13 “Tells” of a Novice Writer

In the poker-playing world, professional card sharks have a term for a novice player who inadvertently gives away the cards he’s holding through some sort of gesture or tick of which he is unaware. The pros call it a “tell.”

pokerIn the publishing world, professional editors and agents look for the “tells” of a novice writer whenever they scan a manuscript. With practice, we can almost always pick out the amateur from the pro from reading just a page or two. Here’s a list of 13 Common “Tells” of an Amateur Writer that may give you an inside advantage at the publishing table.

  1. Too many clichés. If you find yourself using a common cliché–try changing it up for humor or effect. Instead of saying, “He marches to a different drum,” you might say, “She rhumbas to a different drum-ba.” You want to avoid cliches but they can also be springboards to creative alternatives.
  1. Too much telling, not enough showing. Use scene-setting, dialogue, metaphors and gestures to show your reader an emotion. Instead of, “She felt deep sorrow,” try instead, “She sat down, sighed heavily, staring out the window at nothing at all.  A slow trickle of tears turned to a river as her dam of resolve gave way to reality.”
  1. Too much preaching/didactic tone. Go through any non-fiction manuscript and take out words like “must” and “should” and any other words that feel like a finger-wagging nursery teacher who is scolding the reader.
  1. Sentences don’t vary in length and style.
  1. Manuscript is is too text dense.  Just looking at the page exhausts the eye because there are too many sentences crammed into one long paragraph, followed by another just as long.
  1. Page looks boring. There are not enough “reader treats” to keep today’s reader alert.   Especially in our current hyper-speed world, you want to make liberal use of shorter paragraphs and anything that breaks up and adds interest to the page.  Pull quotes, dialogue, lists, bullet points and stand-alone sentences here and there are some ways to keep the reader engaged.
  1. Dialogue is stiff and unnatural. The writer has not learned the art of professionally written dialogue. One sign of a pro is that they know to use a gesture to indicate the next speaker rather than over-using “he said” or “she said.” For example, rather than writing, “Joy said, ‘I love that crazy squirrel,’” a pro might write, “Joy laughed as she leaned toward the screen door. ‘I love that crazy squirrel.’”
  1. Main character is too unlikable or too perfect. Readers want to root for the protagonist so be careful not to make him appear either beyond redemption or too saintly. Make them flawed, human, and lovable.
  1. Too “Christianeze.” Christians are often blind to the phrases they’ve grown up using in church. Try sharing old religious phrases in fresh ways.  Instead of, “I’ve been redeemed,”  you might say, “I knew that God had taken the mess of my life and given me, in exchange, His love.”
  1. No transitions or weak transitions. This may be the #1 “tell” of a novice. You know what you are saying and where you are going, but your reader needs a very clear bridge from your former thought to the next or they will be confused and frustrated.
  1. Old-fashioned style. We see this in some classically trained, older writers who have not stayed current on how to grab the attention of today’s internet-savvy, fast-paced reader. Read popular blogs and note the style of writing that is reaching today’s generation of readers.
  1. Doesn’t use the art of “hooking the reader.” You don’t have long to grab the reader’s attention, so you want your first two sentences to be irresistibly compelling.
  1. Doesn’t end well. Pay attention to writers who end chapters or articles especially well. There is an art to tying up a chapter or a book. In fiction and non-fiction books alike, write a sentence at the end of the chapter that propels the reader forward, making it hard for them to put your book down. I often refer to the first paragraph when summarizing an article. (See example below where I will refer back to the “poker analogy” that started this post.)

By avoiding these common novice “tells” you will soon come across as a seasoned pro, and your chances in the game of publishing will improve considerably.

What other “tells” have you noticed that indicate an inexperienced writer?

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WordServe News: February 2015

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Arnie Cole and Michael Ross released Overcoming the Hurt in partnership with 9781630583712_p0_v1_s260x420goTandem.

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Mary Davis released a new title with Heartsong Presents, Romancing the Schoolteacher. 9780373487721_p0_v2_s260x420

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Cheri Fuller released Replacing Worry for Wonder with goTandem. 9781630583705_p0_v2_s260x420

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Rick Johnson saw the release of Romancing Your Better Halfwith Revell Publishers. 9780800722340_p0_v2_s260x420

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kariss Lynch released her sophomore novel with Realms, Shadowed. 9781629980065_p0_v2_s260x420

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Tara McClary Reeves and Amanda Jenkins released their second children’s book with 9781433681202_p0_v1_s260x420B&H Kids, The Pirate and the Firefly. 

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Michael Ross released his latest book for teens, Dating, Relating, Waiting with 9781630583699_p0_v1_s260x420goTandem.

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Lauren Scruggs with Lisa Velthouse released her second book,Your Beautiful Heart 9781414376714_p0_v2_s260x420with Tyndale Momentum publishers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amy K. Sorrells released her sophomore novel with David C. Cook, Then Sings My Soul. 9781434705457_p0_v2_s260x420

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Jennifer Strickland released her latest book for girls with Harvest House 9780736956345_p0_v2_s260x420Publishers, Pretty from the Inside out

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Mike Yorkey released Everyday Finances for the Everyday Family with goTandem. 9781630583682_p0_v1_s260x420

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New WordServe Clients

Marjorie Eastman signed with Greg Johnson.

New Contracts

Tim Maurer signed a contract with Baker Books for Simple Money. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Joe Wheeler has signed with Pacific Press for a three book deal, in a collection of favorite stories. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Co-authors, Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph received a great stared review in FIRST magazine for their latest book Nourished!