With that being said, it is good to know what kinds of crimes (a.k.a. honest mistakes) writers make—again and again and again. As an editor, I see them all. Regularly. And as a writer, I make them myself. Often, writers commit these “crimes” because they offer some kind of shortcut (except for the last one, which is just complete avoidance). However, it helps to be aware of these crimes so that you can identify them and maybe even dodge them in the future. After all, writing is a craft, right? It’s a process of honing, and knowing to avoid these mistakes will do wonders for upping your game.
So, here are five TERRIBLE writing crimes.
1. Using Clichés
Since the dawn of time… Nope. Webster’s dictionary describes… whoops. Ahh, clichés.
Clichés are a great way to say words without saying anything at all. They are overused expressions that, at some point in the distant past, may have been extremely original. We hear clichés every day. For example: “Every cloud has a silver lining.” “Let a sleeping dog lie.” “It was raining cats and dogs.” But what do these statements actually mean? Through endless repetition, these expressions have become completely divorced from their original context, and now they’re just empty words.
While using clichés in your writing may seem to help you or your character get an abstract point across, in the end it just looks lazy. Clichés can be acceptable in dialogue here and there, provided they match the character (perhaps the character is feeling lazy and resorting to banal comments, or perhaps it’s an idiosyncracy of theirs to use clichés on the reg), but in your original writing, you should avoid them like the plague if you want to avoid readers asking themselves, “What, you couldn’t come up with your own fudging words?!”
The solution? Try to convey the same meaning or experience the cliché describes by creating your ownmetaphorical imagery. Use your own creativity to explain the nuances of human experience. Use your own words, and you will doubtlessly reveal something unique and unexpected that will resonate with your readers.
Sometimes writing a book feels like an extremely taxing workout. You’re in class at the gym; you’ve been gritting your teeth for what feels like forever; you’re exhausted. You look at the clock, and realize that there’s just fifteen minutes to go. That means you can stop trying, right? You’re almost at the end. You’ve basically already done it! However, it’s important to pace yourself so you can extend your stamina throughout your workout—and your book. Too often I see writers who reach the climax of their plot—the moment they’ve been building towards, all the while developing characters and creating intrigue—only to scrap character consistency, rush through the main events, and let the book fall apart at the end. This is very unsatisfying—not to mention frustrating—for the reader.
So breathe, and slow down. Writing is like a mindfulness practice. Take your time with writing the end. Remember that the characters you’ve built still have their own feelings and desires in tact through the climactic events, and they deserve a resolution befitting their voyage so far (whether bright and happy or bleak and dismal). Take your time.
3. Too! Many! Exclamation Marks!!
YOU KNOW HOW IRRITATING IT IS WHEN SOMEONE WRITES TO YOU IN ALL CAPS? Editors feel that way about exclamation marks!!! Sometimes, writers want to convey that a character is yelling or saying something emphatically, so they rightfully—and occasionally—use an exclamation mark. That’s what it’s there for. But perhaps you have a dramatic character who is always freaking out about something. That’s okay, too. Just use exclamation marks sparingly!!!!
(Side note: avoid using exclamation marks with italics. That’s just sheer overkill.)
Why should you relax on the exclamation marks? Because you are a talented writer, and you don’t need to lean on them. You are a wordsmith; you craft your words in a way that tells readers what the tone of the narrative or speech is like. Describe stress or panic by describing a character’s frantic actions. Emphasize your points by speaking from the heart and using strong words. Use dialogue tags like “he yelled,” if you need to. There are so many ways to show emphasis and intensity. So break up with exclamation marks.*
*Never, ever use multiple exclamation marks (!!!). That’s a crime of its own calibre.