ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Writers' Common Mistakes – Part 1

Updated on March 17, 2011

Editing Pencils

Many colors for many issues.
Many colors for many issues.

"Great Story, Poor Prose"

I'm a freelance editor, and I discovered a long time ago that my clients shared, to varying extents, certain common mistakes. Let's begin with… well, the beginning.

ATTITUDE: "As long as I tell a good story or write an informative piece of non-fiction, I don't have to worry too much about the prose." Yikes! This attitude will get the door slammed in your face almost before you've even knocked. Believe me, no matter how clever your story or article, an editor/agent won't see it if you prove, in the first couple of paragraphs, that you don't know how to write. They'll have reached for the rejection slip long before discovering your… um… brilliance.

Okay, so now that we've agreed on that and your attitude is wonderful and positive, let us move on to the technical mistakes that drag down the prose of most writers. I'll address each of these subjects in detail in future posts, but for now, I'll summarize and, perhaps, point you in the right self-editing direction.

1) Poor Punctuation: This is as basic as it gets, yet nothing bedevils beginning writers (and some seasoned ones) quite like the rules of punctuation.

          a) Commas, in particular, lie at the center of the dilemma.

               i) When do you need one? When must you include a conjunction? When should you use a semicolon instead? When should you just use a period and start a new sentence?

          b) Colons versus Semicolons

          c) Colons versus Dashes

          d) Dashes versus Ellipses

          e) Periods versus Exclamation Points versus Question Marks

2) Passive Voice: I've already posted three entries on this subject, which I duplicated from another site because it's such a critical issue to writers.

          a) Passive Voice sucks the life—the action—right out of a story. Things may happen, but nobody does anything. See those three posts for more.

3) Weak Knees: As the author, you are the authority, and the reader counts on you to provide strong and decisive prose.

          a) Beware the deadly "state-of-being" verbs, for they generate no action; they just are.

               i) Am, are, is, was, were, had been, etc.

          b) Beware weak verb qualifiers that drain the life from the subsequent verb.

               i) Starts to, seems to, could have, should have, might have, thought that, possibly, apparently, maybe, appeared to, found (as in found myself doing something), etc.

          c) Beware weak verbs that suggest limited or dull action at best, that evoke no real image in the reader's mind, and that often arrive on the page buried under a slew of weak, nasty adverbs, or as preface to a bunch of adjectives.

               i) Came, got, went, had, did, took, kept, made, etc.

          d) Beware sensory verbs that steal from the reader a sensory experience, and give it instead to the character.

               i) Hear/heard, see/saw, feel/felt, sounded, listened to, looked at, etc.

               ii) This also falls under the heading: SHOW, DON'T TELL.

4) Wordiness: Writers fall into this trap for one of two reasons, in my opinion: laziness, inexperience.

          a) You must not say in 20 complex or roundabout words what you can say in 12 simple, direct words.

          b) If you want to elevate your prose, you must not confuse quantity for quality. Pith is not your enemy; it is your friend.

          c) You must not say the same thing over and over, or say the same thing two or three different ways. Your reader is not an idiot. She'll get it the first time.

5) Flinging INGs: I refer to verbs (or verbal nouns) that end in "ing" as INGs, just to simplify matters, as they travel under many different names.

          a) One of the worst habits writers develop is opening sentences with Infinite-Verb Phrases—INGs. In most cases, they should restructure the sentence to provide clearer Subject-Predicate logic.

          b) Another nasty habit is the use of Present Participles—another form of ING—in a Past Tense narrative. Yes, you may use them from time to time, when the narrative calls for an ongoing action at that moment in the scene. However, most of the time, the action is complete (it's a Past Tense narrative, after all) and a Past Participle (verb ending in "ed") is more appropriate.

6) Adverbs: Most writers use excessive adverbs because they use weak, ineffective verbs to begin with, or because they somehow feel it necessary to cram the descriptive down the reader's throat. I agree with Stephen King, who said in his book, On Writing, "The road to Hell is paved with adverbs."

          a) Use a stronger verb that stands alone and provides powerful imagery.

          b) Consider using metaphor or simile to create an image in your reader's mind.

As I said earlier, I'll address these issues in greater detail in future posts. In the meantime, I hope this kick-starts your self-editing engine and forces you to stretch yourself a bit.

While you're waiting for my subsequent posts, you can get started on #3 above. Search your document for those weak verbs and create something that's more evocative, more action-centric.

'Til next time, remember this: To write well, you must work hard. To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)