Hi, everyone, and thank you, Becky, for having me! I’ll keep my introductions short because I have A LOT of content below. If you haven’t made a tea and opened a pack of biscuits already, now’s the time 🙂
Ready? Let’s dig in!
As an editor, I see a lot of early drafts. Sometimes, even first drafts land on my desk! Some “errors”, or examples of “bad” writing, come up more often than others. Fortunately, most of them are easy to fix. Unfortunately, self-editing your novel is still a fiery trip through hell.
Please note I’ll be using “errors” and other variants loosely, because writing is ultimately an art form. Editors don’t force changes on their authors, but I do recommend you take our advice. We know what we’re doing and want what you want—the best for your book.)
I’ve summarised the points I see most often for you with examples and solutions, so your next edit doesn’t need to be as painful.
And, if you’re interested, there’s a discount on all my editing services waiting at the end 🙂
#1 Show, Don’t Tell
This is one of those that pops up in every draft I edit, and it’s the one I struggled with the most myself when I wrote my first book. The advice is everywhere—show, don’t tell—but what does it mean and what can you do about it?
There are three places this strikes the most:
- In character descriptions
- In setting descriptions
- In action scenes
Let’s look at each of those in turn.
It’s so easy to slip up here, because we feel our readers need to know every single detail. This leads to rather boring descriptions:
His eyes were blue, his hair brown, and his skin white. He was 5 foot 2. His jeans, torn at the knees, were blue and looked worn. His shirt was checked red and black, his sleeves folded. His suede boots went just over his ankles and were a little darker than his hair. He had a cross necklace.
Not overly thrilling, is it?
You can fix your character descriptions easily with one simple trick. What do you notice when you first meet someone? Their hair and eye colour, or something else? Their confident walk? The way they can’t quite look you in the eyes, smile at the floor, and keep their hands busy? Their kind eyes? Or maybe the way their eyes bore right into you like they’re used to interrogating people or like they won’t take no for an answer?
In truth, most of us don’t even know the eye colour of our own parents without needing to check. Unless there’s something special about someone’s eye colour, we’re not likely to pay much attention to a stranger’s.
In the example above, the most interesting detail is that his jeans are torn at the knees. Why? Because it tells us something about his character. Maybe he’s a rebel. Maybe his jeans are also stained green around the tears, which could tell us that he works in the garden a lot.
When you introduce a new character, especially your main character, don’t worry too much about smaller details like hair and eye colour. Tell us the things that speak of his personality, that introduce him as more than a blue-eyed boy with blond hair who’s half a head taller than you.
You can slip in things like their eye colour, but don’t describe for the sake of description. If you mix it in, there should be a reason your character notices.
I struggled hard with this point when I wrote my first book. It’s impossible to edit your own work well anyway, but to edit something you don’t quite understand? The whole show-don’t-tell thing definitely wasn’t my strong point.
When I was ten, I wrote a *ahem* “book”. There was a tree in my MC’s garden which led to another world, but I didn’t focus on the tree in my description. I did mention every other tiny detail. I thought, if my book got turned into a movie they’d need to get it right, so I went into insane detail.
It’s something I see often now when I edit my authors’ books.
Jenny stepped into her friend’s garden. A large oak stood in the middle. A light-brown bench stood under its leaves. A white-painted fence with pointed ends separated the garden from their neighbours, and ten red rose bushes had been planted on each side of the fence. A yellow-and-red slide for my friend’s toddler sister stood behind the tree, just a little to the left of the trunk. The grass looked like it had been cut recently. To the right of it, there was a swing set with blue seats.
Too much information, isn’t it? You can picture the garden, but there’s so much going on you don’t know where to look.
An easy way to fix this is to only mention the things Jenny would notice because it fits her character. If she has an interest in plants, for example, it makes sense that she notices what kind of bushes there are, what types of flowers, or what kind of tree. If she’s not interested in plants—maybe they even bore her—she’s not likely to notice more than the colour, if that.
