Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Editor Nita Pronovost & Author Brian Francis on the Top Mistakes Writers Make

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Editor Nita Pronovost & Author Brian Francis on the Top Mistakes Writers Make

All writers, regardless of their experience, can take a wrong turn from time to time. The rules of writing were made to be broken, but there are some things that you want to watch out for in any piece of prose. You'll be amazed how much tweaking some common mistakes will improve your writing. If you're a writer, whether emerging or established, you won't want to miss these tips and tricks of the trade.

In advance of Improving Your Writing, presented by IFOA, a one-day workshop at Harbourfront Centre on Saturday, October 25, instructors Nita Pronovost (senior editor at Penguin Random House) and Brian Francis (author of Natural Order and Fruit) are breaking down the top mistakes writers make.

Top Mistakes Writers Make

Nita’s Top Mistakes:

  1. Telling rather than showing: When writing, it’s always good to show characters in scenes in action, rather than just telling us, “This happened, then this, then this.” Keep your reader involved and avoid overexplaining. Let readers intuit and participate.
  2. Overexplaining from the outset: Make your opening count. Whether you’re writing a novel or a piece of nonfiction, a short story or a poem, captivate your reader from the beginning. Engage us and we’ll be yours for the duration. Remember that less is sometimes more.
  3. Not committing to a structure: Would you build a house on “instinct”? Would you look for your hotel in a new city by following your gut? The same goes for your prose. Instinct is a great starting point, but once you know what you’re writing, find a structure that will see you from your first impulse towards a satisfying form that suits your style and intention. Structure will help you move from an idea through a process to a final draft that has integrity.

Brian’s Top Mistakes:

  1. Forgetting the reader: Sometimes, writers get so caught up in writing, they forget their story is meant to be read. By other humans. Who don’t have access to the interior of a writer’s head. It’s one thing to tell your story to yourself. That’s what a first draft is for. But the end result is to tell a story to someone else. Don’t lose sight of that.
  2. Hoarding: Sometimes, a writer will keep their story to themselves for too long, not wanting to show it to anyone until they feel it’s ready. Problem is, what if the end product sucks? You’ve wasted all that time writing in isolation. (Trust me, I’ve been there.) Solicit feedback early in your writing and throughout. You’ll be in a better place at the end.
  3. Exclamation Marks: Listen to me! If your dialogue is written well, you don’t need exclamation marks to convey emotion! I’m serious! Stop it! And while we’re on the topic, leave behind the sighs, the screams and the exclaims. Just use “said”. It’s not how your characters say something that’s important. It’s what your characters say. Readers will hear the emotion if you’ve done your job right.

Have you identified pitfalls to avoid in writing? Tell us on twitter at @openbooktoronto and @IFOA!

And don't miss the chance to learn more from Brian and Nita in their Improving Your Writing. Visit the IFOA website for more information.

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