Five mistakes that beginning novelists make

Free stock photo of man, person, people, smartphone


By Paul F. Murray, Wealthy Affiliate member

Novice author mistakes; tips for beginning authors–5 common mistakes

  • Poor grammar and punctuation


This may seem like a no-brainer, but believe me, there are authors out there who think this is simply not an important item to consider. I do book reviews for a review service (as well as being a published author myself) and I have read a few books where the “author” (if I can dignify the writer with that term) simply failed third, fourth, and fifth grade English and composition classes, and failed to hire a professional editor to correct his or her mistakes.

I’ve actually had to saw my way through novels that had sentences as bad as this: Tom sad he woold’v goten too werk timm if the traffick had’t ben soo bads. Writing like that makes it impossible for a reader to enjoy the flow of the novel and keep an image of the action in the mind’s eye, because the reader is always being taken out of the novel action due to having to figure out what the “author” is trying to say. If this describes you as an author, find a good basic grammar/punctuation guide for adults online. Misplaced or missing commas and quotation marks, misspelled words, improper capitalizations, or lack thereof, and missing words can also disrupt readers’ ability to enjoy the novel. Take this as a given: no reputable publisher is going to accept a novel that isn’t grammatically correct in every way.

  • Character clutter


Some authors can’t decide what they want to write about, but hey, that doesn’t stop them from writing—and producing a novel that is so broad-based that it really isn’t about anything or anyone in particular. I once reviewed a prospective Western novel that was about, well, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, Kit Carson, Cattle Kate, Sheriff Pat Garrett, Frank James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, even a young Will Rogers, among others. The author skipped around from one Western character to another so often that there really wasn’t a main character or set of characters. The novel was really nothing more than a series of sometimes-related, sometimes-unrelated independent vignettes.

The author probably figured that by bringing in every famous name in Western history that it would increase the chances for publication. Instead, the novel failed to develop any one character’s personality, mannerisms, actions or life story enough to engage a reader with that character. Pick a character or a small group of characters to be the focus of your novel, and have other, lesser characters revolve around that central, developed character or small group of characters.

  • Not doing your homework


The credibility of your characters and your plot depend upon making your story believable or at least plausible. Inattention to detail can make readers think your story lacks believability and authenticity, if you even get that far. Most likely, any publisher who reads your prospective novel will reject it out of hand if he/she sees mistakes that indicate a lack of commitment to doing your homework first, and thereby giving your novel a feeling of genuine authenticity.

Most often this problem occurs through describing scenes using words or actual items that simply don’t belong in the scene. I remember one historical fiction novel-in-the-making about first century Christianity in which a pair of Roman soldiers sat down to a meal which included potatoes and tomatoes. The problem is: potatoes and tomatoes were unknown to the Romans. These vegetables were first grown by the Inca Indians of Peru and were not known in Europe until the sixteenth century, 1,500 years after the time in which the novel was set. This may seem nit-picky, but editors and publishers are trained to look for goof-ups like that which are a sure sign that a manuscript was written by an unknowing rank amateur and/or an author who doesn’t take his or her craft seriously. Mistakes like the above are particularly inexcusable since this type of information is readily available online.

  • Non-sequiturs


There are some mistakes which no serious author should ever make. For example, I once counseled an author to change his manuscript to eliminate mistakes like this: “There’s a lot more Confederates in that camp over yonder than we first thought,” Sergeant Haskell said while taking a drink of water from his canteen. Really? Sergeant Haskell can talk while drinking water? After the Civil War, Sergeant Haskell should think about a career as a ventriloquist.

Also by way of example: a character who suddenly goes from evil to good, with little character development that would make such a change credible. That Roman soldier who kills Christians is not going to simply up and join the Christians without first going through a series of life-altering incidents which inspire some serious introspection. Changes like that don’t happen in just one or two chapters, notwithstanding what some would-be authors have tried to do.

