After reading many Ink and Insights’ submissions in the last 3+ years, there are a few writing mistakes that constantly crop up. They can be easy to miss when you’re caught up in the moment of, ya know, getting your story down.
Avoiding these three writing mistakes can help in creating a more solid, active story, with improved flow. What are they? Let’s get into it:
1. Pacing Is Off
Pacing sets the tone for your story. You know exactly what I mean even if you think you don’t. For example, when you start a book, or a TV show, you already know if you’re going to keep going based on the pace. It’s something we don’t really think about, but this one thing determines our initial feelings about a story within the first few pages/minutes.
Knowing how you want your story structured, will aid with consistent pacing. Ever noticed how in many thrillers for example, chapters are shorter? They often end with some kind cliff-hangar that sends you hurrying over to the next page. That’s well thought out pacing. Well Storied breaks this all down in a simple way.
Instead of going into heavy detail in my judge’s comments, I like to focus on easy-to-remember elements that help shape story pacing. This can include things like how short/long your chapters, paragraphs, or sentences are, or deciding when to slow down or speed up scenes for the most impact.
Just remember that good pacing isn’t reliant on starting a story with a high-speed chase or some other action-drenched scene. Focus on your story structure first and the rest will fall into place.
2. Lacking/Overdone Setting/Worldbuilding Details
Your descriptive pen is a friend. I like to call it “descriptive pen” as it allows you to describe how you see your story world, the people in it, and so on, in vivid detail. This lets readers get a good sense of the world they’ve decided to visit for a while.
Creating a world – even if your story is set in the real world, requires finesse. It’s not just about throwing in as many details as you can or pelting the prettiest prose on the page.
In other cases there’s too little detail or description and I have to fight to create an image of a writer’s world myself. I know some writers see this as being mysterious and adding intrigue to the story. The problem with being vague is if your reader needs this info to get stuck in, leaving it out doesn’t help them or you.
Below are a few quick tips to help with your worldbuilding/setting development.
- Ask yourself: What do I want my readers to know about the world? Start jotting down your answers, even if it seems like too much.
- After you’ve done this, ask: What are the most important elements that readers absolutely need to know for them to properly understand my world?
- When you’ve got the most important world-building/setting elements sorted, you can pick and choose from whatever’s left to flesh out your world in more detail.
- Remember to use all the senses at your characters’ disposal to develop setting, and place readers right where you want them.
- Having issues figuring out how to be descriptive in the first place? Use the room you’re in, look out a window, or choose another well-known spot from memory/visit it. How do you feel while there? What are your senses telling you? Is the room warm? Is there a bird who won’t shut up outside? It’s the little things that help create a full, expressive world. Training yourself with real world experiences, can help as you build your story world.
- If your method is to write and figure out worldbuilding details as you go, you don’t have to stop doing that. Just consider the first three steps listed here during your edits.
There’s this idea that heavy worldbuilding should be left for fantasy and science fiction. While my prose is mainly speculative fiction and falls into this lane, I believe all genres require well-developed worldbuilding elements. Now Novel has a great advice to help with this.
Your descriptive pen is ready to go, you just need to let it loose. Don’t get caught up with having too much stuffed in at once, that’s what your edits are for ^_^.
3. There’s Too Much Tell, Not Enough Show
I grew up in a time where books were happy as heck to be full of endless exposition. I see the same in many Ink and Insights’ submissions. This usually means the writer is relying too heavily on the passive voice (tell).
Nowadays and with our shorter attention spans to consider, books are way more in-your-face than before. What makes them so? The active voice (show).
Using show and tell together at the right times can make a story sing. They feed off each other. The thing is as a writer, you like to get words out as quickly as they burst into your head. Sometimes that unfortunately means summarising or telling all.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out when to use show or tell, an easy way to remember it is this: If the subject is doing the thing, use the active voice. If the subject is having the thing done to it, use the passive voice. For further explanation, you can use: Grammarly’s for everyday writing, and American Journal Experts’ for academic/scientific writing.
Not ready to jump in feet first with more active prose? Consider practice runs. In my early writing days I used the passive voice a lot and often unnecessarily. You can see this in stories like The Wardens Series or Awakening. Some time later and as a way to connect to the active voice more, I rewrote passages from over a decade ago. I used various stories to test, some from as far back as 2001. Seeing how this improved various story elements, helped me become a better writer overall.
Nowadays I’m more reliant on the active voice, while still using the passive voice when it’s necessary :). See an example in this unedited chapter of Praesidium’s Orphans.
I’m not here to tell you how to write your story. Every writer’s different and has a unique approach to storytelling. Keep at it and use the tools provided here to help you avoid making these particular mistakes :).
We’re already reading and you still have a couple months to submit to the Ink and Insights’ writing competition – Get on it here. The other judges and I are waiting :).
The next Pages Unforgotten post is May’s newsletter on the 2nd. Until then, try: Embrace New Challenges to Grow | Inside Ink and Insights: What This Judge Wants | What I Want In A Literary Agent and Why You Should Ask Yourself Too | The Wardens Universe Revealed! | Flash Fiction: Flies Gotta Eat
For help with your writing project, visit my For Writers page.
This is my fourth year as an Ink & Insights’ judge and throughout its duration, I’ll share a connected post once a month. Learn more about the Ink and Insights’ writing competition here.
To see what I’m working on and novels available for submission click here.
For more info, questions, or comments, share below or contact me :).