12 Fiction Writing Mistakes Every Writer Should Know

Posted on Jun 14, 2023

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Written by P.J McNulty

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If you want to be a successful fiction writer, knowing what not to do is just as important as following best practice.

Let’s face it – you could have a great story, but if it contains a glaring error, it can destroy your credibility with readers in an instant.

Similarly, if you get something wrong with your fiction to the point it detracts from your good elements, there’s a strong chance you’ll get bad reviews and fail in the long run.

To help avoid that fate, we’ve gathered together fiction writing mistakes you should avoid at all costs.

Common fiction writing mistakes

A Fiction Writer Making Mistakes At His Typewriter

Here are some of the most common fiction writing mistakes writers make.

1 – Weak Character Development

Let’s dive right in, starting with the lifeblood of your story – the characters.

Who are they? What motivates them? If you’re scratching your head or muttering vague answers, you’ve probably got weak character development. Your characters, whether they’re globe-trotting spies or everyday people, need to feel real, with distinct personalities, likes and dislikes, and dreams.

Now imagine this. Your reader opens your book, falls in love with your characters and roots for them.. To evoke such emotions, your characters must feel like real people. But here’s the kicker – if your character’s too flat, your reader won’t care about their journey. Therefore, character development isn’t just important; it’s essential.

So, where are you going wrong?

Often, it’s giving your character a one-dimensional personality. They’re either too good, too bad, too dull, or too dramatic. Break free from this mold. People are complex; make your characters complex too. Maybe your villain has a soft spot, or perhaps your hero has a deep-seated fear. Use these traits to your advantage to add layers to your characters.

Sounds challenging? Don’t worry. Start by understanding your characters thoroughly. Build their backstory, figure out their desires, fears, and motivations. Not all of it may feature in your book, but it’ll guide their actions, making them more believable.

2 – Poor Plot Structure

Next pitfall? The backbone of your book – the plot.

Sure, you might have an incredible idea, but without a well-structured plot, it’ll fall on deaf ears.

If your readers can’t follow along, or if the story feels disjointed, they’re likely to ditch your book.

Plot structure isn’t about chaining your creativity; it’s about giving it the proper space to thrive.

Common mistake? Meandering through your story without a clear direction.

Your plot should have a discernible beginning, middle, and end. Each scene, each chapter should drive the story forward. If a scene doesn’t contribute to character development or advance the plot, axe it, no matter how beautifully it’s written.

How to get it right?

Try using a plot diagram. Jot down the key events, conflicts, climaxes, and resolutions. Trace your character’s journey, and ensure each event leads logically to the next. By laying out your plot, you’ll have a clearer vision of your story’s trajectory, helping you to write a gripping, coherent narrative.

3 – Inconsistent Point of View

Now, let’s tackle the lens through which your readers view your world – the point of view (POV).

A consistent POV not only gives clarity but also establishes a connection between your readers and your characters. If your POV is erratic, your readers might feel disoriented or disconnected.

A common blunder is head-hopping, where the POV switches rapidly between characters within a scene. Instead, stick to one POV per scene or chapter. It will help your readers form a connection with the character and become invested in their journey.

How to nail the POV?

Decide it before you start writing. Will it be first person, third person, or something else? Once decided, stick to it. Be vigilant. If you’re writing in third person limited, for instance, ensure you’re not revealing information that your POV character couldn’t possibly know.

4 – Lack of Conflict and Tension

Finally, what’s a story without conflict and tension? Most likely a boring read that anyone who buys it won’t ever finish.

Conflict is the motor that drives your plot, and tension is the thread that keeps your readers hooked. Your book might have well-developed characters and a flawless plot, but without conflict and tension, it’s not going to succeed.

Underestimating the role of conflict and tension is a common faux pas. Remember, your readers crave drama. They want to worry about your characters, gasp at their predicaments, and sigh with relief when they triumph.

To create engaging conflict, throw your characters into difficult situations. Make them face their fears. The conflict can be internal, external, or both, but it should challenge your characters and incite growth. As for tension, it’s all about the unknown. Keep your readers guessing. Use tension to keep the pages turning.

In conclusion, avoiding these common mistakes will significantly strengthen your writing. Remember, your characters, plot, point of view, and conflict are the foundation of your story.

Subtle fiction writing mistakes

The Fiction Writing Mistake Of Info Dumping Shown By An Illustrated Author In A Tornado Of Books

Some fiction writing mistakes are harder to spot. Here are some examples for you to be aware of.

5 – Overuse of Adjectives and Adverbs

We’re going deeper now.

Let’s talk adjectives and adverbs.

Now you’re probably thinking, “But I need those to make my writing vivid, right?” Yes, you do, but it’s a slippery slope. Drown your prose in these descriptors, and you risk suffocating your story. Too much of anything is overkill.

The problem? Overused adjectives and adverbs can stifle your reader’s imagination and make your writing come across as over-embellished. Ever read a sentence clogged with descriptions? Then you’ll know just how distracting it can be.

Here’s a pro-tip: let your verbs do the heavy lifting. Powerful, action-oriented verbs can often get your point across more effectively than a string of adjectives or adverbs. Instead of saying a man “walked slowly”, why not say he “trudged”? It’s more evocative and immediate.

But hold on, this isn’t an all-out ban on adjectives and adverbs. It’s about balance. When used thoughtfully and sparingly, these descriptive words can add color and nuance to your writing. Use them as precision tools, not as a thick paintbrush.

