Debbie Lee Wesselmann
 
We all make mistakes.  While some errors are peculiar to individual writers, others tend to be more universal, particularly among beginners.  Below I’ve supplied some common errors and weaknesses often seen in the less experienced.
 
1.  Telling instead of showing.  The standard “show, don’t tell” advice is often misunderstood or  wrongly applied by inexperienced writers.  If you write “angry” or “with affection” or “impatiently,” you are probably telling instead of letting the reader interpret for himself.  If you explain the motives or rationale behind an action, you are probably stating what the reader can figure out.  Keep in mind, however, that sometimes summary (telling) is needed to form transitions between scenes or to make non-dramatic action more concise.
 
2.  Overuse of adverbs and adjectives.  Many beginners try to manipulate the emotions of their readers through the use of adverbs and adjectives.  They fail to realize that the excess verbiage does nothing more than weigh down the prose.  While I don’t advocate the strict rule of “no adverbs, no adjectives,” I do believe that most inexperienced writers overuse them.  If you use an adverb that is essential to understanding the action (and a correct verb cannot be found that combines both verb and adverb), then this would be correct usage.  However, if the omission of that that adverb does not have an impact on meaning, then remove it.  (See more in Language.)
 
3.  Using unwieldy dialogue tags.  The only dialogue tags that should appear in your fiction are “said,” “asked,” “shouted,” “told,” and “whispered.”  Any of the above coupled with an adverb constitutes bad writing, especially since the dialogue itself should convey how it was spoken.  Likewise, any “fancy” dialogue tags such as “interjected,” “exclaimed,” “interrogated,” “sobbed,” or “proclaimed” are considered the hallmarks of amateurs.  (See more in Dialogue.)
 
4.  Easy descriptions and tired language.  A writer’s most valuable tools are language and imagination, and a failure of either results in bland writing.  Clichés and incompletely imagined descriptions make your story seem more like a sketch and less like a fully realized story.  While beginners can also overdo description by supplying too much information, many tend to hurry to the parts of the story most exciting to them rather than taking the time to set up the scenes.  (See more in Language.)
 
5. Using a moral in place of thematic development.  Despite what our elementary school teachers taught us, the theme is not the “lesson” of the story.  Thematic development is an exploration of an issue.  A fully examined theme leads to a complex story while a moral must always be simplistic, the sum of everything in one sentence.  (See more in Thematic Development.)
 
6. Point-of-view lapses and/or not fully utilizing the point-of-view (POV).  Point-of-view is one of the most complex elements of fiction writing despite its simple premise.  At its most basic definition, point-of-view is the perspective from which the story is told––third-person, first-person, omniscient.  In practice, the POV determines everything about a story: plot, characterization, language, theme, tone, etc.  Beginners often fail to realize when the POV is broken and why it is crucial to a work’s success to choose the appropriate one.  Although POV is too difficult a topic to examine on a web site, writers are advised to begin with third-person limited (the POV of a single character) before moving on to more demanding POVs.
 
 
 
Copyright 2007 by Debbie Lee Wesselmann
Mistakes Often Made by Beginning Writers