By Megan Close Zavala, Literary Agent
This is a continuation in a series of columns about mistakes that even the greatest writers make. If you’d like to check out that the earlier posts, please click here:
#10: They Hide Their Voice
You will never be Ernest Hemingway, J.K. Rowling, Anthony Doerr, Maya Angelou, Stephen King or Patricia Highsmith (and neither will I, unfortunately!). Their gifts are and were unique and all their own. You will, however, be YOU. And that can be an even better thing. You’re not just telling a story, you are illustrating your mastery of the craft. It is not just the information that you are presenting, it is HOW you are presenting it. If you have been writing for long enough, even if you are influenced by other authors (who isn’t?), you will have likely developed a style all your own. Don’t be afraid to show it! Also, please make sure that your voice shines through your query letter as well. Don’t drown us in metaphors and flowery prose, but a basic form letter will not entice us to request your manuscript from you.
#11: They Lose the Momentum
It doesn’t matter what type of book you are writing – fiction or nonfiction – when it comes to keeping a reader’s attention. Most people don’t even read past the third chapter in a book. You want to make sure that you are keeping them reading until that very last page. You may ask yourself why – they have purchased your book, after all. What other purpose can they serve? They can recommend it to their friends and family (who will then, in turn buy their own copies), and they can become interested in what else you have to offer. They will buy your next books (or your previous ones), they will want to attend your lectures, buy your products, etc.
So how do you keep them interested? Do not try to do too many things at once. Creating a new world and interesting characters is intoxicating, and it can be tempting to do as much as you possibly can in the pages that you are given. However, things can get very muddled.
For instance, if you have a zillion characters, it will be hard for a reader to form at attachment to any one in particular, which in turn will lessen their desire to follow them on whatever journey they might be on. If you are trying to do a romance-suspense-fantasy-self help-biblical tale, that might be too much for a reader to wrap their head around.
Aside from the confusion, the most common thing that happens is the writing just peters out toward the end. Frankly, the author seems exhausted from having to try and twist out every single different character, plot choice, or chunk of information they can come up with. Stick with your areas of strength and nurture them through the end of your book.
#12: They Forget to Show Instead of Tell
This is another common occurrence. You may have a clear image of your content in your mind, but that does not mean that your readers do as well. You need to paint that picture for them. You need to make them see what you see, so they can experience your story as you are intending them to. You don’t need to describe everything (sometimes a leaf can just be a leaf), but you need to make your world come alive for whomever you are sharing it with.
Also, you want to make sure that your characters are dynamic. If they can act instead of react, let them. Show us that they are angry, don’t tell us that they are. Let us discover that they are brave or psychotic or shy. If you are writing a self-help book, use success stories to illustrate how your methods work. If you are writing a book on the battle at Gettysburg, don’t just tell your readers that there were 51,000 casualties; help them see and feel the scale of the loss.