Posts Tagged 'advice'


I read a lot of writing in my line of work and while that’s amazing, I see the same flaws again and again. Below is a list of 7 common writing mistakes in fiction and how you can fix them. This list is by no means complete. In fact there’s a great list over at The Editor’s Blog that covers even more mistakes.

1. Bad dialogue

Sometimes writers can forget that they’re writing a conversation and thus not write a conversation. The dialogue can be boring, stilted and unnatural, and I’d rather listen to the territorial call of an Australian Raven than read one more word of it.

There are many things that contribute to bad dialogue, but here are the three that really get on my nerves:

  • Not using contractions–I’ve seen work that is modern and still doesn’t use contractions. Consider this:
    “You are going to be late.” Unless the speaker is trying to sound like an irritated mother and is leaving an emphatic silence between each word to sound threatening, use contractions. It sounds really drawn out and like the speaker is pointing their nose in the air. We generally don’t speak like this in real life, so neither should your characters.
  • Using complete sentences–Not only is it natural for your characters to chop their sentences, this can also contribute to their voice. Does your character say “I don’t know.” or “Dunno.” Would he/she say “I missed the train and had to find a lift home.” or “Missed the train. Had to find a ride.” In casual speech, we often only use the words necessary to convey our message, even if it doesn’t form a complete sentence. You shouldn’t apply this to every line of dialogue, but consider it if your dialogue sounds stale.
  • Using characters as a conduit for research and plot information–Sometimes writers like to show off their research (looking at you Jurassic Park), backstory, world building and plot by having their characters talk way too much. If your character says “Once this valley was home to an ancient race of elves, who looked after the land and treated it with respect. One day, the secret magic spring dried up and then the goblins came. Without their magic spring, the elves couldn’t fight back, and they were killed by the goblins. The goblins didn’t respect the land and now it’s uninhabitable.” he should probably shut up. It sounds less like a person talking than it does an audio tour. The information he’s shared could be given in a much more interesting way.

How you can fix it:

  • Listen to and watch the way real people talk to each other. Do they speak in full sentences with full words? Do they speak with grammatical correctness? Do they speak differently in different situations? How do hand gestures, body language and facial expressions help them communicate?
  • Read your dialogue out loud as if you’re practising lines for a movie. Does it sound natural? Does it flow?
  • Test every piece of information your characters give out. Does it all need to be said? Would your character say all of it at once? Do they need to say it all in so many words?

2. Passages of uninterrupted speech or thought

Sometimes you might want to avoid telling the reader about something and have a character tell another character instead. Sometimes you might want to avoid telling the reader how a character feels about something by having them think about it excessively instead. If this goes on for longer than a couple of paragraphs (or less), you risk allowing your reader to drift out of the scene.

The only thing anchoring your reader in the scene is your characters and what they’re doing. If the characters are talking or thinking for a long time without interacting with anyone or anything else, they might as well be floating in space, which can make the reader feel like they’re floating in space. That’s not to say that they’ve forgotten where the scene is taking place or who else is involved, just that it can feel that way if this is how the character acts.

How you can fix it:

  • If your characters have a lot to say, try to include the other characters as well. Have them ask questions or make comments so it feels like a scene and not a soliloquy.
  • If your character is around others when he/she is deep in thought, try to include the other characters in some way. If the POV character is thinking about something that the other characters can see, why not give voice to one of the other characters in between thought paragraphs?
  • If the character is alone when he/she is deep in thought, is there a way they can interact with their environment? Unless they’re standing in front of a wall, they should be able to see, smell, feel or hear something.
  • If your character is absolutely, completely lost in thought, is there a way you can bring some sort of image into it? For example, on page 216 of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Katniss is thinking about how to treat a burn she receives. Almost the entire page is a paragraph describing a memory; however, there is still action in this memory and, therefore, there is something for the reader to imagine.

3. Not knowing when to/not to use said

Some people will tell you to use descriptive speech tags and others will tell you there’s nothing wrong with said. Both are true, but when do you follow the former and when do you follow the latter? And when do you use no speech tags at all?

Using anything but said and using nothing but said both get exhausting and boring very fast.

How you can fix it:

Below is a rough guide to what kind of speech tag to use. Please bear in mind that it is only a guide and will not and should not apply to every situation.

Said is unobtrusive–a way of letting the reader know who’s talking without making a song and dance about it.
Specific verbs (e.g. whispered, shouted, mumbled) give the reader information about how the words are being said.
Adverbial tags can also give extra information about how something is being said, but more often than not they can be replaced with a stronger verb (e.g. she said loudly can be replaced with she shouted). Writers can also fall into the trap of telling where it’s better to show when using adverbial tags, which can make the writing bland. Sometimes telling is better, but with speech tags, it’s usually better to absorb the reader in the conversation. If you’ve used an adverbial tag, go back and have a look at it. Is there a better way you could get the message across?

