If you’re part of the Friday Phrases family on Twitter, you’ve probably overheard some chatter about a writing pet peeves blog hop, started by none other than the amazing writing Amazon, Larysia Woropay, over at Larysia Writes. The inimitable J.D. Estrada tagged me to keep the ball rolling, and once I got over my chagrin at starting yet another blog to eventually kill (inveterate blog murderer that I am…six in two years, anyone?), I found plenty of mistakes in my own writing escapades to blushingly share.
Lack of Research
This one is a common mistake for indie and traditionally published authors alike. We get so caught up in the idea of delivering something sexy (time travel, DNA sequencing, epidemics!), we forget the finer details and leave the plot limping.
Last year, I eagerly snapped up book #4 in my favorite fantasy series, but my review of it was uncharacteristically snarky. Why? For some reason the author kept inserting medical elements, and I know more about those issues than she does. I’m sorry, Madam NYT Bestseller, but a sign of a heart attack is most assuredly NOT a tingly right arm. Also, the amount of drug in an epi pen is NOT enough to restart a heart in cardiac arrest. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. How no one at the impressive Big 5 publisher she’s with caught these and other glaring medical errors makes me feel better about my own indie mistakes.
And because I’m not above making these same mistakes, I’ll share a massive one of my own. In my historical gothic series, I needed my heroine to post a letter in circa 1868 Alabama. I sent her to the nearest historical town with a post office, Birmingham. I learned of my mistake from a reviewer at an e-zine when I read, with a certain amount of humiliation, that Birmingham was established in 1871. Had I lived in 1868, I would have promptly fainted. Being a writer of modern times, I merely ate some dark chocolate and learned from my mistake.
Lack of Originality
Most writers know there are only about 7 original story plotlines. Sorry, but the odds of you discovering a new struggle for mankind and then crafting a bestseller off of it are pretty slim. It’s all in the way you tell one of those struggles common to man that will either engage the reader or drive them away to seek a better book.
Editors and agents are maligned creatures for not seeing the merits of our manuscripts, but consider the fact that they’re chained to their computers for at least 8 hours per day, reading the same stories over and over. It’s their holy grail to find a manuscript told in a new and exciting way–not to congratulate you for writing a blatant knockoff of a Neil Gaiman novel. I pity editors and agents for having to sift through so much crappy writing.
I beta read for fellow writers more than I let on. I can no longer count the number of Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James rip-offs that come my way (and I don’t even read erotica!). Look, if vampire romance is your thing, fine, but it’s time you set it outside of a high school. Maybe the vampires shouldn’t sparkle in the sunlight either, and maybe your plotline shouldn’t involve saving a beautiful human girl from certain death. Do something that hasn’t been done before. Writing a vampire romance set against a nuclear holocaust is more likely to catch an agent’s attention than another washed-up “will-they-or-won’t-they?” teeny bopper romp.
I thought my first book’s love triangle was pretty flat and bordered on saccharine. It added nothing special to the romance genre, but when I realized my hero genuinely believed he was a murderer, it added enough layers of conflict to my plot that I was able to make the leap from a stand alone romance to a family saga series.
Lack of Beta Readers
Writing is…personal. We bleed our nuanced souls onto paper and hope for connections with the people who will see us for us. When I penned book #1 in my serial, I was fiercely proud, and I was determined to “do it all myself”. I thought I could revise, edit, beta read, design the cover, and format it all by my lonesome, and it would go far on its own merits.
I’ve grown up since those awkward days.
Look, we can argue all day long about what editing services you need, what you should be paying for said services, and the pros and pitfalls of doing your own formatting. It’s as individual a process as dating (and about as fun). But you can’t afford to release a book into the yawning cavern of modern readers without first establishing a trusted circle of people who will call you on your weaknesses and make helpful suggestions about them.
