Five Warning Signs Your Story Needs Revision

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Original image via Jenny Downing Flikr Creative Commons

We can have the best story ideas in the world, but to be blunt? There’s a lot to be said for delivery. While these problems might seem picky, there are some fundamental errors that can weaken the writing. If our writing loses power, this can become distressing or distracting to readers.

Many readers (not being editors or professional writers) might not be able to articulate specifically why they lost interest in a story, but often the answer is simple. It can be an accumulation of the small things. The little foxes spoil the vine.

Most of us make one or more of these errors, especially when we’re new. Hey, that’s called “being NEW.” No one is born with the natural ability to write brilliant, perfect novels coded into their DNA. It takes time and practice, so give yourself permission to make mistakes…then learn, suck it up and back to work.

It writes the words or it gets the hose *pets fluffy white dog*

To maybe make you guys feel better, I’ve written well over a million words in blogs and articles alone. I’ve also written three books, two novels and scads of short stories. As much as I have written—and EDITED—even I have to seek outside editors to look for these issues.

We ALL make these oopses. But, hopefully, this blog will give you a nice little checklist so you can clean up your own work as much as possible before handing it to a pro.

Not only will cleaning up these oopses make the editing process faster—because your editor can actually get to the MEAT of your work instead of being distracted by small errors—but the bill should be smaller because your editor can work faster because there are fewer problems to correct. Also, if you’re sending sample pages to an agent and he/she sees too many of these newbie blunders?

NEXT!

Oh, and a biggie? In The Digital Age, sample pages are the most POWERFUL tool we have for making a sale. Our first five pages can be the most important in the entire book ;) .

Today I’m again donning my editor’s hat to give you a peek into what red flags editors, agents (and even readers) see in those first five pages.

Red Flag #1

If Your Novel has More Characters than the Star Wars Prequels, You Might Need Revision

Don’t even get me started about Jar Jar Binks.

Whenever the author takes the time to name a character, that is a subtle clue to the reader that this is a major character and we need to pay attention. Think Hollywood and movies (good ones, NOT the SW prequels). If the credits roll and there is a named character in the credits, then we can rest assured this character had a speaking part.

I did not know this, years ago, and I felt the need to name the pizza guy, the florist, the baker and the candlestick maker. Do NOT do this. When we name characters, it is telling our readers to care. Sort of like animals.

Only name them if you plan on getting us attached.

We do not have to know intimate life details about the waitress, the taxi driver or even the funeral director. Unless the character serves a role—protagonist, antagonist, allies, mentor, love interest, minions, etc.—you really don’t need to give them a name. They are props, not people.

And maybe your book has a large cast; that is okay. Just don’t feel the need to introduce them all at once. If I have to keep up with 10 names on the first page, it’s confusing, ergo annoying. Readers (and agents) will feel the same way.

Red Flag #2

If Your Novel Dumps the Reader Right into Major Action, You Might Need Revision

Oh, there is no newbie blunder I didn’t make.

Lola leaned out over the yawning chasm below, and yelled to Fabio. She needed her twist-ties and lucky purple rabbit’s foot if she ever was going to defuse the bomb in time. Sweat ran into her eyes as she reached out for Malfio’s hand. They only had minutes before Juliette would be back and then it would all be over for Katy, Skipper and Mitzi.

Okay, I just smashed two into one. Your first question might be, Who the hell are these people? And likely your second question is Why do I care?

We don’t care. We (the readers) aren’t the writer who knows these characters and is vested. On this blog, we’ve discussed before how Normal World plays a vital role in narrative structure. As an editor, if I see the main character sobbing at a funeral or a hospital or hanging over a shark tank by page three, that is a big red flag the writer doesn’t understand narrative structure (or might be trying to “reinvent it”).

Thing is, three-act structure has worked since Aristotle came up with it. There are better uses of time than us trying to totally remake dramatic structure.

It’s like the wheel. Round. It rolls. The wheel works. Don’t mess with the wheel. Don’t mess with narrative structure.

Some other picky no-nos… .

Red Flag #3

Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts? Time for Revision

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

 His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.”

Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow…the carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

Red Flag #4

Too much Physiology? Time for Revision

Her heart pounded. Her heart hammered. Her pulse beat in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs.

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out.  That and I read a lot of entries where the character has her heart hammering so much, I am waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment. Ease up on the physiology. Less is often more. Get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus.

Red Flag #5

Too Many Evil Adverbs? REVISE!

Most of the time, adverbs are a no-no. Find a stronger verb instead of dressing up a weaker choice.

She stood quickly from her chair.

She bolted from her chair.

Also be careful of redundant adverbs.

She whispered quietly…

Um, duh. The verb whisper already tells me the volume level.

She can, however, whisper conspiratorially. Why? Because the adverb isn’t denoting something inherent in the verb. To whisper, by definition is to be quiet BUT not necessarily to conspire. The adverb conspiratorially indicates a certain quality to the whisper.

