Common Writing Mistakes You Should Avoid
The biggest, most sweeping mistake is to submit a first draft for publication. It can be tempting, after typing ‘The End’ on your final page, to consider the book done, and immediately send it to the publisher. This is the biggest disservice you can do to your book. Put it aside for a day or two, then re-read it, pretending that you’ve never seen it before. Find the things that should be found—repeated words or even chapters, characters whose names change halfway through the book.
Among the smaller errors we frequently find, one of the hardest to fix is changing verb tenses. Typically, a book is written either in past tense (I walked quietly up to him) or present tense (I walk quietly up to him). Some authors flip-flop back and forth, sometimes in present tense, sometimes in past. If this is done deliberately (say, for flashbacks) it can be effective, but if it’s done randomly, it upsets the storytelling structure.
Another common mistake is misuse of possessives. The apostrophe s is your friend here. Some authors misuse it or leave it out entirely.
CORRECT: We went to my brother’s house.
INCORRECT: We went to my brothers house or We went to my brother house.
And speaking of possessives, possessive pronouns don’t need an apostrophe. You would use his, hers, and ours, not his’, her’s, and our’s. Please be careful not to use an apostrophe when making nouns plural.
CORRECT: Look at all the horses!
INCORRECT: Look at all the horse’s!
Be careful about punctuating dialogue. The best way to learn how is to read published novels. Look at how the dialogue is written. Some things to note:
- Each new speaker gets his or her own paragraph, even if saying only one word.
- Dialogue is surrounded by single quotation marks. When the punctuation mark is not part of the quoted material, as in the case of single words and phrases, place it outside the closing quotation. When the quoted matter is a complete sentence or question, its end punctuation falls within the closing quotation mark, and is not duplicated by another mark outside the quotation mark.
They were called 'the Boys from Dover', I am told.
'What is the use of a book', thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversations?'
On the subject of paragraph breaks . . . please use them! We recently edited a 400-page book that was sent as one long paragraph. In addition to breaking up dialogue, paragraphs break up individual topics. Each new topic gets its own paragraph.
Also, be careful with subject-verb agreement. For example, you would say ‘Pete and Carol are my friends,’ not ‘Pete and Carol is my friends.’ Subjects and verbs have a number, singular or plural. When they don’t agree, the sentence doesn’t work.
In conclusion, the biggest error authors make in submitting their manuscripts is not to have them copy edited. Whether it’s done by AuthorHouse or by someone you know and trust, have a skilled editor go over your work carefully. You may have written the most important book of the year, but if readers can’t get past your spelling and grammar, your message is lost. If a reader thumbs through your book and finds nothing but mistakes, that book won’t be bought. You owe it to your readers, to yourself, and to your manuscript.