How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – A Misstep by Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman (available on Amazon.com) is one of my favorite writing books…ever! It covers Plot, Character, Style, Setting, and Perspective and Voice with humor and lots of helpful information. Within each of these themes, it lists several examples of common writing mistakes under clever headings and also provides ideas on how to eliminate these problems from your writing. In reading this book (and taking notes on it – yeah, I’m a huge nerd!), I realized how many times I make rooky mistakes in my writing.
I have some “for examples…”
“What Color Am I?” (p.56)
How Not to Write a Novel mentions the writing faux pas in which a character must be in front of a mirror in order to know what he or she looks like. Okay, I thought, so I recently had one of my characters reflecting (pardon the pun) on his appearance by looking in a window. Rooky mistake #412. I went back and took out that scene, and introduced the character gradually through his thoughts, interactions, and other people’s perceptions. Instead of telling the reader that my character is overweight, I had him puffing up the stairs in the hot afternoon sun, his legs feeling like jelly and his cheeks turning bright red.
“Asservated the Man” (p.131)
At times while writing, I admit, I’ll throw in a sighed, or shouted, or whimpered to break the monotony of always using “said.” Rooky mistake #523. Using the convention of said almost exclusively can help make conversation sound real and keeps the writing’s superstructure invisible. In the editing phase now on my latest novel, I am going back through and replacing with said when appropriate.
“The Child is Father to Digression” (p.61)
I write primarily young adult fiction, aimed at kiddos in middle to junior high. Because of this, I always think that my characters must explain in exhausting detail the childhood events that led them to this or that particular scene in the book. Ah, you guessed it. Rooky mistake #14. How Not to Write a Novel points out that writers are often much more interested in their character’s childhood than the reader is. Does this mean I have to take out my character’s entire back-story? No, but it does mean that I should focus on what is going on right now in the character’s life with some back-story threaded through.
I could go on and list several other mistakes I make as a writer. I’m not sure anyone ever gets it entirely right, but after reading this book; I feel a little closer to getting it…better.