Seven Deadly Writing Sins

Pitfalls Every Writer Should Avoid

How easily do we forget the lessons our English teachers worked so hard to drill into us? Probably more easily than most of us would like to admit.

We know that a writer’s first obligation is to present an editor and potential publisher with an error-free, attention-grabbing manuscript. Yet all too often we slip into old habits that can catapult our story straight into the rejection pile.

Here’s a short refresher course in some of the most egregious literary sins to avoid.

1) Hook Failure. That opening line is the most important part of your story. Make it a good one. Fail to hook the editor (and therefore your reader) with those few crucial opening words, and he/she may not bother to read any further. To increase your odds of bypassing an instant rejection, be sure to start your story off with a bang.

2) Passive Voice. Now that you’ve hooked your reader, don’t bore him or her with dull, passive verb constructions. Strike “Jack was running” and replace it with “Jack ran,” or better yet, “Jack sprinted.”

3) Tense Disagreement. It creeps in when we least expect it, and spelling and grammar checkers aren’t likely to catch it. Be sure to keep your past past and your present present. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

4) Point-of-View Shifting. While multiple character viewpoints have become faddish in mainstream fiction, the practice is nonetheless confusing to most readers and the majority of editors will auto-reject stories that employ it. Tell your tale from one POV at a time, and clearly delineate any shifts with line or chapter breaks.

5) Excessive Exposition. Over-exposition can slow your story to a proverbial crawl, drop it out of scene, and lose your reader’s interest. Your English teacher’s favorite credo still applies: “Show us, don’t tell us.”

6) Spell-Check Reliance. Definitely a bad idea, trusting spell-check. And you should always disable the notoriously unreliable, gibberish-producing auto-replace function. There’s really no substitute for a good old-fashioned proofreader. A second pair of eyes can often catch mistakes that “error blind” writers overlook.

7) Inaction / Excessive Dialogue. All talk and no play can make Jack a dull boy who gets bored and stops reading your story. Long stretches of nothing but character conversation can be downright soporific. Intersperse your dialogue sequences with description and action to paint a better visual image for your readers and keep them turning the pages.

Make your old English teachers proud. Avoid these seven deadly writing sins and you should substantially increase your chances of making that sale.

Write on!

Author Jean Graham
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