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Top mistakes amateur writers make

I read a lot of stories by aspiring authors and newly published authors. Time and time again, I see them make the same mistakes. There is much benefit to waiting until you get older until you're published—a lot of the mistakes amateur writers make is because of lack of experience.

But for those who don't want to wait to get published, here are the most common mistakes seen in amateur writing.

1. They tell, instead of show

  1. John opened the letter. He was shocked.

  2. As John held the letter he could feel the warmth flee from his cheeks.

Which above sentence was more engaging? In sentence one, the reader is simply told what is happening. In sentence two, the reader is shown what is happening to the character.

Unfortunately, many amateur writers opt for sentence one. Amateur writers write like this because it is a quick, simplistic way of communicating information, while moving the scene forward. But it doesn't engage the audience because it doesn't encourage the audience interact with the words. Your prose should be a portrait made of words, painting a beautiful picture in the mind of your reader.

2. Their writing lacks a distinct style

Every writer is a reader first, and every writer has to start somewhere — we turn to the books we've read as a source of inspiration for our own writing. We emulate our favourite authors, playing with words and phrases like an artist would colours on a canvas. But as the writer matures, so does their craft. They take on their own distinct style, unique to the type of story they're trying to tell.

Amateur writers are still, consciously or unconsciously, trying to emulate the style of successful writers they admire.

Sometimes, rather than emulating someone else's style, their writing is so generic and lacklustre that it is hard to pinpoint their style at all. Words and phrases lack artistic flair and colour; bland is the best adjective to use when describing their prose. Even worse, their writing is riddled with cliché phrases such as "my blood boiled" or "her heart skipped a beat.

3. They rely on genre tropes

Nothing kills a reader's excitement for a plot faster than an over-used trope. Good writers find new and interesting ways to subvert expectation or twist a trope. An amateur writer's work is predictable and flat.

4. Their characters are stereotypes

Writing characters which jump from the page and grab the reader's attention is difficult. It take a lot of practice. It also takes a lot of real world experience; writers write interesting characters because they've met interesting people in real life.

Without real world experience, or experience in writing characters, amateur writers often rely on stereotypes — not writing about people, but rather, ideas of people.

5. They work on the same manuscript for years without changing a thing

Sometimes writers can get so attached to the first universe they created, or the first plot line which they crafted. They're emotionally tied to the manuscript and simply cannot bear to let the characters or plot line go. As the writer's saying goes:

Kill your darlings

A good writer can see when a plot isn't working, or when characters are badly written; and they're not afraid to delete what isn't working.

6. Too much detail, or not enough

Nobody want paragraph long explanations of a newly met character, or a whole page devoted to a description of a single room. Likewise, nobody wants to look at a blank canvas; without unique, specific details, a fictional universe can become generic and lacklustre.

An experienced writer knows exactly how much detail to leave in and what to leave out; they know what details contributes to character building, the plot and themes, and what is excessive.

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