The Most Common Errors Writers Make

October 18, 2011

The morning speaker at the October 8th Orange County Chapter of RWA was Mary-Theresa Hussey, executive editor at Harlequin. She gave lots of great advice, talked about exciting industry trends and shared some of the exciting things that Harlequin is doing right now. I took pages of notes.

As many of you know, I’m working on rewrites of my first complete manuscript, so during the question and answer session when one of the audience members asked Mary-Theresa, “What are the most common errors writers make?” I wrote them down and as I read through my manuscript, I’m looking for these things:

  1. Pace in the opening chapter—make sure your story doesn’t start out too slowly. I’m thinking of chapters I’ve read that start out with lots of description or back story.
  2. Start with a dynamic line and end with a dynamic line every scene, every chapter.
  3. Challenge your characters.

I gave these notes to my husband, Paul, who as I’ve said reads every word I write and a couple of friends who are reading for me as well. Since Paul sits next to me in bed reading while I write, I get instant feedback. I think the pace of the first chapter is good. I mean there are no chase scenes that end in a fiery crash, but the hero and heroine meet in the first few lines, and there is conflict in the first few pages. There is a passionate and not entirely appropriate kiss…yes, things are happening in chapter one.

After reading chapter one for pace, I started on dynamic starting and ending lines. My hunky hubby (Okay, he’s sitting in bed, no shirt on reading my romance novel. What could be more hunky…and a little distracting?) anyway, he suggested I drop the last line in Chapter One, and he was right. The second to the last line had much more impact. Last line was unnecessary, and although I felt good about the openings and closings of most of my chapters, I did do a little tightening up here and there.

Now I’m looking at the challenges my characters face. As I do my rewrites I can see places that I could challenge them more, make them dig deeper. In doing this I see more of their strengths and also more of their flaws. I feel like they are becoming more real, stronger and more relatable. Obviously, for the story to have conflict characters have challenges, but I’m looking harder. We all have challenges every day (Writing novels is definitely a challenge.) How we deal with them makes us who we are and will make our characters who they are as well.

I have to get back to work on my rewrites, still keeping all of Mary-Theresa Hussey’s advice in mind. I’m definitely looking at my work with a new eye for these details. How is the pace in your first chapter? Do your first and last lines have impact in every scene? Every chapter? What are your POV characters challenges?


One Response to “The Most Common Errors Writers Make”

  1. Wonderful questions! I am still in first-draft land but I’ll revisit these when I begin draft two. I think of the lines that end chapters as landings, sort of like gymnastics. They have to stick. But sometimes, especially in the first draft realm, my first sentence is whatever gets the story moving and will need to be edited later.

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