Avoiding these pitfalls will make for far smoother, cleaner writing and help you more easily spot what and where revision is needed.

Some books to help you clean up your prose and become a master at your craft? Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is a MUST HAVE in your library. I LOVE ANYTHING written by James Scott Bell, but my favorite is probably Plot & Structure. Hooked by Les Edgerton. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Buy these and study them.

You will thank me later.

(And, of course, for social media/branding help, there is my book *bats eyelashes* Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World).

What are some troubles you guys have? Maybe some questions you want me to address? Throw them up here. Takes a load off my brain so I don’t have to think this stuff up all by myself. Any tips, suggestions, books you recommend we read? Did this blog help you? Confuse you?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Upcoming Classes

BOTH CLASSES COME WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

A seasoned editor can tell a lot about your book with only five pages. Learn to hook hard and hook early. I am running the Your First Five Pages Class. Use WANA10 for $10 off. This is the perfect class for diagnosing bigger story issues or even getting a work agent-ready in time for conference season. This class is April 25th 6:00-8:30 PM NYC Time. Gold Level is available if you want me to critique your 5 pages.

Also, if you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension. Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

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  1. #1 by Theo Fenraven on April 17, 2014 - 10:08 am

    Reblogged this on Theo Fenraven and commented:
    Yup. :)

  2. #2 by Daven Anderson on April 17, 2014 - 10:13 am

    Thank you Kristen for this WISE advice.
    I particularly enjoy #5, where you show us the best reason for breaking the “no adverb” rule (ie: when the adverb adds a meaning not otherwise implied)

  3. #3 by Jackie Saulmon Ramirez on April 17, 2014 - 10:15 am

    I love your tips. :)

  4. #4 by Karen Lynne Klink on April 17, 2014 - 10:17 am

    I need clarification on the one about not throwing the reader into the action. If this is true, why are there so many people telling writers they need to start in the middle of action in order to grab the reader?

  5. #7 by KaylaJT on April 17, 2014 - 10:17 am

    Cracking up at the mental image accompanying “Her eyes flew across the room.” I will now giggle every time I read lines like that. Lol.
    The whole whispered quietly/yelled loudly thing gets me every time I read them, but I have no doubt I’ve totally done that without even thinking about it or realizing I’ve done it.
    Excellent advice, as always! Thank you, Kristen!

  6. #8 by nickycorbishley on April 17, 2014 - 10:18 am

    Brilliant, funny and useful information as always 😃

  7. #9 by Julie Turino on April 17, 2014 - 10:20 am

    Lydia,

    You should subscribe to this for good writing advice.

    [?] Mama

  8. #10 by Elke Feuer on April 17, 2014 - 10:20 am

    Great post, Kristen! I’m guilty of too much physiology, but I recently purchased The Emotion Thesaurus to help cure the issue. :-)

  9. #11 by Mrs. C Writes on April 17, 2014 - 10:28 am

    Reblogged this on Mrs C Writes Blog.

  10. #12 by PorterGirl on April 17, 2014 - 10:39 am

    This has been really helpful, thank you! Sometimes I read my work back and know it isn’t quite right but struggle with why – this has made it much clearer!

  11. #13 by Suzan Butler on April 17, 2014 - 10:46 am

    This is an interesting post to read now, since I’m working on a revision. Hehe. This week, I read Rock Your Plot by Catherine Yardley (Yard? Yardly? I can’t remember, but if you Google “Rock Your Plot”, her website comes up.) Her method is kind of a mishmash of several different methods and it totally worked for me. Like, I had that “AHA” moment when something falls into place in my head. It’s a broad overview, and it’s a quick read, and it totally pinpointed where I was weak as a writer. I’m pretty sure she wrote it JUST FOR ME… you know, because that’s what people do… write books just for me. ;)

  12. #14 by fariba on April 17, 2014 - 10:48 am

    Thanks for this fruitful advice.

  13. #15 by tracikenworth on April 17, 2014 - 10:49 am

    Remember doing these, especially the disembodied body parts, lol. Oh, how quickly those heads roll and collect dust.

  14. #16 by Liz on April 17, 2014 - 10:50 am

    As of right now, I think my only weakness from this list is the adverb usage. Of course, right now I’m just working on getting the story out, so I’m not worried about it or letting it keep me from word count goals. But this is definitely a good reminder and something I’m going to look back at when I finally do start my revisions and editing.

  15. #17 by k2globalcommunicationsllc on April 17, 2014 - 10:57 am

    Shared G+ :-)

  16. #18 by J. Sander on April 17, 2014 - 11:05 am

    Okay, I saw Star Wars when I was much younger and let me tell you…I thought Jar Jar Binks was hilarious. Oops!

