Monday, January 24, 2011

The Worst Mistakes Writers Make

What are some of the worst mistakes writers make? Even though I have several published novels and short stories, I'm still a novice at this writing business. Editors point that out to me quite often, but usually the errors have to do with punctuation, spelling, POV, sequencing, or incorrect usage of a word.

But what other mistakes do we make concerning description, location, or objects? I learned early on in my Western Historical novels that certain things weren't available, and I had to do more research to satisfy not only my editor but to make the story believable. In one manuscript, I used "cash register" but learned the machine didn't exist at that time. In another, I used the wrong kind of train--an oil-burning engine when oil hadn't yet come into use.

We could go on all day about errors we've made or we've read in novels or productions. I'm engrossed in the PBS series of Downton Abbey, and even though it's purely British, I thoroughly enjoy it. However, from a discussion on the Historic Authors loop I learned the production is "flawed" with too many errors concerning historical facts. What these mistakes are, I wouldn't know and frankly, don't care. I'm simply enjoying it for the superb acting, exquisite costumes, and intriguing plot line. But the experts' enjoyment is dampened somewhat because they can spot the flaws.

Oh, if we could only write a perfect novel and make everyone happy.

I came across a website titled HearWriteNow, a writing resource site. There I found a series of eBooks about myriad topics, and each titled "33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make about--horses, or weapons, or ballet dancers, or any city, or hunting, or blind people, or Mother Nature…." I never found an end to this list. Here's the link to the site if you're interested in checking it out.

http://hearwritenow.com/writing/resources/mistakes

I also have a link to an Online Etymology Dictionary that has been invaluable to me. When I use a word such as "okay" in a western historical, or "gee whiz," or many other terms, I stop and look up the origin. You're welcome to use this.

http://www.etymonline.com/

Keep writing even though you might make errors. Remember you can find the correct usage in many places. I hope these two will help--if you need help!

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
http://www.celiayeary.blogspot.com/
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35 comments:

  1. Great resources, Celia- thanks for sharing them.

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  2. "Keep writing..." Great advice, Celia.

    And great links, too! Thanks for sharing.

    I mostly write contemporary--the whole 'write what you know' thing--but I have been working on a couple historicals. They are taking me 3...4...5 times longer than the contemps because I want to get details just right...but oh, the fun stuff I'm learning. =)

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  3. JILLIAN--you are so welcome! I especially like the Etymology online dictionary. Celia

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  4. Ah Celia, I think you're right that novelists aren't likely to write a "perfect" book. We do have a touch of leeway since it is fiction and our copyright page disclaimer says as much.

    Still, I appreciate when authors do what they can to keep the facts straight. In fact, that's a large part of what my second draft does: stops for research to check facts. That's what I've been doing recently and hoping I don't have to go back and change whole sections. ;-) So far, pretty good. But it helps to write about things with which you are at least partly familiar at the onset. It's usually obvious when you don't, I think.

    Thanks for the links!

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  5. LAINEY--I did it the other way--wrote historical, then switched...for a time...to contemporary. The Historical is much more difficult. Celia

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  6. LK--I love that disclaimer...we all definitely need it. I don't think I've ever read a perfect book.
    You're welcome for the links--I thing they're both very helpful, if not necessary.
    Celia

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  7. Great post, Celia! I admire writers of historicals. I do a lot of research myself, but I imagine it's mild compared to what you must do.
    I wish you continued success!

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  8. Isn't it something how we can assume 'it' has been around forever and don't realize how many conveniences we have now that even our parents didn't enjoy. I used to talk about this with my Dad who saw such a change from the time he was born until he passed away 9 years ago. I always try to be diligent about not using the modern words and items, but I am sure it is very easy to miss some every now and then.

    Great post

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  9. I think one of the hardest parts of writing a historical must be that people thought differently back then. We can't help but think of the world through the prism of the 21st century, since that's what we are living in. I think that's why I'm more comfortable writing contemporary. Interesting post, and thanks for the link to the etymology site. I'm reading "I Love It When You Talk Retro" now, and I'm surprised at how many of the retro phrases are unknown to today's young people. So if you are writing "true to time period", half of what they are saying will be unintelligible to some of your readers!

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  10. Celia, thanks for the links! I can always use help--can't we all? Thanks to Fiona, too.

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  11. These are great resources, Celia. I love the list. Thank you.

    Fiona, your post made me smile. I write 12th century medievals. If I wrote "true to the times" there might be four people on the planet who could read the story (and my understanding of Norman-French is atrocious, so I'm not one of them).

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  12. Thanks for the links, Celia! I did research for my Christmas book because I wanted to make sure I was accurate about everything for the year 1957. For example, I wanted to make sure I had the right dates for the polio vaccine and if other things were available that I used. I didn't want to depend on my memory.

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  13. Those books sound cool. I love doing research but ive never had the guts to try a historical. But still, in the sf and fantasy genre we call it world building and it's expected we know our business. For instance my urban fantasy Has a marksman/ assassin as a protagonist, for instance and he damn well better know his guns. Homeland Security probably has me on a list somewhere!

