Good fiction writing can be a tough nut to crack: you’ve got a great story to tell, but the real challenge is putting pen to paper and getting across your story in a way that’s engaging for the reader.
Here’s our list of some easily avoidable pitfalls in creative writing (and how to dodge them). If you can avoid these “do nots” you’ll be writing happily ever after. The End.
Keep on moving. The pace of most great stories ebbs and flows; changes in pace can build tension, focus in on something important, or take us at breakneck speed right through the heart of the excitement. However, one big thing to avoid in fiction-writing is prose which stops altogether. As the great Kurt Vonnegut said: “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” If you’ve got sentences which don’t meet either of these criteria, get out the red pen and don’t take any prisoners.
Avoid the proclivity to pen a plethora of overly-recondite and abstruse piffle. I’m sorry, what!? Well, that’s the point. Many writers often make the mistake of using overcomplicated language, when simple language gets the job done better (and is much less annoying to read). Even if you’re tangling with some really complicated themes, your readers will appreciate you putting these ideas into as simple language as possible. Nobody is reading your work to find out how clever you are: it’s your story they're after!
Don't over describe. Whether it’s poetry or prose, description is (nearly) always a vital part of creative writing. It’s the meat around the bones of narrative, helping transport the reader into your world and influencing the feel of the writing. But readers have wonderful imaginations of their own: they aren’t interested that the carpet is a particularly pale shade of mauve at the murder scene, nor do they need to know every single detail about the waterfall your hero leaps off - however beautiful it may be. Remember, whenever we describe anything in detail our narrative grinds to a halt; be sparing with description and let the reader's imagination fill in the gaps.
Don’t be scared to share your work. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Jane Austen serenely churning out classics from the solitude of Chawton House. The truth is that literary circles exist for good reason: getting feedback and engaging with other writers’ ideas is fundamental to the process (a bit of networking never hurt anyone either). However reluctant you may be at first, actively seek as much feedback as you can from people whose opinions you trust.
Rein in your opinions. Gone are the days when you would encounter interventions in novels along the lines of: “Dear reader…you should think this.” Nowadays writers use much more refined devices to communicate their messages. However, always be wary of writing fiction to make a point. Readers don’t often enjoy being told what to think about something, and this can distract from the story we’re telling. Let the story speak for itself and your readers form their own opinions.
Don’t spell it out. Find subtle ways to communicate how your characters are feeling, and let them do this thorough their dialogue if possible. Rather than telling the reader:
‘Kim was shocked: “I can’t believe you just said that”’
Think, how can I achieve the same effect without spelling it out? Consider:
‘“Wha…I can’t believe you just did that.” Kim said’
‘“I can’t believe you just did that” Kim gasped’
Do your research. One misplaced fact and a story can unravel before your eyes and un-do all your hard work. If your writing has any basis in reality make sure you fact-checked it thoroughly – remember, once it’s in print, it’s here to stay.
Don’t be hard on yourself. One common problem writers can experience is the tendency to be over self-critical, setting themselves impossibly high standards and unrealistic goals. Revise your work, sure, but finish it and then move on. You’ll learn something new with every piece, so keep scribbling.