I’d like to talk to you about mistakes, because you’re going to make them no matter what.
Psst–I’ll tell you a secret. I never would sound so professional some days if it wasn’t for spell checker. I typo professionally like nobody’s business when I get going in my document or even with blog postings ^_^
But with it in Word, Scrivener and in other professional document applications (even my web browser as I’m uploading this on WordPress), I’m appalled by how many people have typos on the internet. Even in my note application on my Windows computer, it still highlights words that are specifically spelled wrong.
Ok, I lied. It’s not, but you get what I mean.
So, here are some common mistakes I see and what should be done to correct them.
1. Obviously, the glaring one is not using spell check, as I mentioned above.
Please, please please–take the time to look over your document! The internet is a valuable source to promoting your work and your voice. In order to be reputable in the community, you need to sound intelligent and professional. Typing something and not reviewing it is a recipe for failure.
Instead, take a few minutes and read over what you’re doing. If you have a lot of typos, people will think you’re either a child behind that keyboard or you’re just a person who is uneducated about the computer. Or they’ll just think you can’t spell worth a crap . . . or other comments that are less than appropriate.
2. Starting sentences with the same three words (he, she, that sort of thing) will bore your readers, or make them lose their place while reading.
This is actually true, and I’m saying that reviewing a draft. When I first started I used the same three prefixes in the first six to seven chapters and would lose my place in the document. I had to highlight where I was just so I wasn’t lost. Don’t let this be you.
Also, word variance in the right instances are good because it makes your piece flow better. When it sounds choppy and out of place, readers will definitely notice. They don’t need a degree in English to know that much. Think of all the people who just read novels on a daily basis.
3. A paragraph usually has 4-6 lines, not a big block that doesn’t ever break up.
If you have this problem, I encourage you to look at other novels, blogs and even other articles on the web like CNN and MSNBC. Their journalists break up their paragraphs and look at the 5 W’s: Who, What, Where, When and Why.
A good blog post has a concise point to it and usually is very informative.
And a good novel has a clear beginning, middle and end, as discussed in my last blog post.
Reading a block for me gets me lost and I wonder where that paragraph actually ends. Paragraphs are also easy for me to remember where I was, should I stop reading before a chapter or part ends.
In short, block paragraphs that are half a page long are not your friend. You’ll end up making your readers very frustrated and perhaps not finish your book if you do that.
4. The whole book cannot be in dialogue or in italics.
I get that some people remember things very differently. For me, I’m a big fan of dialogue. I remember whole conversations but can’t recall what someone looks like most of the time. When you’re drafting, that’s fine if that gets you to outline your story. Personally I used to use this method.
The other thing I did was use thoughts quite a lot. As in to explain a person’s actions, rather than showing them.
But a good novel has a balance of this and people who are reading are going to want some detail. They want to know where they are, how it’s important and why the character does what they do–but they also want to have the whole picture, not just a conversation or a thought bubble. It isn’t a comic book where you can already see it. Only you can see the whole picture because you’re the writer.
Do the readers justice and let them see your vision, too.
5. Expect to make mistakes.
You heard right. Expect it. You aren’t perfect. In fact, I haven’t met a single person anywhere who is. Everyone has their quirky behaviors, mannerisms and unique spellings that make that person unique. It doesn’t mean it’s right.
For example, I tend to write tho for though when I’m talking in IM or email, but will use full spellings mostly for text messages. Sometimes I just write in short hand and use the @ symbol for the word at because it’s a draft document. I’ll know what it means, but most other people would give me strange looks.
But then there are examples like text speak, which annoys the crap out of me.
Expect to have your editor rip it apart and help you make it better. Accept that maybe something you did was wrong and just simply fix it. Don’t argue with them unless there’s a reason why. I already know some things I’ll have to argue about (one of them being a character’s dialogue because she doesn’t speak clear English), but others you just move on with, fix and continue.
There’s a different between expecting to make mistakes and to cater to everyone who think you’ve made an error, however. If you’re happy with something and its detrimental to the story, you don’t have to change it. If it works and only one person sees the error, but your other readers say to keep it in–
Well, that’s your call.
6. Learn from those mistakes and do better with the knowledge you have learned.
It’s a process and one that grows with time. Practice makes perfect is the phrase that I use in this instance. If you stop drawing or writing after six months, your style will change. Sometimes it’s better, others it’s not. But you’re not going to know if you can be good at it until you give it your all.