More importantly, we only know what she sees but we have no idea what she hears or smells. You can easily breathe life into your settings by using all senses. A warm summer breeze on her skin, bees buzzing nearby and yellow with pollen, and the strong smell of sausages sizzling on the BBQ mixing with the mild scent of freshly cut grass paint a more vivid image than the first description.
I’ll be the first to admit that action scenes are hard. That’s because, out of these three points, action scenes are the ones we’re most unfamiliar with. We don’t get into fist fights every day, we don’t fight in wars, and we don’t run for our lives, so we have no personal experience to draw from.
No one likes to read a flat fight scene like this:
Carrie’s enemy, John, attacked. She stepped aside. John missed. Carrie looked at him, angry. She drew her sword and attacked back. John dodged, but she got his side so he was bleeding. John stared at her. He gripped his sword harder and attacked again. She barely dodged that time.
One thing many new writers forget is that fighting is hard work. It’s exercise, plus you’re scared for your life. Adrenaline is pumping through your veins. People get tired. Out of breath. If they’re wearing heavy armour, that’ll wear them down. If they’re wearing light armour, they’ll feel every blow.
To complicate matters, blood is slippery, so if your characters are bleeding enough they have to be careful not to fall on their butts. Most people aren’t used to the smell of blood—and if your character is fighting a war, he can’t escape the smells of death either: blood, shit, and urine.
And that’s just the beginning. Writing a fight scene deserves a post on its own, tbh.
Your best bet is to use all the senses and make it look as physically and emotionally difficult as any fight is.
#2 Pointing Out the Obvious
I struggled massively with how much to tell my readers when I wrote my first book. I was worried they’d miss something. After all, just because it’s clear to me doesn’t mean it’s clear to them, right?
As a general rule, our readers are smarter than we give them credit for. They won’t miss those things you’re worried about, and they will remember the things you’re concerned they’ll forget.
How do you fix it?
The words “obviously” and “clearly” are a good start. Search your document for those and cut them—chances are you don’t need them because you’ve already shown what’s obvious.
Peter screamed. He stomped his feet, not caring that it was childish. Kate deserved worse for cheating on him. He grabbed the vase she loved so much and smashed it against the wall. He was obviously angry with her.
I promise you, we know—and the word “obviously” tells me that you know it too.
Another place where you might be pointing out the obvious is after speech.
‘I hate you!’ she said, obviously angry.
The words “obviously angry” don’t tell us anything we don’t already know, because hate is usually declared in anger. We can tell she’s angry because she used such a strong, negative word.
Moreover, by pointing out what your character made clear, you undermine your readers’ intelligence. Not on purpose, of course, but by paraphrasing like in the examples above you assume that your readers didn’t get it themselves.
There’s another way this shows after speech. For example:
‘I can’t believe you did this to me. How could you?’ She was disappointed.
‘I’m sorry,’ he apologised to that. ‘I’ll never do it again! Please, give me another chance?’ he pleaded with her.
‘No,’ she denied him. ‘Get out of my house,’ she said angrily.
In this example, you need nothing but speech because what’s said is strong enough. You can fix this one of two ways: you can either cut everything that’s not speech, or you can add actions that enhance the scene. Either:
‘I can’t believe you did this to me. How could you?’
‘I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again! Please, give me another chance?’
‘No. Get out of my house.’
She backed away from him. ‘I can’t believe you did this to me. How could you?’ She shivered despite her jumper. Her eyes burned. This wasn’t the man she’d married.
‘I’m sorry.’ He looked close to tears himself but she didn’t care. He deserved no mercy for what he’d done. ‘I’ll never do it again! Please, give me another chance?’ He reached for her but she shoved his hand aside and picked up his bag.
She couldn’t look at him when she opened the door and threw his belongings into the night. ‘No. Get out of my house.’
See the difference?
If you’re worried it’s unclear, make it clearer by using stronger words or using actions to underline the speech. If you’ve made it clear, there’s no need to spell it out a second time.
#3 Passive Voice
If you’re struggling with this, you’re not alone. Many writers have trouble with this one, and I see it in every debut novel I edit. It’s hard to fix yourself, especially when you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Passive voice is a problem because it’s boring for your reader—it’s essentially telling when you could be showing.
Your strongest identifier is the word “by”. Here are two examples:
Passive: Her neck was nuzzled by kittens.
Active: Kittens nuzzled her neck.
Passive: The sausages were cooked on the bbq.
Active: My dad cooked the sausages on the bbq.
But you may not have used “by” in every instance. If you can add “by kittens” it’s probably passive.
As I mentioned above, it’s also telling when you should be showing. It’s description without reaction. It’s…
The day ended.
The orange-pink sea above wrapped the world in its warm embrace, casting long shadows and hinting at darker things eager for the black of night.
… is so much more evocative!
Don’t let your characters go through your world blind. Let them notice where they are and have an opinion. The more they see, the more we see. The more they feel, the more we feel.
#4 Overusing a Word or an Action
When we first start writing we think that, to establish a habit in a character, we need to mention it all the time or our readers won’t accept it’s a habit.
In reality, it’s enough for a character to repeat an action four or five times throughout the book to establish their habit. Some argue it’s even less than that.
For example, say your MC’s thing is petting every cat he sees. It doesn’t need to be his every other action for us to understand it’s his thing. If he pets just three or four cats in the entire book—and if he’s the only character doing it—we’ll get it’s a habit unique to him.
I once edited a book where a shy character apologised a lot. It went something like this:
‘I’m so sorry, ma’am, can I ask you a few questions? Sorry. I know this isn’t easy for you. When did you last eat? Sorry, I don’t mean to pry. Yesterday morning? I’m terribly sorry miss, you need to eat more and drink plenty of water. You’re unwell, but it’ll help. I’m so sorry.’
You get that he apologises a lot, but I bet you get annoyed with him too.
Another good sign you’re repeating yourself are uses of “still” or “again”. He’s reading his magazine. And then, two lines later: He’s still reading his magazine.
The best way to fix this is to be brutal when you edit. If you know you overuse certain words, search your document for those and cut as many as you can. Read every instance carefully and evaluate whether it really adds something.
Another way you might be overusing an action is when your characters keep doing the same things because you’re not sure what else to put. I once edited a book where the characters looked at each other after every other sentence rather than interact in some other way.
My best advice for fixing this is to watch people for a while. See what other people do when they talk to each other. Do they just look at each other, or do they do other things?
If you can’t delete it because it’s important to the scene but you’re still using it too often, think how you can rephrase it. Is there another word for the same action?
You can also ask your beta readers to point out repetitions. As with most things in writing, they’re much easier to spot for people who haven’t written the book. Cutting them will be easy once your betas have highlighted them!
#5 Referring to One Character in Different Ways
The only time we need a character’s full name, maybe his title if he has one, is when you first introduce him or under special circumstances—say, if he meets someone important.
If your character’s name is Duchess Jessica Catheryn Maple, you might introduce her as Jess, for example, or you might introduce her as Duchess Jessica. It depends on your character’s personality.
The most important thing in any book is that your readers care about your characters. You have to make them likeable, and an easy way to do that is if they introduce themselves as they would to a friend, or as they’d like to be known.
After that first introduction, use either their first name or their surname throughout, whichever suits the story more. There are exceptions, of course, but this rule will serve you well in 9/10 cases.
New writers often add variations of a character’s name to mix it up, thinking it makes their writing more varied. In reality, it makes things harder for your readers.
Every time you introduce someone new, you ask your readers to remember a name. The larger your cast, the more names they’ll need to remember, so referring to Jess as Jessica, Jess, Jessica Catheryn, Katy, Miss Maple, the duchess, Her Royal Highness, the cheeky duchess, the woman, and the altogether devious Jess is confusing.
Let us know right away what we should call your character and stick to it.
We already touched on this a little above, but it deserves its own point.
One thing I see often is an over-description of every-day actions and a lack of description for big, important scenes.
Let’s look at both.
Too much information
I once edited a paragraph which went something like this:
Harper raised her toes off the ground, rolled back her heel and spun it in a 90-degree angle to the right. She brought her toes back down, lifted her heel, and began to walk.
The only time it’s acceptable to put “Harper turned around and walked” into so many words is when Harper has been in rehab and this is her first step after a year of intensive therapy; otherwise, it’s just an every-day action.
Taking a step is easy for most of us. We’re familiar with it. If you tell us that Harper turned around, we’ll know what’s involved.
Not enough information
The opposite extreme is little to no information when we should have loads of it. Consider the following:
Cody swallowed as danger stared him in the face with angry, red eyes. He had no chance; this was it. His friend appeared and they escaped. Cody was relieved to be save.
Whoa, blink and you miss it! Where’s the escape? Where’s the tension? Where’s the fear, the chase, the tripping, and near-misses?
Here’s another example:
Today was a huge day for humanity—First Contact Day. Tim watched the portal and dried his hands, wet with nerves, on his lab coat. The portal flashed, and the aliens appeared to humanity for the first time.
‘These are our demands, Earthlings.’
They placed a screen with a long list on the table and left again.
When we make first contact with an extra-terrestrial species, it had better be more interesting than this! Where’s the excitement? What do the aliens look like? Why do they speak English? Tim is such a passive observer he might as well be talking about another rainy day.
Scenes like these need to be fleshed out. They’re big turning points in your story, so don’t let them pass us by!
What you add depends on the scene itself.
For example, when Cody escapes you could add tripping over rocks, twisted ankles, the monster’s fire singing his clothes and blistering his skin, the difficulty of continued running. Make us fear for his life!
When Tim meets aliens for the first time, you could tell us what they look like, how they sound, how different their screen is to Earth technology (if Tim cares about such things), if they have a particular smell, how Tim’s heart is racing and his knees shake as the aliens come through the portal.
If you’re not sure what to add, think back to a time you felt scared, worried, excited, nervous etc. Start by drawing from your own memories, and go from there.
#7 Spoiling the Secrets
You might think the reader needs to know, but it’s actually rather jarring and ruins the surprise/shock we should be feeling.
Daniel felt better than he had in days. He’d needed this promotion—he’d finally treat himself to pizza tonight—and walked home with a spring in his step. He didn’t know a werewolf was watching him, of course. Poor Daniel might have run the other way otherwise.
Now when the werewolf attacks Daniel, it’s no longer a surprise. Because of that, we don’t care. Daniel will be shocked and terrified, but we knew it was happening, so the moment is ruined for us.
You essentially have two different narrators in the above example. The first two lines are from Daniel’s POV as you let us into his head. The last two are you dipping into the story as the author to tell us something we should be finding out when Daniel does.
This can be hard to fix yourself, because you might not see the times you spoil the secrets. Nothing in your WIP is a secret to you, which makes it difficult. Moreover, you might be uncomfortable cutting it because you believe your reader needs to know.
Instead of telling us that a werewolf is following him and Daniel has no idea, you could show us that he feels watched. Maybe a bush he just passed rustles even though there’s no breeze that night. Maybe he has that feeling when you know something’s not right but you can’t put your finger on it. Maybe Daniel starts to walk faster, and maybe he hears footsteps behind him, matching his speed.
The best thing to do is to ask beta readers and your editor to keep an eye out for these instances.
#8 Being Unspecific
This is easily done but it’s also easily fixed.
The most common way this happens is when we use “thing” rather than name the object. For example, Terry picked up the thing doesn’t tell us anything. Terry picked up the time-worm leather book lets us visualise it.
Instead of using “thing”, you might use “the” or “a”. Your character might offer a hand in greeting, or he might offer his hand in greeting. What’s the difference?
Jonny offered his hand in greeting. Dan shook it.
Or: Jonny offered a hand in gree—OMG WHERE DID HE GET THAT. WHY DOES HE HAVE A WHOLE BAG OF SEVERED HANDS.