    These tips are great, I definitely will be reminding myself of these when writing this weekend. Thank you!

  17. #19 by Lisa on April 17, 2014 - 11:06 am

    Currently in the thick of revision, these tips are very helpful, thanks so much!

  18. #20 by Shea Ford on April 17, 2014 - 11:06 am

    I love The Emotional Thesaurus! :D

    My biggest problem is head hopping. Character Ardan can only know that Thomas is also marveling at a floating book if he can read minds. He can’t. *sigh* *pulls out red pen*

    Great post as always! :D

  19. #21 by ontyrepassages on April 17, 2014 - 11:07 am

    Excellent advice/reminders. My biggest offense was always physiology, but I’ve toned it down and The Emotion Thesaurus has helped more than words can express.

  20. #22 by icescreammama on April 17, 2014 - 11:11 am

    Oh, please put my name in your hat and pick me out of it. I will get you a new hat! I thought I was done, but now I’m not so sure… Help.

  21. #23 by symplysilent on April 17, 2014 - 11:19 am

    I love that you recommend books. I have my Kristen memorial shelf that is full of them. I read them in a gorgy, and am now going back through, working the exercises. Someday, I will be ready to take a class like your First Five Pages. Do you have a recommendation on dialog? Silent

  22. #24 by nikkiharvey on April 17, 2014 - 11:30 am

    Thanks for the advice. I would love some more advice on starting a novel. Getting he balance right between too much action like your example in this post, yet having enough going on to quickly hook the reader. I’m definitely going to read some of the books you suggested. Since I’m only a few chapters into the first draft of my first novel I won’t be getting your social media/ branding book. I’m no where near ready for that but I’ll keep it in mind :) I’m liking this post so I can find it more easily in future :)

  23. #25 by Aul on April 17, 2014 - 11:33 am

    Reblogged this on Montairyus and commented:
    Some valuable advice from Kristen Lamb…

  24. #26 by Aul on April 17, 2014 - 11:35 am

    Reblogged this…

  25. #27 by Tom on April 17, 2014 - 11:35 am

    Love it! In my first (and so far, only) novel, I’d done three edits before I caught a sentence I wrote about my antagonist. “His eyes darted across the parking lot.” Uh-huh. So suddenly I had a blind bad guy feeling his way around parked cars trying to find his eyeballs as they scampered away. Somehow, it just didn’t fit in the plot. :)

    • #28 by intrepidjane on April 17, 2014 - 11:39 am

      That made me giggle, Tom!

    • #29 by K.B. Owen on April 17, 2014 - 11:56 am

      LOL, Tom! My characters raise their eyebrows so often (I counted 67 times in an early draft of my 300 pg novel), they could end up looking permanently quizzical. :D

  26. #30 by intrepidjane on April 17, 2014 - 11:37 am

    Straight-forward tell-it-like-it-is advice. I’ll be sharing this with all my writing friends :)

  27. #31 by coldhandboyack on April 17, 2014 - 11:38 am

    Another great post. I was hoping you were about to help me with too many I uses in first person though.

  28. #32 by Sara on April 17, 2014 - 11:43 am

    I’m struggling with the not naming non-important characters. I know this sounds like a little kid (what if my room catches fire can I come out then?) but what if knowing the characters names is important but not the character. For example, in a small town the main character would address people by name so a trip to the grocery store would mean greeting the clerk by name – “Hey Fred, how are you today?” Is that still naming the character or is that something different?

  29. #33 by sharonhughson on April 17, 2014 - 11:51 am

    Thanks for these tips. My beta copies are trickling in and one guy highlighted all the times I had eyes doing something impossible. Of course, he said eyes don’t really flash with emotion. There are changes on the face that show the emotion.
    Having been on the receiving end of one (or a million) killing glares and silencing stares, I disagree.
    What’s your take on this issue? Do we read expression in people’s eyes or is this just a cliche?

  30. #34 by K.B. Owen on April 17, 2014 - 11:54 am

    Fab advice, Kristen! I think the main reason why writers commit Red Flag #2 is that we have the idea of a “hook” drilled into us…OUCH…

    Bad pun (or red flag #3) aside, can you give us a tip on how to create a “hook” in the beginning without a Holy-Molars-Batman-we’re-suspended-over-a-piranha-tank scene? ;)

    Thanks!
    Kathy

  31. #35 by Keith Channing on April 17, 2014 - 12:03 pm

    Another important one for the day I get beyond chapter two of the first draft of my first novel.

  32. #36 by henrikafanfiction on April 17, 2014 - 12:03 pm

    Reblogged this on Sunsets and more and commented:
    Once again an awesome post by Kristen Lamb. I’ll definitely be reading through my text with a more critical eye, and then edit to avoid the potholes she has pointed out.