I have a small circle of beta readers for my historical series. I grew up with some. I’ve worked with others, and some come from the deep pit of social media. Pick people who are honest–and it helps if they’re writers, too. My most valued beta reader has a dual degree in archaeology and English. She has a tendency to proofread and call me on historical errors, all while wielding her red pen like some scalpel designed to cut open my heart. I’m embarrassed by what she’s caught (words used a century before they entered the lexicon, and that’s just for starters!)–but it’s a helluva lot better than finding out about my errors in a review.
Use different beta readers for different genres. I value my current set, but when I write the contemporary psychological thriller I actually want to seek representation for, I’ve got a new set of people in mind with completely different tastes.
Plot Isn’t Character-Driven
Stephen King once said, “I think the best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven.”
Sure, some genres rely more on action than others, and that’s fine. No one wants to read a thriller full of monologues and weepy introspection. Writers have to realize once the action is stripped away, the reader is invested in the growth or outcome of the main character. One of the most crucial elements of your novel or short story is whether or not you’ve created a complex, relatable character.
We don’t see ourselves in gunrunning renegades who never feel a moment of fear or in statuesque beauties who never lose the guy. We seek recognizable pieces of ourselves in the pages: wry humor, a bottle cap collection, the dread of a certain date on the calendar, or the tendency to push people away before they can reject us. Build your character in layers, and you’ll find the plot escalates in surprising, fresh ways. We’re not one-dimensional people, but often our characters are, existing simply to shore up a weak plot.
While we’re on the subject of character-driven books, let’s talk sex and violence. When the writing is so amateurish it relies on one of those two elements to propel the storyline in every chapter, you can guarantee I’m not reading any more of your books. It takes more than heaving breasts and bullet ricochet to keep me engaged as a reader.
Getting Hung Up on Social Media
The pitfalls of social media are too numerous to mention.
1.) Oscar Wilde suggested we all be ourselves because everyone else is taken. I can admire your pastel drawings of zombie unicorns all day long, but that doesn’t mean I should post zombie unicorns. As writers, inspiration can come from anywhere, and it’s awesome that we inspire each other. But some people never come up with an original thought on their own. Nothing burns me up like someone who constantly uses my microfiction as a springboard for their own. We all know folks who do it. Seriously, STAHP.
2.)Support other people. I really had no idea what Twitter was for when I joined, but everyone and their dog said I had to be on it to sell books. Wrong. Listen, no one cares how many books an indie author has written, and your childish cries of “Look at me! Look! I write books!” will only serve to make people mute or unfollow you. Networking with other like-minded writers is where it’s at. Trust me on this point.
If you can’t RT and chat with other people as much as you harp on how special you think you are, you’re missing the point.
3.Don’t take it personally. I’ve known several gifted writers to quit writing prompt games or quit social media altogether because they feel they don’t get enough likes, RTs, or attention. Not everything you write will be well received. Not everyone you meet is going to delight in your sense of humor. You won’t be best friends with everyone. Don’t worry about it. If we all had the same story, there’d be no need for writers or books. Refer back to point #1 in this particular peeve: you do you.
In the spirit of keeping this ball rolling, I’m tagging three marvelous writers. Click their names to check them out on Twitter.
R.B. McConnell blogs over at her Bunny Darkness blog. She’s my favorite Irish lady, has some of the best tattoos you’ll ever see, and is one of the most caring tweeps around. When she isn’t working on her Snowflake novel, chances are she’s crafting or dosing someone with her great sense of humor. Every time I chat with her, I feel like I’m being hugged.
Lo-arna Green is one of the most romantic ladies in all of Oz. I first met Lo-arna through her Lo-arna Green blog when I wrote a guest post for her a year or so ago. She wears her heart on her sleeve, is working on an impressive number of books, and writes poetry in prose that’ll make you fall in love all over again–even with the ones you’ve sworn off!
JFX McCloughlin is one of the coolest dudes around. One of the first writers I actively followed on social media, his microfiction evokes smoky barrooms and back alleys. I’ll probably find his hardboiled work in Ellery Queen one day. When I asked him this morning, I found out he’s a more reluctant blogger than I, but you can catch great fiction on his JimmyJunk blog.
What about you? What are your biggest writing pet peeves?