Are you writing what you meant to write? Is your prose concise, and easy to understand? You may have one thing in mind when you write that sentence, only to discover it’s ambiguous, misleading, and sometimes quite humorous.
Dangling modifier- When a sentence isn’t clear about what’s being modified it dangles. Keep in mind modifiers should be near what they modify. These are probably my favorite messed up sentences. While I hope I haven’t written or submitted any for publishing, I’m sure I’ve dangled a few in my time. They are confusing, but on the bright side, very funny.
The company’s refrigerator held microwavable lunches for 18 employees frozen in the top compartment.
Misplaced modifier- A phrase or clause placed awkwardly in a sentence so that it appears to modify or refer to an unintended word.
Lex called to talk about the meeting yesterday. Did Lex call yesterday or was the meeting yesterday? I’m confused.
Ambiguous writing– It’s not spelled out. You didn’t provide enough information for your reader to understand what you’re trying to say. Ambiguous writing can leave your reader more confused than a misplaced modifier .
My older students know I say what I mean.
Are the student’s older in age or have they just been in his class a lot longer? It could mean either of the two.
Make sure you are saying what you mean. Be concise. Just something to think about.
So you’re afraid you might fail. Truth is, you might stumble the first try, the second try, and maybe even the third try, but that’s part of the learning process. If you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, you may not finish your novel. You’ll be too busy battling the thoughts of it not being good enough.
No one wants to be humiliated or rejected. Your inner critic will paralyze you by telling you just how bad your manuscript really is (even if it’s not) . This is an obstacle that I’ve had to overcome. It hasn’t gone away, I’ve just learned to deal with it.
I remember doing a Bible study on the battlefield of the mind. Though it’s primary purpose was dealing with spiritual warfare, it also related to many of the issues that we deal with in our everyday lives. Our mind is a battlefield. In writing for example, all of us worry about looking dumb and never getting published. Fiction writers make a business out of being scared, and not just looking dumb.
It took me six months from the time I started writing my novel, to tell my husband what I was doing. When I finally told him, I was a mess. I knew he would be excited for me and encourage me in my endeavor, and I didn’t want to let him down.
For the longest time I treated my novel as a hobby. That’s not a mindset that will get you published. When I finished and sent it out to the first few agents, I was more than a little anxious. The first few rejections confirmed my beliefs. I just wasn’t good enough.
Note that I said I wasn’t good enough. Well that’s not exactly true. The truth is the novel wasn’t good enough. The fact is, it was filled with grammatical and structural errors, there was some serious head hopping going on, and my dragging dialogue was all but bringing the story to a complete halt. If you are not familiar with these terms, you should be. Go back and read the posts I have written addressing them, or do a google search.
I don’t know that the inner critic will ever go away. So how do you combat it? You keep moving forward and growing in your craft. Don’t stop writing. I still question my novel, but I know, that I know, that I know, that it’s a lot better than it was after the first draft. I’ve learned the hard way and hope to help you avoid some of my pit falls.
Does your manuscript have to be perfect? If you’ve already written a best seller, your agent and editor may cut you some slack. If not, yes, that book better be pretty darn near perfect, or nobody is going to look at it. Agents receive hundreds of queries a week. They don’t have time to read everyone. If your work is full of grammatical and structural errors, that’s all the excuse they need to toss it to the side and move on to the next one.
I sent my first manuscript out to five different agents. I was very excited and a little anxious to hear what they had to say. I expected some rejections but not all. I had put over a year into that novel. It was my baby.
Well, two didn’t respond at all, one said no thanks, and another said it wasn’t what they were looking for. The fifth one responded with a rejection, but also included a why. There were numerous grammatical and structural errors, I was head hopping, and the dialogue dragged.
While I was disappointed, I did take her advice to heart and began the process of editing and correcting structural and grammatical errors. I was one of those people that fell for the myth that it didn’t have to be perfect, they have editors to clean that up for you.
I also took on-line courses on writing dialogue that moves your story forward. I had never really thought about dialogue moving a story forward, but I see it now, and have a pretty good understanding of what the on-line instructors were trying to get across.
As far as the POV goes, I never heard of ‘head hopping’. I went to google and typed it in. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, but it can be tricky at times and sneak in when you least expect it 🙂
Truth be known, I was ashamed of myself for sending such poor work to an agent. I never realized how bad it was until I began the arduous process of editing and revising. I definitely didn’t make a good first impression.
Do your homework. When you’re writing your first novel, there is so much you don’t know. You’ll figure that out along the way. It’s a lot more complicated than just putting pen to paper. And you probably thought anybody could do it.
I hope my blogs help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I have made.
When you write, do you have an outline? Do you know where you’re going, or do you wander aimlessly? Maybe you do a little of both.
