Monday, 11 September 2017

Common Mistakes Writers Make

I am an indie author. I think you know that.
You have probably also noticed I read and review a lot of other indie authors.
What you do not see is all the books I read, and merely send a polite email to the author as they need to remedy some mistakes.

So, today I am sharing some of my "wisdom" with you.
There are two main errors that authors make.
I do not claim to be an expert. This is just my opinion btw.

1) Mixing up past/present/future tense - this has actually become my pet peeve as I see it so often
2) Not punctuating dialogue correctly

Let's start with tenses:
Simply put; keep your past in your past. 

I'm going to keep to the 'simple' tense, as this is most commonly used in novels. 

Past: Rachel bought a book
Present: Rachel is buying a book
Future: Rachel is will buy a book

What I often see is:
Rachel went to the shop and is buying a book. She paid at the till and left with her treasure in her grasp. 

Did you spot it? Rachel isn't looking, as the sentence is in the past tense. It should read:
Rachel went to the shop and bought a book...

You can write dialogue in the present tense, and keep the narrative in the past tense. 
But keep that narrative in the past. 

Of course, you may choose to write your book in the present tense. Absolutely your choice. Just stick to it when you choose one. At least in the same sentence and/or paragraph. 

There is the possibility of mixing tenses, but these need to be carefully done, and split with a scene change and paragraph. 

I know this advice is really basic. I've not really started delving underneath the surface at all.
There's perfect tense (basically using 'has'), progressive, subjunctive, verb forms, passive voice, all sort of things you can bring in. 

But for now, I'm sticking to the basics. You'd be surprised how many people get confused with this. 
It's easily done. But at least now it's hopefully in your mind for you to consider when writing.

Writing Dialogue:
This is something I often see authors getting into a mess with. 
And even I (yes, I'm human and make mistakes) had inadvertently made errors with something which should be very simple. 

Basically, use a comma if you are introducing a "s/he said" type statement (a dialogue tag).
The dialogue tag can be at the start or the end. 

Lowering his voice to a whisper, he told her, "I'm ready to tell you now."
"I'm ready to tell you now," he whispered. 

There is nothing wrong with using "said". It's simple and unobtrusive. Just don't overuse it. Everything in moderation.

Please do not overuse dialogue tags, full stop. Just once in a while to illustrate who is talking, or to emphasise a point. 

"I hate you," he yelled.
This does not require an exclamation mark. You are saying the character is yelling. 
Generally, you should avoid exclamation marks in novels. Your writing should speak for itself. 

You can link two sentences together with a tag, by the way. You use commas for this:
"I feel so stupid," she said with a sigh,"I fell for his charm." 

You can even give them new paragraphs. Do use this sparingly, as dialogue should generally be short and snappy to increase readability. But when the same character is speaking, do not close the quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph. Just open them at the start of the new one.

"Character 1 is saying something, but is going on a  bit. This paragraph comes to a close, but they need to say more.

"A new paragraph has started here, and closes as normal." 

This looks odd, but I'm assured this is the correct way of laying it out.

Remember, dialogue is conversation.
People do not stick to rigid formality when they speak. 

"Hello. It is very nice to meet you. How are you today?"
Do you hear this when you speak to your friends, or when you're people watching? I suspect not. 
Is it more like..?
"Hi, what's up?"
"Hey, how's you?" 

You can use slang and incorrect grammar in dialogue, just as long as it fits the character.
"I dunno."
This should technically read I do not know. But come on, who says this?

Dialect - don't forget to give your characters their own speech patterns and quirks. 
We don't all sound the same. We all have our little nuances when we talk. So your characters should too. 
How do they sound? Which time period do they live in? Do they have any key phrases they use repeatedly? Do they swear? 

There have been great books written entirely in regional dialect.
  • Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles uses a lot of West Country dialect, which can be tricky to follow. This hasn't stopped it being an incredibly popular book though.
  • Irvine Welsh uses Scottish phrases and phonetic spelling of them in Trainspotting. Specifically, the Edinburgh dialect. But again, this has been an incredible success. There's not really much I can politely quote on my blog from that ;-) 

If you choose to do this, just be aware your readers may struggle a bit. 

Be wary of putting in too many hesitations.
"I...umm...I'm not really...err, like, you know, not really happy."
Some hesitations can be useful and paint personality, but when overused they make it difficult to read.

There's a phrase which gets used a lot: "Show don't tell"
You can show points in narrative or speech, by the way. But please don't do both. It can be really tiresome to have a point explained by the narrator and then again by the character.

Phew! I've gone on a bit here. But hopefully this helps with some of the basics. 
I don't claim to be an expert. These are just things I've picked up along the way.
And I accept there's actually a few ways of laying out dialogue, but I just wanted to cover the basics here. 

All of the above is just something for you to bear in mind next time you sit down to create.

Always in love & light,

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