Writing is hard. Writing something that doesn't trigger an instant facepalm is even harder. These 9 mistakes can bring a good fanfic into awkward territory in an instant.
Mistake #1: Writing Stereotypes, Not People
People in real life are a lot more than just one-note tropes, so characters in fiction should be too. When characters fall into cliché types—the perfect mary sue, the innocent virgin, the player bad boy—they read more forced than real.
Mistake #2: Characters Don't Talk Like Real People
"As we both know, my mother, Alice, is a doctor," she said. Sentences like this immediately bring up questions: Why are two characters discussing something that they both already know? Why would someone refer to their own mother by name?
When an author tries to jam exposition into dialogue, it inevitably feels clunky. People in books should talk just like they do in real life—with casual language, logical segues, and the occasional interruption. Characters should also say hello at the beginning of a conversation and goodbye and the end.
Mistake #3: Breaking the Fourth Wall
I know what you're wondering: How did I get here? Well, it's a funny story. If you're already cringing reading this, you're not alone. Talking to your readers or acknowledging that you're telling a story, aka breaking the fourth wall, is a difficult technique that's hard to master and very easy to get wrong. Leave the fourth wall games to Deadpool and stick to standard perspectives unless you're willing to risk a lot of awkwardness.
Mistake #4: Plot-Driven Stories
When characters have no control over their own story, the whole plot feels like a random collection of events. The characters' actions should move the story forward. The plot should happen because of the characters and not just happen to them.
Mistake #5: The Author Stand-In Character
A lot of people will tell you to write what you know, but there's one exception: Don’t write yourself as a character. An author stand-in (aka author surrogate or author avatar) is a character based on the author themselves. Sometimes they're overly idealized, other times they're self-deprecating, but inevitably the author's own thoughts and insecurities creep into the character in ways that distract the reader and take them out of the story.
Mistake #6: Including "Filler" Chapters
So many authors' notes will apologize for filler chapters. "Sorry, I know this is a boring one..." or "This one is just filler." If a chapter is boring to write, it's certainly not going to be fun to read. Don't waste a reader's time with any content that doesn't really have a purpose.
Mistake #7: Skipping the Research
Good writing requires research for all kinds of things: What questions are asked during a job interview? How long does it take to drive from London to Oxford? Do coyotes attack people? These may seem like small details, but when a character walks home from a museum three hours away from her house, people will have questions. Do a quick google search now and avoid mistakes later.
Mistake #8: Writing Outside Your Experience
As a general rule, if you aren't part of a culture or group, don't write about that experience. Writing about experiences that you haven't actually lived is just asking for disaster. You're likely to miss nuance and you'll never be able to tell a more genuine story than a person who has lived it. Instead, use your own unique point of view to tell a story that is true to you.
Mistake #9: Speeding Through Resolution
You've done the work through chapters and chapters of build-up, so don't throw it all away with a rushed resolution. If a conflict is exposed and wrapped up in the course of one paragraph, it feels jarring to the reader. If the reader could find themselves asking "That's it?", it's a pretty good sign you haven't let the issue resolve in a way that feels natural.
What's your writing pet peeve? Share with us below...