  33. #37 by Stacey Haggard Brewer on April 17, 2014 - 12:15 pm

    Wow. I really hate it when my eyeballs get all fuzzy. You know what’s worse? When they fly across the room. I have terrible aim and tend to hit things. Makes them all misshapen…

    I second your recommendation of The Emotion Thesaurus. So helpful!

    And I would add passive voice to your list of things to seek and destroy when revising a manuscript.

  34. #38 by Alyssa Morgan on April 17, 2014 - 12:23 pm

    Some great advice, and reblogged this on alyssa-morgan.com

  35. #39 by Kelly Byrne on April 17, 2014 - 12:41 pm

    Cracking me up over here, as usual. I’m still envisioning eyeballs flying across the room. One of my favorite things from any poorly written piece. And I’m most definitely guilty of that blunder and all the rest myself. Thanks for the great reminders, Kristen.

    My boyfriend just got me the Emotion Thesaurus for Christmas, so check that one off the list. ;)

    The one book that helped me the most when I was editing my first novel was “Self-Editing For Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King. Brilliant book. Highly recommend.

    “Plot and Structure” was great too. I’ll look into the others you suggested. And, of course, yours (all 3) were hugely helpful, so thank you. :)

  36. #40 by Saronai on April 17, 2014 - 12:54 pm

    Red Flag #2 makes me want to give up and smack my head into my desk. Is there some happy medium? How should we be starting our stories? I use to start them with getting to know the characters (actively, as opposed to paragraphs of info dumps and descriptions) then I kept reading everywhere that you MUST start in the middle of action with something exciting. Along with advice that most writers can cut the first several pages, or even the first chapter to the first scene with action. Maybe I combined the two in intent and the latter just means action as in someone is doing something while we learn about them…

    So, I started in the middle of action for years and am only just now finding advice to go back to the way I was writing originally because now we need to get to know them first and *head desk* I’m not saying I was perfect before or am perfect now. It’s just confusing that I’ve received majorly conflicting advice on that point over the years, from professionals (such as agents and paid published writers) and unpublished writers alike.

    I guess it was a mistake in the first place to switch up my opening style based on general advice rather than specific critiques of stories.

    Now I’m thinking…we should be starting with something active, just not something that’s so active it’s best viewed through emotional investment in the character? Essentially, I started my openings right, however noobish, and have been practicing them wrong for years based on general advice =_=

    I need a cookie.

    • #41 by grfrazier on April 17, 2014 - 1:08 pm

      In my WIP, I introduce my protagonist in the first chapter at his job interacting with some of his staff. You get a sense of who he is … he’s in control, but he’s frustrated by the economic downturn that’s caused downsizing, putting more pressure on him to run the office effectively. It’s a problem many readers can relate to in this day and age, so hopefully I’ve developed some empathy for my character right off the bat. By the end of the chapter, he gets wind of a situation and he darts out the door into action. First chapter is only 1,700 words, so it’s a quick setup followed by quick action.

  37. #42 by grfrazier on April 17, 2014 - 1:03 pm

    I’m glad you included the word revision in your headline. I’m working on a novel and trying to get it down on the page as quickly as possible through Camp NaNoWriMo, so naturally I’m letting loose with all kinds of character names and adverbs as I go. I know that I will have to get the scissors out later.

    For instance, I’ve got a sheriff and his entourage of two detectives and a public information officer, a police chief and a police officer and a coroner all being introduced in one chapter. And I know that’s a mistake…It’s too many characters at once, and not all of them will be main players. When I revise, I will probably write some of the characters out or combine them with the others who are important (for instance, the coroner will likely come in later), the police officer can be replaced by the chief, the two detectives can possibly be combined into one.

    I’d go back and fix it now, but everyone keeps saying “shut down your internal editor and write a sh***y first draft, fix it later.” So there you go.

    Great column as always, Kristen. :)

    • #43 by Stephanie Scott on April 17, 2014 - 1:34 pm

      When you’re fast drafting all that stuff comes out. It’s really hard for me to write fast for that reason–I want to fix everything as it’s going down on the page. It’s so hard to shut down the editor to keep moving!

  38. #44 by emeraldobrien on April 17, 2014 - 1:11 pm

    Great tips! After going through edits of my first draft, I found a few of these mistakes. Naming random background characters, and giving too much information about them, thinking it would say more about the main character who is observing these things. I am ashamed to admit I am also guilty of using evil adverbs. Thanks for reminding me of these red flags for the next draft!

  39. #45 by Scott on April 17, 2014 - 1:18 pm

    Story Engineering is my pre-bedtime reading right now and it has opened my eyes in ways I never thought possible…kind of like your blog! Thanks for this post. I especially appreciate how you reiterate that mistakes are okay.

  40. #46 by theabstractdetail on April 17, 2014 - 1:31 pm

    Reblogged this on The Abstract Detail and commented:
    Extremely helpful article, really like the focus on streamlining and strengthening prose.

