The Top Errors made by Writers

Pitfalls Punctuation Template Tips

Is it because they are Inexperienced?

Well, actually, no. It is surprizing how many mainstream writers make these errors - one wonders if they are only in print through skullduggery or habit - they were accepted long ago and are under pressure to produce new works, cutting the editing process to a minimum. Thankfully, mainstream publishers do maintain some standards, but the lesser ones and self publishers have the ability to throw any abomination at the World.

So, having read the information on punctuation, formatting, cover design and everything else (of course), you now know how to write perfectly. You can sit back smugly and be amused at this list of the top errors made by other writers. For extra details, see the pages linked above. In order of severity, from the top:

    • Formatting in General: By all means get your words down first - the story is paramount - but don't submit a block of clumsy text to an editor. Make it nice, make it pretty, and make it readable. If you haven't learnt how to use your word processor, do one of the many simple courses on YouTube, or ask the Incas.  Learn about formatting, heading, styles and indents. The excuse: "I can't be bothered with all that" doesn't work these days if you want to be a modern (and hopefully successful) author. If you really can't do it yourself, be prepared to pay someone before you submit anything. We have links on this site, and I can be bribed in an emergency!
    • Apostrophes: You see incorrect use of these every day as sign-writers become less educated. An apostrophe is used to denote possession, NOT plural (yes, even the plural of acronyms, CDs, not CD's (unless you mean "the CD's label") OR where letters are missed out, e.g. 2 o' clock (of the clock), that's = that is, etc. Back to top of page
      With the tricky pair: its and it's, the word meaning both possession or 'it is'. The missing letter instance gets priority. "Get its lead, it's 2 o' clock, walkies."
    • Comma Usage: Alas, all too often, people have no idea how to use the humble comma, but it can make or break a sentence. The rule of thumb is to read the text out loud to yourself; the commas go where you have to take a break to breathe, or to separate phrases. The comma helps to make the sentence readable and to make sense. See the punctuation page for more details.
    • Colon and Semicolon (and comma): Most people get these mixed up. A colon precedes a list or a statement; a semicolon splits related standalone sentences where a comma isn't enough of a break.
    • Doctor and doctor: When you are addressing or referring to a specific doctor (mother, bookie, fishmonger etc.) you use a capital. Where it is any old optician, use lower case. So, for example, "You know that Mother Hubbard wasn't just any mother."
      Another example: "I always say that Doctor Who is one of the doctors who don't practise medicine at a doctors' practice." (C or S in those sort of words? easy way of remembering is that a Noun comes before a Verb (in English), so the noun gets a C and the verb an S). If you are using American English, then it is always a C of course.
    • Italics overuse: They are acceptable for emphasis, subtext, where someone is thinking, and perhaps letters being read out loud by your subject. Don't fill your work with them though - the effect is diminished each time they are used. Also, set up a Style for 'normal italic' (already in the Inca template) or use the Style 'Emphasis'. The same goes for bold text - there is already a style called 'Strong' which will do this job.
    • The Exclamation Mark: It really isn't necessary, except inside speech marks. "Come here!" shouted Joe is fine, but for example, The gun went off suddenly! isn't.
    • Dream sequences: These drive the reader mad - are they real, are they dreams, are they just an excuse to put in something totally unbelievable? Who knows. You can get away with them sometimes, but they are a big turnoff for editors, and used very rarely by successful writers.
    • Section breaks: Where you change scene or time, have a section break if it is not time for a new chapter. This can be as simple as a line of asterisks * * *, or even a small line-drawn picture. Set up a style, 'Normal Centred', remove the paragraph indent, and use that for all your breaks. Don't have paragraphs with scene changes following straight after each other with nary a blank line, or people will think they are reading the 'Famous Five'.
    • The Prologue: This is a dead giveaway that you are either an inexperienced writer, or Frankie Howerd in 'Up Pompeii'. If you can call the Prologue 'Chapter One' then it's 'Chapter One', and not a prologue. If not, and you really have to get the information in, then consider adding it as a reminiscence/flashback further in the book, or even 'supplemental information'. Readers skip prologues... I was going to say they are only useful in books about (or by) dead authors, but readers still skip them as well, and only go back if they are stuck on a train with no crisp packets to read as a diversion.

Anything else you have any beefs or comments on, please contact me, and feel free to put me right on any number of the points above (or elsewhere in the site, of course)

Robert Wingfield - October 2017