Bad writing sins

Bad writing sins, Advice for writers

Bad Writing Sins - FI

We have all come across a book, whether purchased from a bookstore or downloaded from Smashwords, that made us cringe when we started reading the thing. Within two pages or so, I can tell whether it is worth persevering with, or I better just press the Delete key. Some books tend to start off slowly, while others rush into action in the first paragraph. Either way, there is something about the writing that keeps me going or makes me turn up my nose. Sadly, a lot of self-published books I came across exude an odiferous presence.

Lots of aspiring writers out there long to see their name and work in print, or at least digitally if nothing else works. I include myself in that category, remembering with nostalgia my clumsy efforts to sell that first novel…but never mind that now. The obvious first step for many writers was to find a publisher, which achieves two things:

1 – The book undergoes a selection process.
2 – It is edited—sometimes well.

A badly written book should never pass the first step, and once accepted, the editing process will polish the rough edges to make it more professional. Regrettably, many e-book publishers pay only a lip service to these important criteria, interested in pushing through quantity rather than quality. With the availability of inexpensive self-publishing options, many would-be writers churn out their opus and splash it all over the Internet as soon as the last sentence is written. I’m not saying self-publishing isn’t a good thing. It is, and I used it for my own books. Trying to find a traditional publisher or agent can be emotionally disturbing and not to be entered into lightly, which explains why many writers don’t bother, sublimely confident in the quality of their output.

So, what are these bad writing sins many beginners commit and never repent? The key word here is ‘beginners’. I am being charitable to more seasoned writers who should know better, but still don’t mend their erroneous ways. The most common sin beginners make is that their writing doesn’t parallel their imagination. The words, sentences and paragraphs simply don’t say what the writer thinks they are saying. If the writer proofreads or edits his work before publishing, he invariably overlooks any technical flaws, his mind substituting for him the perfect narrative or dialogue. In other words, the writer is blind to his own shortcomings and there is no getting away from it.

We all have to start somewhere, and like any other skill, writing should be mastered before it is unleashed on others. Many writers out there have forgotten what they learned in high school and cannot wait for their skills to develop, producing material that only adds to the unflattering image of self-publishing. In many cases, that image is justified. The average browsing reader will have to wade through a minefield of poorly written books before coming across something worthy of his attention. Often the effort is abandoned, and who can blame them?

Let me list some of these sins:

– Writers don’t know how to write a sentence.
– They don’t know how to write dialogue.
– Don’t know when to provide background, or give too much background in one lump.
– Don’t create scene breaks where needed.
– Jerky changing of POV (head-hopping).
– Lack of characterization.
– Lack of drama, emotion, conflict, human interaction.

What to do?

I found early on that plotting and writing a novel was daunting and a lot of hard work. There is research, initial outline writing, character identification, full outline…lots of things. It was far simpler to sit down and churn out a short story. The thing with a short story, it has all the elements of a novel, but is written in a hurry, and the writer has all the connections clearly in his head—hopefully. The benefit of tackling a short story is that it allows the author to practice all the mechanical elements every writer must master. It’s like starting off with a tricycle before climbing on the real thing. Scrapes and bruises are part of the learning curve. However, once the writer gets the knack of it, tackling something more substantial can be done with confidence. The other advantage with writing short stories, no one has to see them!

All right, that novel is finally written, the author has edited it and the book is ready to be published. Not so fast. Before unleashing it on readers, it ‘really’ should be independently edited and proofread. I’ve been at this game for a while now and I am still amazed at the little bloopers that escape my critical editorial eye. My mind tricks me, overlooking my mistakes. Sending that manuscript to an independent editor will avoid this trap, as the editor has no bias—or shouldn’t have one—and is able to look at the material objectively. Sure, editing services cost, but isn’t it worth some expense to ensure readers get the very best from writers?

Writers usually read lots of books, and a really good book can entertain me no matter how many times I read it. I wish budding writers would think of this before unleashing their creations on unsuspecting readers.

2 comments on “Bad writing sins”

  1. I work with Critters.org as a critique group and the largest failing I see with newbies is they don’t how to use proper punctuation. If it’s really bad I suggest they start with a basic English class at their local community college before moving on to a writing course.

    Despite years of writing I still have a little trouble with proper punctuation with dialogue. Mind-numbing how complicated English is.

    1. Hi David,

      First of all, please accept my apology for not responding earlier. I am new to WordPress and have only recently found out how to check for and handle message comments made against a post.

      I appreciate your feedback, and you are right. Understanding basic English would help some writers. It took me a while to get the hang of dialogue, and I am still learning. English indeed has a richness that can be overwhelming. There is, of course, a matter of taste. You cannot please everyone.

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