5 Mistakes Young Writers Make
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By Droemar   |   Watch
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Published: December 4, 2009
EDIT: If you like this journal entry, check out The Sarcastic Guide to Writing ebook www.amazon.com/The-Sarcastic-G… for exclusive content on world-building, character, and dialogue!

I enjoy belittling everyone, as you know, so I thought I'd post some thoughts on a lot of the writing I see around DA, and the common problems that plague it.  I present five common pitfalls for your consideration.

1. The Mary Sue Of course.  Regardless of whether it disguises itself as a fursona, an OC in a fanfic, or some other spurious creation, the Mary Sue lurks everywhere. I understand the appeal of this kind of protagonist, especially in regard to the tween and teen years.  When I was that age, my world a daily upheaval of confusion that all too often manifested as feeling bad about myself, I used to do what I call the "I'm-Better-Than-You" stories in my head, in which I'd show the Saddle Club and Ramona Quimby my superiority by having better horses and toys (respectively.)  Yeah.  And that's why I'm glad I didn't post that crap.  Mary Sues are oft the weapon of people struggling with their own feelings of self-worth by practicing in oneupsmanship.  You'll notice that many who write Mary Sues are often screamingly defensive of them, and if there's a fandom involved, be quick to let you know that they know more and care more about the fandom than you ever could.
Mary Sues abound in original tales, too, but they take the same role, as defender of their writer, and a better, prettier, more accepted version of them, too.  Sympathize with the Mary Sue writers, but don't enable them.  Say things like "I didn't feel any tension" or "What would you say your character is trying to overcome internally and externally?"  I promise you sputters and blank looks.  To those who write them: No one wants to read about someone perfect and awesome and great who knows everything.  You personally can't stand those kind of people in real life, and in fact, their very belittling presence is what drives you to write Mary Sues in the first place.  Until you can give me someone with a real emotional flaw and the courage to overcome it, I don't want to read your story.  After all, I know your guy is going to win and be completely untroubled by it all, right?  So why should I bother?


2. Over-describing the mundane.  Whoof.  This one's a big one, holy crap.  I can't tell you the number of times I've read stuff like "She pursed her fine ruby lips, delicately placed them against the crystalline ridge of the glass, and tipped the sweet, clear water down her delicate throat, which pulsed gently as she swallowed," instead of "Jane sipped from her cup."  (In fact, I think a small part of my literary aesthetic just died typing that sentence.)  Somehow, this gets worse with animals; I guess cause they're supposed to be all wild and beautiful and cool.  Unless said drinking has a whole plot hinging on it, don't freaking bother waiting my time.  I don't care how people put on their pants, look at their reflections (which is a cheap trick anyway), tie their shoes, or eat.  If it doesn't relate to the story, I don't care.  And I will get at mad at you when I realize the description has no plot relevance or fails to add to the story's environment.  Describing magic, cultures, or other things significant to the feel of the world is one thing.  Telling me how someone does some everyday activity is not.  This can tie in to the Mary Sue thing, above, because everything a Mary Sue does is gaspingly wondrous to watch.  Didn't you know?

   3. No end in sight.  Everyone wants to write a novel.  EVERYONE.  But the amount of people who can say they've successfully finished a novel are quite small in comparison.  The definition of a writer is someone who writes, not someone who talks about it.  And if you start walking amongst writers, published or not, and start talking about all these bestseller ideas you've got if you'd only find the time to finish them, you will become a source of amusement to people who kind of already consider themselves pathetic in the first place.  (We are writers, after all.)  How many graphic novels on DA have an actual ending planned?  How many novels or short stories?  I admit to this pitfall freely; Dragon Rose literally started as "once there was a girl with an awesome horse."  Once the core idea's shine wears off, a lot of people are left blinking at the cursor thinking "Now what?" (I did.) It's why most writers hate plot.  But if you don't have an ending in mind, I'm of the opinion that your idea will peter out before it hits the finish line.  Plot and plan, and sweat and struggle to do it.  If you don't, you're working with no end in sight.  And I, as a reader, am not inclined to follow a storyteller who doesn't know where he's going.  Not when there a bunch of other people out there who already do, and want me to spend time in their worlds.

