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10 Excruciating Mistakes Even Experienced Writers Make

Excruciating Mistakes

So, you’ve been writing a while but there are still some excruciating mistakes you might make that could trip you up … Why ‘excruciating’? Because they’re SO EASY to avoid!

1) Weak Beginning

First up, an obvious excruciating mistake … You need to START as you mean to go on! First impressions really count.

If you’re a screenwriter, you may know you only have 10 pages maximum to pique a reader’s interest … What you may not know is you need to grab them from page 1, FIRST! This means you need a great opening image. Check out THIS POST for an in-depth case study how three very different TV series do this.

If you’re a novelist, you’re not off the hook. Just like a screenwriter, you need to ‘hit the ground running’ too. In fact, I think it can be very useful to use screenwriting techniques for writing novels. Think of your book as being the ‘same’ as a movie or TV series and you can stay visual. Check out THIS POST for more advice.

2) Info Dumps

Too much backstory KILLS interest in your story. Some backstory is good to introduce your character … but you don’t want to go overboard either.

But how much is ‘enough’? That’s the gazillion dollar question. However, whether you’re writing a screenplay or novel, I think it’s worth thinking about character introduction like this …

  • WHO is your character?
  • WHAT is s/he doing?
  • WHAT does this say about a) the character? b) the storyworld?

For more on character introductions, CLICK HERE. (Yes, it’s for screenplays but honestly I follow these tips for all my novels too!).

3) Not Knowing Enough About Genre

Lack of research on genre is a real killer for both novels and screenplays. Genre is how agents, producers, publishers etc work out WHO the work is for … This helps them figure out the target audience in order to sell it. It quite literally PAYS to get on board with understanding how this works.

4) Not Reading/Watching Enough in Your Genre

Lots of writers believe they will be adversely influenced if they read books or watch movies/TV in their industry … But the reality is the OPPOSITE in my experience.

Very often writers will absorb certain ideas, characters, tropes and other elements by osmosis from popular culture. As a result they may accidentally imitate something that is very popular, which means their writing feels derivative. ALWAYS do your research into stories *like* yours! You simply cannot break new ground without doing this.

5) Bad Plotting / Structure

Whether you are writing a novel or screenplay, you need to have plotting/structure NAILED … Not just for the overall piece either! Each scene or chapter needs to earn its place and push the story forward.

But how do we do this? Well, I like to study visual representations of structure, as well as plotting archetypes. These can be really helpful in pinpointing what ‘should’ happen next.

I also like to ‘draw the story’ – I created the free B2W Plotting worksheet for this. I use it for novels, short stories and screenplays of every kind – TV pilots, sitcoms, features. DOWNLOAD YOURS FOR FREE HERE or via the B2W resources page.

6) Telling, Not Showing

A lot of novelists and screenwriters get their knickers in a knot over this classic writing advice. Many think ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ is excruciating by itself! They feel it is not very illuminating, especially if it’s not applied specifically to their writing.

Personally, I think a better phrase is ‘DRAMATISE, don’t tell’. In other words …

  1. Don’t use dialogue to tell us everything about the characters’ motivations, backstories and lives
  2. Avoid pushing the plot forward through dialogue alone
  3. Avoid info dumps of any kind

Think about how to use VISUALS and ACTIONS to move the story forward and reveal character instead.

7) Thinking Classics Are The Answer

There’s no doubt that if a book, film or TV series is a classic or iconic in any way, then it got *something* right … However, classics date very quickly because they are imitated so often. Unless you can bring something new to the table, avoid copying like this! Similarly, remember that just because it was good stuff *then* doesn’t mean it is *now*. Always do your research into stories **like** yours that have come before … There WILL be some!

8) Lack of Editing

A very obvious excruciating mistake here … Never, ever, ever send out a first draft!

Thankfully most writers don’t do this now, but they may still not edit ‘enough’. Personally I think a minimum of sending to three beta readers is a good bet. HERE’S who you should target.

9) Querying Too Soon

As mentioned already in this list, first impressions count … You don’t want to query ANYONE before your draft is developed and polished A.F! Never, ever send out drafts that are still works in progress.

10) Throwing Spaghetti at the Wall

Lack of research on Agents, Publishers, Producers & other industry pros is another killer. Most writers simply open a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and send submissions to every single one.

Because the writer is not targeting industry pros properly, this means they’re throwing spaghetti at the wall. Whilst this can work, it’s more by accident than design. It’s no wonder so many writers end up banging their heads against brick walls in Rejections Hell for months, even YEARS!

Don’t bang your head against a brick wall … create a submissions STRATEGY. Identify the industry pros you want to work with, based on WHY they would be a good fit for you (and you them). You’ll be surprised how much more successful this route is.

Good Luck!

Are you being driven crazy by your characters? Or maybe you’re struggling with structure? Or perhaps it’s your concept that’s creating the problem?

Whatever your issue is, B2W’s free online mini course can provide the powerful reset you need.

CLICK HERE or on any of the pics to enrol.

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4 thoughts on “10 Excruciating Mistakes Even Experienced Writers Make”

  1. Pingback: 10 Excruciating Mistakes Even Experienced Writers Make – Written By Lucy V Hay – Writer's Treasure Chest

  2. Also being unable to follow a brief. I have lost count of the people we just discounted because they thought themselves above doing what was required.

    1. Absolutely – not following the submission guidelines comes across as either sloppy or arrogant – and neither is a good look.

  3. I think I have about 8/10 over my whole writing time. I’ve always managed to avoid the info dump (I think) because I usually don’t plan ahead, so there’s nothing to explain. The patient re-writes and the firm editing, followed by the targeted submission – those are the hardest things in the world for me. I’ve often fallen out of love with the story before it’s done, so going back over it, even a lot later, is a soul-sucking prospect.
    I guess that’s why I’m not a novelist?

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