Friday, April 3, 2020

Writing: Fiction Mistakes and How to Fix Them

I initially wrote a blog for this week entitled “Life and Writing in the Time of Coronavirus.” My husband suggested it. However, when I gave him my article to read, he felt it was too negative. Since we are living in the epicenter of the virus across the GWB from Manhattan, this may be true. I don’t want to depress my fellow writers. So instead my new blog is about fixing fiction mistakes.


Those of us who write fiction are always looking for ways to improve the quality of our work. I ran across an interesting piece I’ll share with you. According to an article written by James Scott Bell that appeared in a WRITER’S DIGEST newsletter, there are five main fiction writing mistakes that should be avoided. They are as follows:

1.    Presenting perfectly happy, nice characters in the beginning scenes. It’s Bell’s contention that the reader should be engaged from the first in the plot via trouble, threat, change or challenge to the key character(s). In other words, a strong narrative hook is needed to grip the reader.

2.    “The best novels, the ones that stay with you all the way to the end—and beyond—have the threat of death hanging over every scene.” This goes for romance as well as mystery and suspense. This does not mean necessarily physical death. It can be of a vocational or psychological nature.

3.    Avoid what Bell refers to as Marshmallow dialogue”. By this he means dialogue that is too gushy or sweet.  Good dialogue is compressed and crisp. Each character has a different and distinctive way of speaking. Also, all dialogue needs to have tension and complexity.

4.    Avoid the dull and predictable. Place something unexpected in each scene keeping the reader turning those pages wanting to know what will happen next.

5.    Dig deep into your characters. Create detailed backstories for them.

My own suggestion is to know more about the characters than you will intend to use in the book itself. I like to create a “character bible” which means writing down all the details about key characters, physical and mental.


I found Bell’s advice particularly useful for mystery and thriller fiction as well as romantic suspense. What is your opinion?

24 comments:

  1. Good advice, Jacquie. I especially like the phrase "marshmallow dialogue."

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    1. Hi Susan,

      I thought it was worth sharing. Thanks!

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  2. First, I hope you and your family come through this difficult period safely. I agree it's hard to know what to write about at times like this. I'm glad you chose to talk about Bell's advice. It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite authors, John Irving. He said he starts with a main character whose situation is impossibly difficult, and then he makes it even worse.

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    1. Saralyn,

      I love Irving's comment. One of the great authors.

      Delete
  3. This IS great advice!
    Thanks for sharing
    PamT

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  4. It’s always good too refresh my mind with good advice, thanks.

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  5. So true. I have a hard time starting out with problems, thinking I should introduce my likable characters first. But likable people get in trouble, too. Great reminders!

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    1. Kathy,

      I think it's important that the main characters be likable as well.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. In your blog you use the passive voice rather than the active for some reason. The reverse is preferred.

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    1. Of course with fiction active voice is preferred.

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  8. A man in a long-ago critique group in Dallas pretended to gag each time I read. He hated my heroine. Finally, I sucked it up and asked him why. "She is so saccharine," he said. "What do you mean?" "She's too perfect. Too sweet. I hate her. She needs foibles."
    Eureka! Flaws? She was patterned after me. I knew flaws. I reeked with foibles. THE RIBBON MURDERS sold to a bigger, better publisher its third time out. It was followed by two sequels with the same characters. My heroine became much less perfect but far more charming.

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    1. Sharon,

      Realistic characters do have flaws and those flaws cause their problems in part which they need to overcome--just like us. Thanks for taking the time to make such a worthwhile comment.

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  9. Great advice, Jacquie. Please stay safe and sane and keep writing!

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    1. Thank you, Jan. I'm feeling a lot of anxiety these days just like everyone. Writing and connecting helps.

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  10. Great post, Jacquie!
    We all do our best to avoid mistakes in our books but no book is perfect. I've found errors - without even looking for them - in every book I've ever read, even those by BIG NAME authors. Which is why it's crucial to have others read our work - before it's published. That won't guarantee no errors but it will definitely minimize them.
    Stay safe and keep writing!

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    1. Hi Pat,

      So nice to hear from you! I agree about errors. We don't always see them digitally. I do better with print ARCs. Small publishers tend to be stingy with these unfortunately.

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  11. I like this advice. Thank you for posting it. Also, I for one would like to read your post about writing in the time of coronavirus. You have an excellent blog and website.

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