I've been judging writing contests lately, and I've noticed a few common mistakes that seem to plague new writers. Here's my top three -- in no particular order.
1. Nothing new under the sun:
A lot of new novelists write pale copies of other people's stories. Getting published is about standing out from the crowd. Copying someone else's storyline isn't going to get a writer where they want to be. What makes you, YOU? What do YOU have to bring to a story? Let it shine. There is no passion in someone else's story. What makes you passionate? Put it on the page.
Real writers write because they cannot help it. Don't write to the market. Write because you can't help it. Barry Manilow has a song that starts like this, "This one will never sell. They'll never understand. I don't even sing it well. I try but I just can't." (It did sell. It's called "This One's For You."
People identify with truth. Give it to them.
2. The weather report:
So many new authors start out with a weather report and trying to create scene without making the reader care about what's happening. If I want the weather report, I can tune into to CNN, but I'm reading YOU for story. Bring it to me. Leave the dark and story night at home.
3. Conversation that goes nowhere:
Dialogue is only there to move your story forward. It is not there to take up word count. It is not there to provide your reader with information that you the writer should be showing them. If there isn't a reason for your dialogue, take it out. It's especially bad when it's only meant to be an information dump. Case in point, "You sure are a pretty and popular girl. It must be that red hair of yours and being born to a multi-millionaire that makes people love you so much." Sigh.
Listen to the way people talk. Dialogue is rarely back and forth. People rarely answer as you'd like them to. Take a break and go to Starbucks. Eavesdrop. Go ahead, I give you permission.
My new book, Swimming to the Surface, is now in paperback for those of you without ereaders.