10 Bad Writing Habits to Break

by Suzanne Lieurance

Want to write better fiction?

Then see if you’ve developed any of these 10 bad writing habits. If you have, it's time to break them. When you do, your fiction can’t help but improve.

#1. Waiting to Hook Your Reader

Ideally, you want to “hook” your readers with the very first sentence of your story. If you can’t do it in the first sentence, at least do it by the end of the first page.

#2. Including Huge Chunks of Backstory in the First Few Pages

Backstory tends to remind the reader that he is reading a story, whereas plenty of action and dialogue help the reader feel as if he is living the story right along with the characters. Try to eliminate long chunks of backstory as much as you can.

#3. Using Vague or Weak Verbs with Plenty of Adverbs and Adjectives

Why say things like “he said softly” when you can simply say “he whispered”? Strive to use the strongest verbs you can. Strong verbs don’t need modifiers.

#4. Tacking on Too Much Description or Action in Your Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags are meant to let the reader know which character is speaking. Good tags aren’t noticeable to the reader. But if too many actions or too much description is tacked onto these tags, they begin to stick out to the reader and distract from the story itself. Create a separate sentence if you need to describe what the character is doing as he speaks.

#5. Starting too Many Sentences with Participle Phrases

Participle phrases are a prime example of passive writing. They also stick out to the reader when they are used too often to start a sentence and they distract from the story. Read the work of really good writers and you won’t see many, if any, sentences that start with participle phrases.

#6. Using Few, if Any, Sensory Details

If you want your characters and settings to come alive for your readers, you need to weave plenty of sensory details into the story. Sensory details help “show, not tell” how things felt, smelled, sounded, even tasted to the characters, and therefore, help the reader experience all these story elements, too.

#7. Not Creating a Big Enough Story Problem

What’s at stake in each of your stories? It has to be something BIG! Something the main character really wants to get, solve, or be. If your main character doesn’t really care about the story problem, readers won’t either.

#8. Creating Indistinct Characters

What sets each of your characters apart from the other characters in your story? Be sure each character sounds, looks, and acts differently from all the other characters. Otherwise, it will be too difficult for readers to keep your cast of characters straight.

#9. Not Enough Rising Action

This is probably the biggest bad habit new writers seem to have. They love their characters so much, they hate to see them get into too much trouble or face too many difficulties. But without complications in a story (you must have things get worse and worse for your main character), you really don’t have a story. You simply have a series of incidents.

#10. Unsatisfying Endings

Do your stories end too abruptly with no real resolution? You need to tie up all the loose ends after the climax takes place in your story. Otherwise, you won't have an ending that satisfies your readers.

Use these 10 bad writing habits as a checklist as you're writing your next story to help you break these bad habits.

Want to write a novel? Suzanne Lieurance can help. Check out her Book Boot Camp for Novelists.

Suzanne Lieurance is a fulltime freelance writer, writing coach, certified life coach, and the author of over 30 published books. For more tips, resources, and other helpful information about writing and the business of writing, get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge at www.morningnudge.com.

16 comments:

  1. These are a great reminder of writing fiction.

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  2. Bad habits? I don't have any bad habits. Oops. there's one. Oh, and there's another. Yeesht! (-:

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    1. Hey, Carolyn,

      We all like to think we don't have any bad writing habits. But if we become more aware of our bad habits, then we can break them. Happy writing!

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  3. Suzanne, great list of what not to do in your writing. I'm ghostwriting a MG fantasy novel - these tips are great reminders to keep front and center!

    Carolyn, LOL!

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    1. Hey, Karen,

      Have fun with your MG fantasy novel!

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  4. Excellent, Suzanne. These are all things I "harp on" my editing clients and writing students, and they're a good reminder for me too!

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    1. Hi, Heidi,

      Thanks for dropping by. I think we can all use a list of "reminders" when we're writing.

      Delete
  5. You have a mini fiction-writing course rolled into this article, Suzanne! I definitely need to share this. Thanks!

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    1. Hi, Angela,

      Yes, please share this post with all your writer friends. Thanks.

      Delete
  6. Great list Suzanne. When reading a book I can forgive a lot writing problems but not weak character development or unsatisfying endings.

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    1. Hi, Mary Jo,

      Yeah, underdeveloped characters and unsatisfying endings can ruin the whole story.

      Delete
  7. Thanks so much Suzanne. Most of these I have learned (umm . . . mostly!) but there are a few I need to work on.

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    1. Hi, Shirley,

      I think every writer has at least a few bad habits he can work at breaking. Good luck with yours!

      Delete
  8. Excellent, Suzanne,

    I'd like to make a point about your example in #3. "He said softly" can mean something vastly different than "whispered".

    "Whispered" pretty much says the character didn't want to be generally heard. "He said softly" can carry a ton of emotional meaning in the right circumstance.

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  9. Melchisideck, great point! I'm currently editing a book and it has "spoke softly" in it, meaning he spoke tenderly and lovingly.

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