How to Write a Novel (10 Mistakes to Avoid)

By Steph Fraser | Posted on May 26th, 2019

Learning how to write a novel is not for the faint of heart. It is a rigorous journey full of pitfalls and learning experiences. At the same time, writing a novel is always exciting. Creating your own world and telling its story is always both fun and rewarding.

It’s true that many liberties can be taken when writing fiction – it is made up after all! That being said, there are still some common mistakes you should avoid when figuring out how to write a novel.  

Rules are often bent and broken, and no one minds because it’s fiction. But, that doesn’t mean you should abandon good writing and proper storytelling altogether.

There are a lot of ways to screw it up. But, here I have listed ten of the biggest mistakes you should avoid when writing your novel.

Common Mistakes to Avoid 
1. Lack of ConflictEvery story needs conflict - no exceptions.
Create good conflict, and you're well on your way to a good novel.
2. Writing Unrealistic CharactersCharacters need to be believable and relatable.
The success of your novel depends on this.
3. ClichesCliches are easy, which is why they are so overused.
Be creative and find a better way to say it.
4. Editing as You go One of the most common mistakes.
Turn your editor off until that first draft is done.
5. Bland DescriptionsYour descriptions need to find a balance between detailed and boring.
6. Fluffy DialogueDon't put words in your characters mouths just to add length.
This clutters the story and slows it down.
7. Too Much HappyExcessive amounts of joy and happiness will not be believable.
Tone it down.
8. Confusing Point of ViewSwitching from one POV to another can get confusing fast.
Make sure you're being clear.
9. Not Knowing the PlotThis may sound silly, but some writers struggle.
Take the necessary time to plan, and know the general structure of your plot.
10. Lack of Passion If you don't love your story, your readers won't either.

Lack of Conflict

This is one of the most important mistakes to avoid when writing a novel. A story is not a story without conflict. No matter how different and out of the box you want to be, conflict simply cannot be avoided.

A central conflict is what drives the entire plot and moves the story forward. Something needs to disrupt the life if your protagonist. It can be a physical circumstance or an internal redirection, but it has to be something life-changing.

Conflict gives the story purpose. It gives your characters something to work towards. Without actions and appropriate reactions, the story will become boring almost immediately.

Between the story’s main conflict and the smaller conflicts along the way, always be focusing on conflict.

Writing Unrealistic Characters

Much like conflict, a story is nothing without its characters. All characters, both big, small, main, and secondary need to be believable and real. Many writers become lazy with their characters and don’t flesh them out enough.

Not every single character that shows up in the story needs a full history and comprehensive backstory, but the main ones do. If a character is not well thought out and deep enough, they will become boring and unlikable.

Familiarizing yourself with different types of characters will help you create ones that are effective:

  1. Round characters
  2. Flat characters
  3. Dynamic characters
  4. Static characters

Knowing these four types and how they are used will help you immensely in learning how to write a novel.

The best books, regardless of genre, are the ones that draw tears, laughter, or both from the readers. You want your readers to be so invested in your characters that they feel real emotions when things happen to them.

Perfect characters will never be likable because they are not relatable. Even characters who are good people with good hearts and motives need to have flaws.

If you are trying to write an unlikable character with more flaws than anything else, they still need to be relatable.

Why are they the way they are? What happened to make them so jaded and cruel? Will they change by the end of the story, or not?

These questions need to be answered before your character will be believed by your readers.

There are many mistakes to avoid when writing a novel, but creating weak and unbelievable characters is among the most detrimental.

Cliches

In a world chock-full of novels, readers want something original. Nothing will have someone closing a book for good faster than the use of multiple cliches.

Cliches are ultimately the result of laziness. A writer will insert a cliche that makes sense because they don’t want to spend the time thinking of a new way to say it.

Cliches include phrases such as:

  1. A bun in the oven.
  2. A diamond in the rough.
  3. When all is said and done.
  4. When it rains, it pours.
  5. Through thick and thin.

These are just a handful of examples, there are many more. If you hear and/or read a certain phrase a lot, don’t use it.

You might find yourself inserting them into your first draft as pausing to think of something more creative takes time and can interrupt your flow. This is okay, just be sure you spend the time removing and replacing them later.

Editing as you go

This mistake is one of the most common among writers. It is also one of the most detrimental to the writing process. Everyone has a different level of perfectionism inside them, but all writers are afflicted in some capacity.

Regardless of how big or small it is, it needs to be thrown out the window when writing that first draft. When in this early stage of a novel, getting words onto the page is the most important thing.

Separate your writing and your editing. Make them two different processes and do them independently of each other. If you are constantly going back and changing small details, you will never move forward.

If you are always second-guessing yourself and everything you put into the story, you will grow exhausted and the creativity will dry up.

Don’t edit a single thing until the first draft is finished – end of story. Even then, you may find it helps to recruit the help of a good book writing software to do some of the dirty work for you.

You may consider something like Grammarly or Hemingway to get you started. For more information, you can check out our Grammarly review and Hemingway app review. These guides will give you an idea of what the programs do.

Bland Descriptions

Descriptions require writers to perform a bit of a balancing act.

  • Too much description can overwhelm the readers and kill a scene.
  • No description will leave readers feeling lost.
  • Bland descriptions will leave readers bored and uninterested.