What you need to pay attention to when determining what speech tags to use is the context of the speech. If the reader is already aware of the manner in which a character is talking, it won’t be necessary to remind them every time the character speaks. If there are only two characters in the conversation, it won’t be necessary to finish each quote with he said/she said. Going back to #2, you can also do away with speech tags entirely and use action to demonstrate how a character is feeling, while also grounding the reader in the scene.

The key to avoiding repetition and blandness is to find a balance between using the unobtrusive said, using something more specific, and mixing it up with a bit of action, which means you might not even need a tag at all.

4. Too much description/overwriting

Sometimes it’s better to tell and not show. Some details just aren’t important enough to warrant a lengthy description. If you want your reader to know that it’s raining, you can write something better than “It was raining”, but there’s no need to go overboard and write a poem about how the puddles on the asphalt looked like a great abyss.

Think of description like camera focus. The more you describe something, the more focus you put on it. If you put enough focus on something, you eliminate everything else. What’s this? A close-up. What does a close-up in a movie tell you? That object of the close-up is significant.

Be wary: when you write thirty words describing the way the moonlight is reflecting off the inky black lake, you might not be just setting the scene. You might also be giving the lake undue emphasis, and it’s probably going to irritate your reader when they realise there’s nothing significant about the lake at all, you were just showing off your imagery skills.

How you can fix it:

Keep it real. What would the character notice, what would they think about it and is it worth the attention? And try not to focus on sight. Your characters have more than one way to perceive their environment, and incorporating their other senses can help build a 3D setting for your reader rather than just painting them a picture. Give the reader enough to imagine the scene, and no more.

5. Not knowing when to/not to use adverbs

There’s a lot of writing advice out there that will tell you to cut all adverbs. The result is that many writers now think adverbs exist only to eat their children and wouldn’t dare to ever use one.

There is truth to the advice, but to say “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”? Really, Stephen King? And his dandelion analogy assumes there’s no editing process.

Adverbs aren’t evil, but there is such a thing as using them ineffectively. Which of the below are more descriptive?

She ran quickly or She sprinted

“It’s a long way down,” he said nervously or “It’s a long way down,” he said

He was shamefully prone to anxiety or He was prone to anxiety

She sprinted not only gets to the point faster, it also creates a more powerful image for the reader.
“It’s a long way down,” he said gives no indication of how the speaker is speaking or feeling; however, “It’s a long way down,” he said nervously is telling, not showing. Rather than using an adverb here, the writer could describe the speaker’s body language.
He was shamefully prone to anxiety tells you how the character feels about being prone to anxiety and there is no stronger word to replace “shamefully prone”.

How you can fix it:

Ask yourself:

  • How would the meaning of the sentence change if the adverb was removed?
  • Can the adverb and verb be replaced by a single verb?
  • Does the action really need clarification?
  • Does the adverb add something to the sentence that can’t be described in another way?

6. No conflict in the beginning

The first few chapters of a lot of stories I’ve read involve the main character plodding along in their daily life. This is a good thing as the reader needs to get a feel for your character before the big plot things happen, but that doesn’t mean the first few chapters should be without conflict. I don’t want to read about a character waking up, looking at themselves in the mirror, getting dressed, getting coffee, going to work, getting home, going on a date etc. for three chapters. It’s boring and I don’t care about any of it.

The confusion might be caused by common story structure theories that say the main conflict enters the story at the first plot point, or 25% into the story. But this doesn’t mean there should be zero conflict at the beginning! At the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Harry was told ‘no funny business’ or he’d be grounded. Not long after that, there was some vanishing glass and an escaped boa constrictor. After this happened there was a mysterious letter addressed to Harry, and he spent an entire chapter trying to get hold of it as the weirdness escalated. There’s conflict and a goal right off the bat, and the story hasn’t even really started yet. In The Hunger Games Katniss faces the Reaping. In The Hobbit Bilbo finds himself hosting a dinner party for dwarfs and being asked to go and fight a dragon.

How you can fix it:

  • Take a look at all the books you’ve read. Most of them (if not all) start with some sort of problem or goal. Study up on this to help you realise what makes a good beginning.
  • Don’t fill your first few chapters with characterisation and nothing else. Build your character in the context of a problem or goal.
  • Keep in mind that you find your characters more interesting than your reader does. What you like about your character might not be enough to keep the reader’s interest.
  • What’s going on in your character’s life? How is this going to influence what happens when the conflict or story goal takes the stage?
  • What would happen if you cut your beginning out of the story? Would the plot still make sense? Maybe it’s better to start the story at a later point.