  41. #47 by Stephanie Scott on April 17, 2014 - 1:33 pm

    I see the too much physiology in a lot of contest entries I’ve read for RWA. I have also been guilty of this; it takes skill and practice to show emotional and physical reactions without always resorting to hearts leaping. Or I see a lot of excessive movement description “she crossed the room and twisted the doorknob to open the door.” None of that needs to be there. “She opened the door” works fine.

    What I am completely guilty of is too many characters. They creep in, wanting to be named and to have their own story!

  42. #48 by ponymartini on April 17, 2014 - 1:46 pm

    An editor, very rightly, called me out on putting too many asides into my biog posts. As hilarious as they were, they were distracting. I am grateful she took the time to constructively let me know: my writing has definitely improved.

    Thank you for the reference materials, I’ll be stocking up this weekend!

  43. #49 by A.M. Guynes (@annikkawoods) on April 17, 2014 - 2:23 pm

    I show the start of a normal day for my character but it quickly goes sour. She’s with her family. I name them all but they all die by rather nasty ways before you get too far into it. I’d say within the first fifteen pages. It’s vital to the character’s growth but now I’m not sure if it’s too soon. I also don’t want to bore the reader with every day life for half a chapter or so before I throw this scene at them. From what you’ve said, now I feel like I’ve got to redo the beginning. Is that the case?

  44. #51 by L J Sentivanac on April 17, 2014 - 2:38 pm

    I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years now and find it soooooo helpful. I wanted to add another “must buy” to your book list for writers, though: Self Editing for Fiction Writers, but Renni Browne and Dave King. It is my Bible! (exclamation point is warranted here),

  45. #52 by projectechoshadow on April 17, 2014 - 2:41 pm

    I have this odd habit of trying to show someone failed a task with opposing adverbs, she snuck noisily knocking over plates as she went.

    ECHO ECHO

  46. #53 by kbgardener on April 17, 2014 - 2:47 pm

    Try my hardest to follow all these rules, Kristen, but I know I fail from time to time. Thanks for the reminder.

    • #54 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 17, 2014 - 3:08 pm

      LOL, we ALL do. It’s why God gave us editors…that and to test the faithful :D

  47. #55 by ctfranklin28 on April 17, 2014 - 3:22 pm

    Finally someone put this in writing! I have seen these errors too many times without someone mentioning it.

  48. #56 by Justin Sargeant on April 17, 2014 - 5:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Justin Sargeant and commented:
    Took this from Kristen Lamb’s blog. It’s a great reminder of what to focus on when editing especially for me as I currently edit the second book in my series The Stones of Revenge: The Arising.

  49. #57 by saralitchfield on April 17, 2014 - 5:25 pm

    My first ever MS is with my first ever editor (Marcy Kennedy)… I’d gone over it and over so much and then again rewriting with beta feedback and I’m so sick of the thing! I know there’s still stuff like the above that I can’t even see anymore… I’m so mired in the story I have no idea if it’s even any good… Agh. Writing’s hard. Good job there’s people like you around to help :)

  50. #58 by geralynwichers on April 17, 2014 - 5:30 pm

    I may in fact be guilty of too much physiology, alack.

  51. #59 by joannalloydauthor on April 17, 2014 - 5:35 pm

    Reblogged this on Joanna Lloyd and commented:
    Thank you Kristen Lamb for excellent tips on Red Flags in a manuscript.

  52. #60 by Susanne Leist on April 17, 2014 - 6:39 pm

    Hi, I had my book edited. I also self-edited. In the end, I realized that most words can create problems. For example, in your blog you had used the words, “whisper conspiratorially.” The word, “conspiratorially,” might explain the whisper but it also brings up the problem of Show and Tell. I found it easier to remove most of my adverbs.

  53. #61 by Sasha J Cameron on April 17, 2014 - 7:42 pm

    Reblogged this on Sasha Cameron's Tribute and commented:
    I’ve found myself a little annoyed at some stories that I’ve been reading lately and this pretty much sums it up. And when I mean some, I include most of mine and not yours Rachel J Lewis. SMH – *walks away muttering* so much to learn, so little time…

  54. #62 by April Wood on April 17, 2014 - 8:01 pm

    Excellent advice. Novels with a zillion characters…. uggh, well it just drives me to drink!

  55. #63 by Sarah Magnolia on April 17, 2014 - 8:29 pm

    Thanks for these tips – have to follow them!

  56. #64 by Sarah Magnolia on April 17, 2014 - 8:30 pm

    Reblogged this on Sarah Magnolia and commented:
    Wish I had the wisdom to write things as helpful as this… give it a read!!

  57. #65 by Kira on April 17, 2014 - 8:36 pm

    I’m guilty for #3,4,and 5! need a revision for sure, thank you for an excellence post!

