So you’ve finally done it. Written a book after hours at the keyboard, filling in plot holes, shedding tears, drinking cups of tea, and fending off self-doubt. You’ve even made it through beta readers who questioned your genius and still found typos.
Your book is perfect, and more than ready to be snapped up by a publisher. Sure, there will be some rejections, but you’ll welcome those because you’ll need a rejection slip to hang on your wall and keep you humble when you’re rolling in royalties and five-star reviews.
But that publishing deal hasn’t come. It must be them, you tell yourself. There’s no way it could be your book—it’s perfect!
You decide to take a look at the MS, just to confirm that it’s still as wonderful as you remember. Then you see it, the reason those form rejections have been coming in thick and fast. Your MS isn’t perfect. You’ve looked at it with fresh eyes, the realistic eyes that can see the mistakes. Those amateur mistakes, such as…
Otherwise known as not giving the reader any credit and explaining everything. You want them to know why Jessie hates Carl as soon as they’re introduced. No using curt remarks to build tension, or dropping hints to create some mystery, you’ll just explain it all then and there!
Same deal when it comes to connecting the intricate threads of your mind-blowing plot. You can’t be subtle with those threads or rely on the reader to make those connections. What if they miss something? Can you trust the reader to work things out for themselves? Yes, yes you can.
As the author, you may want to authorsplain the finer points to get the story onto the page, but that’s what the first draft is for. Tell it to yourself, then cut it back and find the right balance. Test with beta readers how much little info you need to give in order for a reader to understand what you mean, and then allow them to fill in the blanks. It makes for a much more satisfying read.
This is one of the basics of writing, but it can be tricky to master. Info-dumping, especially in the first few chapters, is a mistake all amateur writers make, some without realizing they’re doing it.
It’s another one of those elements you’ll need during the first draft so you can work out your plot, but after that, you’ve got to use your other drafts to break the info up. Don’t use a page long narration from your MC to explain the situation she’s in, foreshadow it, drop cryptic hints, have a short but sweet conversation between two characters that gives you one half of the story, and the rest of it later.
As the writer, you know that the info is important to the plot, but it doesn’t need to be dumped on the very first page! Save some for the middle, bring it all to a head at the end. Let your characters and the reader live in the moment and find out what they need to know at key points only—not all at once.
Hands up if you over describe how a character gets from Point A to Point B? I’ve done it, in fact, I can’t help including almost every single detail when it comes to my characters’ movements.
It may be part of my early draft writing process, but I really don’t need to keep in my later drafts that my MC heard the doorbell ring, put down his cheese sandwich, slid the chair back from the table, walked through the living room, wrapped his fingers around the silver knob, and pulled open the door.
Save the stage directions and the lengthy descriptions for when you need to invoke some real imagery, or to make a payoff work. The most important thing the reader needs to know is who is at the door, not a step-by-step of how the MC answered it.
Extreme Scene Setting
Some writers can set the scene of a book so well it’s almost as if it’s another character. For us amateurs, you’re better off mastering how to give the reader only what they need to visualize the setting.
The trick to this is adding just enough detail to create a sense of space or what the place looks like while allowing the reader’s imagination to do the rest.
For example, they might need to know a living room has a couch because a character is sitting on it, but they don’t need to know about the rug, the coffee table, the lamp, the TV, or the fake plant sitting in the corner. Unless the lamp you painstakingly describe for five sentences is going to be the murder weapon (in which case, you and Professor Plum better hightail it out of there), stop wasting words spelling it out. Most readers would have seen a living room and will get an understanding of what one looks like with a few choice words.
While it may take an experienced eye to spot these amateur mistakes—and even more practice to stop making them in new drafts—mastering them will make you a better writer. One who will, hopefully, one day, also have an acceptance letter to hang on their wall.
— K.M. Allan