Picture this: you’re a writer, sitting at your desk with your fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to churn out the next great novel or screenplay. You’ve got your coffee, your snacks, and your Spotify playlist ready to go. You’re feeling good. You’re feeling confident. But then, disaster strikes. You start making some of the worst mistakes in the book (pun intended) and suddenly, your once-promising story is nothing more than a hot mess.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly have been there. We’ve all made some cringe-worthy mistakes in our writing. But fear not! Sometimes it’s good to make those mistakes in order to create a masterpiece. I always said that ‘Every Master was once a Disaster”
Here are the 7 Deadly Sins of Writing:
#1 – Poor Pacing.
When a story moves too slowly, it can be frustrating for the audience. It’s like being stuck in traffic – you’re not getting anywhere, and you’re left waiting for something to happen. This can be caused by a number of factors, such as excessive descriptions, tangents that don’t add to the plot, or scenes that don’t move the story forward. When it takes too long to get to the point, readers or viewers may lose interest, and that’s never a good thing.
Take “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins. Though it was a best-selling novel, some critics have pointed out that its pacing was less than ideal. The story is told from three different perspectives, which can be confusing for readers. The pacing is slow in the beginning, with lots of character development that doesn’t necessarily advance the plot. While the middle of the book picks up the pace, it slows down again towards the end, leaving readers feeling a bit underwhelmed.
On the flip side, when a story moves too quickly, important details can be missed, and the audience may feel overwhelmed or confused. This can happen when the writer skips over essential events or doesn’t allow enough time for characters to react to changes in the story.
Another is, “The Witcher: Blood Origin” which was criticized for being rushed and confusing.
So, what’s the key to good pacing? It’s finding the sweet spot between slow and fast – keeping the audience engaged without overwhelming them. Good pacing uses a mix of action, dialogue, and description to keep the story moving at a steady pace while also giving important details the attention they deserve. When done well, pacing can maintain tension and keep the audience invested in the story.
#2 – Lack of Conflict.
You know what’s boring? A story where everything goes smoothly and there’s no challenge for the main character to overcome. Without conflict, there’s no tension, no excitement, and no reason for the audience to care about what’s happening.
Take “The Tree of Life” for example. It’s a beautiful film, but without a clear conflict or plot, some viewers might struggle to stay engaged. And then there’s “Fifty Shades of Grey.” While it may have some steamy scenes, it’s criticized for lacking real conflict or tension. The relationship between the two main characters feels repetitive and shallow, leaving readers wanting more.
That’s why conflict is so important in storytelling. It raises the stakes for the characters and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Whether it’s a physical challenge, a battle of wits, or an emotional struggle, conflict is what makes a story truly captivating.
#3 – Poor Character Development.
Character development is a crucial part of storytelling, and it’s what makes characters feel alive and relatable. It’s like giving them a personality transplant, and watching them grow and evolve throughout the story. However, when character development is done poorly, it can leave the audience feeling uninterested and disconnected from the characters.
Poor character development can happen when a character feels one-dimensional or lacks any real growth or change. For instance, characters who are defined solely by one trait, like being the “funny” one, can feel flat and unrealistic.
Similarly, characters who don’t experience any meaningful growth or change, or whose motivations are unclear or inconsistent, can be frustrating and hard to root for.
To avoid poor character development, focus on creating multi-dimensional characters who have realistic motivations and flaws. Make sure your characters grow and change over the course of the story, and that their actions and motivations are clear and consistent.
Examples of poor character development can be found in stories like “Twilight,” where the main character, Bella, is often criticized for being one-dimensional and lacking any real personality or agency. In “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” character development is rushed and underdeveloped, leaving many of the characters feeling flat and disconnected from the audience.
So, if you want to create characters that your audience will love and care about, make sure to invest in their development and give them room to grow and evolve.
After all, nobody wants to read a story about characters who are stuck in the same place from beginning to end!
#4 – Over-Reliance on Exposition.
Are you ready to ditch the heavy-handed exposition and write a story that immerses your readers? Well, listen up, because over-reliance on exposition is a big no-no in the world of storytelling.
This occurs when a writer uses too much exposition to convey information to the audience, instead of allowing the story and characters to reveal information organically.
Examples of over-reliance on exposition include:
- Characters who spill their guts and explain their thoughts or feelings in great detail, rather than letting their actions and interactions with other characters reveal their emotions.
- Narration that spells out a character’s motivations or backstory, rather than letting the audience infer these details through their actions and dialogue, is another example.
- Finally, dialogue that exists solely to provide exposition, rather than furthering the plot or revealing character traits, can be a real snooze-fest.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, where characters explain complex historical or religious concepts in detail instead of allowing the audience to infer these details from the plot and setting.
Similarly, in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” directed by George Lucas, characters often explain political and historical context through long, expository dialogue instead of allowing the audience to infer these details from the setting and plot.
