So, you wanna write a novel?
That’s fantastic. You should! There’s a reader out there who cannot wait to read what you have brewing inside that head of yours. Heck, I’m interested in your book. Storytellers are naturally intrigued by the many possibilities that our creative peers have to offer. And because of this, we’re quite aware of the mistakes writers tend to make. It’s even more interesting when we realize we’ve made the same errors. Sometimes repeatedly.
Some of my fellow writers blow my mind. They’re amazing, inspiring, and natural. But mostly? They’re practiced. And that’s the key: keep writing, revising, and when you think you’re done, get second and third opinions . . . and repeat. But until then, I can share some of the most common mistakes new novelists make. And yes, I’ve been there. No, I’m not great now. But with each book I learn something new and in turn I grow as a writer. Which is the best any of us could hope for.
Here are some storytelling mistakes to avoid:
1- NO CHARACTER GROWTH
Your character should get from point A to point B in every book. Yes, we already know this, but it’s what happens in between that makes a difference to your reader. You can’t have an arrogant protagonist, who pushes everyone away at the beginning of the book, resolve everything . . . and yet remain the same at the end. He should learn the consequences of his actions, realize that he can’t do everything alone, and that people are there for him. He should be compelling and have a journey that changes his life. Same goes for a woman who was heartbroken and is unable to trust again. By the end, she has to be willing to put her heart out there. However, let’s not make their growth happen robotically or mechanically. No one changes because “the author said so.” They have to be put in several situations that will push them to act unexpectedly.
So, again, getting from point A to point B matters—whether it’s a stand-alone novel or an individual book in a series. Each book in a series should show how the character’s journey has transformed him or her, and eventually add to their growth from the first to the last book.
2- LACK OF HOOKS
Your job as a writer is to grab that reader by their soul and never let go. You start with the opening line, followed by the paragraphs, and that whole first chapter. Then? You never stop. But, you have to show that initial set up of the character’s conflict . . . while making us care, almost immediately, for this person. But also avoid info dumps, or you’ll mess with the “hooking the reader” process.
I think of it as taking my reader out on dates and slowly incorporating more about the situation and characters. Our job is to keep building the mystery, but not too much. Keep adding cliffhanger situations, and resolve them as you go (we don’t want to piss off our readers). AND make sure it all ties in with the whole story. Chapter after chapter, until the end. Easy right? Umm, good luck. I’m still working on improving my own hooks . . . and I’ll never stop. Neither should you.
3- NOT ENOUGH CONFLICT
You have to give the reader something to root for, or they’ll end up feeling unsatisfied with your resolution. We’re not just talking about internal conflicts. Sure, we need those for their growth, but this has to be a real big problem that will drive the story. There should be an outside force threatening their way of life or the lives of loved ones, all intertwined with smaller issues. And then, your job is to tie up all of those loose ends and have them overcome the big bad in order to live happily ever after. Or not, depending on what kind of genre you write.
Otherwise, you’re just basically writing in “a diary” about a “boy and a girl who saw each other and decided to go out.” And that’s it. Nothing more. A full novel of them and their dates might be cute . . . but why should the reader care? Add conflict, make them sweat it out, and slap on that resolution with a smile. You got this!
What about you?
What are some storytelling mistakes you’ve noticed?