Fiction Mistakes that Spell Rejection
by Moira Allen
Another pervasive problem editors cited was too many words. Many suggested that new writers learn to cut their stories by 10 to 50 percent. “The most obvious error we encounter in fiction is overwriting,” say Anthony Brown and Darrin English of Stickman Review. “Young writers, full of energy, throw everything and the kitchen sink into their work to impress editors.”
Excess verbiage can result from several fundamental writing errors.
Too many adjectives and adverbs. “When the yellow, round orb of the sun stealthily and smoothly creeps into the azure blue early morning sky, one may wonder why the sun didn’t simply rise; it would have saved a good deal of trouble for all concerned,” says Max Keele of Fiction Inferno. If you feel the need to modify every verb with an adverb (or two), or every noun with an adjective, chances are you’re not picking the right words. Look for strong nouns and stand alone verbs that convey your meaning without modification.
Using “big” words when simple ones would do. “To me, ‘ascended’ sounds inappropriate to describe a man walking up a few steps,” says Adam Golaski of New Genre. Seeking alternatives to “said” is another common error; too often, characters “expostulate” or “riposte.”
Too much detail or backstory. Many writers fall into the trap of adding too much detail or description.
“Describing the color and length of a protagonist’s hair is great if it’s relevant; otherwise it’s fluff you can cut,” says Don Muchow of Would That It Were. Diane Walton of ON SPEC deplores “long exposition ‘lumps’ that stop the action dead in its tracks, so one character can explain to another that their society has been operating in a certain way for centuries, or the long speech where the bad guy explains why he has to kill the good guy.”
The solution? Put your story aside for at least a week after writing it; then go back over it and search for “flab.”
“Every word has to do a job; if it’s goldbricking, out it goes,” says Robbie Matthews of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Hunt down those excess adverbs and adjectives. Look for stronger nouns and verbs. Set a goal of trimming your final draft by at least 10%.
Next time: Undeveloped characters