  • Poor plotting


This could really be an expansion on non sequiturs, which means simply something that does not follow logically from what preceded it. I once read a novel where a bounty hunter was also a preacher, not a faux preacher, mind you (a la Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider), but an actual minister who went out to kill outlaws to supplement his limited income. No logical reason was given in the story for that juxtaposition; the reader was simply confronted with a scarcely-believable tale about a minister who kills outlaws.

As an author, you have got to give your readers a story that flows logically. That minister-bounty hunter story could have been perfectly logical if at the start of the novel the reader was told, for example, that the minister’s wife was murdered by outlaws and the minister was after revenge. Any reader would find that plausible. Other examples of poor plotting that have been overused include the “damsel in distress” plot involving a male hero rescuing a young lady held captive. This plot was cliché even a century ago. A better plot in the 21st century would be a hero and heroine working together to achieve some great purpose or victory over a foe. Also overused: the mistaken identity plot. For example, a plot in which a young lady in love sees her male hero hugging another young woman and then angrily deserting him as a result. Young Lady No. 1 goes through a series of events rejecting her male hero before finally learning that Young Lady No. 2 is her male hero’s sister. Puh-leeze.

Paul Murray is a member of Wealthy Affiliate, a non-scam legitimate way to make extra income. He is the author of four novels: “Freedom’s Long March”, “The Gifts and The Fruits”, “West of the Sunset” and “Against the Wild Green Range”, all available on Amazon or New Friends Publishing. Below is a comparison between novel-writing and Wealthy Affiliate as a way to make money on your own time. Just click the green button below the comparison to be transferred to the Wealthy Affiliate website for further information. Take some action to better your life!!!


  1. zebra36

    Thank you for this article! One of my biggest pet peeves is poor grammar. Although at the same time I could definitely be better in my own work. Another big issues I have is with the setting up a plot. No matter what I do my plots tend to be sub par at best. Do you know of any helpful guides or tools on constructing better plots? Thank you!

    • admin

      If you are looking for quick help, there are some good Google-search articles online about how to develop a plot. One of the best is “How to Plot a Novel: 7 steps for success”. I like that article because it gives solid steps for constructing a good plot no matter what the genre or subject is. The information is highly malleable to suit any author’s needs. I tend to avoid advice that is highly specific to a particular genre or subject; the problem there is that a number of different authors are likely to be reading the same article and information, and constructing plots that are too similar to each other. Another thing I’ve noticed is that some authors are better than others at handling subplots. This is just my opinion, but as a book reviewer, I find it best if  subplots involve the main character(s) somehow, whether directly or indirectly, and contribute in some way to the overall main plot. Perhaps a subplot could help develop a main character’s traits better. Subplots that go off on unrelated tangents detract and distract from the main story line and make me wonder what their purpose was. Perhaps the author couldn’t make up his/her mind what to write about.  Anyway, thank you for your response and my best wishes for your success as an author.

  2. simpiano

    I enjoyed the examples that you gave to illustrate your points. You mentioned doing your research as one of your points. It reminded me about one time when I started reading a novel by a well known suspense writer, only to find a glaring mistake on the very first page which made me immediately stop reading any further. I am a musician and the character in the story was “humming Bach’s Requiem”. There is no such work. When I finally decided to read the book anyway, it was an otherwise excellent read.
    Nice work on your post. It’s very good to be reminded of these things!

    • admin

      Thank you, simpiano, for reading my article and for your informative comment. When an author doesn’t do his/her research prior and, if necessary, during the writing of their novel, all kinds of misplaced information or flat-out wrong information can get placed inside a novel. Experienced novel-readers can catch these kinds of mistakes and as a result the whole believability of the novel is damaged. Readers want to be able to enter into the story, its setting and time period, and they have a hard time doing that if they know that e.g. the description of the setting is wrong, the adjectives are inappropriate to the time period, and/or the main character(s) would not have acted in the way described by the author given the setting or time period.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *