I find that when I first read sample chapters from a new client, I often come across the same errors. The mistakes new writers make tend to fall primarily into three categories, so I wanted to take a moment to talk briefly about each. Practice and experience with the editing process will help you overcome these, as will increased awareness, and working with a professional writing coach and/or taking writing classes.
Mistakes New Writers Make #1: Point of View
One of the biggest errors first time authors make, whether fiction or non-fiction, is in the area of Point of View (POV). They tend to misunderstand how it works, and therefore make errors in its use.
Point of view refers to the narrator of the story. I like to imagine POV as where the camera sits in filming the story. When used correctly, the reader can easily follow who is narrating, making it easier to understand and connect with. The four primary Points of View are:
First Person – The camera sits in the main character’s head, and only their head. They tell the story using the pronoun “I” and are limited to only what they can sense and believe.
Example: “I love ice cream and it’s my goal to try all 30 flavors.”
Second Person – The camera sits in the head of the reader; however the author takes great liberty with this, telling the reader what they sense and believe.
Example: “You wake up with the sun hitting your face and the smell of lilac and fresh sheets.”
Another use of second person is in instruction, such as in non-fiction.
Example: “You will want to track all of your income and expenses to create a budget.”
Third Person Limited – The camera sits in the head or heads of your main character(s). She, he, they pronouns are used and you can switch points of view at scene breaks or chapter breaks. Usually the POV swap is only in the heads of primary characters, otherwise it becomes too confusing. Whatever character’s POV you are in for a scene limits the narration to what that specific person senses and believes.
Example: “John was ready to sleep. It had been a long day. He looked forward to the firm mattress, floppy pillow and fresh sheets awaiting him at home.”
Third Person Omnipresent – The camera sits in the hands of “God” in this POV. He, she, they pronouns are used and all characters have the opportunity to have their beliefs and senses revealed through the narrator who knows everything, whether or not the character(s) do.
Example: “John and Kristi were next to be presented The Game that would change their lives. John would take it because he felt inadequate as a provider and the money would give them the nest egg they desired. Kristi would agree for the excitement, something she felt she was lacking after nine years of marriage and endless failed attempts at becoming a mom.”
Third person limited and first person are the most common points of view in fiction books. Non-fiction books often fluctuate between either first or third person, and second.
Mistakes New Writers Make #2: Telling Rather Than Showing
Another common error made by new writers is telling the reader information rather than showing it. The correction to this is called Show Not Tell. Here’s an example of Tell:
John met Kristi at the bank and liked the way she looked. He asked her on a date and they met and had a really good time. They decided then and there to get married.
Here’s an example of Show:
John met Kristi at the bank. He remembered her walking in with the sun behind her, just like how angels appear in renaissance paintings. He knew then he could love her. “You look amazing.”
Kristi laughed, and spun around with a boldness he found sexy. He reached for her, “Would you like to have dinner with me Friday night?”
From here you could write a fun scene about their date if you wanted. Ask yourself if there is a better way to show the information, and if so, choose that.
Mistakes New Writers Make #3: The Mis-Use of Tenses
Another mistake both seasoned and new writers make is using the incorrect tense. This is one of the reasons I always suggest using an editor. This is a habit that will improve with awareness, practice, and self-editing.
Kristi bent over and ties her shoes. (INCORRECT)
Kristi bent over and tied her shoe. Her gold and diamond necklace slid from her neck onto the floor. (CORRECT)
Kristi bends over to tie her shoe. Her gold and diamond necklace slides from her neck onto the floor. (CORRECT)
In the last two sentences the verb tenses (action word) are consistent with each other. Be sure to use a consistent tense and determine which one feels best for your story. Practice makes perfect.
If you are looking to improve your writing, I invite you to join my community of writers and authors on Facebook. I offering writing tips, writing groups, and peer support as well as one-on-one coaching. Join us and avoid mistakes new writers make.