Common Mistakes New Romance Writers Make: And How to Fix Them!


Copyright Judy Bagshaw - All Rights Reserved

 

 

Part One

 

I originally set out to write an article on ten common mistakes new romance writer's make. It got to be impossibly long. And so I present here, the first five. Watch for part two in the August issue. ~Judy

 

1.NEVER FINISHING WHAT THEY START

 

It seems silly to write something so obvious, but it is amazing the number of new writers in particular, and most writers in general, who "never have enough time", or " got too busy" to write. We (and I say we, because I've been as guilty as anyone else of this) seem to be able to find a million and one excuses for not finishing our writing. We get "writer's block", or "the phone just wouldn't stop ringing", or "I just had to get to that sale". Whatever the excuse, that's exactly what it is...an excuse. Perhaps we're afraid of failing. Perhaps we lack some confidence in our talents.

But the truth of the matter is, if you never take the chance, you won't ever know if you could have succeeded as a writer or not. Get your butt in the chair and finish something to send out for publication. You may be pleasantly surprised.

 

2.TELLING INSTEAD OF SHOWING

 

This was one of the biggest flaws in my early writing, and I still have to guard against it. I've worked so hard to avoid this now, that I cringe when I see it in other people's writing. 

Consider this scene: Jean walked into the room and Ted was surprised. 

So what? It does superficially tell us what's happening, but it doesn't take us there. We don't experience it. As writers, we want to involve the reader. We want the readers to be so swept up into the moment, that they don't want to put down the book.

We accomplish this most simply by engaging the senses. Let them see, hear, feel, taste, and smell the moments. We don't just tell them what's going on, we show them, we take them there, we involve them.

Jean sauntered into the drawing room, stopping just inside the door.

"Hello Ted," she said and shrugged out of her mink letting it fall to the floor revealing the little wisp of designer silk she wore beneath.

"Jean!" Ted sprang to his feet, dropping his snifter of cognac. "How?..when?.."

"Surprised?" Jean purred. She sashayed up to the startled man, and put a hand on his chest. "I'd hoped you would be," and pressed her lips to his. 

We're there now, in the room, watching the man come to grips with the woman's unexpected arrival. We want to know why he's so surprised, and why she seems so satisfied by his response. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice in Wonderland would say. And that's what we as writers want.

 

3.HEAD HOPPING

 

Jean ached to kiss Ted, but resisted. He had hurt her after all.

Ted was overwhelmed by the sight of his estranged love. She looked as gorgeous as ever. Why had he let her go?

"Oh, oh, here's trouble," thought Elsie, Ted's faithful housekeeper, as she entered the room.

Jean scowled at the older woman, remembering all the things the interfering old woman had said about her in town. 

Yikes! I'm getting dizzy!! Jumping from one point of view (pov) to another in rapid succession is a recipe for disaster. Your reader gets confused, and then irritated. 

First off, in a romance novel, if writing using multiple third-person viewpoints (as is most common in romance novels), limit the pov's to the heroine and hero. If confused about who's viewpoint to employ in a story, ask yourself, "who's story is this?" and the answer should give you your viewpoint character(s). 

A good rule of thumb is to use only one viewpoint per scene, although as with any rule, this can be broken, but would require skillful writing to avoid the confusions inherent in head-hopping. 

Always keep in mind that at no time when writing in a particular viewpoint, can you present information that the character hasn't already experienced, seen, or heard.

 

4.OVERUSING ADVERBS

 

Ack! This is another area I've personally struggled with as a writer. And it's an easy pit for a novice writer to fall into. 

"I thought you were in Paris," Ted said shakily.

"Did you now?" Jean said drily.

"Yes. Madge told me..." Ted stopped abruptly.

"Madge told you?" Jean said icily. "Since when have you ever listened to Madge." 

All too often, adverbs are used by writers to explain dialogue...to give the emotion to the speaker, rather than showing that emotion through the character's action and dialogue. It is, essentially, a lazy way to write. And the reader will know that. 

So, the easy solution is to cut virtually all these -ly words out of your manuscript. Go over your scenes again, and rewrite them, conveying the emotions through the character's actions and interactions. Use stronger verbs (more on that in a minute). Have the character do something that shows his nervousness, or her superior attitude. Are his hands shaking? Does she flick ashes from her cigarette onto his shoe? 

On the subject of verbs, be careful when writing dialogue. Although you want to use stronger verbs in general in your writing, the verb to use almost without exception when writing dialogue, is the word "said". It is an invisible word, that while establishing clearly who is speaking, does not detract from the dialogue itself. The reader ignores the "said" and focuses on the dialogue. That's what you want. 

And having said that, when you have only two characters in a scene together, you can dispense with the "saids" once you've established who's talking. 

"I was so worried," Ted said.

"Were you?" said Jean.

"Yes, I was."

"Well, you needn't have been. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."

"But you left in such a hurry..."

"I was bored. I had to get away."

"...and Derek? Was he bored too?"

"Oh, don't be so childish Ted. Derek means nothing to me." 

If I had used a dialogue tag with every speech, that would have been every bit as irritating to the reader as the head-hopping or the overuse of adverbs.

 

5.TRUSTING SPELL-CHECK AND GRAMMAR-CHECK

 

There dog went their too dig a whole two berry his bone. 

Okay, so I exaggerated a bit in the above example, but it's to make a point. The English language is...well, let's face it...it's a damned confusing language when you're learning to spell it. Ask any ESL student! So a danger arises when you try to rely on your computer's spell-check and grammar-check features to edit your manuscript. 

Don't! I'm not saying don't use them at all. But I am saying not to rely on them because it will get you into trouble. 

Far better to invest in a really decent dictionary and thesaurus, or to at least have some online dictionaries to which you can refer. As for grammar rules, you can't beat keeping your Strunk and White's nearby (Strunk and White's Elements of Style). 

If you're going to devote a significant amount of your time writing a great romance novel, then at the very least, take that kind of care with your editing. Your future editor and publisher will thank you.

 

About the Author: Judy Bagshaw has been published since 2000. Writing romance featuring full-figured heroines, her publishing credits include 4 novels, 1 collection of short stories, and short stories in three anthologies. She was also part of the writing team for the Ginn Reading Series, and Reaching Readers Series, used in many elementary schools. Retired from teaching, she writes full-time from her home in Ontario, Canada. Visit Judy's website: www.judybagshaw.com

 

Read Part Two

 

Easy Way to Write Romance - by Rob Parnell