To achieve the perfect description is to transport your readers into your world. It gives life to your story and paints the right image in your readers’ minds.  

Some tips for creating good descriptions:

  • Start the descriptions early, and build on them as you go. Don’t describe a place your characters haven’t been to yet.
  • Be specific but selective. Be detailed when showing your readers what they need to know, but only include details that are necessary and relevant.
  • Include all senses in your descriptions. Sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste – if applicable.

Fluffy Dialogue

Dialogue can skyrocket your story to success, or sink it to the bottom. The difference between these two can be a matter of a few words.

Especially when writing a first draft, you will want to beef up that word count. You want to make it long and robust enough so you can move onto the next stage.

But, the reality is that unnecessary pieces of dialogue only serve to add quantity, and never quality. The good news is that tightening up fluffy dialogue is usually an easy process.

The first step is to make sure each character has a distinct voice. This will come with proper character development, which should be done before you dive into the main writing.

Next, you want to identify and eliminate words that are not needed or are redundant. For example:

how to write a novel

This exchange is clear and gets the message across appropriately, but there are some parts that aren’t needed. Here is how this exchange looks once tightened and compressed:

how to write a novel

The message doesn’t change, but the same information is gleaned from fewer words. This reads easier and allows the story to keep moving at a better pace.

Too Much Happy

A lot of first-time writers make the mistake of giving their characters lives that are excessively happy in the beginning. They create gleeful, contented people that are happily living in their perfect little world.

They think that this will cause the readers to care and sympathize more when bad things finally happen.

It may seem logical, but this doesn’t tend to work. Readers are more interested in trouble, change, and drama.

This is why conflict is so significant. This is why any good story structure will include some form of the “inciting incident” early on in the story. Be wary of too much happy, especially in your first few chapters.

Confusing Point of View

While the point of view is flexible, it needs to be handled correctly. Far too often writers gloss over this detail and they write wherever their brain takes them. This is okay for a first draft but needs to be rectified in the editing process.

Not every novel will have this problem as some are written exclusively from one point of view. This could be a form of the third person or the first person from the same character’s perspective throughout.

Many novels, however, change perspective at times and this can easily become confusing. Going from the thoughts and feelings of one character directly into that of another is too difficult for a reader to follow. It may make sense to you as the author, but that’s because you created the scenario.

There is an easy way to make sure point of view is not mishandled or misconstrued for the reader, and that’s to follow one simple rule: Only one point of view per chapter.

Not Knowing the Plot

It may seem like a no-brainer that you need to know the plot of your story. Sadly though, this doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for some writers.

There are times where a writer reaches the end of a manuscript, but never really knew their plot well enough and the story feels incomplete.

Whether you are a fan of outline creation or not, some level of planning is essential to the writing of a novel. If nothing else, you need to know where the story is going. You need to have decided on the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Nothing has to be set in stone, but it does need to be premeditated. Things can change as your story grows and evolves, but you need a clear direction before you get started.

If you are someone who likes to make more detailed outlines, you might consider utilizing some book writing software to help you create the best outline possible.

Squibler is a modern and professional book writing software that is designed to help authors write their books in both a timely and effective manner. Their drag and drop system for chapters and scenes makes creating the manuscript an absolute breeze.

If you’re not sure where to begin, consider using a novel-writing template. These templates are designed to walk you through the writing of your novel without inhibiting your creative freedoms:

General fiction template

Before you even start writing though, their capacity to help you outline is effective too. Notes and research can be easily stored and tagged for quick reference.

how to write a novel

Squibler aspires to help you write your book in 30 days. It may seem like an impossible feat. But, with their streamlined organization and your hard work and commitment, it can be done.

Lack of Passion

Lastly, too many writers are out there trying to write a story they have fallen out of love with. It’s true that the road to a finished novel is not lined entirely with smiles and rainbows. But, there’s a difference between a few struggles and a complete lack of passion for your novel.

It happens. You spend weeks and months on end dealing with the same characters and the same plot. Perhaps you’ve dealt with more writer’s block than you’d like to admit, and you’re growing weary.

You start to resent the characters and you don’t want to follow them around anymore. Maybe you’ve outlined and re-outlined so much that you’re bored of your own plot.

None of this means you have to give up on the idea and start fresh. There are ways to combat this growing bitterness, but you need to be aware of it and catch it on time.

Start by taking a step back. Then, revisit your characters. Not what they are doing in the story, but the characters themselves.

Maybe you’ve already fleshed out their entire backstory. Fine, go deeper. Go back to the crucial stages of their life. The year they were 16. Their prom night. Their first boyfriend, whatever it may be.

Ask yourself some questions:

  1. What are they longing for?
  2. Do they have big dreams?
  3. What are they afraid of?
  4. What is their biggest pet peeve?
  5. Who do they hate the most?
  6. Or anything else you don’t already know about them, big or small.

Do this for your protagonist and antagonist. Then, start on the secondary characters. It won’t be long before you feel a renewed desire to tell their story.

Be Careful About These Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Novel

There are many mistakes to avoid when writing a novel, and all deserve your attention. These here though, are some of the most common. From conflict to characters, to strong dialogue, there are many elements of a good story. It’s okay to make mistakes – that’s what editing is for!

Study these common mistakes though, and do your best to avoid as many as possible as you learn how to write a novel. This will get you to the finish line faster.

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