Things to avoid when writing your novel: how not to annoy your reader

Hi guys,

So I just want to start this new post off with an apology, as I haven’t posted for ages. I have no excuse other than that I’ve have been slacking, along with the fact that I had my birthday and Christmas in quick succession. My new year’s resolution will definitely be to post on a more regular basis!

Anyway, moving on, today’s post details a few things to avoid when writing your novel, many of which are based on errors I’ve found when reading books. The list has been compiled based on what I, as a reader, dislike, but I imagine that my points accurately reflect many other peoples’ opinions. A lot of these aren’t new or ground-breaking, but I feel they may be useful to bring to the attention of you writers out there.

Contrived character arc

A character arc which feels contrived is a MASSIVE turn off. Yes, arcs are necessary components of well-written and well-rounded books, but they should be subtle, not in-your-face and not written as exposition.

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To further explain this using an example –

Assume your character starts as shy and unable to trust people, but learns how to trust throughout your novel. By the end, she has overcome her fear, thus has transitioned from one to the other. This is her ‘arc’. To show this arc, you should gradually show her behaviour and mindset changing (generally as a result of outside influences and events). The key word here is SHOW, and you can show this transition through her actions and dialogue. Yes, you can also use her inner thoughts, but do so carefully and sparingly, and don’t just end up explaining things. If you start to use inner monologue as a gateway to highlighting the character arc, it will end up feeling insincere. See the below as an example of this, taken from my review of FLAWED by Cecelia Ahern.

This monologue, instead of subtly characterising her and developing the story line, is in fact just used to painstakingly explain and warrant her random and seemingly unfounded behaviour, thus justify the entire plot. It felt contrived and like Ahern was using the inner monologue just to highlight over and over again that she had attempted a character arc.

Celestine is a ‘logical’ person, which we are told numerous times within the first few chapters. Her inner monologue and character arc had a lot of this:

“I’m such a logical person, which is why I’ve just made this entirely logical decision to act in this logical way. This is why this logical thing has happened.”

Sudden character change – introduce it gradually

Characters generally change throughout a novel, and this change should not only be subtle, but should also be gradual. Try to:

  • avoid having a flat character throughout the novel, and then suddenly having them change at the end based on one event.
  • avoid having the character ‘arc’ within the first few chapters and then stay flat for the remainder of the novel
  • introduce the change gradually and believably.
  • ensure the character is reacting in a way that makes sense and is realistic.
  • ensure that you aren’t trying to force a character arc in a way that is unnatural and doesn’t fit with the story.

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Creating a story world which doesn’t make sense

Thinking through the exact mechanics of your story world is a must! There’s nothing more annoying than reading a novel, and then coming across an element of the story world which doesn’t make sense. It can be very hard to spot flaws, as you know your story well, so everything makes sense to you – the best thing to do is to ask a trusted friend for feedback. They will be able to point out problems and areas of confusion that you won’t have noticed yourself.

Ensure that the rules in your world are consistent and make sense (even if they only make sense in the context of your world). If the world is inconsistent, you risk other elements of your novel not making sense – your character’s behaviour as an example. Inconsistencies may also annoy your reader as it may look like you’re altering the story world to ‘fit’ your story, as opposed to having a believable story that is set in your world, if that makes sense!

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Don’t explain everything

This is a fairly standard rule. Don’t feel the need to explain all aspects of your characters’ thoughts and actions. Sometimes, less is more and it’s better to infer what is happening as opposed to explaining it. Only use inner monologue and explanation if it is necessary to the storyline, otherwise you risk boring your readers, and making your characters seem shallow and your narrative seem amateur.

Bonus point:

Don’t constantly have your characters address one another using their names.
For example:

“Hi, Heather how are you?”

“I’m great thanks, Rebecca, what are you up to today?”

“Nothing really, Heather.”

“That’s great, Rebecca!”

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This point is self-explanatory.

And that’s a wrap on this week’s blog post. Is there anything we missed out that you hate as a reader? Let me know in the comments.