It might not seem like as big a deal as I’m making it sound in the example, but you’d be surprised how much of a positive difference being more specific can make!
Sometimes, it’s not as obvious as “the” or “thing”, though. You might think you’re being descriptive when a character picks up a flower or a book, but really you haven’t told us anything that helps us picture it.
If your character doesn’t care about flowers, he doesn’t need to recognise a less known kind like the Rafflesia Arnoldii, but everyone knows what a rose looks like. Unless your character is colour-blind, its colour is another detail you can give us. Perhaps it smells sweet or perhaps its scent is weak.
You can easily describe a book by telling us how thick it is, how heavy, what the cover looks like, or if the spine is cracked. We can notice lots of details without needing to know professional specifics!
You can be more specific by replacing every “thing” with the name of the object. Words like “the” or “a” are harder to pinpoint because a document-wide search would quickly get out of hand, but you can pay closer attention to those instances next time you self-edit.
You could also ask your betas to help you get rid of any unspecific descriptions.
#9 Filler Words
I’ll narrow it down to the most common ones I find, because it’ll grow into another post if I don’t.
The reason we don’t need “then” is because the rest of the sentence usually makes it clear. For example:
He had a long day at work. Then, once home, he ordered pizza.
We know the second part comes next because it stands next. The order of the sentence/paragraph/overall plot has done all the work.
In most cases, you can simply cut it, but sometimes you might need to change it to another word so the sentence still makes sense.
So-and-so continues to do something
Instead of telling us that your character is still doing the same thing as before, you can either cut it or you can show us his progress.
If there’s no progress, you can cut it. Say, your character has been looking at the same picture all chapter. Once a character starts one action, your reader assumes he’s still doing it unless you tell us otherwise, so the continuation is implied.
If there is progress, however, you can show us that instead. If your character is a doctor examining a patient, for example, don’t just say he continues to examine her. What new conclusions does he come to? What does he learn?
The latter is a good route to take because it lets the reader make progress alongside the character.
He did this before he did that
This is similar to “then”.
Matt brushed his teeth before he went to bed.
We know he brushed his teeth first because it stands first in the sentence. It’s also how most people do it.
It might work in some instances, but in most cases you can make your story more concise and get to the point faster by replacing “before he” with “and”.
This little word sneaks in so easily. Fortunately, it’s also easy to cut if you run a document search for it.
You just don’t need it because it just adds nothing, and by cluttering your writing it just weakens it, too. (see what I did there?)
He just didn’t know what to do.
Or: He didn’t know what to do.
He just needed to be left alone.
Or: He needed to be alone.
He just loved her more than life.
Or: He loved her more than life.
See the difference? It’s another case of getting to the point.
He moved to do something / he went to do something
Again, this is an example of getting to the point faster. Consider:
He went to take the pizza out the fridge.
And: He took the pizza out the fridge.
He moved to type the pin into the keypad.
And: He typed the pin into the keypad.
Like with “just”, it adds nothing; therefore, it can go without sacrificing anything.
This word weakens your writing. You’ve probably heard it before—most guides mention it.
There’s always a stronger word you can use instead, which won’t only cut unnecessary words but will also paint a clearer picture. For example:
She was very tired.
Or: She was exhausted.
She was very sad.
Or: She was heart-broken.
This brings me to the opposite problem…
A bit/a little
These weaken your writing for similar reasons as “very”, but instead of using a stronger word, you can use a weaker expression.
It works in reverse—people aren’t a little horrified, they’re scared. They aren’t a bit famished, they’re hungry.
Maybe it’s even less than those examples, and they’re merely nervous or could eat but they could equally wait another hour.
She tried to do something/managed to do something
This easily slips through, because it sounds good in theory. However, most of the time the action described doesn’t require any effort, so it’s not a question of whether your character manages. He simply does it.
Both cases—trying to do something and managing to do something—imply a struggle. If your character has no trouble with the action, there’s no trying or managing involved. If he’s annoyed, for example, he doesn’t manage to huff because huffing isn’t difficult when you’re already annoyed.
