Writing Avoidances – A checklist of what not to do

When I first ventured forth into the world of writing I had a lot to learn and made a lot of mistakes. Over the past year, I have begun compiling a checklist. This is something I use as a guideline to follow when checking overdrafts. It’s quite simple, a list of things I like to make sure I avoid. Some points are what most writers would also recommend avoiding whilst other points such as ‘Offensive language’ isn’t a rule as such and many writers including myself will use certain language if they feel it’s needed as part of the story. For example, I felt that swearing in Detective Mentis added to the development of the detective and detailing for his personality. 

Feel free to print this off and use it as a guideline.

  • Unnecessary Description – Don’t describe how someone got to the door. It’s not worth the words. Leave such things to the imagination of the reader. 
  • Don’t be afraid of ‘said’ – Sometimes we feel like using ‘he said’ ‘she said’ dulls our writing. Not at all. By avoiding these you may find yourself overcomplicating writing and using unnecessary wording. 
  • Predictability – Don’t be predictable in a story, it’s just boring. Wallpaper could be skin. A lamp could be a portal to another world. 
  • Be strict – You have to be strict on yourself when writing. Cutting over the unnecessary parts and only using things that are relevant to the story and add something to the plot. It’s easy to get carried away with words if you’re not careful.  See what I mean? 
  • Bad Grammar and Punctuation – This is a given. If a reader spots any mistakes then they may not read on. Whether it takes 1 draft or 20. Make sure you keep your readers turning the page. 
  • Too many characters – If you have to keep a record of the characters you’ve used then you most likely have too many. Simplify the amount you use. Characters can play multiple roles in a story. 
  • Write for the intended audience – Keep in mind who your audience is.  There’s no point writing a story about a loveable giraffe if your audience is middle-aged adults. 
  • Characters not being unique – If you create flat, boring characters then the pillars of your story will not be able to hold the weight. 
  • Overusing speech tags – Every writer has ones that they favor. Watch how often you use them. ‘He said’ ‘She said’ are your basic speech tags.
  • Using names too often – If you mention Derick at the beginning of the paragraph you don’t need to remind people of his name 4 times over in that same paragraph. Once is plenty. 
  • Inconsistency – People’s names, behaviors, habits occupations all need to be consistent throughout your story. Don’t make Derick a salon owner and then change it to Dennis the golfer halfway through.
  • Being too experimental – It’s good to be different but don’t go so far outside of the box that you can’t even see it. Remember your audience and don’t overcomplicate the story. Different, not confusing. 
  • Character Actions – Derick is a vocal, no-nonsense character and yet he’s just kept his mouth quiet when someone had a go at him. Would Derick do that? Don’t make your readers think “Why the hell would they do that?” Characters actions need to fit.
  • Stakes need to be high – All plots have a cliffhanger or problem that needs solving but for a story to work the stakes need to be high (and make sense). Derrick isn’t going to risk his own life to save a fish, however, he would risk his own neck to save the life of his child. 
  • Backstory/memories – These are important components to add depth to characters and a storyline. However, don’t info dump. You have to weave these details in.
  • Don’t add random characters – You may have a problem in your story that has created a plot hole. Don’t take the easy route and add a character to fix the problem. That ruins the story. It might take another edit but it’ll be worth it. 
  • Offensive language – Back to what I was saying about your intending audience. Don’t swear in a kids book and don’t put gory scenes in a romance. Focus on your audience. 
  • Don’t use a simple plot – You need to make your story seem new and fresh. Like nothing that has been done before – even if it has. Without being too out of the box. You need to find a balance between simple and complicated. 
  • Don’t make it too long and wordy – Sentences should be short and to the point unless necessary. Keep an eye on your word count for your genre and only use what is relevant to your story. (The joys of editing)
  • Bad structure – Don’t put all the best bits of the story in the middle. Spread out the good bits to keep the readers going.  Again, who is your audience? 
  • Italics – Sometimes you may use italics to set something apart on the page which is fine, just don’t do it too often. No more than one line should be necessary. 
  • Don’t stereotype – Generally, you shouldn’t stereotype unless it’s obvious i.e. someone fat making a lot of noice coming down the stairs. Don’t stereotype other than in the simplect form otherwise you risk being called out by the reader and that can easily effect reputation. 

This is the checklist as it stands now but I will without a doubt add to it as and where from my writer’s notebook. The great thing about being a writer is that the learning never stops.

Meanwhile, if you think of something you feel like should be on the list or perhaps you disagree with something on the list. Comment below and let me know. I’ll reply ASAP to your comments.

5 thoughts on “Writing Avoidances – A checklist of what not to do

  1. Wow, i disagree with almost all of that but ill just pick out a couple…
    Predictability, really nothing wrong with it. You can hide it a little too but quite often the reader likes that little burst of self satisfaction when they think they have sussed out whats going on, this is what keeps most detective novels going. And when youve spent a little time feeding that predictability you can subvert it that much more easily.
    Stakes need to be high? We cant all be saving the world, sometimes we are just saving a fish. Both can be just as interesting and the smaller stakes can often be more relatable to the reader.
    Dont make it too long and wordy. Well.. i mean ok, i understand what you are saying but ive got a vocabulary and i like to use it
    Stereotyping. Well again with the subversion of peoples expectation. Stereotypes exist for a reason, trust me when i say this, i lived with the most stereotypical hippies youve ever met. They work as a quick shorthand for throwaway characters and when someone conforms to a stereotype its that much more interesting to take them out of their comfort zone.

    1. Very interesting 😁I think you misunderstood the post somewhat though. It’s not rules or black and white. Just a guildline that I follow 👍 interesting perspective though. Thanks for sharing 😁😁

  2. Well as i think weve discussed before, you and i produce very different kinds of materiel (g) (ive been using square bracketed ‘g’s instead of smileys btw but they vanished… i didnt mean that last post to sound so… dry)

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