Most Common Mistakes in Fiction Writing

most common mistakes

Sone things come up  again and again while I’m editing. Here are the five most common mistakes that I find while working on fiction. Look out for them in your own work.

Five most common mistakes I find in editing

Misused adverbs of time: tonight/tomorrow/yesterday

When narrating in the past tense, you can’t use the above words, in narration, unless it is clear that the narrator is having a direct thought. A few examples:

 

‘We went to the store to stock up on provisions, because the tornado was coming through tonight.’

From the perspective of the narrator you can’t use ‘tonight’, because from where he/she looks, it is no longer ‘this night’. Try this instead:

‘We went to the store to stock up on provisions, because the tornado was coming through that night.’

 

Another example:

‘John said he would be back tomorrow and I was looking forward to seeing him.’

In direct speech, it’s fine:

‘John said, “I’ll be back tomorrow.”’

But in reported speech you need to adjust the adverb:

‘John said he would be back the day after and I was looking forward to seeing him.’

Tense jumping

This one is difficult to demonstrate out of context, but I’ll give a few examples.

‘I got up in the morning and got the fright of my life. I thought I’d just seen a ghost at my bedroom door. I will never forget that moment. Still shaking, I went downstairs and made breakfast.’

‘I called him over. Oliver is my best friend since forever. I invited him out for coffee and we caught a bus into town.’

Tense jumping is fine, but shouldn’t be done within individual sentences or paragraphs. There are many exceptions, but for the most part, it is best avoided. Stick with the tense you started out with.

Past perfect

If you’re narrating in the past tense, you’re gonna need to use past perfect for events that happened before the time of the narrating. Take this paragraph for example:

‘Since meeting her, he didn’t see his children. He didn’t think about them much anymore, truth be told. Sometimes he wondered what they thought of him. They had a good relationship before he met his new girl, but Lucy changed everything. She started all the trouble.’

It should look more like this:

‘Since meeting her, he hadn’t seen his children. He didn’t think about them much anymore, truth be told. Sometimes he wondered what they thought of him. They’d had a good relationship before he’d met his new girl, but Lucy had changed everything. She had started all the trouble.’

Here/This

Much like the adverbs of time, here are two words you’ll wanna be careful with in past-tense narration:

‘Whenever he was down here with his dad, he always thought of his childhood.’

Since the narrator is no longer ‘here’ (in that same place), you can’t use ‘here’. This is the correct sentence:

‘Whenever he was down there with his dad, he always thought of his childhood.’

 

‘Whenever he passed by, he always noticed the discarded doll outside this house.’ 

Correction:

‘Whenever he passed by, he always noticed the discarded doll outside the house.’ 

Over-description

‘John took out his favourite blue silk tie and laid it on the bed. Then he put out a white shirt bought especially for the occasion, the dress shirt that needed cufflinks. He laid out his cherished blue moccasins and a pair and yellow socks. Then he went and brushed his teeth for several minutes to make sure he was minty fresh. He shaved carefully and trimmed his nose hair, and dusted himself with talcum powder. He was almost ready…’

 

A tad unnecessary. Why not cut it? The following is way better:

 

‘John laid out his best clothes and fixed himself up in the mirror. He winked at his reflection. He was just about ready…’

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