  58. #67 by Deborah Makarios on April 17, 2014 - 9:01 pm

    Such a relief to find it’s ok to use adverbs to modify verbs that don’t already imply the same thing e.g. “she said mysteriously” – I kept catching myself doing that yesterday, and I worried.

  59. #68 by jbiggar2013 on April 17, 2014 - 10:07 pm

    Reblogged this on jbiggarblog and commented:
    a few mistakes new writers make

  60. #69 by Willy Nilly on April 17, 2014 - 10:58 pm

    I am saved from myself. Thanks! :-)

  61. #70 by sao on April 18, 2014 - 1:25 am

    My problem was writing like real life and not cutting off my scenes soon enough. In my first book, all the dramatic scenes ended on a mundane note or had too much extraneous detail that drained all the drama from the scene.

    If I’d written Casablanca, I’d have sent Bogart home to back his socks before setting off in the sunset, because you know, he’s going to need clean socks wherever he’s going.

  62. #71 by nerinedorman on April 18, 2014 - 2:30 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! These are all pointers I’m busy addressing (with a few others) in a resource I’m creating for my website so I can address my clients with some of the most common issues editors face with working with those new to writing fiction.

  63. #73 by arranbhansal on April 18, 2014 - 3:02 am

    Reblogged this on Confessions of a published author and commented:
    Very useful

  64. #74 by lonelyboy1977 on April 18, 2014 - 3:49 am

    Reblogged this on lonelyboy1977 and commented:
    Very helpful insights from Kristen Lamb

  65. #75 by Roe on April 18, 2014 - 3:58 am

    This is a great post. Thanks for the tips about writing. Especially the adverbs.

  66. #76 by Marilyn Hudson Tucker on April 18, 2014 - 7:20 am

    One of my pet peeves has to do with names. I put down a book once because in the first chapter we were introduced to three main characters, the father Marvin, the son Mitchell, and the other son Martin. I knew I’d never keep them straight. I also finished a book, which I loved, even though the main character was named Ned and his dog was named Nick, or maybe it was the other way around. I just know I was often surprised when the wrong one wagged his tail or barked.

  67. #77 by Cyndi Perkins on April 18, 2014 - 8:27 am

    Reblogged this on cyndiperkins and commented:
    Kristin Lamb addresses common writing pitfalls that turn off editors and readers. A must-peruse for all scribes!

  68. #78 by Cyndi Perkins on April 18, 2014 - 8:38 am

    Kristin, Thanks for arming me with some tools to go back through my manuscript again (reblogged this). In future columns I would appreciate if you could address:
    – Query letter format, specifically why you shouldn’t structure it like a conventional snail-mail communication with a letterhead on top (someone just poked fun at me about that, l didn’t realize my age was showing) and if you should/shouldn’t post links to your published work in the bio paragraph or anywhere else in the letter.
    – How and where to find a crit partner on line, for those of us who don’t have “live” writers group resources nearby. I’m specifically interested in how partners pair up at the appropriate proficiency level so that they challenge each other in a meaningful way that improves the work. Thanks!

  69. #80 by Glynis Jolly on April 18, 2014 - 8:40 am

    The trouble that is bothering me the most right now is I haven’t a clue as to how long or short my chapters should be. I wish I had some practical guidelines for this.

    • #81 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 18, 2014 - 9:13 am

      They generally are as long as a scene or sequel. Pick up Jack Bickman’s Plot & Structure.

  70. #82 by Nicole Grabner on April 18, 2014 - 9:30 am

    You know, I struggle with dialogue and action. In the first pages I always have a hard time understanding how much is too much dialogue and description. Not to mention, I know you want to catch a readers attention right away, but there’s a line, isn’t there, about setting and not overdoing the action. I’ll check out those books you recommended, though. I really liked the one by Les Edgren, but I haven’t read the others.

  71. #83 by Christine Hendershot on April 18, 2014 - 10:33 am

    I just found you yesterday. I feel like I’ve struck gold! Love this blog! The information is relevant and straight forward. I appreciate that because I have read many articles on writing and many of them leave me thinking…What???

  72. #84 by JadeCrystal on April 18, 2014 - 10:52 am

    Reblogged this on Edits by Jade and commented:
    Excellent advice. Even for the most experienced writers.

  73. #85 by elainecanham on April 18, 2014 - 11:57 am

    That was very funny, thank you. I’m an editor and writer by day, and creative writing teacher by night, and those tips are just so spot on.

  74. #86 by louckslindsey on April 18, 2014 - 12:41 pm

    This is a wonderful list! I’ve read books where it said something like, “The bad guys are coming! Run!” and I was bored right away because I didn’t care. Another example I’ve seen and have trouble with myself are first lines. I’ve seen/written many first lines that don’t fit the tone of the rest of the story. It drives me crazy! A snarky first line in a serious situation does not work for me, and neither do vague sentences that don’t really say anything. This is why I delete the first sentence and skip to the second in my own writing. ;)

  75. #87 by Hilda on April 18, 2014 - 10:15 pm

    Thanks for the advice! I have a question: What is the best way to describe a character? Can you please give us an example?