   4. Finding ten ways to say black.  This, combined with the over-describing sin above, can make for some real howlers.  If Stephanie Meyer suffers from over-describing the mundane, then Christopher Paolini suffers from the ten-ways sin.  This is where you find a different way to refer to someone or something every time you don't mention them by name.  "The fair-haired lad" becomes "the blonde boy" becomes "the golden Adonis" becomes the "young hero" when he's not "Vlad".  Or, if someone has black hair, they have raven locks, sable curls, and midnight tresses.  This will completely screw up your writing style, because you will inevitably start using words you don't know and never use in real life conversation.  The term hackneyed comes to mind, and it gets even worse when people start trying to use Victorian or Old English.  Unless you are an etymologist, a person who understands the history of words, where they came from, and how they evolved, don't do this.  Because there are reasons why South Texan ranchers don't use the same kind of words high-bred Brits do, and there would be a reason why your illiterate peasant couldn't describe why your hero's hair is an "auriferous halo" if the story was being told from his point of view.  He wouldn't know the meaning of the words!  Call Vlad Vlad and his blonde hair blonde and get on with the freaking story.  We won't fuss at you, I promise.  In the end, we'll probably thank you.

   5. Writing fan fiction.  I might get some real flak for this one, but keep in mind this is merely a humble and unpublished writer's opinion.  There are also people out there who write for established canons and get paid for it, so it's not like there's no money in it, either.  I confess of only writing one fanfiction in my life, which was for Watership Down.  (Yes.  You may laugh.  I wasn't brave enough to touch Adams's characters, though; that was one small mercy.)  I do not personally feel it is possible for someone to grasp what it means to establish character or world when they are writing fanfiction.  Granted, it can be a good exercise or experiment, but I see people writing entire novel-length tales in a world that isn't theirs.  And getting lauded by people who love the world and its characters, and would probably settle for seeing them jump rope, as long as their hero of choice is doing it with their love interest of choice.  Fandom also seems a weird, distorted beast that likes to breathe fire, where arguments break out over who is respecting canon and so on, when folks should be focusing on writing style and if stuff is even making sense without the foregone exposition.  It is, in many respects, a rather illusionary and volatile environment to write in, since even if you win it's sort of lame.  No fanfiction writer, anywhere, can be better than the one who created the world in the first place, like Jordan or Tolkien or Adams.  They had originality and the courage to put themselves out there.  (Even Paolini's work is better than any of his fanfiction writers.  I just gagged a little.)   Eventually, you're going to have to do it too, or at least get a grasp of what means good writing.  Fanfiction is not a good place to learn serious writing, how to world-build or create emotional hooks out of character, or even how to receive critique.  It is, however, extremely fun to poke the fandom.  Fanfiction written as satire or deconstruction would count as one of the aforementioned exercise perks to writing fanfiction.  I honestly can't say whether I want My Immortal to be a joke or a serious effort.
Comments99
anonymous's avatar
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WaffleKatz101's avatar
WaffleKatz101Student General Artist
As a very young writer, I can say I agree with everything (Except the fanfiction... Fanfiction is my life! I hate anime, which makes up the entire fanfic genre though... Mainly a band and a book series dominate my notes) especially the 'over descriptions'. In all honesty, I do this. But only when a character is paying very close attention to another one (Ex. For my AU set in the past, when Daniel poisons Ashling, he pays attention to how she drinks her wine). The Mary-Sue problem isn't really mine, as all my characters have flaws (Trauma. Cocky. Clingy.) and wrongs, but for the 'a million words for...' I get that every single time I write Warrior Cats fanfiction. For that band I spoke of though... It's honestly six men on a bus screaming because they keep fighting. No description needed.
robinscot's avatar
It is not that I ignore any of these grammatical and/or stylistic features when I read student work. proofreading guide
Snapsunset's avatar
SnapsunsetHobbyist General Artist
  While I do agree with you ,but I do want to say a few things about the fifth mistake. Since fanfiction is written in a canon universe, you really can't world build there. You can try and describe the world in detail, but that's different from world building. If it's fanfiction, it probably has more praise than critique. If there is any, the author might not deal with it well.
  While I find that some fanfiction writers are more interesting to read than the actual author, I know that's not a good argument. I do want to add especially since a lot of them should probably focus more in English.
1AuroraAngel1's avatar
1AuroraAngel1Student General Artist
All aspiring writers should read this. 
Fiolee-Freak4427's avatar
Fiolee-Freak4427Hobbyist Writer
I completely agreed with you until you started talking about fan-fiction. The way I see it, it's sort of a way for a fandom to see different endings that may not have been in the original show, movie, or book. Also I always know how I want to begin and end a story I just never know what to put in the middle which is common for many professional writers.
Rebeccannoying's avatar
RebeccannoyingStudent Traditional Artist
I get amazing ideas all the time for stories; I can usually visualize in great detail how they begin, and have a decent understanding of how it will end and what message I wish to send in the process. It's getting from the beginning to the end that always trips me up xD Then again, I only write for myself when incredibly random inspiration strikes, and I'm definitely not a writer. Most of my "fun writing" folder is full of snippets of scenes and stories that pop into my head out of nowhere and won't get out of my head until I record them :)
Aveneer's avatar
:la: Reading this and your other journal about writing made me interested in writing again! n.n
I had my fantasies and mindtwists laying around in the back of my head, waiting for me to 'find time to write', but I guess I'm just going to go for it! :D
I'm just wondering... (small hope, but a try is better than nothing?)
Whenever I finish/get to a certain part of my story ( The comments learned me that you only read the first 5 pages, so idk) and when I get it translated, would you mind reading it? :cookie:
Droemar's avatar
Sure, If it gets you writing again, send me the first five pages.
Aveneer's avatar
:D
I guess I'm going to get ready to write in a bit then ^^
Schoolwork first though (;
Morgue-Awall's avatar
Morgue-AwallHobbyist Writer
My problem is not the ending. I have how I want it to end. I just... don't know how to get there. xD
Droemar's avatar
Then go for it. Sometimes that stuff works itself on the page. But how it ends is all you need.
Morgue-Awall's avatar
Morgue-AwallHobbyist Writer
Yes, I suppose you're right. I'm just too lazy. xD
PollutedEssence's avatar
Very helpful! I think I need to work on #2. I try not to, but I think I slip sometimes. Appreciate you writing this! You have some really good ones!
Ashien's avatar
RE: #5

