Just as every writer has their particular strengths, we all have our weaknesses, too. We make mistakes. Sometimes spotting them, even when called out by editors and beta readers, isn’t easy. It’s disheartening. Fortunately, there is hope! Take a look through your draft for these three major writing errors, and see how greatly these simple fixes improve your work!
Good and Happy People vs. Sad and Bad People
It’s a bit of a trope, particularly in fantasy and science fiction, that the protagonist comes from a very sweet, happy place and that they themselves are sweet, innocent people. Meanwhile, the villains come from a hell-scape and shoulder tremendous rage and hatred as a natural part of their being. This set-up will lose readers within the first chapter.
For instance, even The Lord of the Rings, which opens in the Shire (one of the nicest and happiest places in the fictional multiverse) still casts a few little shadows. Bilbo, the hero of the preceding novel, isn’t as sweet and innocent as we remember. He’s still nice, but he’s been corrupted. Tolkien also casts some shade on the hobbits’ general state of innocence, linking it discretely with ignorance and even greed. The lesson here is to make sure you’re starting with a little dirt under your characters’ fingernails.
Dialogue is tricky, partly because of all the conflicting writing tips out there. You need to write realistic dialogue! Use dialogue to explain things! Increase the tension! Progress the plot! How can dialogue do all that? Should dialogue do all that?
Here’s the hard truth: there are many ways to write great dialogue, and a lot of that depends on writing style. There are a couple things you should check for as you write, though. Although there are lots and lots of things dialogue can do, but we’re here to talk about mistakes, right?
First of all dialogue over-inflates very, very quickly. Keep discussions tight and in the moment. Dialogue should be part of a scene, but it shouldn’t swamp it. When it doubt, trim things up. Ask yourself: does the audience already know what you’re saying, and does this exchange provide anything new? If not, it probably isn’t working.
Secondly, you do actually need tension. Your characters shouldn’t get along perfectly. Even if they’re best friends, they have different goals. A quick tension-killer is a sugary-sweet discussion. Avoid too much praise or even excessive greetings between your characters. Put your dialogue on a diet and cut out the sweet stuff.
Lack of Threat
Don’t take break from all the action with fluffy, sweet, comfortable scenes. Every scene, every story arc, and every discussion needs a threat. It won’t always be overt, but readers should sense it as they read. Maybe the threat isn’t from your big bad. It could be a risk to a side character’s occupation, a disintegrating relationship between close friends, or even environmental risks. The story begins with threat, and when you lose sight of danger, you’ve lost the story.
Have you committed any of these great writing sins? Are you flirting with dull scenes, or did you forget to hold the tension when the villain isn’t on screen? Keep a sharp eye out for puffy dialogue and saccharine settings!