I don’t use a formal outline that follows each step in detail, but I do use a story arc that pinpoints the beginning, some detours I intend to make along the way, and the end. I allow flexibility, to incorporate new ideas that arise during the writing process.
However, it is possible to allow too much flexibility. In my case, I allowed one of the main characters to take charge. My story went to places that it should have never ventured. As crazy as that sounds, it happens. You start writing and you find that instead of your character following you, you are following your character.
It’s fun and exciting at first, until you find yourself backed into a corner. That’s when you realize how far off track you’ve gone, and it’s usually too late to reign the story in. You end up having to cut through the path your character took and realign it with the rest of the story.
If I had had a more structured outline, and thought things through a little more, I could have avoided a huge headache and a lot of extra work.
An outline helps keep you focused. When you have an outline (and stick to it) you won’t be as tempted to go off on a tangent, or allow your characters to steal the show, as in my case. This doesn’t mean you will NEVER deviate or come up with great new ideas. But if the outline is there, you can see how these new ideas fit into your original intention.
So what do you do? Do you have an outline or do you wander aimlessly?
I’m a little over half way through the revision process of the book I’m working on and dreading the next few weeks.
The first half of my novel flows. I love what’s happening and I love my characters. They all work together to accomplish what I need them to, but then it starts to get ugly.
I’m sure you’ve heard that once you start writing, your story can take on a life of it’s own. Well that happened to me with the introduction of a new character. She took on a life of her own, stole the plot, and didn’t stop until almost the end of the story.
She did help in one area. She filled in the middle and carried me to the end, but I’ve never really liked the character, and I question where she went. She was nice, smart, and likeable, but she totally disrupted the flow, and I allowed her to. I lost sight of the ending I had planned.
I have read through my manuscript many times. I hesitate and play with this character and the events perpetuated by her existence, every single pass through.
I’ve finally accepted the fact that she needs to go. If I’m not comfortable with the character and her role in my story, It’s bound to come across to my readers. It’s time to cut my losses and move on.
This of course means a lot of work for me. I can salvage some of scenes she is involved in by replacing her with existing characters that can fill the role, but I am still cutting about 25,000 words and reworking the latter part of my book to follow the path that I originally outlined.
I’m sure I’ve made a million novice mistakes that brought me to this point, one of the major ones was to give an unplanned character free reign over my manuscript. I allowed her to walk in the door and take my story to places it should have never gone.
I was amazed and thought, how great is this, my story is writing itself. Well in some instances that might have been a good thing, but in my story, it definitely was not. Some may consider it a great exercise in creativity to let a rogue character take off with your story. I would say as long as it’s controlled and she/he isn’t in a free fall. You have to maintain control.
What do you think?
When you write, you should relax and enjoy the process. Don’t become obsessed with perfection. Nobody’s perfect. Most published novels aren’t perfect.
Since I’ve started writing, I’ve developed a keen eye for errors. They just jump off the page. If you’ve been writing for a while, you probably experience the same thing.
I love historical novels and read them every chance I get. I run into at least 2-3 errors in every novel. It usually is something as simple as using ‘the’ for ‘they’ or leaving off an ‘s’ on a word that should be plural, but because I have a trained eye, I see it, and am pulled out of the story.
Does it ruin the experience for me? Not at all. As a matter of fact, I feel better about my own writing. Nobody’s perfect, and that’s okay. With that being said, note I only see 2-3 in a 350 page novel, and not one on every other page.
The quest for perfection leads to writer’s block. It can paralyze an author. It’s great that you aim for perfection. That is what you want, but don’t allow your fear of making a mess keep you from moving forward.
Truth is, your first draft is going to be raw, awkward, and full of errors. That’s why we go back and edit, edit, edit.
Another question to ask yourself, is what is perfection? I’m not talking about grammatically and structurally sound sentences, I’m talking about every little component that goes into making a great novel.
Did you know that your idea of perfection changes as you gain more and more experience in writing?
When I finished my novel, I went back and corrected all of the grammatical and structural errors and considered it complete and pretty darn near perfect.
I didn’t know the rules for Point Of View. I was head-hopping all over the place. So my work wasn’t perfect, and I was breaking a cardinal rule, which allowed the agent to pick up on the fact that I was an amateur.
I also didn’t know the rules for writing dialogue. Nobody told me your dialogue had to move the story forward. Most people don’t want to stop and smell the daisies. They want the meat, and they want to get to the action. So my work wasn’t perfect.
Keep writing! Your work won’t be perfect on the first go round. So accept that and get over it. It’s okay, you’re not alone. No writer, published or unpublished, writes a perfect first draft. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
I use to say get it done, then get it good. What I mean by that, is write that first draft knowing it’s full of errors. Get your ideas on paper before they fade away. Then go back and begin the refining process. You want it as near to perfect as possible before querying an agent or self-publishing.