I first started writing just for me. Back before I'd ever read another novel analytically, trying to see what worked. Back before I'd ever read any of the writing 'how to' tips. Or more importantly, tips on what not to do. In other words, back before I'd ever put any effort into thinking about how to express my ideas in a way which would be interesting for others to read.
I'm not sure why I had so many big writing epiphanies between my first and second novels. Maybe it was because I was so unhappy with my first novel. I could sense there were lots of things wrong with it but didn't have the clarity or experience to identify what was wrong. It was a manuscript I wrote over several years - about six years in fact - and I still wouldn't say it's actually finished.
Anyway, suffice to say that I did change significantly as a writer between my first and second novels, with one of the biggest changes being my level of self-awareness. When I recently opened the old file and read the beginning of my first novel I was amazed at how clearly I could see what I had been doing wrong. Time, and experience, had brought a clarity I simply didn't have at the time. The lessons I learnt writing my first
So, for those still learning the ropes (or not sure where they're positioned on the road to being a self-aware writer!) I'm going to outline as simply as possible the major mistakes I made writing my first novel. And they were big ones! Keep in mind though, that these tips are mostly directed at those writing commercial fiction. And it's also important to remember that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Even if you're just starting out you may already be doing correctly the things I struggled with for my whole first novel.
My newbie mistakes:
- Lots of telling, not much showing. My first manuscript was chock full of narrative and exposition. Long paragraphs of description. I've since learnt to show not tell, at least some of the time, and my work is better for it.
- Constant jumps in point of view. The story was told in third person. I had more than one point of view character (which is certainly permissible) but I changed from one person's point of view to another's and back again mid-scene. And if that's not done very skillfully (mine wasn't) it's just confusing. Make sure you know who your point of view character is, and stay with that person's point of view unless you have a reason for changing. If you change point of view, do so clearly (and not too often). In my writing now, I'll usually stay with one character's point of view for an entire scene. More on point of view here.
- Meandering scenes. My first manuscript was full of fluff. Sections of scenes or whole scenes which didn't pull their weight. They were 'filler material' and if I ever go back and work on this manuscript again, I'll be pruning ruthlessly. A scene should be included for a reason; it needs to give the reader required information, advance the plot, show us something important about the characters....I think you get the idea. If your scene doesn't have a solid purpose, give some serious thought to why you've included it.
That's the theory, anyway. Thoughts, anyone?