7. Lack of story structure

When you write a first draft, whether you’ve planned it or not, there are going to be structural flaws. Maybe halfway through you thought of a way to solidify a character’s motivation. Maybe at the climax you thought of a way to strengthen your conflict. Maybe somewhere in the middle you had no idea where you were going with this and slugged your way through some boring scenes. It’s all good; this is how stories come together.

What should happen next is that you revise your draft with story structure in mind. There’ll be a lot of “I should add a scene here about this” and “what was I thinking when I wrote that?” and after a few goes, you’ll have a story.

Writers don’t always do this though (which, by the way, makes my job take longer and cost more). They’ll go through and fix all of the obvious problems, but what remains is a manuscript that still lacks a solid structure. It’s messy to read, it’s confusing, it’s clearly not thought out, and it feels like the writer is giving me the finger. I’ll regret paying for the book, stop reading it and leave a negative review on Goodreads. Is that worth not giving your book a good edit?

How you can fix it:

  • Read a lot. Make sure you have a decent grasp on different story structures. Make sure you understand the way stories progress, the way they’re paced and what keeps the reader engaged.
  • Re-outline. Or if you pantsed your way through the first draft, make an outline. Write a checklist for what each scene should accomplish and what each chapter should accomplish. Make a timeline of how the events progress and how the tension increases. Don’t base this on what you’ve written, base it on what you’ve figured out about your plot.
  • Edit ruthlessly. If a scene doesn’t measure up to your new plan, cut it. If it’s in the wrong place, move it.

How do you make a story more exciting and addictive?


Hmm, it’s hard to narrow this down to a comprehensive list, but it is worth knowing that these two qualities in a story come from the editing, and might not be present – or even very obvious – in a first draft. So make sure you have something to work with before you start worrying too much about it.

Otherwise, here are some tips to help with your question: how to make a story more exciting and addictive!


The key to pacing is all in the reveal of what you want the reader to see, know, and feel in that precise moment.

If you feel like your story is ‘boring’, consider how you are pacing the action. Do you spend ages in the beginning, building up to the inciting incident? Do you interrupt action scenes to slow down and describe setting or character detail too frequently?

It’s all about balance – make sure you keep things moving at a good rhythm.

Get the Reader to Relate

The reason some books do better than others is because they adhere to a trend, or explore issues that currently affect their contemporary readers. Think about what kind of books are out right now in their respective genres, or even just think about your favourite books, and what it is about them that you love so much.

Readers love being able to relate to characters and themes in the literature they pick up. Consider the kind of themes and messages that are in your story, and whether or not they may connect with your intended audience.

Write Clearly

Show, don’t tell, but also give the reader what they want – don’t hide it under flowery prose and long, waffling descriptions. Whilst we often don’t give readers enough credit when it comes to their ability to follow a story and its subtext, you don’t want to make them work too hard to find enjoyment in your work. Reading is often a relaxing, fun use of time, not an arduous treasure hunt. The more accessible your story is to the everyday reader, the more likely they will be gripped by its contents.

Create Compelling Characters

It’s hard in this day and age to write a completely original character free of literary tropes, but that doesn’t mean you should rely too heavily on the archetypes that have become ingrained in modern media.

Writing a relatable, interesting, and diverse cast will inspire the reader to stick with your book like nothing else.

Create an Immersive Reading Experience

Good description, well-thought-out world building, and a decent plot are the main ingredients for this. Try to write a story that has the reader feeling as though they could be in it themselves. Some of the best books around feature worlds that allow the reader to imagine where they might fit into it. Greats such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Lord of the Rings, all have environments with depth, and the potential for the reader to imagine something more for it.

Reading best sellers is a great way to understand what kind of book appeals to more than just one type of reader too. Even if you are writing in a more everyday setting (see books like Me Before You), you can still create this experience with my last item on this list:

Evoke Emotion

Books that grip the reader tend to instill emotion into them, whether that is amusement/laughter, or bittersweet sadness. Any book that appeals to a reader’s emotions immerses them into the story, provoking empathy and a real investment into the story that pays off for the writer.

And that’s about all I can think of for now, Anon. I hope this helps…!


My advice when folks are struggling with writing in the third-person omniscient is
to Lemony Snicket it up. Give your omniscient narrator strong opinions
about what’s going on. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that the
third-person omniscient perspective must also use the objective voice;
those are two separate things, and many of the most popular and successful writers who’ve written in the third-person omniscient do not, in fact, use the objective voice.

hello there friend i was wondering if you had any tips for beginning artists. i really love your art and would love anything advice you can give. i’ve been practicing all day and i have nothing to show for it and it makes me feel kinda awful.