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  14. Celia--Thank you for the two links. I usually google the words or things I am not sure of. Google gives you a ton of information on everything on earth. From pharaonic clothes to the height of the Eiffel Tower, to the fish of the Red Sea, I google non stop while I write, but it's good to have a site that gives you the origin of a word.

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  15. To err is human. But we can avoid some mistakes with a little research. Resources such as those you listed are definitely a help.

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  16. I love the online etymology site. It's saved me a few times from using a word that didn't come till later.

    I write 2 types of books that require huge amounts of research and realism -- historical and police procedurals. My goal has always been to keep the story as true as I can without bogging it down with reality. Especially in the police procedurals -- the reality of most police work would make for very dull reading, so it has to be skipped over or downplayed.

    I'm lucky in my historical stuff, since the eras I'm interested in are times when newspapers like the New York Times and the L.A. Times exist to check things out.

    Good blog and thanks fro posting it.

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  17. Excellent resources, Celia! Thanks so much!

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  18. Oh, for the day I could write and not have to think about it. The days before my first book found a publisher. LOL.

    Now it's hard not to think, "Do I need this adverb? Is this extra adjective necessary?"

    Guess what? Thinking interferes with my muse. If I could turn off those pings alerting me that I've committed an editorial No-No, I'd speed through that manuscript in record time. "Sigh."

    Great post, Celia. Lots of Food for thought.

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  19. ANNE-actually, I don't do so much. But I do have to find certain facts sometimes just to begin the story. I worry more when I write contemporary, wondering if I'm using the correct technological term, things like that. Probably every must do some. Celia

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  20. PAISLEY--you're right.It can be tricky. If I write contemporary, I might very well insert something that was used twenty years ago, something I remember well but would seem old-fashioned to others. I'm always about five years behind the new times. Celia

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  21. FIONA--if that's not the truth! I've read one too many historicals in which the characters speak as though they lived in 2011. Mary Balogh--Regency author--writes with no contractions, because people then and there did not speak in copntractions. Now, who would have know that? And yet I see this often in newer Regencies--everyone saying "can't, won't, etc." Celia

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  22. CAROLIne--YES, Fiona made an excellent point. Oh, if the online etymology book was in print, it would be worn around the edges. Celia

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  23. KEENA--I forgot the century you use in your novels. How right you are--no one would be able to understand your stories if written in 12th century dialect! Celia

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  24. DIANE--and you did a good job, too. I grew up in the fifties,and if I wrote a novel set then, I'd have to do some research, too. My memory goes just so far. Celia

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  25. BETSY--you're doing something even more difficult! You have nothing to research. Oh, and those 33 mistakes books--there's one on guns.Celia

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  26. MONA--thank goodness for Google! I wear out Google. It's amazing isn't it--type in anything and you'll get hits. In an interview not long ago, I had to admit I used Google for most of my research. I also use Texas Handbook Online--wow, what a wonderful source for me.Celia

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  27. JR--very true, and don't we all make mistakes? I'd like to see one book every published that not one error of any kind. Thanks for your comment-Celia

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  28. P.A.--I peeked at your website. Your kind of writing is intriguing, but I'm such a chicken I can't read anything scary! I can only imagine how much you must research for the genre. But I'll bet you're very knowledgeable--aren't you? Celia

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  29. LAUREAN--HOW odd. We talked about what you're saying this morning in my writer's group. When I started writing, I knew nothing about proper anything, and just one story after the other, very uninhibited. Now? I have the hardest time finished a story, because I doubt half the things I write and how I wrote it, and I keep backtracking to see if what I wrote was okay. Very annoying, isn't it? Takes some of the pleasure of writing away. Celia

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  30. I'm a historian by profession, which is maybe why I'm reluctant to write a historical novel! Reaearch has to be exhaustive so as not to make howling errors or anachronisms. Maybe the average reader wouldn't notice them but the historian in me wouldn't let me write anything unless I was 100% confident in the information. Even in contemporary novels, I've seen errors, particularly in locations that I know personally. I'm sure I make errors in my own work, despite all my efforts to research everything thoroughly.
    Breat blog, by the way, Celia!

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  31. Paula--thanks for the interesting perspective from a real historian. Probably that why so many of us write historicals--Western in my cse--and we write with abandon! I base all my stories--historical or comtemporary--in Texas, since it's my native state and at my age, I've lived here a long time--and in different parts of the state.
    Locations are the main thing that bother me when an author writes about Texas. Once a Western Historical author had Fort Worth south of San Antonio--I almost choked on my tea! All she had to do there was look at a map.
    Thank you for commenting--Celia

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  32. Hi Celia. I use the Online Etymology Dictionary all the time for my Regencies. It's amazing, sometimes, how many of the words we take for granted now didn't exist then.

    I like that site about the mistakes writers make. Will come in handy.

    And when you come to the end of the day, make your story as accurate as possible, but, above all, write a good story.

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