When I first joined a critique group, fresh from finishing the draft of my first novel, I expected everyone else’s writing to be better than mine. Instead, I found that most of us were at about the same level, we just had different issues that challenged us.
As I moved into freelance editing, I discovered that the writers in my group weren’t alone in struggling with these issues. In fact, after several years of editing, I had corrected certain issues so many times that I created a list of them. Eventually, I noticed that virtually all of the manuscripts from new author which crossed my desk contained at least a quarter of the items on the list, some up to three-quarters.
The good news, however, is that almost all of them are fixable with only a little instruction. Knowing that something is an issue is a large part of the battle. Once you know what to look for and how to fix it, it’s a matter of practice before it becomes a habit to do it correctly. And in most manuscripts, if one of these items is an issue, it will crop up throughout the entire manuscript, so you will have many opportunities to practice each issue which challenged you.
Peruse the list below and carefully check your manuscript for each. Most of them have been topics of blog posts here at Castle Gate Press, so all you have to do to receive instruction regarding any particular item is type it into the search box at the bottom right of this page.
Common New Author Writing Issues
Incorrect Dialogue Punctuation
Incorrect Dialogue Structure
Overuse of Dialogue Tags
Overuse of Forms of “To Be” (especially “was” or “is”)
Incorrect Structure of a Character’s Thoughts
Using Progressive Tenses
Using Passive Voice
Overuse of Participial Phrases
Misuse of Semi-Colons
Misuse of Colons
Use of Generic Verbs
Overuse of Adverbs
Use of “That” Instead of “Who”
Overuse of Pronouns
Not Spelling out Short Number Words
Not Using the Oxford Comma
Use of a Comma after an Introductory “But”
No Comma Before “And” When Joining Two Independent Phrases
Not Using a Comma to Set off Introductory Phrases
Not Using a Comma to Set off Introductory Time References
Not Using a Comma to Set off Titles of Address
Not Using a Comma to Set off an Introductory Exclamation
Incorrect Use of Commas in an Address
Telling Instead of Showing
Using Omniscient POV
Naming the Emotion Instead of Showing It
Including Small Motions
Mixing the Action of Multiple Character in One Paragraph
Speeding through Action
Repeated Words or Phrases
Telling Something, then Showing It Too
Repeating Information Readers already Know
Floating Body Parts
A long list, but take heart! Even if you discover that you have issues with the majority of these items, you are not alone. And now that you know what your issues are, you are a step closer to publication. By the time you conquer them all, your writing will significantly cleaner and more engaging, maybe even polished enough to catch the eye of an agent or editor.