Common Writing Pitfalls that Sabotage Your Book

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

I went to the White Sox home opener last Saturday, which they won after having lost all their earlier away games. As with everything else in life there are wins and losses for writers. But spring is a visual metaphor for reawakening opportunity for you. Opportunity that includes writing contests and the prospect of pitching your projects at conferences. Your self-evaluation of the following problem areas will help you to avoid common writing pitfalls that sabotage your book.

The hook isn’t strong enough and/or your book is too similar to what is already out there.

The hook in a novel needs to introduce the time and place, the protagonist, Pitfall-avoidand the core problem he or she faces. If you haven’t shown a unique quality in her personality and some creative tension in the core conflict she faces on the first page, your book isn’t ready to pitch because you will lose the interest of the agent or editor judging it or listening to your pitch within the first 30 seconds. Likewise, if you haven’t found a new way to approach a topic that has been written about before or you don’t have something new and significant to say on a hot-button topic, your manuscript needs more work before it’s ready to present to the world.

Inadequate character development or revealing too much too soon.

If the agent or editor doesn’t learn something about the protagonist’s main flaw and strength in a way that makes them care about her in the first page or two, they know readers won’t be interested either, no matter how much future marketing and promotion is done. But revealing too many of them at the outset is problematic too. Some authors write their synopsis after the story is written, but one of the best supporting arguments for writing it before beginning your novel is that it will help you pace the exposure of hidden details, keeping readers turning the pages. Revealing too much too soon tells the agent or editor two things: (1) there probably won’t be many surprising twists later on to maintain interest, and (2) there isn’t time to develop the significance of each revelation when they are revealed too soon and still maintain the forward momentum of the story.

Not enough conflict to keep readers’ interest, especially in the middle of the story.

Ideally, a story should be a continual series of crisis peaks involving either the protagonist’s inner conflict or the outer action of the story, followed by a resolution and brief placid or contemplative valley before the next conflict erupts. The most serious crisis should occur at the end, culminating in final resolution of all the conflict. Stories that don’t continually introduce some sort of conflict will become boring. Agents and editors can sense from the 30 pages of a contest entry or proposal’s sample chapters if the writer has created enough opportunity for sustaining new conflicts throughout the story.

Unrefined writing craft and poor grammar and punctuation.

So much has been written about the need for stellar writing and flawless grammar and yet these remain a perennial roadblock. Wrong use of a word, repetitive sentence beginnings, misuse of semicolons are quick giveaways that a writer submitted before the manuscript was ready.

Which of these common writing pitfalls that sabotage your book do you recognize in your WIP? Which ones have your critique partners, a contest judge, or agents pointed out to you in your work? In which areas are you doing well, and what did you do to accomplish that?

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