It does fit if you do describe a struggle. Smiling when you’ve had the worst day of your life is a challenge, so it’s fitting to say your character managed it.
In some cases, “now” adds to your description but most of the time I encounter it, “now” simply describes a direct chain of events. It’s not necessary in instances like this:
She spent all morning on the train. She was tired, but had finally arrived now. She went into town now.
“Now” lets us know what’s happening next, but we already know it’s happening “now” or “next” by its placement in the sentence. Therefore, you can cut it without losing anything.
When you cover longer time frames, “now” can work well. For example:
This place was a school when I was five, but now, thirty years later, it’s a military camp.
It works because a significant amount of time has passed. It hints at changes that happened over time, not in the last ten seconds. Of course, you could still rephrase it to make it stronger, but “now” serves a clearer purpose here.
#10 Using Longer, Less Common Words
New writers often use less common words thinking it’ll make their writing sound more professional, but it’s unnecessary and often over-kill.
It’s fine to say your character is hungry, you don’t need a scientific description of where the rumble is coming from. You don’t need Conceiving the loud rumble emanating from my empty tummy, I decided to replenish it with nourishment. Just say I ate. Even better: I ate a sweet blueberry muffin.
In general, keeping it simple is the way to go.
An ellipses, or …, tells the reader that something more is going on. It shows that something hasn’t been said. It doesn’t need to stand after every other sentence. Sometimes, there simply isn’t more to a statement.
This is fine:
‘I just thought… No. It’s nothing.’
‘I had a long day at work… I went home tired… I had a hot bath and a curry… It was a lovely evening despite the long day…’
He had a long day at work and went home tired, at which point he treated himself to a relaxing evening. ‘nuff said. Nothing odd going on here.
This is another easy fix. Just run a document-wide search for … and replace them with full stops.
#12 Characters Who Often Use Each Other’s Names
It looks so good when we first type it, doesn’t it? It makes it look like our characters are familiar with each other, that they are good friends.
But how often do you use the name of the person you’re talking to? You might think it’s all the time, but listen closely next time you have a conversation. You might use their name to get their attention, but once you have it? I bet you don’t use it once.
What’s more, it can have a condescending effect—not to your readers, but from one character to another. Chances are that’s not at all what you had in mind.
If you’re worried your readers won’t know who’s talking, add more action. It doesn’t always need to be identifiers. Take a look at these examples:
‘Can you pass me that book, Karen?’
‘This one, Peter? Okay.’
People don’t talk like that because we don’t need to confirm who we’re talking to—we know. Instead, you could put:
‘Can you pass me that book?’ Peter asked.
‘This one? Okay.’
Readers skim identifiers, so keep it simple. “Said” and “asked” is plenty! Anything else and you’ll slow your reader down. Chances are we already know who the conversation is between, too. If Karen is the only other person in the room, there’s no one else Peter could ask!
Or, better yet:
Peter pointed to a brown, leather hardback on the table. ‘Can you pass me that book?’
Karen picked it up and blew dust off the cover. ‘This one?’ She shrugged. ‘Okay.’
#13 Ending a Good Chapter in a Boring Way
You don’t need to end every single chapter in a gripping, fast-paced way, but you shouldn’t end them on a boring note, either. They don’t have to make our hearts race every time, but they should make us want to carry on. A character going to bed because you didn’t know what else to write isn’t exciting.
I edited a book once where, in the final scene, the main character’s friend showed up to bust him out of hospital. The author’s sentence went something like this: ‘There’s no time to waste. I’ve come to break you out of hospital.’
DAMN. Now there’s an unexpected, cliffhanger ending! I mean, how often do you see people escaping a supposed safe place? The staff seemed nice and everything!
It’s a shame the MC’s friend left him alone after that. The MC reflected for two paragraphs and eventually fell into a nice, normal, dreamless sleep. Not even a nightmare. If it hadn’t been for the friend’s promise to bust him out, the book would have felt complete—only, there’s a sequel.
That’s what your chapters are—sequels to the chapters before.
