Some Writing Problems to Avoid

Hi folks. I’m finally home after vacation, my dad’s surgery, and Dragoncon. I taught my two workshops there, and attended several panels in the Writer’s Track.

A couple of common mistakes caught my attention, either from Q&A in the Writing Track, or during the workshops. Here are some of the common problems writers seemed to have that you might not hear about every day:

1. Too much worldbuilding: this usually happens to writers of science fiction and fantasy, I fear. They get so involved with creating a world, cultures, geography, social structures, art, legends and lore, etc., etc., that somehow they forget to include a PLOT in their story.

Your reader doesn’t need page upon page of world-building setting and description. He/she only needs enough to be able to visualize what’s happening, care about the characters, and follow the storyline.

I realize there’s a huge temptation among writers to put on the page everything they spend so much time creating, but try to resist.

(This problem can also happen to writers who write “period” fiction Instead of creating the world themselves, they research the period so intensively that the reader can get mired in all the details, while the plot is absent or moving at a glacial pace.)

2. Having characters declaim instead of speak. This especially applies to villains. If you can read the dialogue aloud and “hear” mustache twirling from the villain, it’s time to rewrite. Reading aloud is always a good way to check how your characters “sound” to the reader.

3. Writing a book in first person because the protagonist is basically YOU. This happens a lot to first-time writers, and it’s rarely a good thing. When you make yourself the protagonist in a story, it’s hard to remain objective about your story. And being too subjective about what’s happening in your story may blind you to faults such as slow pacing, lack of narrative hooks, unbelievable character motivation, over the top dialogue, etc.

4. Biting off more than you’re ready to chew. I wish I had a buck for every aspiring writer whose first project is an epic fantasy trilogy — or even a series. I’m not saying you CAN’T write a trilogy if that’s what is burning in your heart and soul to write, but be aware of the fact that trilogies require a lot of subplots and characters, and the pacing can be very tricky. The first book you submit should be more or less self-contained, rather than a cliffhanger. So if you’re writing a trilogy, keep this in mind and end the book in a satisfactory manner so it can be submitted as a first novel, okay?

Also…writers can get so immured in a world they’ve created that they keep on writing book after book without ever submitting any of them. They think for some reason they have to have the entire 7 book series complete before they can submit anything. This thinking is flawed. No publishing house is going to buy a 7 book series from a brand-new writer. What they’ll want to do is buy one, or possibly two books, then publish them and see how they sell.

So…don’t put off submitting your completed and polished book while you write the next four, eh?


Hope this has been helpful.


-Ann C. Crispin


  1. Thanks for the timely advice. I’m new to this blog and I’m also working on my first fantasy for teens. I usually write picture books.

  2. Oh lord, I hear you on the trilogy! However, it can go both ways. For me, book #1 was written as a self-contained, with the possibility of a trilogy. However, I didn’t work out the second and third book beyond “Yeah, that’s the basic idea.” Now, I’m writing #2, having sold #1, and tearing my hair out. 🙂 So do a BIT of stuff on books 2-3, but definitely, sell #1 first!

    Val Griswold-Ford
    “Not Your Father’s Horseman”

  3. No kidding on the series thing. My ex-fiance wrote some thirty books in a series. Not all were directly connected, but all depended on the first book for context.

    Said first book? Been sitting in limbo at a publisher for five years. Said writer has been “patiently” waiting despite promises to “get to it soon.” Sigh.

  4. It’s a dilemma – if you finish the trilogy first you spend a looong time before you have anything you can submit; if you don’t, you risk having messed up the first volume and now finding it difficult to develop the rest.

    Sometimes, you can’t win.

  5. That is so true about period fiction.
    The writer fears the reader will not grasp the context unless every cool detail is explained.
    I have dumped pages and pages.

  6. For #3, it should also be noted that first person appears easy from the way people think about it. But it’s actually one of the hardest POVs to get right. It’s simply too easy to start every paragraph with I, I, I, and it takes a lot of skill and effort to think about how to reword the sentences so that doesn’t happen.

    And I’ll add one more I’ve seen a lot–mistaking head hopping for omniscent. Omniscent is also extremely difficult to do well and takes a lot of practice, and there is a BIG difference between it and simply jumping from head to head. The fact that a writer trying to use it and doesn’t see the difference is a big red flag that they need to rethink what they’re trying to do.

  7. One of the interesting paradoxes I’ve found in writing is that you have to know a lot of details to tell a believable story, but you rarely have to include more than a tiny fraction of what you know as part of the narrative.

    For example, I have a scene in one of my stories where a character walks into the kitchen where another character is making cheese. I read up on cheese-making and even made some, myself, so I could write that scene. But did I describe how to make cheese? No, that would’ve been dullsville.

    As it turned out, the only part of my knowledge I used in the story was straining the curds. But if I hadn’t learned how to make cheese, I wouldn’t have had a clue how to write the scene in a believable way.

    Thanks for the tips and all you do for aspiring writers!

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SEPTEMBER 14, 2006

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