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Craig Nybo, writing Tips

I recently read a novel by a well-known author (who shall remain nameless), a household name. It astounded me at how many rookie mistakes this author made. It has been said that one can learn just as much by reading a bad book as a good one. So, in lieu of my terrible experience wading through this lemon, I’m going to attempt to make lemonade. Here is a list of this author’s rookie mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Start your novel with a rich foundation of back-story
Authors spend tons of time thinking about the stories they write before ever putting down the words, “Chapter 1.” An author writes many documents about his or her story before writing the actual story. These documents take the forms of character sketches, research, setting development, and backstory.

Bad to mediocre authors insert much of their pre-writing research into their stories. I get it, you have spent a lot of time researching and writing about the time period and setting of your story. You have written a killer backstory for your protagonist and antagonist. You want to show off all the work you have done in your novel.

RESIST THIS TEMPTATION.

You can show readers the depth of your research by keeping it out of your finished work. Back-story is important; but it must stay in the background. And by the background, I mean out of your novel all together.

I hear authors say that the backstory must be included to set up locations, characters, and circumstances. This is absolutely false. Rookie writers often spend the first one to five chapters setting up their stories by filling us in on the life stories of main characters and the histories of key places in which their story takes place. This is a problem that can be solved by one stroke of the DELETE key.

Readers are not interested in how your characters got to where they are. Readers just want to be dropped in at the first point of action and stay only until the action ends. Anything extra has the effect of tying a cinderblock to your story and dropping it off a bridge into the river.

Mistake #2: Use plenty of adjectives to describe your characters and scenes
When it comes to adjectives, standard math doesn’t work. Here is correct adjective math 1 = 0, 2=you’re wasting my time, 3=dude, this sucks. Mark Twain once said, “when you catch an adjective, kill it.” I couldn’t agree more.

In her book, which I recently finished reading, the (to remain nameless) author to whom I dedicate this article used two or even three adjectives at a time to describe any one thing. This practice makes writing easier, but it doesn’t make good writing. If you can manage to delete as many adjectives as possible (sure, you will have to be evil and use a few) your prose will shine.

In place of adjectives, use action to describe. A characters face can be flushed, crimson, and rose-pedal colored. Or that character can seethe until his face turns into a viper pepper. Verbs describe with action. Adjectives act like fat on a piece of meat. And who likes to chew and chew and chew on that stuff? Not me. I’m out.

Mistake #3: Describe everything about your characters
Isn’t it fun to sit and listen to someone give you an inventory of every article of clothing in their wardrobe? NO. It isn’t fun. So why would readers be interested in hearing about every pair of pants, shirt, and accessory every character in your story wears? The answer: readers don’t care.

People read fiction to escape reality. This escape is a partnership between the writer and the reader. It’s the writer’s job is to fill in just enough details to peek the reader’s imagination. It’s the reader’s job to fill in the rest of the picture. To over-write your story with things like hair color, wardrobe cut, length, and shoe size, takes away your reader’s ability to fill in the blanks. And, frankly, it’s a little insulting.

How much detail do readers need about your characters? How about this for an answer: NONE. Readers don’t need to know what color your character’s hair is, unless your character’s black hair helps her to hide in the dark. Readers don’t need to know if your character is wearing a tie-dye shirt, unless of course he wears it to a formal occasion and makes himself into a laughing stock.

Unless a detail has something to do with your story, leave it out.

And so you can see, one can learn something from reading bad fiction. Take these three rules and try them out. I guarantee that your readers will thank you.

Good luck,

Craig Nybo


Craig Nybo
Craig Nybo

Craig Nybo writes novels, screenplays, and short stories. He also composes and records music. Craig lives in Kaysville, Utah with his lovely wife and children.

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