Every writer makes mistakes, which is all part of the process. Here are a few common mistakes new writers make, and “fixes” for them in the future.
The Mistake: Treating dialogue like prose
One of the hardest things to figure out how to do when you’re first getting into writing is transitioning back-and-forth between writing dialogue and writing prose. They are two very different styles of writing that somehow have to flow smoothly from one to the other and back again, and often, a narrator’s inner voice and the words she speaks blend together a little too much, unintentionally.
She is going to go to the store tomorrow and “You gonna go to the store later” are two completely different sentences. We do not talk the way we write (at least, we train ourselves not to the more we practice). But we do have to write dialogue the way we typically speak it, which can be challenging if we’re not used to writing that way.
The Fix: While it might sound a little extreme, you’ll need a friend or family member for this one. Take a string of dialogue and have you and another person speak it out loud back and forth to each other. Record it using your phone or computer. Play it back. Does it sound real? If not, take some time to watch an episode of your favorite show or listen to a few minutes of a podcast. Or just people-watch for awhile. Study how real dialogue sounds, go back to your story and try your best to replicate it. And repeat.
The Mistake: Basing a story too closely off your personal life
It probably happens to every newer writer, so don’t feel embarrassed if it has happened or is currently happening to you. Things happen to us and we want to turn those life-changing events into fictional accounts. Great for practicing storytelling, we suppose, but if you’re trying to get serious about publishing a piece of fiction, you might want to reconsider.
In reality, no matter how dramatic our real lives might seem, they will never be as thrilling and suspenseful as the fiction we read and watch in books and on television. Our stories are, well, boring. Unless you’re writing a memoir for a good reason, basing a piece of fiction on your personal life is not the smartest way to go.
The Fix: Draw inspiration from key events and memories in your life and the lives of those around you. Use these emotions and ideas as foundations from which you can build new stories you have never experienced firsthand before.
The Mistake: Going with the “safe” ending
At times writing a novel almost feels like a ‘choose your own adventure’ sequence IRL. Do you go with the ending you want to write, or the ending your readers will be more satisfied with? Do you choose the riskier option or take the safe route? How do you even choose at all?
The problem with choosing the “safe” ending, which many new novelists do, is that you ultimately end up throwing away an opportunity to write something unique and unexpected. Remember in Stranger Than Fiction, when the author has to choose between killing off her main character and keeping him alive? She has a choice between killing him and writing a “great book” and letting him live … and, well, not.
The Fix: Your first instinct is often times the right one. Second-guessing yourself does happen. But it’s the endings we feel are too dark, too dramatic, too unexpected, too upsetting, that often end up being the ending that turns a good book into a great one. Go with your gut. Don’t worry about what your audience will think (yet).
Being new at anything is tough. Keep practicing. If you’re in this for the long haul, you’ll be able to learn and grow over time. Being aware and learning from these kinds of mistakes is just the beginning.
Image courtesy o Novelty Revisions.