6 – Too Much Telling, Not Enough Showing

Next, we tackle a mistake that’s easy to make but hard to spot – too much telling, not enough showing. It’s like being at a magic show, but instead of seeing the trick, you’re just told how it’s done. Where’s the fun in that? Your readers crave the suspense, the surprise, the revelation.

When you’re telling, you’re handing information to your readers on a silver platter. “She was sad.” Okay, but how does that sadness look? What does it feel like? You want your readers to experience the emotions, not just read about them.

The solution? Show, don’t tell. Instead of telling us she’s sad, show her tears, her silent sobs, her refusal to leave her room. Let your readers deduce the emotional state from the actions and behaviors you describe. This way, you’re not just handing them a fact; you’re offering them an emotional experience.

7 – Info Dumping

Our third offender, info-dumping, is a subtle villain that can easily disrupt the flow of your story. Imagine this – you’re engrossed in a conversation, but suddenly someone interrupts with a long, unrelated monologue. That’s what info-dumping feels like. You might have researched every tiny detail of your character’s world, but if you dump it all at once, it can overwhelm your readers.

Does this mean your painstakingly gathered information is wasted? Not at all! It’s about timing and relevancy. Don’t drop a character’s entire backstory in one go or explain every aspect of your fictional world in the first few pages. This can slow down the pace and alienate your readers.

So how do you feed information to your readers? Think of it as a slow drip, not a gush. Weave the details into your story organically, using dialogue, action, and character introspection. This way, your readers can gradually familiarize themselves with your world, without feeling like they’ve been hit with a ton of bricks.

8 – Using Clichés

Lastly, the dreaded cliché. These are like the old, worn-out tracks on a playlist – familiar and comfortable, but they lack the punch. In your writing journey, you want to take roads less traveled. You want to surprise and delight your readers, not serve them the same old fare.

Clichés are predictable and devoid of originality. They can make your writing feel lazy and uninspired. Remember, your readers crave fresh, unique experiences, not reheated leftovers.

To avoid clichés, always strive for original expressions. Try to capture emotions and situations in a new light. It might require a little more effort, but it’s worth it. After all, nothing beats the thrill of crafting a sentence that feels uniquely yours.

Remember, every mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer. Keep these subtle errors in check, and your book will shine brighter.

Advanced fiction writing mistakes

These advanced fiction writing mistakes need to be taken into account if you want to be seen as a supremely skilled writer by fiction fans.

9 – Neglecting Theme

Now, let’s venture into the more nuanced realm of writing mistakes, starting with the oft-neglected theme. It’s like the secret sauce in a recipe – not immediately apparent, but crucial to the overall taste. If your book lacks a coherent theme, it’s likely to feel disjointed and purposeless, like a ship adrift at sea.

Here’s the crux of the matter. Your theme isn’t just a topic; it’s what your book says about that topic. It’s the undercurrent that pulls your story along, giving it depth and meaning. When neglected, your narrative can become just a series of events, lacking the underlying thread that connects and illuminates them.

Don’t fret, though. Establishing a theme doesn’t mean delivering a sermon. Subtlety is your friend here. Your theme should emerge naturally from your characters’ actions and decisions, their triumphs and failures. Be patient, let your theme develop over time. Your readers will thank you for it.

10 – Lack of Foreshadowing

Next on the roster of advanced mistakes is the lack of foreshadowing. This is like watching a magic trick without the buildup – sure, you’ll be surprised, but the impact won’t be as great. Foreshadowing is an essential tool in your writer’s arsenal. When done right, it can create suspense and intrigue, keeping your readers hooked.

Foreshadowing is about dropping subtle hints about significant events or revelations that will occur later in your book. The operative word here is ‘subtle.’ Overly obvious foreshadowing can make your plot predictable, while too obscure might make your readers feel cheated when the reveal happens.

How do you strike the right balance? Try using symbolic imagery or mirroring events. You could also use your characters’ dialogue or thoughts to hint at what’s to come. The goal is to keep your readers guessing, to make them itch to turn the page, to find out what happens next.

11 – Inadequate Pacing

Moving on, let’s address the rhythm of your story – the pacing. It’s the tempo at which your narrative unfolds. Too slow, and your readers might lose interest; too fast, and they might feel overwhelmed. Inadequate pacing can turn an otherwise exciting story into a dull or confusing read.

Pacing is about creating a rhythm that keeps your readers engaged. It’s not just about how fast the action happens, but also about giving your readers time to breathe, to process the events, and to anticipate what’s next.

Managing pacing can feel like walking a tightrope. To keep your balance, vary the rhythm. Alternate between fast-paced action scenes and slower, introspective moments. Remember, it’s the contrast between light and shadow that makes a picture interesting. Similarly, it’s the interplay of fast and slow that keeps your narrative engaging.

12 – Lack of Subplots

Lastly, let’s tackle the omission of subplots. Subplots are like the side dishes to your main course – they complement the main plot, adding richness and variety to your story. A book without subplots can feel flat and one-dimensional, failing to fully engage your readers.

Subplots offer multiple benefits. They can add depth to your characters, enhance your world-building, and reinforce your theme. Moreover, they can provide relief from the main plot, keeping your readers’ interest piqued.

However, a word of caution. Your subplots should be relevant to your main plot or your characters’ development. They should feel like an integral part of your story, not an afterthought or a filler.

In conclusion, keep an eye out for these advanced mistakes.

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