If you’ve missed the first part of the ‘Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make’ then hop over to Blog 9: Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make! – Part 1. Blog 9 covers the mistakes ‘show don’t tell’ and ‘too much description’. If you’re already up to speed then read away…
Mistake 3) Active tense vs passive tense.
There is a lot of disagreement when it comes to active tense and passive tense, and I’m definitely not an expert in the grammar field. Just to add to the confusion, sometimes the active and passive tense are referred to as the active and passive voice, and sometimes weak sentences are labelled as passive, when actually they are not passive at all. Neither tenses are wrong, so don’t be fooled if someone tells you to never use the passive tense, the passive tense can be useful.
When it comes to writing, the general rule of thumb is to use the active tense. Why? Because the passive tense can be dull and boring, and your readers are more likely to put your book down if they don’t feel engaged enough by your writing.
Example 5 Passive tense: Jessica was walking towards the lunch hall when the new boy first appeared. It had been very busy and he hadn’t noticed her hidden away between the growing crowds. A leather jacket was held in the crook of his arm and he had a rucksack hanging from one shoulder. She watched him pass under the portrait painting of the school’s founder, hanging above the lunch hall door, it had been there for years.
Example 6 Active tense: Joining the crowds, Jessica’s gaze zeroed in on a boy she had never seen before. He held a leather jacket in the crook of his arm and a rucksack slung over one shoulder. Before she could scrutinize him further, the new boy disappeared under the centuries old, portrait painting of the school founder, marking the doorway to the lunch hall.
Examples 5 & 6 are short (and not perfect) examples to help you see the difference between the active and passive tense. However if you are still confused (I know I am), then I recommend you check out the useful links below.
Mistake 4) Too many cliches.
Everyone loves a good cliche, unfortunately cliches are cliches because they have been used over and over again. As defined by Wikipedia; a cliché or cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.
Popular cliches include ‘the acorn (or apple) doesn’t fall far from the tree’, ‘actions speak louder than words’, and ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. As much as cliches can be fun to use, because of their general overuse they are boring to read. The reader knows what to expect as soon as they begin to read a cliche, and therefore they can accurately predict how the cliche will end. This means that the reader can skip the sentence altogether, making that sentence completely irrelevant. If your novel is full of cliches, your reader may get a little bored.
In general, you want to avoid using cliches unless it is absolutely necessary for the story/plot.
Mistake 5) Cookie-cut characters.
This isn’t necessarily a mistake, but is definitely something you should be thinking about. Perfect good guys that never fail or do anything wrong, versus evil bad guys who literally kick puppies. These may sound like the ideal stereotypes for a hero and a villain, but they are unrealistic and have been done so many times before.
To be perfectly honest, seeing these character types again and again gets boring after awhile. However, the people who are going to care the most about this are the people who read a lot of books. There are so many new books being released every week that ideally authors would want every person in the world to be an avid reader. Also, with so much competition you will want your writing to stand out from the crowd.
When you’re creating your good guys, make sure they have some sort of flaw, even if it is a small flaw. This will make the character seem less perfect and therefore more relatable and realistic. Don’t let your good guys win all the time, even if it is by the skin of their teeth because this will become predictable. People make mistakes in real life, even the good guys.
When you’re creating your bad guys you need to step into your villain’s shoes. Generally speaking, bad guys do not know or think that they are the bad guys, they think they are the good guys, this is true in real life too. To understand your bad/evil characters you need to understand their emotions and thoughts, and you need to figure out why they believe that their actions are the correct ones.
I hope this blog and the previous blog have been helpful. Have you, as an author, come across any noteworthy mistakes? Do you agree or disagree with my list? Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!
Fiction writing: When you might want to use passive voice