If you have fifty chapters and two end in everyday things, you’re fine. If you have fifty chapters and forty-three end without any excitement, see if you can’t add a bit of tension or foreshadowing.
#14 Run-on Sentences
It’s hard to spot sentences that go on for too long on our own. As with everything in writing and editing, they sound fine to us because we wrote them, but your readers need breathers. That’s essentially what commas and full stops do—they tell your readers where to take a brief break.
I also often see several ideas strung together until the sentence spans the entire paragraph. In this case, commas have replaced full stops.
He ran up the hill but he was panting because he didn’t work out often enough, but he had to reach the top because his girlfriend was waiting for him, she had promised him she’d be there and he didn’t want to break his promise because he didn’t want to disappoint her, his mum always said that was bad manners.
Instead, break it up:
He ran up the hill. He was panting because he didn’t work out often enough, but he had to reach the top. His girlfriend was waiting for him—she had promised him she’d be there. He didn’t want to break his promise because he didn’t want to disappoint her. His mum always said that was bad manners.
It’s still not perfect, but it already reads better, doesn’t it?
Because this can be so hard to fix yourself, it’s difficult to give advice for it. I recommend you remember these two points:
- Keep different ideas separate.
- If you need to come up for air while you’re reading it, so does your reader.
If punctuation isn’t your strong point, don’t worry. Do what you can, and your proofreader will catch what you missed. That’s what we’re there for, after all!
This was one of my own most overlooked issues when I wrote my first book. The reason head-hopping slips past us so easily is that we don’t necessarily think about who’s thinking. It’s not always obvious at first glance, either.
Look at this example:
Mary hated the wait—not knowing was always worst. They’d already been here for two hours, how much longer would he make them wait? John strained his ears to listen to any new movements, but there was nothing. It was still perfectly silent in their hiding place.
Reads fine at first, doesn’t it? The problem is that, while we’re in Mary’s POV, we can’t know why John is doing what he’s doing or what he hears or what conclusions he might come to unless he tells Mary. She can make assumptions, but unless she can read his mind she can’t know.
So, in the above example, Mary can tell that John looks focussed, maybe stares off into the dark towards the entrance, but there’s no physical giveaway when someone listens intently—it doesn’t show in their ears. She also doesn’t know what he’s listening for or that there’s been no change. Maybe there has and John is wondering how to tell her. Maybe she thinks he looks worried when really, he’s just concentrating.
This brings me to my next point.
In omniscient POVs, one narrator tells us about everything that’s happening rather than individual POVs taking us through the story. In this instance, reading about different people’s thoughts is another matter; however, you also don’t have Mary’s POV, for example. You have one narrator who sees all.
In my experience, omniscient POVs lack the emotional connection to the characters and can read like a summary of events—they’re often telling rather than showing.
Because of this, omniscient POVs and head-hopping aren’t the same thing, but they are often confused, so I wanted to explain the difference.
Head-hopping is a problem because it’s confusing for your reader and can be jarring, especially when it happens halfway through a sentence. If you want to use POVs, pick one character at the beginning of a chapter and stick to that character.
If you want to switch POV, you can either start a new chapter or you can start a new scene. Establish right away, in the first sentence if you can, who’s POV it is. That way, your reader knows what’s going.
And that’s it! PHEW
I hope this information helps. If you have any questions, ask away—I know there’s a lot to take in, so I’ll keep an eye on this post 🙂
I promised you a discount, didn’t I?
There’s nothing I turn away except omniscient narrators, so if you think you’d like to work with me on your next book, I’d love to be your editor. I’m happy to do a free sample edit of your first chapter/first three pages (whichever ends first) so you can see what I can do for your book.
To use your discount, simply let me know when you email me that you read this post on Becky’s blog and I’ll take 20% off your edit. AND, if you book a proofread, I’ll throw in a free manuscript critique on top of that 🙂
The discount is available until the end of October. Don’t worry if your book isn’t ready yet but you want to work with me—you can book me in advance for next year and still get the 20% 🙂
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