Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make (Part III)

#6: Messing up characters’ names. Speaking from experience, it’s very hard to come up with new names for all my characters, but I have a process. Usually I save the crappy names that nobody should ever have to deal with for the minor characters who only get mentioned in passing. Morris the bartender, for example. Or Agnes the governess. Hm, Agnes the Governess. Good band name. Anyway, the point is that naming a character is a tough and meaningful process, so when an author actually makes the mistake of swapping two characters’ names, or misspelling a name, or using a name that is close but still not the right one (i.e. Claudette instead of Claudine. See Sookie Stackhouse series), it is a large faux pas. Yes, it’s tricky to catch, because your brain almost always automatically fills in the right name because that’s what it expects to see, but when you’ve got “Warren” written instead of “William,” then you’ve got a problem. That’s the risk of using two names that start with the same letter of course. Still, it’s a big issue for me when I see mistakes like this made, because the author, his or her pre-publishing readers, and the various editing staff members all missed that one glaring discrepancy.

#5: Repetition of words or phrases. Anyone who’s read the Twilight series knows that, among a myriad of other mistakes, Stephanie Meyer loved to repeat words. “Chagrin” was among her favorites. As a writer, it’s actually hard to notice when you’ve actually used one word more than you actually should have. There are a lot of reasons for that. One is that there is often a lot of time passing between writing sessions, so you might forget that you actually already used that word a million times because it’s not fresh in your mind. Another reason is that you might not even be aware you’re actually using a word at all, because writers don’t often sit there and actually think about each word they’re actually writing. They lay down entire paragraphs at a time just to get thoughts on paper. Whatever the reason for this mistake, there are actually ways to prevent it from making it into print. The first is self editing. Go back and reread your work. If you notice a word that you think you might actually have used way to much, use a technique I developed – in Microsoft Word (or similar program) go to Edit and Replace. Put in the word you think you’ve overused and then tell the computer to replace it with something ridiculous. I usually just hit the keyboard. Word will then tell you that it replaced the word ### amount of times, and you have an exact count to base your assessment on. Wasn’t that fun? Now to undo it, all you have to do is hit Ctrl + Z or Edit, Undo. Hint: If the number you get is above 50, consider editing some of them out. Also, in case you’re actually wondering, I managed to use the word, “actually” ten times in that paragraph. Ten times in one paragraph is way too much. Just letting you know.

Tune in next time for more ridiculous errors!

Word of the Day: Dithyrambic (adj) – Wildly enthusiastic.



Filed under books, writing

3 responses to “Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make (Part III)

  1. I once edited a book of thinly-veiled stories from the author’s life. At one point, she forgot to swap her real name for her character’s name. That was a real forehead-slapping moment. (And not a great book, as I remember.) These are great tips! I hope writers take them to heart.

  2. I had a run in with number six. I changed the name of my main character and my brain didn’t catch all of the old names. It can be tough. I tend to overuse the word “that” too much. It helps when you can identify which words you overuse. I like the Edit and Replace tip. Thanks. Loving this series so far.

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