21 November 2008

Common Mistakes

I get to read a lot of scripts. There are my own, the ones I see as an editor, the ones my students have written and the ones I see in various critique groups to which I belong. You begin to see a pattern. There are, in fact, four major faults that people make, and if they could do away with these mistakes, their work would improve vastly.

First, and this is undoubtedly the one that needs to be put right first, is that a story or a non-fiction piece lacks structure. The resolution may be unconvincing and too quickly exposed because clues haven’t been left throughout the text. Often, the story takes too long to get going. Sometimes, there is a jump straight from opening to climax.

Then there is all that telling instead of showing. This probably comes from a need to get the story down. This is fine – but it should only happen in the first draft. Just so that you know, I actually do fourteen drafts of my novels. In each draft I check for one thing. I have one check which involves seeing whether I am telling instead of showing. To show, you need to write with the senses, have dialogue, inner thoughts of characters – but not too many, and actions, and certainly no moralising.

A third fault is shifting point of view. Omniscient author is currently unfashionable, unless you actually make him / her another character, but even when it was in vogue, good writers stuck with that point of view. It really does prevent reader engagement if one flits around from consciousness to consciousness. Slightly more skilled writers do attempt to stay with one point of view, but sometimes slip into a neutral stance, which makes the narrative distance clunky.

The fourth fault is poorly constructed dialogue. Dialogue should sound natural but not actually be too natural. It should always show character or move the plot forward. Many novices produce cliché-ridden dialogue. Sometimes, also, a slightly more experienced writer will produce very good dialogue but which takes us nowhere. The writer has enjoyed themselves. Whilst this is a good exercise for the writing muscles, that particular piece of dialogue may have no place in that text. This is possibly a darling which needs killing.

Get those four faults under control and you’re a step nearer being published.

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