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15 Most Common Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Writing a Novel

Shweta Ajwani May 6, 2019
You have the idea for your novel. Your inspiration drives you, your conscience guides you, and the quill awaits you. With the quill in your hand and the parchment at your disposal, you feel empowered. Nothing can stop you from changing the world with your words.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
Ernest Hemingway
▣ Rule #1: "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." - W. Somerset Maugham

▣ Rule #2: See the earlier quote by Ernest Hemingway? That's the second thing you should know about writing.
Want to know rule number three? Go back to rule number one. You won't find a list that tells you 'what you should do' to churn out a great novel. But you will find a list that will tell you 'what not to do' to come up with a novel that is flawless, so to speak.
This post, sitting on the sidelines, does just that. It tells you about every little mistake you could make and every little thing you never thought could qualify as a mistake. We all start somewhere, we all start small. You have taken the first step and are already ahead of everyone else. Don't falter, don't fear. Avoid these mistakes, and let it flow.

Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Not Having a Thunderous Start

The first word, first sentence, and first page of your novel will decide if the reader wants to turn the page and keep reading. Having too much unnecessary information at the start and keeping the reader waiting for the story to actually begin, can make him lose interest and give up on the book. You don't want that to happen. All is well that 'starts' well.

Not Maintaining Appropriate Narration

It's a story based on the lives of four friends―their coffee breaks, their travel trips, their families―each giving the reader an insight about life, each one of them laying out their perceptions about life. Give each character their space, respect their point of view (POV), and don't interrupt them.
Decide right at the start whether you wish to narrate in first, second, or third person, and who would the voice of the novel be, because the reader will be hearing that voice the most in his head.
Confusing him with too many voices, POVs, and head hopping, would just frustrate him. Take note of chapter breaks, which can be used as a standard against which you can change the POV if you wish to. Simplicity is the best.

Not Writing Everything that You Want To

It is understood that for the fear of being judged, you might hold yourself back. No matter how exceptionally well you write, you will be judged. When you write for others, you put a piece of yourself out there for everyone. You give out your best. Write everything that you want to, and you can review it later. Allow it to flow.

Not Having Decided on an Audience

Decide what kind of an audience your novel will cater to. Once you are sure who will be reading it, you will know what style of writing you should adopt, the kind of language you will have to use, and its level of complexity. This gives you a direction and enables you to write better. Give yourself something to look forward to.

Overlooking the Technicalities

It's the little things that matter. Your novel will build itself one word at a time, one line at a time, one sentence at a time. Even if it is a draft, make it your best. Your book is going to be read by the world; don't let it down by a spelling mistake, an ill-constructed sentence, or poor grammar. Little things, it is really the little things.

Implying that Your Readers Know Nothing or They Know Everything

As a writer, or novelist, you should be able to create that perfect blend of words, thoughts, imageries, emotions, information, hints, suspense, cognition, and anticipation to make it a whirlwind of an experience for him.
Don't deprive your readers of the satisfaction of a ground-breaking climax by giving them a bland conclusion. Similarly, don't explain something very trivial with a lot of detail. Engage the reader; keep it simple silly.

Not Believing in Self

You wouldn't have been on this page if you wouldn't have come up with the thought of writing a novel or are already writing one. Embarking on this journey requires a tremendous amount of courage.
Over the course, the faith and belief in self start dwindling, and you don't think you are good enough. Relentless faith and persistent self-belief is the key to a 'satisfactory' novel. You are a winner, already.

Not Being Your Own Worst Critic

Be harsh. Be unforgiving. Be your own worst enemy when it comes to criticizing your own work. Your loved ones will review your work as the best; for they fear that a bad judgment will put you down. Your critics will not let you surpass their accomplishments (read between the lines).
You know what needs to be written, you know what should be written instead of what is written. Do yourself a favor; review your own work as if you are reviewing that of your arch rival. Compete with yourself.

Cramming Too Much Back Story at the Start

Having a back story for the novel or the main character of the novel, sets the reader in the mood, and makes him ready for what lies in store for him. But don't give away too much. Let the description start with your imagination, and let it end with the reader's imagination; give him just enough, but not too much. Too little, too loved.

Not Having an Editor

A writer should throw his/her ego out of the window and then start writing. Your novel is your baby, and no one thinks anything is wrong with their baby.
Oh, but there is! Don't think of it as this way―what I have written is not good enough. Look at it this way―the editing is for the good of my novel. Having your work edited is an assurance of an error-free novel. One step closer to perfection, almost.

Not Putting Too Much Thought in the Cover of the Book

'Don't judge a book by its cover.' Apparently not. The cover paints a picture of your story, it is the face of your story, and a picture does say more than a thousand words. Although it is not the main aspect, it is an integral one. Make it beauty (cover) with brains (content).

Writing with Your Head, Not with Your Heart

Every kind of reader should be pleased, every character should be perfect, every character should be likable, and the novel should have a happy ending. If these are your thoughts when writing a novel, you are probably not thinking straight.
Writing with business or monetary gains as your aim should be discouraged as that affects what you really want to express. Write because you want to, not because you have to.

Writing Too Quickly or Too Slowly

If you are writing too slowly, it either means you are manipulating your thoughts, words, and yourself, or you are just too lazy and procrastinating. If you are writing too fast, you are either rushing it or are not giving it enough time to shape itself.
Neither of the two scenarios is healthy for your novel or you as a writer. Some sections might take longer than others and vice versa. You will know it. Maintain the required pace. Go with your gut, sometimes.

Inappropriate Language and Limited Vocabulary

Words are all you have to make the reader feel what the character is feeling, to visualize what the protagonist is looking at, to imagine the coldness in the eyes of the criminal, or to experience the chill of a sensual touch. If you confine your vocabulary to a limited set of words, you limit the experience of the reader.
Anger is not the only word which can be used to express that emotion. Make use of words like fury, wrath, vengeance, rage, hysteria, frenzy, to emote anger and its varied intensities. Similarly, if a scene needs a dialog, don't write a report or an essay there. Instead, spice it up by involving an animated, energized dialog. Don't just write, express.

Not Asking for Second Opinions

Self-confidence is great, but you need different perspectives to make a novel appear complete, and that's what you should be doing―asking for as many opinions as you need to ask for.
You might have missed out on a very minute detail that actually was trivial to tie all the loose ends up together, and a second opinion might put it in perspective for you. Too many cooks 'don't' spoil the broth.
To sum it up in words, remember what Robert Frost said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." And do what Toni Morrison says, "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."