A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.
43. Mistakes to avoid in manuscripts
My three answers to this prompt are based on personal experience with what I’ve seen people do when submitting excerpts to be critiqued on Critique Circle. If you’re a writer and you’re reading this, feel free to add suggestions of your own in the comments.
– One major thing I notice is that tons of people (at least when they’re looking for critiques) pass along pieces of their work that are drowning in spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors. This is a huge turnoff for anyone who is reading the piece, whether it be for critique, editing, or publishing purposes. I know that no one is perfect, definitely not myself, and that mistakes will be made, but when you’re reading a piece and you find ten spelling errors in the first half a dozen sentences, you begin to wonder if the piece was submitted to you by a five-year-old. Additionally, I’m sorry, but if you don’t have a half-decent grasp on grammar and punctuation, you might have to reconsider your field. Again, I know no one is perfect – I myself often feel that I’m putting in way too many commas while also feeling that every single one is justified – but if the person reading your piece is finding at least one mistake in every single sentence, you are absolutely not going to be taken seriously.
– Word abuse is a complaint I’ve come across many times, and I can definitely understand why. Have you ever read a book in which the author seemed obsessed with a few particular words or phrases and used them constantly to the point that it was both noticeable and annoying? I definitely have. It’s not something that any writer does on purpose (at least I don’t believe so), but sometimes there is just a word you enjoy and so it weasels its way into your work over and over again. I myself have a tendency to overuse the word “incredulous”. I don’t know why, but it seems to come up constantly and makes editing a nightmare as I struggle for different words to use to break up the bad habit.
– The dreaded Mary-Sue Effect, or more recently known as the Bella Swan Conundrum. If you’ve never heard of a Mary Sue, it’s a name given to characters who are unnaturally perfect, with no discernible flaws to speak of. These characters are written to be the ideal person, loved by everyone, someone who never makes mistakes and is naturally perfect at everything that matters. These types of characters have existed for a long time, but one of the new pop-culture-reference examples is Bella Swan from the Twilight Saga. Bella is not special in any way, other than for the fact that the psychic vampire Edward Cullen cannot read her mind. And yet, despite her decidedly common nature, she is portrayed as (to put it bluntly) the Center of the Universe. All the male characters love her, except for the ones who think her important enough to want to kill. She is constantly surrounded by danger, drama, and conflict, and she always comes out of it completely unscathed. She succeeds in everything she tries. This is not how a main character should be. Some readers love this kind of character because they like to imagine that they are that character…this is called wish fulfillment, and while it can serve it’s purpose, it is not good literature. Good characters should have flaws. They should make stupid mistakes and suffer for them. They should have to struggle for their successes, and they should have to deal with all the same issues that life throws at all of us. If you want to make a good character, make them real, not ideal.