Avoid Common Mistakes in Your Writing

If you know what to look for, you can avoid common mistakes in your writing. Apart from the personal satisfaction you’ll gain by knowing what to watch out for, you will likely reduce the amount of editing that needs to be done once you submit your manuscript for editorial work.

What follows does not pretend to be an exhaustive list of common errors in writing, but it will help get you some way towards creating a manuscript with fewer errors.

Avoid common mistakes in your writing: That feeling

Whenever someone has an opinion, there will be others with a divergent opinion. So I’ll just come straight out and say it. Avoid as much as possible using the word ‘feel’ or ‘feeling’ or ‘felt’ in your fiction writing. Why? Because it is telling your readers rather than showing them how your characters are feeling. And showing is much more powerful and memorable.

I’ve mentioned it before, but a great little resource is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

Example: If my character feels sad, instead of saying this, I think of ways to describe, or show, their sadness. They might hang their head down, or have tears in their eyes, or be slumped over. If I’m struggling to describe their sadness, I’ll look up ‘sadness’ in The Emotion Thesaurus. There, I find ‘staring down at one’s hands’; ‘covering the face with the hands’; ‘a slack expression’; ‘touching a cross or fingering jewellery for comfort’; ‘splotchy skin’; ‘sniffing, wiping at nose’, and a whole lot more.

Incorrect punctuation in dialogue

I’ve dedicated a whole blog to punctuation in dialogue (How to Punctuate Dialogue). Here are a couple of quick hints with simple examples.

Speech followed by a dialogue tag (an example dialogue tag is he said). Unless a character’s dialogue ends in a question mark or an exclamation mark, you need a comma before the closing quotation marks, and a full stop after the dialogue tag.

Example: ‘Give me a break, won’t you,’ Rupert said. (The dialogue tag here is Rupert said.)

Example with exclamation mark: ‘Give me a break!’ Rupert said.

Example with question mark: ‘Will you just give me a break?’ Rupert said.

Dialogue tag followed by speech. When the dialogue tag comes before the speech, the dialogue tag must be followed by a comma, and the full stop comes inside the ending quotation mark.

Example: Rupert said, ‘Give me a break.’ (Again, the dialogue tag is Rupert said.)

A question mark or exclamation mark is a complete punctuation mark, i.e. it requires no comma or full stop.

Example: Rupert said, ‘Give me a break!’

Overuse of adverb ‘as’

The example paragraph below may seems like an exaggeration, but it is not at all uncommon for me to find ‘as’ overused in this way in manuscripts.

Example: She stood on the bridge as she thought about him, and as she stared at the water she knew she regretted ever having met him. She knew it was time to leave and as she began walking away, she stumbled. As she reached the end of the bridge, she paused and looked back over her shoulder. She gave a sigh as she continued on her way.

Here’s a suggested rewrite:

Example: She stood on the bridge thinking about him and staring at the water. She regretted ever having met him. She knew it was time to leave and as [it’s okay to use it, just not overuse it] she began walking away, she stumbled. When she reached the end of the bridge, she paused and looked back over her shoulder. Giving a sigh, she continued on her way.

Use the apt word

I use a dictionary and thesaurus practically every day of my life, and that’s what I’m advocating here when I say ‘use the apt word’. Being succinct results in more beautiful writing.

dictionary for blog avoid common mistakes in your writing

Writing is fun, so instead of being sloppy, use your resources to find just the right word to convey your meaning.

Examples: say loud thump instead of clear thump; twinkling lights vs sharply sparkling lights; gritted his teeth vs pushed his teeth together; coalesced or merged vs mashed together; her stomach lurched vs she felt ill (there’s ‘felt’ again); slumped down vs sat down with a slump; opulent building vs very fancy building.

Avoid common mistakes in your writing: Incorrect capitalisation

I rarely work on a manuscript that uses correct capitalisation, so you’re not alone if this applies to you.

It’s pretty simple. If you follow the general rule that a capital letter begins a sentence, or begins quoted speech, and that nouns to be capitalised are proper nouns, not common nouns, you’ll be well on the way to using correct capitalisation.

Proper nouns include personal names (John, Paula), geographical names (France, Canada, Berlin, Madrid, the Himalayas), nationalities (French, Caucasian, Queenslander), religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism), titles (Captain Kirk, President Obama, Aunty Jane, Dad), organisational names (the United Nations, the Reserve Bank of Australia).

Common noun examples (far from exhaustive!) are ‘the captain’, ‘the president’, my aunty, my dad; names of fruit, vegetables, plants, trees (mandarin, potato, roses, sycamore); objects (car, house, book); colours (red, indigo, yellow).

There are a host of other places where capitalisation is used, but the above will at least give you a head start. Use your dictionary to check if you’re unsure.

Acknowledgement

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (2019), Jadd Publishing (available as print or ebook).


cover of ten ways to supercharge your writing skills by gail tagarro

Beginner writers will find ‘Ten Ways to Super-Charge Your Writing Skills’ a fun, readable and useful resource. From upskilling your vocabulary, to understanding the basics of sentence structure, to learning about narrative arc, pacing and head-hopping, you’ll learn a lot about writing technique and enhance your writing skills.

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