I beg to disagree! :D A good fanfiction author is worth ten times their weight in gold, but they are there. Vathara, on ff.net, is pretty good; she works with the world and blends worlds together quite well. Lightning on the wave rewrote the entire Harry Potter series into a completely different saga - based on the common fanfiction plot that Harry Potter had a twin who was called the boy-who-lived, exploring a lot of psychological stuff - and did it *well*. Some fanfiction is used to fulfil fantasies, and play around with the characters people love, but it isn't always done badly.
IRAtheIV's avatar
arent mary-sues in fairy tales?
KreativProtege's avatar
KreativProtegeHobbyist Interface Designer
there a way to save other peoples journals by chance? :P
LaughingFacade's avatar
LaughingFacadeHobbyist Traditional Artist
Let us all pray at the mighty altar of wisdom that Droemar has once again revealed to us...thank you! I've been running a few of my main charries through the Mary Sue Litmus test, and it's all immensely helpful! And the tips are very useful! Anyways, I was wondering, do you ever edit writing? I'm not suggesting that I'm going to throw a few hundred first-draft novel-ish things into your inbox or anything (because that's fun, right? :eyeroll:), but it'd be helpful to get a character review, if you do.

Thanks again!
~LaughingFacade
Droemar's avatar
Character review? I'm not quite sure what that means, but I might be interested. The most I ever look at is the first five pages, because I can usually diagnose any problems from those. I can't take any right now, but if you've got a summary or a character template or something, I'd be willing to give some kind of feedback.
LaughingFacade's avatar
LaughingFacadeHobbyist Traditional Artist
I guess by character review, I just mean searching for anomalies and things that are illogical. So yeah, like a character template =) Would you mind if I sent you one so you could look it over?
LaughingFacade's avatar
LaughingFacadeHobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks very much! It'll take me a little while to put it together, but I should have it done by tomorrow morning at the latest =)
CLGCArt's avatar
CLGCArtHobbyist Traditional Artist
Is there a way to +fav journal entries 'cause I'd love to for all your lovely tip journals!

You bring up a lot of excellent points here concerning young writers and I can recall accidentally committing a few way back in the day. I agree with your thoughts on fanfiction. I used to write fanfiction when, hell, I was in middle school, maybe? I finally figured out that it was limiting my ability to come up with original characters and dropped it all together. However, I think fanfiction can be a great starting point for grasping certain fiction concepts like theme, scene transition, dialogue, and so on and so forth. Yes, it doesn't help much in the imagination department, but it can help with the basic writing skills and prepare young writers for criticism since we all know how harsh fanfiction lovers can be. I think one of mine ended up on a website chronicling poorly done fanfiction. I made an account and thanked them for their harsh words simply because it helped me grow as a writer in terms of taking criticism.
StarfireC13's avatar
What on earth is a Mary Sue? I wanna know so I know whether I've created any by mistake. ^^;
Droemar's avatar
If you have a character you'd like to test for being a Mary Sue, Google the Mary Sue Litmus test. Basically, if your character is a super awesome person whose never wrong and everyone loves and listens to, chances are it's a Mary Sue.
anonymous's avatar
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