Thank you so much, nonny! I am glad you are enjoying my art (: 

I am not sure if I am the right person to provide art tips tho because I have never taken any art classes (well ok, I used to attend architecture classes for a year but the only thing it provided was me stopping drawing for the next couple of month – depressing time). Looking at my older pieces on this blog I did impove a little so I can tell you what I have been doing. Here we go:

  • Draw a lot. Every day. Even if it’s only for five minutes. I know everyone says that and it’s not without a reason. I am doing the daily drawing myself. Make a folder for every month and name your drawings with the date. I do that since last July and so far I have a drawing for every day. This month is actually the first that I struggle with keeping up but it’s because some… uh other problems than the lack of time.
  • Use references. References are good. Google the positions you need. Take screens from movies or games. I have more than 500 pictures of just Dorian’s face.
  • Look for the tutorials. I am terrible at this point but I am trying to change that. Tutorials are very helpful, especially the video ones. But make sure you are drawing along with the video because otherwise you will be bored to death and turn it off after two minutes. You can find useful things here. And I have a side blog for tutorials only (that I rarely use at all oops).
  • Accept that your art will make you feel awful, because you know what? I feel awful about my own art a lot. Seriously. There is this saying about having 10 000 bad drawings in you. Or was it 100 000? I don’t even remember. The point is that there is always someone better than you and it’s ok. No need to freak out. Everyone was starting from the scratch and it will take some time. Remember, this is not the competition.
  • Lots of artist provide the step by step drawings or speedpaints. You should look at those too. You might learn some nice stuff about the painting process.
  • It’s ok to take breaks. You are not a robot. And when you are tired you are making more mistakes. For example: I always regret uploading the art late at night because the next day I see all the mistakes and typos in comics but it’s already to late to fix .^.
  • If you draw digitally flip your canvas. If traditionally – turn the paper upside down. It will help you notice if something is off with the drawing. 

I hope this will have any use for you. Happy drawing 😀

I like to write. I really enjoy planning stories and the feeling I get when I suddenly come up with a new idea. But I only write fanfics because I’m not interested in getting published, it’s just a hobby. The problem is, no one reads them. No one comments and I don’t get any feedback. It discourages me. Why should I write if no one will read me? Yes, I enjoy writing, but I would like people to read what I write. How can I find the motivation to continue? Thanks for your time! xx


A whole lot of people write just for themselves. I have a friend who has written easily two or three dozen novel length stories that no one has read but her. She does it because she enjoys writing, but for her it’s a very personal thing. She’s not interested in sharing what she writes, but like you, she loves to write and loves the feeling she gets when a new idea takes hold of her. Some people don’t enjoy going back and reading their old writing, but she does, and for her that’s part of the fun.

However, if sharing your writing is important to you, there are a lot of things you need to tackle first. The most important thing is this: if your writing quality is lacking, people won’t read your stories, and good writing takes a lot of time and effort. Part of that time and effort is simply learning how to write and practicing what you learn. It’s also about gaining experience by reading a lot and writing as much as you can. It’s not something that happens overnight or over the course of a few weeks or months. It can take years to become a really good writer, and even if your stories are great quality, it can take a lot of time and effort to build up an audience. Just be patient, keep doing what you’re doing, and in time the readers will come. In the meantime, you can read more about perfecting your writing by checking out the posts in my master list. You can also read the following posts:

Attracting Readers on Fiction Sharing Sites
Finding Readers on Tumblr
Getting Stories Noticed on Wattpad

Writing Polished Fan-Fiction

Good luck! 🙂

Have a writing question? I’d love to hear from you, but please be sure to read my ask rules and master list first or your question may go unanswered. 🙂

Hi! To learn to write better, I read and analyze really good author’s novels, and I’m doing that with The Graveyard Book. In the first chapter, it looks like you used 1st, 2nd, and 3rd persons, but I can’t figure out why it worked. Because it did! And it’s something that none of my writing teachers taught me how to do or talked about (except to say don’t do it, which books say, too), so can you explain why it worked, please? I’m stumped. Thanks!


I’m glad it worked for you. As I said, in the last and the most important of my eight rules for writing

  1. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.








Make a paragraph every time that any of these things change!

Ti me


To pic


Blogger Gatherings!

Click the button for reports from the 2010 Spring Blogger Gathering, hosted by Linett of Nimrodel!

Berethron of Brandywine hosted the 2010 Summer Blogmoot.

The Winter Blogmoot was held on December 4, 9 p.m. EST at the home of Telwen of Silverlode.

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