So, what can you do to avoid over-reliance on exposition? Focus on using dialogue, action, and description to reveal information about the story and characters in a natural way. Trust your audience to infer information from context and subtext, rather than spelling everything out in explicit detail. By doing this, you’ll create a story that immerses your readers and allows them to engage with your characters and plot on a deeper level.
#5 – Lack of Stakes.
When a story lacks stakes, it’s like a dish without any spice – it falls flat and is totally unappetizing. Without any stakes, the characters’ choices and actions don’t matter and the audience has no reason to root for or against them.
Here are some examples of stories that suffer from a lack of stakes:
- A story where the main character has nothing to gain or lose, and their actions have no impact on the world around them. This makes the story feel pointless and dull.
- A story where the consequences of a character’s actions are unclear or not significant enough to create tension or conflict. This makes the story feel stagnant and uneventful.
- A story where the outcome is already decided and the characters’ actions have no impact on the ending. This makes the story feel boring and predictable.
For instance, “The Kissing Booth” by Beth Reekles follows a teenage girl who falls in love with her best friend’s older brother. But the story lacks stakes and emotional weight, and the conflicts feel contrived and underwhelming. Characters often escape consequences without any real lasting repercussions, leading to a lack of investment in the story.
Another example is the TV series “Iron Fist“. The plot often feels unfocused and the characters don’t face any real danger or consequences. The fight scenes lack tension and emotional weight, making it hard for the audience to care about what’s going on.
To avoid a lack of stakes, focus on creating meaningful consequences for your characters’ choices and actions. These consequences should be personal to the character and have a significant impact on their goals and relationships. That way, the audience will be invested in the outcome and eager to see how the story unfolds.
#6 – Poor Dialogue.
Poor dialogue is like a party without music – it’s just not fun. Dialogue is the lifeblood of a story, and it’s what keeps readers or viewers engaged and invested in the characters and plot.
Poor dialogue can show up in different ways.
- One example is when characters talk in a way that’s not realistic or feels forced. Nobody talks like a walking thesaurus, right?
- Another way poor dialogue can manifest is when it doesn’t give any insight into the character speaking it. If a character’s words don’t reveal anything about them or their motivations, it can feel like a wasted opportunity.
- Sometimes writers use dialogue that’s too on-the-nose, which means the characters say exactly what they’re thinking or feeling instead of showing it through their actions and tone of voice. And finally, when writers use too much dialogue, it can drag down the pace of the story.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” has been criticized for its on-the-nose dialogue that’s too explicit about the characters’ feelings and desires. “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” also gets called out for its stilted dialogue that feels disconnected from the story’s action.
To avoid poor dialogue, focus on creating dialogue that feels natural and engaging. Use dialogue that reveals character and motivation and moves the plot forward in a meaningful way. And remember, it’s not just about what characters say, but how they say it that counts!
#7 – Lack of Originality.
We’ve all been there – reading or watching a story that just feels like we’ve seen it all before. That’s what we call a lack of originality, and it’s a problem for storytellers who want to capture their audience’s attention and imagination.
Here are a few ways a lack of originality can show up in a story:
- Boring plots: When a story follows a predictable, formulaic plot, it can feel unoriginal and uninspired. We’ve all seen the rom-com where boy meets girl, they fall in love, have a misunderstanding, and then reunite.
- Clichéd characters: If the characters feel like they’re straight out of central casting, with no unique qualities or personalities, it can make the story feel stale. Think of the grizzled detective who drinks too much and has a troubled past.
- Repetitive themes: When a story explores themes or ideas that have been done to death, it can feel unoriginal. For example, “love conquers all” has been explored in countless stories, so if you’re going to use it, you need to bring something new to the table.
This has nothing to do with whether the book or movie was a success. Just look at “The Circle” by Dave Eggers – This novel, which was later adapted into a movie, was criticized for its unoriginal plot that explored the dangers of a technology-driven society. Many reviewers felt that the book failed to bring anything new to the table in terms of its ideas and themes.
Or “The Roommate” directed by Christian E. Christiansen – This thriller film was criticized for its unoriginal plot that followed the “obsessive roommate” trope, which has been explored in many other films.
So how to avoid a lack of originality? Create fresh, unique stories that explore new ideas and themes. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it to capture the hearts and imaginations of your audience.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of this list. I know, it’s not easy to read. I hope that by reading through these common pitfalls, you’ve gained some insight into how to avoid them in your own writing. I know I’ve made some of those mistakes.
Remember, writing is a craft that takes time and practice to master. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself making some of these mistakes. Instead, use them as opportunities to learn and grow as a writer. Happy writing!
Now it’s YOUR turn -Do you have any tips or tricks for avoiding these writing mistakes and improving your craft?
Would love to get your input in the comment box below.