    Boy, I wish I found your blog years ago! Thanks again! 😃

  76. #88 by D.G.Kaye on April 18, 2014 - 11:50 pm

    Thanks for this excellent article. I shall reblog it. :)

  77. #89 by Elliott Baker on April 19, 2014 - 7:55 am

    Thank you for the information, the book recommendations, and your experience. The energy conveyed in your prose, however, has caused my eyeballs to fly across the page. Damn eyeballs. Great article. I look forward to more focused vision.
    Sincerely,
    Elliott Baker

  78. #90 by jodenton445 on April 19, 2014 - 8:57 am

    This is advice that comes in handy time and time again. It’s simple and to the point. Your examples are clear. .. but somehow I get distracted and chaos ensues. Thanks for everything you do to help us.

  79. #91 by Kristen Luciani on April 20, 2014 - 6:26 am

    This was such a humorous read because I succumbed to each pitfall. My editor told me that the very first iteration of my first manuscript had over 1000 adverbs in it. I didn’t know any better!! I’ve since learned the error of my ways with that one. And the physiology is a tough nut to crack too. But onward, right? You only get one shot to turn a reader into a fan. Better to spend time perfecting before going out with glaring issues. Thanks, Kristen!

  80. #92 by daveynorthcott on April 20, 2014 - 9:46 am

    Hey great advice, I have to say! I always fall into the over describing and adverb trap on the firsst write but, as you say, it’s a learning curve as the more you write the more naturally ‘natural’-sounding writing seems to come. Good article!
    Davey Northcott
    ‘The Path Through the Eye of Another’

    http://smarturl.it/daveynorthcott

  81. #93 by sbjamestheauthor on April 20, 2014 - 10:39 am

    I have a couple of these boo-boos still left in my draft, but thankfully I don’t have the “too many characters” problem. The way I see it, if you name a character, this person needs to do one or two important things in the story before getting killed off. :-D
    But I do have characters who have the same letter in their first names, like the Kardashians. Gee, now that I look at it this way, I do need to go back and change it, don’t I?

  82. #94 by Peter Nena on April 20, 2014 - 1:54 pm

    Concerning #3, I came across this line in an indie romance novel I was asked to download from Kindle: “His eyes landed on her lips.” I just laughed.

  83. #95 by Kate Sparkes on April 21, 2014 - 5:46 am

    I’ve seen SO many books (or drafts) that start with a main character running through the woods, being chased by something, and it just doesn’t grab me at all. If I don’t know or care about the main character, it doesn’t matter to me whether the monster gets her or she runs right off a cliff. I think this might make me a bad person… ;)

    Speaking of body parts doing things they don’t really do, I’ve also noticed a lot of “his eyes darkened with desire/anger” lately (mostly because I’m trying to develop an appreciation for contemporary romance). Is that a thing that happens? Because I’ve never seen a person’s eye colour change with emotion in real life. They could be shadowed by a frown, but when the author seems to indicate that irises literally get darker, it throws me off. Am I that unobservant? Does it happen IRL, or is it just a convention that writers have picked up?

  84. #96 by somawellbeing on April 21, 2014 - 8:15 am

    Hah! I always re-read and notice how much I love to use words. Usually what was five becomes two; I also have a strong proclivity towards perhaps, somewhat, etc. when they are not needed in the first place. Great succinct post, thanks Kristen.

  85. #97 by Raani York on April 21, 2014 - 8:51 am

    Another post of excellent advice, Kristen. I love your blog.

  86. #98 by burneplasmafire on April 21, 2014 - 10:07 am

    Great advice.

    I’m honestly not sure if I misuse adverbs. Probably I’m all too aware when I’m writing a story, so I have time to frown and say ‘get out of here!’ and let Backspace kick it to the curb. However when I’m doing improvised writing e.g. online roleplaying, it’s easy to get carried away with them and then, oops, no takebacksies.

    I think if there’s something I need advice on it’s how to put together a local writing group, what sort of venue to approach, how to go about recruiting people.

    I think it would be really great to hang out and chat about the craft of writing and, you know, it would encourage me to keep making progress so that I have a little nugget of interest each week.

  87. #99 by angelaackerman1 on April 22, 2014 - 11:37 am

    Thanks so much for the shout out, Kristen. :) Nice thing to come home to…so glad you still have love for this book and it continues to help out with brainstorming when needed :)

  88. #100 by shellilittleton on April 22, 2014 - 12:19 pm

    This is great, Kristen. Thank you!

