There are certain mistakes, or errors, that a lot of writer’s tend to make and I’m going to highlight a few for you. A lot have to do with grammar, but some are even simpler than that. I’m no Grammar Nazi, and am certainly guilty of a number of mistakes as well, and I’m learning some of this along with you! I’m sure I’m not covering everything here in this list, so if you’re not sure about something just ask me and I’ll do my best to find out, or go ahead and search for the answer on dictionary.com or Google! They don’t bite and those, along with thesaurus.com, will probably be some of your best friends (if they aren’t already).
- Affect vs. Effect.
These two words are often mixed up. They are very similar and the mixup is understandable, but what’s important to keep in mind is placement and context. Affect pertains to action, something that acts upon something else to produce some kind of effect or change. So, something that affects someone can cause an effect. And effect, therefore, is the outcome of a situation or result of a cause.
I’ll use them in sentences:
Affect – The unusually cold weather affected the oranges in Florida in a severe way.
Effect – The effect of the unusually cold weather was the death of the oranges in Florida due to freezing.
- Your vs. You’re, There Their and They’re, Its vs. It’s.
Another very common mistake are the two above being misused. Often I’ll cringe when someone says ‘your welcome’ to me. My welcome? That doesn’t even make sense. Your signifies possession while you’re is short for ‘you are.’
Your – I really love your shoes, where did you get them?
You’re – You’re the kindest person I ever met.
Okay, it’s time for the second one. See what I did there? So, its is like yours and is used possessively. It’s is short for ‘it is’ or ‘it has.’ Sometimes, this is one of the trickier to tell between.
Its – The dog has lost its collar.
It’s – It’s nice to see you, it’s been a long time since I saw you last.
The three others aren’t so bad once you get the hang of it. There refers to a place, their is possessive and they’re is short for ‘they are.’ So the odd one out is ‘there,’ since the other two are similar to the ones we’ve already covered.
They’re over there!
Mike went over there.
Mike and Janet are upset the snow ruined their plans.
Janet went there before she came here.
The plans that were ruined are theirs.
- The tenses.
This is very important for writers because keeping to one tense is a must. For most, I would suggest sticking to the past tense because it is, in my opinion, the easiest to work with and read. Future tense is rarely used and is also a headache to a reader for the most part and present tense, while more common, is more frustrating to me personally. Watch your tenses when writing because suddenly switching mid-story is a bad idea and will usually be a nuisance to anyone who has to edit your work (including yourself!).
Future tense – John will look at Evan and confess to his part in the murder. “I’m sorry” he will say.
Present tense – John looks at Evan and says “I’m sorry.” He is telling the other man everything he did in the murder.
(While you can use past tense verbs in future and present tense, it’s harder to do while using present tense verbs are allowed in past tense story-telling.)
Past tense – John looked at Evan seriously, intending to give a full account of his actions regarding the murder. “I’m sorry,” he said softly.
Like tenses, it’s not advised to switch narratives mid-story unless you have a good reason. I’ve only ever read a book in which switching the point of view (POV) worked for the story and it was in The Novels of Tiger and Del. There are three possible POV’s for storytelling and they are 1st person, 2nd person and 3rd person. First tells the story in the eyes of the main character using the word ‘I’, third has a more worldly viewpoint using ‘he, she’ etc and second is the mostly ill-advised use of making the reader feel like they are in the story by using the word ‘you.’
The second is mostly used in stories for children or specific stories which lead the reader through some action-filled story that lets the reader feel like s/he is in the story. These types of stories usually let the reader choose their action by saying ‘turn to page four if you choose this and page five if you choose that.’
Third person is probably the most often used POV followed closely by first.
Second person – You walk through the dimly lit corridor and smell something rotting to the left and stop to investigate.
Third person – Gabe walked through the dimly lit corridor, a hand trailing along a wall so he couldn’t get lost. He recoiled at the stench of something rotting to the left and debated briefly whether to investigate or not.
