ONE: Premature Submission.
First Novelists (FNs) send in their manuscripts before they’re ready, before the work has been vetted by a professional editor, or at least by a critique group.
TWO: Failure to master the craft.
FNs have not yet developed the skills that make up the craft of writing book-length fiction: character development, charged dialogue, plot, pacing, setting, voice, POV (point ofview).
THREE: Vaguely drawn characters.
FNs do not know their characters well enough, and have neither filled out a character chart nor written a biography of the major characters in their novel. As Somerset Maugham said, “You can never know your characters well enough.”
FOUR: Dull dialog.
FNs do not realize that dialog in fiction is nothing like dialogue in real life. Dialogue must sound like the way people really talk, only better, more interesting: i.e., charged. As Toni says, God made enough boring people. Don’t put them in your novel.
FIVE: The Real-Life Oops.
FNs write from real life experience, but forget to include many significant details because they already see the real events in their minds, and assume the reader will, too. FNs need to learn to embellish the truth when writing fiction. In other words: lie.
SIX: Violation of point of view (POV).
FNs tend to jump from head to head, rather than sticking to one point of view per scene, or better yet, per chapter. Limiting the differing points of view intensifies the experience for the reader.
SEVEN: Telling, not showing.
FNs often tell their story using blocks of narration, rather than show the reader by using action and dialogue to create scenes. Remember, dialogue and action, when used well, create tension.
EIGHT: Overuse of adverbs, etc.
FNs tend to rely on adverbs, exclamation points, and italics to convey emotion. Emotion must come from the dialogue, the interior monologue, or the narrative. A well-chosen verb rarely needs an adverb, a well-written line rarely needs italics or exclamation marks.
NINE: Poor self-editing skills.
FNs haven’t learned to self edit by editing other writers’ fiction, or by reading the recommended books.
TEN: Not enough killing.
“Kill your darlings,” as the saying goes. In other words, find the passages that slow your pace, and, no matter how much you like them or how well written you find them to be, delete them. Be brutal. Failure to do so brands you an FN.
These ten steps are just a start. In her lecture, Toni offers a many ways for writers to improve. She teaches R.U.E. (resist the urge to explain). This can take many forms, but the most common is the adverb in the attribution: “I hate you!” she said angrily; “Take one more step and I’ll shoot,” he said menacingly; “I’m just so happy to see you,” she said cheerily. Toni cautions against beginning your novel with weather, and poetic descriptions of the sun or the moon.
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