I’ve worked with hundreds of writers over the last seven years, in workshops, private coaching and through free challenges and events that I’ve run. And there are a handful of mistakes I see being made over and over again.
These are VERY common mistakes. So common, in fact, that I sometimes wonder if there are people out there actually teaching these mistakes to writers!
But the truth is, ALL writers make these mistakes, especially in the beginning of their storytelling journey. I made these same mistakes with my early stories too.
The problem is, many writers aren’t willing to see these things as mistakes. Sometimes they even tell themselves that it’s OK to NOT follow the principles of storytelling, and then they’ll spout off an example of a story that didn’t completely follow the principles.
But those one-off examples of stories that don’t totally follow the principles of storytelling are just that–one offs. They’re not the norm. They’re just a story that got lucky because somehow it happened to work, even if it did violate some of the principles of story.
It’s like being a one-hit wonder. And no real artist wants to be that.
How do you make sure that you don’t become a one-hit wonder? How do you make sure that you can not only write a great story, but continue to write great stories over and over again?
Simple. You learn craft. You pay attention to the principles of storytelling. And you actually implement this stuff into your stories.
No other way around it. Not if you intend to be commercially successful.
So, what are the 7 biggest mistakes I see writers making with their stories?
Brace yourself, because you’re probably making these same mistakes or have made them in the past…
1. Not Having An Actual Ending/Resolution to Your Story
I see this A LOT with writers who are writing a series. They set up all this stuff in the first story, and then instead of resolving it, they end the book with a cliffhanger that then forces the reader to have to read the next book to get a resolution.
BIG MISTAKE. HUGE.
Doing this will actually STOP readers from reading the second book, because you haven’t given them resolution to what was happening in the first one.
Yeah, I get that it seems logical to not resolve the story and to make the reader have to read the next story. But that’s a wrong way of thinking. Why?
Because a story should be able to stand alone, even if it’s part of a series.
Each book should have it’s own plot and it’s own Antagonist and opposition and goals. And each book should have its own ending and resolution to what was happening in the story.
And then it should also leave a couple loose ends for the next story. But it should close the loop on the core story (aka: main plot) of the book.
Not having an ending or resolution to all that went on in the story is a surefire way to turn your reader off.
2. No Plot
The next mistake I commonly see is not having an actual plot. A plot is a very specific thing. A plot is a Protagonist who wants something, an Antagonist who opposes what the Protagonist wants, and a journey that ensues because of it.
If you don’t have that going on in your story, you don’t have a plot. You have an episodic narrative.
Which brings me to…
3. Writing An Episodic Narrative
I probably should’ve made this number one on the list, because writing an episodic narrative instead of an actual story is by far the most common mistake writers make.
There are several differences between a story and an episodic narrative. Some of which include:
> A story has a true beginning, middle and end
> An episodic narrative doesn’t, because it’s just a documentation of the day-to-day occurances in a character’s life, so technically it could go on forever
> A story has a specific plot (see #2)
> An episodic narrative is just “this happens and then this happens and then this happens…”
> A story has opposition
> An episodic narrative just has conflict, but no true opposition
I could go on. But hopefully you get the point.
An episodic narrative will never get you published or gain you a readership.
People read stories to be transported into someone else’s life, to be part of a vicarious experience where a character has to overcome opposition, defeat it and be the victor at the end. So if you’re not giving that to them, your story won’t work.
4. No Character Arc
In a story, we start out with an ordinary Protagonist with a serious inner demon that’s holding them back from having what they want in life. And then along comes an Antagonist who not only opposes them getting what they want, but also brings out their inner demon in a whole new way.
Now the character must show us what he’s made of by becoming self-aware of his inner demon and then defeating it in the process of defeating the Antagonist.
Your Protagonist’s job in a story is to change in some way. He can’t be the same person at the end of the story that is was in the beginning. And for a very important reason: the person he was at the beginning didn’t yet have what it takes to defeat the Antagonist and resolve the story.
So that change, that character arc, is needed in order for the story to be successful. No one wants to read a story where the Protagonist learns nothing, makes no changes and is exactly the same from start to finish.
The whole point of a story is to turn an ordinary person into a hero.
5. No Concept
Concept is a foundational piece of writing a good story. Concept can be the thing that takes your story from “eh” to “AWESOME!!!”
And if you’re not aware yet, Concept is the landscape of your story. It’s the “gotta read it” factor. It’s what’s interesting and conflicted and dramatic about your story BEFORE you introduce a plot or a character.
So often a story that has potential ends up falling flat because there’s no Concept.
6. Random Stuff That Does’t Connect
I probably should’ve listed this as the #2 mistakes writers make with their stories, because it’s insanely common. I read lots of manuscripts and most of those manuscripts have random things happening that don’t tie into the story in any way.
The thing with a story is that everything must relate, tie together and be cohesive.
But so often I see stories with random things that have no purpose and serve no mission. It’s just there for backstory or characterization.
Don’t make this mistake. Everything that happens in a story needs to have a purpose and move the story forward in some way.
Which means, for example, if a gun shows up in the beginning, it must go off by the end of the story. Don’t just show us the gun and then never mention or bring it up again.
If you show us a gun, it needs to be because the gun has a purpose and a mission and moves the story toward resolution.
7. Running With A Half-Baked Idea
The last, but not less important, mistake writers make with their stories is running with an idea that’s only half baked.
And what I mean by half-baked is that they’re running with the first or initial idea they got, without consideration for the other possibilities and options that exist. Big mistake.
Because it’s in the exploring of other ideas and options and possibilities where your actual story is. The only way to find it is to dig around and go deeper and ask questions.
“What if this happened? Or what if that happened? Or what if I changed this? Or what if I swapped that with something else?”
Questions are the way to dig out your actual story. But when you just get an idea and then sit down to write it, you’re doing a disservice to your story because you’re not giving it the time it needs to marinate and come to life in a bigger, better way.
Whatever you do, stop making these 7 mistakes. Your story–and your future readers–will thank you for it.
Dream life or bust,