Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix)

Everywhere in the SF Chronicle (Page 1)
Image by Telstar Logistics via Flickr

Pat Holt, book editor and critic at The San Francisco Chronicle for 16 years (1982-1998), provides a helpful list of 10 common (but easily correctable) mistakes writers often make.  Some examples:

2. FLAT WRITING
“He wanted to know but couldn’t understand what she had to say, so he waited until she was ready to tell him before asking what she meant.”

Something is conveyed in this sentence, but who cares? The writing is so flat, it just dies on the page. You can’t fix it with a few replacement words – you have to give it depth, texture, character . . .

3. EMPTY ADVERBS

Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally – these and others are words that promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. They suck the meaning out of every sentence.

I defer to People Magazine for larding its articles with empty adverbs. A recent issue refers to an “incredibly popular, groundbreakingly racy sitcom.” That’s tough to say even when your lips aren’t moving . . . .

4. PHONY DIALOGUE

Be careful of using dialogue to advance the plot. Readers can tell when characters talk about things they already know, or when the speakers appear to be having a conversation for our benefit. You never want one character to imply or say to the other, “Tell me again, Bruce: What are we doing next?” . . .

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