I’ve been reviewing and editing books for several years now and have only recently quit editing to focus exclusively on writing. In that time, however, I did notice several trends in multiple books which I had to either edit out or left me no choice but to give the book a negative review despite its positive qualities. These are some of the most common mistakes made by writers which you need to cut from the next draft of your own book if you want publish your book and avoid bad reviews:
This is by far the most common mistake I see in self-published fiction. It’s why the last draft of my own novel was only 85,000 words in length. Many amateur authors who haven’t yet learnt about proper editing feel the need to provide overly long descriptions of nearly every element of their book, usually in the form of long exposition dumps. Perhaps it is the education system which gives them the idea that their fiction needs to go into just as much detail as their college essays. Readers don’t care about how much thought you have put into the sewage systems of your fantasy city. They don’t care about the flower arrangements at the funeral of the protagonist’s mother but rather in how her death impacted the protagonist emotionally.
Similarly, readers don’t like reading long author tracts or dialogue that spins off into a lengthy tangent. In real life conversations we often go off on tangents and they can even be quite fun at times, but they also distract from what we are supposed to be talking about. It works the same in fiction. Unless the tangent is genuinely going somewhere, cut it out and get back to the important dialogue.
Oh, so you have a degree in medieval history? You have a large vocabulary? You know all about ancient Persian refrigeration systems? Those are impressive feats, but I don’t care about them and neither do your readers. They want to read a good story, not an essay on what you learnt at the museum.
Fiction is a great forum for sharing your views on real life issues, but it must be done so in a way which supports the plot and doesn’t feel out of place. There’s nothing worse in fiction than the plot being halted for someone to give a long speech about saving the whales or whatever forced message the author is trying to convey. What I love so much about the His Dark Materials series is that Philip Pullman wrote in his criticisms of organised religion in the form of an exciting adventure plot which incorporated many different elements from real life mythology. For me, half the fun of reading the books is spotting these references. They invite young readers to ask questions without turning the characters into preachy mouthpieces for the author’s own opinions.
I can’t believe I still have to say this but your personal prejudices should be left out of your books as well, as I still read far too many books which openly integrate the author’s own racist, homophobic, or sexist views. There’s a reason why prejudiced characters are usually the villains in books, not the heroes.
Pointless Romance Subplots
Personally I love romance plots and always try to fill my books with as many unique and interesting relationships as possible. Yet I have also cut out just as many relationships when I realised I was only putting them in for the sake of having a romance, not because they contributed to the story or the character’s ongoing arc.
Forcing in pointless romance subplots also runs the risk of including a female character for the primary function of serving as a love interest and not contributing anything else. For instance, Ygritte is one of my favourite characters in A Song of Ice and Fire and I greatly enjoyed reading her romance with Jon Snow. So you can imagine how disappointed I was when she didn’t contribute anything else to the story and barely impacted on Jon Snow’s long term development.
Remember that marriage, children, and a house in the suburbs may be the happy ending for some characters, but not for all of them. And it should go without saying but please please please do not put an incest romance in your novel. For the last time, we do not like them.