First of all, I'm not posting this because I think I'm immune to these problems (in fact, I fall victim to many of them,) or because I think I'm experienced or better than anyone else. I'm posting this list because over the years, going to critique group to critique group, I've discovered people are making many of the same mistakes. I thought I'd post the mistakes I've found here. I'm sure there are more, so if you have any suggestions or revisions to add, go ahead and post them. If they seem sound, I'll add them to the original list. Overall, the purpose of this list is to state the most common errors I see in critique groups and provide ways the errors might be corrected. 1. WALL O' TEXT O' DOOM All too often I see enormous paragraphs in writing to be reviewed. Some of them are real monsters (I've seen up to forty lines). Long paragraphs have their place in fiction but remember: they are hard to read! Different people have different limits on the size, so you'll have to use personal discretion. My personal limit is about twenty lines. Paragraphing affects a story's pacing. Long paragraphs slow the pace in your story and dissipate tension. Too many big ones and your story grinds to a halt, if readers have even gotten that far at all. In this situation, slow and steady does not win the race. Don't make the mistake of using too many paragraphs either, which will make your story choppy and perhaps make the pacing too fast. Your goal is to strike a balance. I can't tell you where and when you should paragraph, because it depends on each individual story. But if readers are telling you your paragraphs make their eyes bleed, you might want to take a look at what you have. 2. PUNCTUATION ABUSE Granted, it's nowhere as bad as, say, dialogue abuse, but a thousand exclamation marks and neglected commas scream for vengeance, or at least some legislation in their favor. Periods are another punctuation mark all too often trampled upon. To a degree, I understand comma abuse because it can be difficult to decide where one goes. Exclamation marks and periods? These should not be that difficult to pin down! The exclamation mark is used on an (obviously) exclamatory sentence. They can also be used sparingly with sarcasm, parody, and humor. The last three are usually seen in first person. With third person, almost all exclamation marks should be within dialogue or a character's personal thoughts. Even then, exclamation marks should be used as little as possible (in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, they say exclamation marks should be limited to when a character is physically shouting,) because they bring attention to the text itself. When you can, convey emotion and speech volume through description and beats. When you can be subtle instead of obvious, almost always be subtle. (By the way, you only need ONE exclamation mark, not two, or three, or four.) Commas are difficult, yet they are not. This punctuation mark was in part created to mimic the patterns of real speech. Read a couple of well-written sentences out loud. Note the commas and how you might actually pause on most of them. Commas do have grammatical rules attached to them, but if you understand the only the basics of them and listen closely to the sound of words, you don't have to worry about them too much. You do have exceptions with commas. For example, "bread, milk, and eggs" could be just as correct as "bread, milk, and eggs", though the latter is considered more grammatically correct. With commas, your best bet is to read your piece aloud. Is there any place where you're breathless? Are different phrases run together? Read lots of books, too. Well-written ones will get you used to seeing how the comma should be put on the page. So. The period. The full stop. The dot. Please stop abusing it in ellipses. An ellipses is comprised of three dots with spaces between them. It's used to indicate that part of a speech is missing or a thought trailing off. Be aware that ellipses cut into a story's flow and pacing. With ellipses, the reader takes a mental three-second pause. Nobody will be counting, but they'll notice the proliferation of ellipses and will slow down. If you have more than three periods in your ellipses, you'll kill your story. One exception is if the ellipsis is at the end of the story. Then four periods are acceptable. In the case of question or exclamation marks at the end of a sentence, the period on either mark is considered the third period. "Why would you do that. . ?" "This sucks. . !" But if you already have a complete sentence, why bother using an ellipsis at all? 3. OVERUSE OF THE "-ING" and "AS" CONSTRUCTION Because the "-ing" and "as" constructions are grammatically correct, nor are they the bane of the writing world, it's common for many writers to overuse them, even highly experienced ones. Both constructions imply simultaneity. The "-ing" (ie--gerund) construction takes an action and puts it in a dependent clause. "-ing" actions are softer actions, more coincidental. They have less impact. Listen to people in everyday speech. Many of them unconsciously soften a statement's impact with the "-ing" constructions (ex: "Sorry for breaking your window" or "I was ready to clean your house, then thought I saw your soon looking at 'inappropriate' images). Even if you don't hear that, the fact is "-ing" verbs sound almost unimportant. Most stories can't go without at least a few of them, and that's fine. But if you have a more effective way to deliver your message, use that way. Try not to line too many "-ing" or "as" constructions in a row. Together, they jar. Further apart and the reader probably won't notice them unless he's specifically looking for them. The "as" construction is somewhat lazy. (Some consider it unprofessional, though I haven't been able to figure out why.) It's a phrase tacked onto another one. "I wept as I ran for my car." Instead of "I ran for my car. Tears streamed down my face." (Never mind the cliche.) 