Writing Words Fantastical and Otherwise

Sunday Writing: Top Ten Rookie Writing Mistakes

rejectedFrom the “Top Ten Rookie Mistakes” panel at MileHiCon a few years ago.  Here’s my quickie list of top ten mistakes.  I’ve tinkered with this since I first put it together, but I think these are the basics.  This is the stuff that marks rejectable manuscripts in the slush pile and allows an editor to quit reading before reaching the end.  I’m open to suggestions for ones I’m missing or questions about the ones that I’ve included.  Each is easily worthy of a separate, long discussion.

Top Ten Rookie Mistakes

  1. Failure to use action verbs.
  2. Failure to be specific.
  3. Point of view character is passive or pluckless
  4. Failure to invest “caring” into the point of view character.
  5. Relying on exposition instead of narration (particularly at key points that would be much more interesting dramatized).
  6. Failure to be unique (or at least to be familiar in an interesting way).
  7. Failure to surprise the reader globally (how the story unfolds) and/or locally (at the sentence level or word choice level).
  8. Failure to unify the story (the beginning doesn’t set up the end, or there are incidents and details that are not tightly integrated into the story).
  9. Having nothing to say or saying nothing (the story has a “so what?” feel).
  10. Language that is not concise.  The story needs pruning.



April/May Asimov’s


Sunday Writing: Advice for Beginning Writers


  1. I see this in the Abyss & Apex slush. All. The. Time.

  2. Craig O. Jones

    Each of these items can be a week’s worth of class discussion and writing projects. The last about pruning had been mentioned to me many times in a writer’s group. I didn’t understand until Jim and my friend Brian edited a page. That was an eye opener. Bigger was reading a book called “The 10% Solution. ” That showed how to cut out 10% of the unneeded words that slowed my writing down. My first effort cut out 22% of a story I had been very proud of. The story now flowed faster. It was more precise and allowed me to work on now more obvious areas to make it enjoyable. It was the story I had been trying to write. I can never thank Jim enough for showing me that book.

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