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This is the LitNet archive (2006–2012)
Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Skryfsake | Writing matters > Kennisgewings | Notices

Writers Write


What fiction editors don't want. Writers Write is often asked to appraise an author's writing. When we do, we find that there are five consistent errors that occur in debut manuscripts.

The five consistent errors that occur in debut author's manuscripts.

1. Cardboard cut out characters
2. Too many characters
3. Over-writing - Just to make sure that the reader understands.
4. Silent Torment - Too much thinking, not enough action
5. Where am I? - The novel set in a writer's head.

Cardboard cut out characters

The characters must be perceived as real people for the reader, or the book doesn't work. To make them human we need to see them in action.
Make them get up and do things. Show characters in their home environments. Furnishings, decor, cars, medication can be used to define and differentiate them. You don't need long descriptions; just a few vivid details do most of it for you.
The reaction of other people to your characters is a strong technique for them to emerge as credible people. The everyday things that happen to people make them human. People trip, forget to set their alarms, burn their carpets with cigarettes, cut themselves shaving, and lose their car keys. A characters' life must have events that are familiar to all of us. You want a reader who says, "I do that!" If you get that reaction, you've won your reader.

Overcrowding - Too many characters

Be careful of throwing in too many characters. Don't give too much prime space to minor characters crowding the pages. Too many characters daze a reader. They do not want to have to keep track of them all. Few writers, and especially not new writers, can develop 10 characters all in one book. Less is always more.
Reserve space for secondary characters who influence your main characters. Make your secondary characters quirky. These are the best supporting actors in your story.
Don't throw in names without purpose. If a main character is going to interact to any great extent with a side character, we must know who the side character is - his name alone is not enough.
If a "name" doesn't have a role in the book, leave it out.


Everybody does it.
You know...
The flowery prose, the reaching for the perfect description, the long distance marathon of internal monologue. The downpour of words that muddy an author's writing.
Write simply. That is good writing. It is nothing new. You may not like Hemingway or Coetzee, but you can learn from their elegant economy of style.
Clean, clear English goes a long way. Strong verbs, precise nouns and good sentence structure are the basis of good writing. Good writing does not mean lots of words. Correct words in the correct places impart meaning and atmosphere.
Avoid 'arty' sentence structures. You don't want to stop the reader in his or her tracks. Keep it simple. Your writing must not feel contrived. Aim for clarity and economy.

Tormented heroes - Too many thoughts, not enough action

A character's thoughts do not bring him to life on the page. Most new writers spend too much time in their characters' heads.
Characters need to move, make coffee, jump, tease, argue, cajole, wear clothes, shop, go to the doctor, stub their toes and feel the pain, etc. The reader needs to be able to see him as a person and identify with the things that he does.
A common mistake is for a character to review his actions it in a way that is repetitive for the reader. They think it through, sometimes several times. This shows a lack of confidence on the writer's part. The writer may feel that he has not communicated the scene or idea the first time around. It's fine for your first draft. Leave it out of the second.

Where am I? The story happens somewhere, doesn't it?

A reader must be able to visualise a character's world. If it does not seem real, the book will not work. An author creates that world for s reader through setting. Imagine a movie where the characters go through the motions on a blank screen. That is the effect of lack of setting in a novel.
In a film you are losing a visual dimension. In a novel, the setting is sight, sound, smell, feeling and reaction to environment. Your characters can't respond to their surroundings if you haven't given them any.
We are aware of being sweaty, hot or cold. A dress may be too tight, the traffic impossible, autumn leaves are falling, a thunderstorm is on its way. An elevator is too crowded, a car won't start. There is no milk for coffee, the Yorkshire terrier next door yaps incessantly.
Without somewhere to play the story, a reader's experiences would be lean. Give your characters real lives through setting.


*Amanda Patterson is the founder of Writers Write, and the creator of the course with the same name. 75 of her students have been published. For more information please contact news@writerswrite.co.za or call Anton 0798753719

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