By Sarina Dorie
When we go to a job interview, we wear our best suit, come with a list of references, and might even remember to put on deodorant. At least, we do if we want the job. When we format a manuscript, self-edit a novel, or polish a book before sending it off to an agent or editor, we strive to present it as though we are professional writers who know what we are doing. At least, we do if we want to be published. Whether a seasoned writer, or someone just starting out in the writing process, there are weaknesses we don’t always recognize in our skills. We get into ruts with grammar, formatting or stylistic “rules” we learned early on in high school writing classes that are bad practices in professional writing. Learn the common mistakes so you can recognize when you make these in your writing so you can avoid them.
Five Common Mistakes
- The manuscript isn’t in manuscript format
Short stories have a particular format and novels have different requirements. Additionally, some publishers have very specific variations from the standards that a submitter must be aware of. The number one cause listed on editor, agent and magazine websites for writing to be rejected is not reading the guidelines.
- Grammar errors and inconsistencies
Sometimes a simple spell check will suffice. Other times, one needs to look up rules that are unfamiliar. Some rules of grammar are meant to be broken, but it is important to start with foundational knowledge and break a rule consistently if one chooses to do so. Classes, critique groups, peers and beta readers can help.
- The mechanics of the story are broken
Sentence structure is unvaried, past and present tense rules are not consistently followed, or there are various typos not covered under grammatical errors that make the manuscript a chore to read. It is common to find long sections of dialogue without dialogue tags, setting information lumped together, chunks of unbroken interior monologue or sensory information in one section, and long expanses of exposition in others. The story might be all, or large sections of, telling.
- The story itself is broken
The premise is unbelievable, the idea is trite or overdone, or the plot has no story arc. Maybe the characters are so unsympathetic the reader can’t get into the story or the writer has gotten a vital piece of information wrong that affects the story. This can be pretty important if an author is writing a paranormal romance with werewolves and the characters and plot don’t reflect accurate, wolf-like traits.
- The story is boring
This usually means it lacks conflict. It might also be because there is no hook in the beginning, or it could be because the reader doesn’t understand or care about the characters’ motivations, feelings or situation. The reader needs to be emotionally invested. Sure, it might just be because the reader isn’t the author’s target market, but even romance readers can be persuaded to read a mystery if they care about the characters or a mystery reader can read a romance if they are invested in the plot.