First person – I walked through the dimly lit corridor and trailed a hand along the wall so I wouldn’t get lost. It felt dirty, grimy, and a smell to the left stopped me in my tracks. Ugh, what a stench, like something rotting; it made my stomach churn unpleasantly. But I had to investigate.
When writing numbers in fiction it’s proper to spell them out rather than use the actual numbers unless it’s over three digits.
One, Ten, One-hundred.
After that, you can use numbers like ‘1,000.’
Honestly, I tend to write all my numbers for the most part because a lot of the websites I checked on this subject give different instructions.
- Short-hand, Text/chat-speak, Accents and Slang.
Often, abbreviating something is done incorrectly. I suggest writing the words out no matter how tedious it seems because short-hand can be jolting. Unless you’re writing a journal-type story, or entry in your novel, I suggest sticking to writing it out unless the use of short-hand is for a purpose like characterization.
Political Science is often incorrectly abbreviated as Poly-Sci when the correct abbreviation is Poli-Sci. However, a lot of people believe it is a mark of immaturity to use short-hand in your novel.
Text/chat-speak: don’t do it. Unless you absolutely need to in your story, don’t. It’s unprofessional and just hard to read. Same goes for slang and accents unless they’re in dialogue and necessary for the character.
Bad – Terry looked @ the clock and h8ted how early it was.
Acceptable – Terry checked his phone and noticed a new text message from Gloria. ‘Hey, how r u?’
Bad – Terry ain’t no fool.
Acceptable – Terry said “I ain’t no fool.”
Other than certain well-known slang terms, most readers won’t understand local or modern slang.
As for accents, using them throughout your novel, unless it’s in first person (and even then, I don’t recommend it) is a bad idea. However, using it like J.K. Rowling did in Harry Potter for the foreign witches and wizards is acceptable. Some readers might find that annoying and feel like they have to decipher what the character is saying, but others like it and believe it adds flavor and characterization.
- Word choice and research.
Okay, this is important. Like I said before, Dictionary.com, Thesaurus.com and Google will probably wind up being your friends while writing. Google is very useful for research, while the other two help if you’re stuck.
Word choice is important. I’d like to use Twilight as an example. Stephanie Meyers, in the first book (approximately 400 pages) used the word ‘beautiful’ 800 times. That’s a lot! This is what you want to avoid. The thesaurus is a great place to find alternate words for one that you’re having trouble with. Off the top of my head I can think of ‘incredible, breath-taking, stunning, spectacular, fantastical, awesome, awe-inspiring’ as alternates Ms. Meyers could have used. Dictionaries are helpful in finding out if the word you’re thinking of using is actually correct.
I’m also going to suggest using Blackle.com as a search engine for those conscientious of saving energy. It’s a small step, but does help, and I’m a big supporter of going green. There are several other search engines, but I believe someone else is doing a post about that.
Research is also important. If you’re writing a historical piece, or a supernatural piece, it’s important to do your research. Actually, for almost every novel some research is necessary, even when creating your own world you need to do a lot of work. But I’ll get into that another time.
I know it’s the least exciting aspect of writing a novel, but it is important. You need to know who lived in a particular era and what music did or didn’t exist if you’re writing a historical piece or even a time-traveling one! And for supernatural novels, you have probably read a ton of them if you’re writing one. Knowing the existing myths and histories of the supernatural in literature is important to decision-making and figuring out how the rules of magic work in your world, or even simply if vampires are allergic to garlic or not. All in all, no matter what you’re writing, you’re probably going to have to do research. Tolkien didn’t come up with Middle Earth on a whim, it took a lot of planning and he even created his own languages!
Hope that helped! If not, let me know and I’ll try for some more/better examples.
Thanks for reading,
ETA: Sorry, I wrote this right before going to bed and mixed up second and third person. I have edited it above, but if mistakes linger, please tell me. To re-iterate: third is ‘he/she,’ second is ‘you’ and first is ‘I.’