4. IMPRECISENESS A piece should not have more words in it than necessary (small exceptions for non-fiction, BIG exceptions for strictly academic works). Sometimes this means you'll have hundreds of words that seem to be "extra". Other times you'll ruthlessly pare your text. Impreciseness is the scarcity or overabundance of words in any given story that do nothing to enhance a readers enjoyment of the text. When I check for impreciseness, adverbs are the first to go. Adverbs prop up non-specific verbs, nouns, and adjectives. It may or may not surprise you that the next thing I check for are adjectives. Adjectives add life to a story. They can even create preciseness in a story. It's the strings of adjectives that contribute to imprecise writing. Strings (they can have as few as two words in them) imply that an author danced around the correct word. It can also imply the author doesn't have enough confidence to trust his readers to get the picture, but that's a different problem. With adjectives, the operative question is this: does the reader REALLY need to know this detail? Verbs are the next target. In the case of exotic verbs ("busked" was an example I've seen here,) the simpler, less precise verb might actually BE more precise. For tame verbs such as "walk" the stronger verb is usually better. Which creates a more specific picture: "Sally walked to the store" or "Sally raced to the store"? Words such as "that" can often go, too. In dialogue, names can be cut, items abbreviated, etc. Finally, the biggest, but last, thing I look for are the weasel words such as "looked", "appeared", and "seemed". With "looked", straight description is usually acceptable, unless the character is deluded and what looks like a scoop of ice cream is actually a pile of sand. With "appeared" and "seemed", the writer is avoiding a direct statement. Most of the time, delete either of these words and the text is a dozen times stronger for it. 5. BEING TOO ARTY Writing is an art form. In other words, when you write, you create art. You also craft a story. Writers who try to be too arty (or literary) often forget the latter point. These people often operate under the misconception that the better the text looks, the better the story is, or the more impressed people will be with it. Others think they have to write that way to be read. In a way, the better the text looks, the better it WILL read, but these writers are easy to spot all the same. They tend to use a ton of compound sentences. These writers also like their poetic structures. While the characterization of the piece is often good (sometimes absolutely stellar,) most overly-literary pieces suffer from an acute lack of plot. It's great if you want to be arty. Just remember that as a storyteller, one of your functions is to tell a story. It's different if you're writing non-fiction. But since this list is mostly geared toward fiction, points stand. 6. TENSE JUMPS AND POV SWITCHES Sato Ayako said to WritingForums how jarring tense jumps were when reading a story. Sato says I need to stick with one point of view or we'll lose readers. You felt nervous because you think tense jumps and POV switches are hard to catch. Sato Ayako will tell you they're not if you're paying any degree of attention to your story. I don't see tense jumps as much as POV switches. Maybe it's because tense jumps are a lot easier to catch than POV switches. A tense jump is obvious. It's the present tense in the middle of the past. Or the past in the present. You get the point. There's one exception: "you". I see "you" in third-person fiction often. "You" is part of the rarely-used second tense and doesn't work well in third-person stories. First-person stories work well with it. A little. Replace "you" with one of your characters. You may have to rewrite the entire sentence. I see a lot fewer POV switches in first-person. It's because in first-person, the degree of separation between characters A and B is greater than in third-person fiction. It depends on the type of third-person used, but POV switches may be possible and to a degree logical with it. Most third-person I see is intimate, so I'll stick with that. With intimate third person, you can't know what the other characters are thinking and feeling. Even little things such as color can't leak through. The viewpoint character can GUESS through interior monologue or dialogue. He can't just KNOW. (Exceptions: psychics.) If you're not sure, ask yourself if the viewpoint character can really know any particular detail. Be honest! I see false POV switches all the time from interior monologue that's not well transitioned. 7. ALLITERATION AND RHYMEY WRITING When you write with words that are accidentally alliterative or are cheap like time and coincidentally rhyme--you've got a problem. Granted, I don't see examples as extreme as mine, and some alliteration won't kill a story. You still need to be aware of this problem. Alliteration is unpleased when read and gives text an odd pacing. Alliteration can occur closely or further away. It can also occur in the middle of words, for example, as in, "Alliteration is unpleasing on the page. . ." It tends to occur with harder sounds. Rhymes shouldn't be directly in your text. If you have a rhyme, separate it from the body of a the text. Don't worry about this problem too much while you're writing. It's too distracting and sometimes you just can't avoid alliteration without awkward constructions. 8. DIALOGUE The last in the list, dialogue falls prey to so many ailments I'm only going to mention the three things that I see the most: improper format, unnatural, and dialogue with said-bookisms. When a new person speaks, start a new paragraph. It's not quite as simple as that you'll notice if you read a lot of books. Until you're very experienced, just start a new paragraph. It's less confusing and reads a lot better that way. You can create natural dialogue easily if you use contractions in it. Most writers do this instinctively, yet there are a few who don't. Also, watch out for polysyllabic words. In real life, not many of us use big words. We use simple words. Some of the most common ones we use include, "I, the, and". Said-bookisms were named after a post-WWII manual sent out to writers that offered numerous variations on the word "said". Most writers will tell you "said" is virtually invisible in a story. You should use it as much as possible. You're not adding preciseness or color to a story when you use said-bookisms. You're calling attention to the text itself, telling the reader that your dialogue can't stand on its own, and marking yourself as an amateur. Limit said-bookisms to one a story (if any at all) and perhaps a dozen in a book (if any at all). I've heard recommendations of the only alternates you should use. These are: "replied, asked, answered, cried, exclaimed". Your best bet is not to use them at all. There you have it. The list isn't exhaustive, to be sure. I'm sure there are places it can be improved. So again, please speak up with suggestions!