  89. #101 by shad0wrav3n2014 on April 22, 2014 - 2:45 pm

    Reblogged excellent advice

  90. #102 by shad0wrav3n2014 on April 22, 2014 - 2:46 pm

    Reblogged this on remnantscc and commented:
    Excellent advice for avoiding newb pit falls in writing.

  91. #103 by kristies223 on April 22, 2014 - 10:06 pm

    Reblogged this on Kristie Higgins.

  92. #104 by Jay on April 23, 2014 - 3:20 pm

    I enjoy the information you shared. It is providing guidance just when I needed it most.

  93. #105 by skipmars on April 23, 2014 - 5:38 pm

    I like your tips. Letting minor characters receive minor attention makes great sense. I also believe if you are going to call yourself a writer, then you should pay attention to grammatical convention as well.

    I’ve been guilty of sloppy writing — and autocorrect is no excuse. If I’m going to pay an editor, I want to make sure that person can concentrate on the work itself, and not get hung up on basic spelling, subject/verb agreement, or even the appropriate use of a word.

  94. #106 by Gilbert on April 23, 2014 - 9:23 pm

    Reblogged this on http://www.writerinaforeignland.blogspot.com and commented:

    I have the tendency to have too many characters at the beginning – like in real life, there’s always a bunch of people. Usually I have to cut them down/combine them to get to an acceptable number.

    I’m glad too about the other red flags, most of them source in the “Show, don’t tell”-paradigm. But as usual, “these are more guidelines than rules”.

    Thanks for this awesome post

  95. #107 by Aften on April 24, 2014 - 12:22 am

    Been working on revisions… I laughed, I cried, I then had to go locate all the body parts I had strewn across classrooms and thrown at fellow students… Also, Sometimes I’m confused with character development- *tell us in action, in dialogue, in tattoos? Just don’t actually TELL us, we want to SEE it. I want to show you, I do… Let me tell you all about how much I want to show you– where are you going?
    Sometimes I want to kick the moron who wrote the crap I’m revising- oh wait….

  96. #108 by lauraeflores on April 24, 2014 - 10:00 am

    I’m smiling and laughing, I know I have to tackle those issues later on, but for now… For the sake of finishing the first draft of my book, I’ve let all those red flags slide. I also have to check out the blog post on medias res, might have a serious problem with that.

  97. #109 by emmapalova on April 24, 2014 - 3:27 pm

    This is good to know and be reminded of as often as possible because as human beings we have a tendency to forget.
    emmapalova.com

  98. #110 by sharonholly on April 24, 2014 - 5:58 pm

    Red Flag #3 made me laugh out loud. I hope I didn’t send any body parts flying, but I’m gonna have to check.

    Also, did this remind anyone else of a certain episode of Angel? :D

    No?? Just me then.

  99. #111 by Melissa K. on April 26, 2014 - 11:22 am

    Thank you for the recommendation of The Emotion Thesaurus. I need this book! I’m using Self-Editing for Fiction Writers right now and it’s really helping in my revision, but I am noticing a lot of repeated words in my writing. My characters nod, sigh, and look way too much. Can’t wait to check out The Emotion Thesaurus and jazz things up a bit!

  100. #112 by thegateopens on April 26, 2014 - 1:30 pm

    And I thought it was just me! I never realized until my first beta reader pointed it out that I tend to write extensively with body parts that not only fly around the room but also emote excessively. Now I’m editing for all those evil adverbs. Sigh. “It never ends,” she cried painfully, heart hammering, throat choking with sobs.

  101. #113 by Marti Melville on April 27, 2014 - 4:40 am

    Thank you for the excellent points made in your article. I’m a huge fan of Save the Cat and after reading that you also endorse that book, it motivates me to reevaluate my own writing again using your suggestions. I’ve forwarded this article to many of my favorite writers and sites as a result.

    Again thanks!

  102. #114 by Marti Melville on April 27, 2014 - 4:42 am

    Reblogged this on Musings of a Writer and commented:
    Excellent tips for writers!

  103. #115 by Gerri on April 28, 2014 - 1:46 pm

    Kristen, I love your blog. I’m going to follow you and learn a lot! I not only blogged about your site, I linked back to it, and I bought your book: Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World. I realized how badly I needed it, you have 35,0000 plus followers, I have 86!

  104. #116 by melaniedawnn on May 1, 2014 - 3:24 pm

    Reblogged this on Musings by Melanie Dawnn.

  105. #117 by Sue Kesler on May 5, 2014 - 2:06 pm

    Back story or no back story, tell all first chapter, nice to see a balanced point of view

  106. #118 by agrrosewood on June 2, 2014 - 10:02 am

    This is all so true – especially the part about the evil adverbs. I’ve heard other writers claim that adverbs should never be used, but sometimes you can’t do without – unless the extra information is not necessary.

  107. #119 by emmawicker on July 5, 2014 - 9:53 pm

    Helpful AND hilarious. Thank you, I am sure I will return to this particular blog post time and again.

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