7 Common Writing Wrongs

As an editor, I deal with these things daily and I expect to – after all, they give me a reason to do my job. As an agent, I still see these issues. Sadly, they often give me a reason to decline.

So before you send your work off, give it one last look and keep an eye out for any of these. The cleaner your writing is, the better the chance to have your story read and enjoyed.

  1. Clichés. Be original. Your readers want to hear what you have to say in your own words. Using tired and old clichés will make your writing seem tired and old. Think of a fresh way to say it. Here is a great, comprehensive list of clichés to avoid from suspense.net.
  2. Intensifiers. Instead of saying “My coffee was incredibly old,” try “My coffee tasted like burnt tar.” Instead of saying “I really need a coffee,” try “The dull ache behind my eyes told me it was past time for my coffee.” Here is a list of 10 intensifiers you should avoid from Daily Writing Tips.
  3. Ellipses (…). I am a recovering ellipses addict myself. These are only used to show that there is text missing from a quote, or sometimes during dialogue to show the tone falling off at the end of a statement. If you have used these for any other reason, chances are you should use a comma, period, dash, or some other common punctuation mark. The overuse of ellipses makes for bumpy reading. Best to use them as infrequently as possible. One more thing about ellipses – they are three dots. Not four. Not two. Not five or just holding down your period button on rapid-fire until you think you have enough. Three. If you’re going to use them, please use them properly. An ellipsis with more than three dots looks like a spelling mistake to me, and I am sure I’m not alone on that one.
  4. Exclamation marks. Never use these within your narrative text. There could be an exception, maybe one in a 300+ page novel, but likely not. Make the emphasis with your words, not with the exclamation point. When a character is shouting within their dialogue, however, the exclamation point is acceptable.
  5. Unnecessary words. You know the ones. ‘That’ and ‘of’ are the most common. If a sentence reads just as well without the word, strike it. The one I see the most is ‘of’ used after ‘off.’ Example: “I picked my coffee cup off of the counter.” That ‘of’ is not necessary.
  6. Repetitive writing. If you have described someone raging through a space, throwing things around, hollering profanities, you don’t need to add the line “He was angry.” I often find that sort of telling thing right before the description. Why tell when you have already, or are about to show?
  7. Redundancy. A close cousin to repetitive writing is to use two words that imply the same thing. Free gifts, closed fists, brief moment. Gifts are not gifts if they aren’t free, fists can only be fists if they are closed, and a moment is always brief. No need to say it twice. Here is a great list of 200 Common Redundancies from about.com.

Did you find these tips helpful? Please share with a friend. Also, check out my previous post with 5 helpful manuscript polishing tips to help you get your manuscript as perfect as possible before sending it out.


19 comments on “7 Common Writing Wrongs

  1. Dean Sault says:

    I have been writing professionally for nearly twenty years, and I still make some of the mistakes you mentioned. Thank God for the “Find” button in my MS Word program. It only takes a few minutes to find every “very” in my document and delete the unnecessary ones. I actually keep a top-10 list of my most commonly abused words. I don’t worry about them during writing, but I never consider a manuscript complete until that final word scrubbing. Great advice, Michelle.

    • I use the “find” button frequently, and I keep a list for each of my clients as well as one for myself. Searching “that” is also helpful and allows you to measure the importance of each one. Thanks for commenting, Dean 🙂

  2. I’m a proud exclamation point user!!

  3. Jane says:

    I used to abuse elipses, then moved onto semi-colon addiction in compound sentences (without verbs). I’m so glad someone pointed that out to me. Thanks for the other tips and website links. 🙂 Jane

  4. Amy Lou says:

    Whoop, I think I’m guilty of a lot of these. Interesting read!

  5. diana hall says:

    excellent info

  6. Great advice, Michelle! I think I may be guilty of some of these myself. I will definitely keep them in mind and have bookmarked the sites for reference later during my editing phases. Thanks for sharing them. 🙂

  7. […] Johnson lists 7 common writing wrongs, while Lisa Cron explains the biggest mistake writers make and how to avoid […]

  8. Thank you Michelle. Great advice. I’ll admit to the ellipses a bit. But since I live life as an exclamation, I have to be careful with that one. Thanks again. Rock ‘n’ Roll!!!

  9. The links were great, too. Thank you for those. There’s another writing cliche that I find commonly – pursed lips. I just read the first chapter of a book where the author used it 3 times. Yikes. (Note – I avoided my tendency to add ! after Yikes – Thanks). Although, since it’s my signature, I must stick with Rock ‘n’ Roll!!! Peace

  10. I have a review ready for The Footloose Killer! Please email me at katepolicani@gmail.com so I can run it by you before I post. (I picked up your book during a group promo on IWU Facebook.)

  11. Excellent advice. I’m bookmarking this. 🙂

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