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5 Writing Mistakes You Might Be Making Without Knowing It

As writers, we understand how complex the craft of writing a book is. Not only must the story itself be great, but the techniques in which you tell the story can also make-or-break a novel. Today we're sharing 5 writing mistakes you might be making without know it. These are the types of tricky technical errors that can cause frustration in your reader without them being aware of why (and we're sharing how to solve them). They're subtle enough that you as the author might not be aware that you're doing it, which begs the question of how you can fix something you're not even aware of.

5 Writing Mistakes You Might Be Making & How To Fix Them

1. Leading Your Reader Rather Than Guiding Them

As an author, the goal is to "guide" the reader through your story, but when the breadcrumbs are too obvious, forceful, or too numerous it raises the issue of the reader feeling like they're being pushed down the path rather than gently guided. It becomes something that stands out as an annoyance because it feels like a protective older sibling is spoiling all the action and surprise before the reader has a chance to experience it for themselves. It's a problem because rather than being immersed in the story and carried through by the power of the narrative, the reader has trouble losing themself because they can see the author hovering close by, thereby shattering the illusion of being transported elsewhere.

Example: "Framing" a scene to hint to the reader that something is about to happen before it happens. Such as tipping them off to an ambush prior to it happening, saying that whatever fate had in store wasn't "good", that a character had a feeling that something "bad" would happen (without prior justification).

Solution: Scan your draft for signs of leading. Read paragraphs that lead up to right before an action sequence, a surprise, or a big reveal, as this is where leading tends to appear. If you find sentences that tell of events to come, directly state of foreshadowing (rather than showing), or if there's any other signs that hint at what is about to happen delete them and just let the reveal happen.

2. Dropping Heavy Hints And Revealing Too Much

If you're working with a plotline that is based around an underlying mystery, twist, or reveal that requires a reveal that builds over time beware of making this mistake. When you have an agenda in mind, there's a tendency to want to lay the groundwork on thick in order to ensure that the reader "gets" what you're trying to hint at. But there is a fine line between just enough and revealing too much.

Example: You want your readers to focus on a particular element of your story, so you invest time in placing emphasis on the element prior to it appearing. For instance: A dog ends up being the culprit for the missing cookies. There's no less than three conversations about the dog, background that speaks to the dog's story when it's not necessary, and to top it off the dog himself features in the narrative for a couple paragraphs.

Solution: Call less attention to what you're trying to keep hidden. Sometimes the best approach is to place less emphasis on what you want to stand out the most in the end. Remember, readers aren't stupid and they will pick up on the more subtle clues. Less is more here.

3. Your Main Character Avoids Their Job

When your main character is hiding from their past, disguising their true identity, or running from themselves there is the need for finesse on the part of the author, but not in the way you might expect. While a character might be hiding their true identity from other characters in the story, it doesn't necessarily mean that they need to hide it from the reader too. It can actually be detrimental to the story to have a character who is narrating hide so much because it limits what they can reveal.

Example: Your character has chosen to hide their identity to escape their past, but they are your narrating character. Rather than divulging information about themselves and their situation to the reader, it's avoided entirely as the character will only show what their new identity requires.

Solution: Remember why your character is hiding and gauge what is necessary to hide and what isn't. By making this distinction you give yourself back control over your character, meaning that it's an author's decision what to hide and when. If it's the case of a character who needs to hide their identity even from the reader, then the necessary decision may be to remove them as the main character and push them into the background cast while letting another character be the smokescreen.

4. Not Giving Enough Information For Reader Understanding

There's three reasons why authors hold back information. 1) Because their working with a main character who is tight-lipped, 2) They are writing when tired or binge-writing, 3) they don't have a clear sense of their story yet and are pantsing it. While neither of these is inherently bad, it can complicate things. When a writer forgets to include details such as setting, worldbuilding, or character development, it can cause clarity issues, misunderstandings, and leave the reader feeling confused. When readers don't understand what's going on, can't envision where events take place, or can't connect emotionally with a character it can lead to an unfinished book.

Example: Your character is traveling throughout your world, but there isn't enough development to keep the reader grounded in where they are. Or an world-shattering event such as a war is taking place but because it doesn't directly affect the main character, basic background details are left out. And yet another example is that your secondary character is underdeveloped in comparison to your protagonist and antagonist, despite the fact that they have a narrating POV.

Solution: When self-editing or using beta readers, have a specific series of questions to answer about each of these three categories to determine if there's enough details in order for readers to understand what's going on and connect with the world and characters. Going back and fleshing out what is weaker will help strengthen your story overall.

5. Telling The Reader What Inferences To Take Away

At some point, a reader must draw their own conclusions about the story being told. If you're an author with excellent control, organization, and structure then you may be making this mistake subconsciously when you write. In the pursuit of absolute clarity, there may be pieces where heavy-handedness takes center stage. One such moment comes when an author starts expressly telling a reader what they should take away from a scene or the book as a whole rather than letting them make sense of it for themselves.

Example: An emotional scene is written where the main character finds out that their birth mother has died in a car crash after spending the events of the entire story searching for her. Rather than letting the reader make sense of the conclusion of this scene and what it means for the main character, the author explicitly tells them what they should think about the scene.

Solution: Have a friend, beta reader, or your editor scan for instances of this occurring. Because it's a matter of readers being influenced by the author, a writer cannot identify this type of error in their own writing.

Armed with these 5 tips, you'll be able to determine whether-or-not these are mistakes you're making in your own writing.

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