BY: Rachel Kent
I read at least three proposals every week, sometimes more. In many of these proposals, I notice common writing errors, and I’d like to point these out so you can check for them before submitting your work to editors and agents.
One mistake is overwriting. Many authors believe their writing style is what makes their project appeal to readers. This is the case within certain limits. Finding your “voice” and using it effectively is a learned skill. Below are some overwriting examples.
1) The Thesaurus: It’s a really good idea to have a thesaurus on your desk while you’re writing, but don’t overdo it.
“The why/for for a thesaurus is to ameliorate a skald’s word stock rather than to regurgitate the same jargon.” (Or: A thesaurus is to help you come up with new words rather than using the same words over again.)
If your reader has to pull out a dictionary to figure out what you’re talking about, you’re doing it wrong. Unusual or little-known words should be relatively discernible from the context. Plus, while readers want to understand the subject matter and to read beautiful words and phrases, if reading the book is too difficult, they’ll quit. We all want to be challenged, but we need to be built up at the same time. We want to know that we’re smart enough to read the book in our hands, or we’ll find something else that entertains and encourages us. This applies to nonfiction too. Be careful that your writing doesn’t become too technical if you are trying to write to readers who aren’t experts in the subject matter.
2) Dialect: When you use dialect in your fiction or your illustrations in your nonfiction, be careful not to overdo it. People who aren’t familiar with dialect will have a hard time understanding dialogue and the important plot elements that are revealed through the dialogue. Common dialect is okay, like ‘y’all’, as long as the use of these common words isn’t overdone. Many of us use dialect in one way or another. I know that I do; I’m a California-girl all the way. But when you’re writing, be sure that the characters are speaking clearly because there’s no way to interrupt them to ask them to repeat what they said or to explain it to us. Here’s my Cali-girl example, “Like, I went to the beach on, like, um, Saturday with my girlfriends. We totally, like, swam and stuff. It was awesome.” I don’t sound like that (I hope!), but I know I say “like” in just about every sentence. It’s a lot more distracting when it’s written, isn’t it?
3) Making Things Up: Be careful of overwriting by making up words.
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