8 Common Problems In Fiction Writing by Dominique Lambright
There are 8 common problems I see in my client’s fiction when I edit their books. If you want an agent or editor to accept your work or a reader to fall in love with your story, then learn to spot these 8 common problems in your stories.
Problem #1: Marshmallow Dialogue
The first common problem in fiction writing I see is Marshmallow Dialogue.
Dialogue is the fastest way to improve a manuscript—or to sink it.
When agents, editors, or readers see the crisp, tension-filled dialogue, they gain confidence in the writer’s ability. But dialogue that is sodden and undistinguished (marshmallow dialogue) has the opposite effect.
- Pro dialogue is compressed. Marshmallow dialogue is puffy.
- Pro dialogue has conflict. Marshmallow dialogue is overly sweet.
- Pro dialogue sounds different for each character. Marshmallow dialogue blends.
Example of Marshmallow Dialogue:
“Mary, are you angry with me?” John asked.
“You’re damn straight I’m mad at you,” Mary said.
“But why? You’ve got absolutely no reason to be!”
“Oh but I do, I do. And you can see it in my face, can’t you?”
Example of Fixed Dialogue:
“You angry with me?” John asked.
“Damn straight,” Mary said.
“You got no reason to be!”
Mary felt her hands curling into fists.
Problem #2: Predictability
Readers like to worry about characters in crisis. They want what’s around the next corner (whether it’s emotional or physical) to be a mystery. If a reader knows what’s coming, and when it’s going to happen, the worry factor is blown. Your novel no longer conveys a fictive dream but a dull ride down a familiar street.
Problem #3: Unrealistic Characters
The most impactful novels will bring a reader to tears or make them laugh out loud by conjuring an emotional bond between the reader and its characters. It is vital readers can understand the actions of your characters if you want them to believe in them and care about what happens to them.
These aspects need to be involved when you’re developing your characters.
- Natural dialogue
- Clothing description
- Physical description
The depth of a fictional character is best determined by the significance or type of role he or she has in the overall plot. You need to know all these aspects for your main character, but not as much or as deep for your secondary and tertiary characters.
Problem #4: Lack of Pacing
During an entire novel, a variety of pacing is key. There should be peaks and troughs, periods of high intensity/action punctuated by lulls in which the reader can absorb and digest them.
Problem #5: No Sense of Setting
With all the attention you’re paying to move your plot forward and getting to your story’s next big set-piece, it’s often easy to overlook establishing the setting. A strong sense of place is essential for grounding your story and characters in the real world.
Nora Roberts, describing Ireland in “The Dark Witch”:
“The cold carved bone-deep, fueled by the lash of the wind, iced by the drowning rain gushing from a bloated sky. Such was Iona’s welcome to Ireland. She loved it. How could she not? She asked herself as she hugged her arms to her chest and drank in the wild, soggy view from her window. She was standing in a castle. She’d sleep in a castle that night. An honest-to-God castle in the heart of the west.”
The bolded words help the reader envision the place, social environment, and time of the story.
Problem #6: Lack of Conflict
At the center of every story is conflict — some disruption to your characters’ status quo, an incident that needs reaction or resolution. Without this, your novel will likely lack a sense of purpose and drive, and quickly become boring.
Problem #7: Unfocused Structure
This is the most significant reason manuscripts get rejected. You’re telling a beautiful, powerful, gripping, complex story, but you’re the only person who knows that.
Everyone else sees a long, rambling, uneven tale of various events happening to multiple characters.
Every novel needs a focus.
- What’s your point?
- What do you want the reader to know?
That focus is your Climax; the one part your story could not do without.
A typical example of structure in modern fiction is The Fichtean Curve, involving moments of rising and falling action, a climax at the height of the curve and a resolution, may it be a happy ending or a tragedy.
Problem #8: Weak Cause & Effect
If you can strengthen the narrative of your story by showing a logical progression of cause and effect, you’ll end up with leaner prose, more honest character reactions, and more involved readers.
Editor’s note: What common problems in fiction writing do you see in your work or in others?
Common problems In fiction writing can be fixed and you can learn how to fix yours. Or you can hire an editor like Dominique. Or both!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dominique Lambright is the owner of DML Editing & Writing, a one-stop-shop for your book editing, book formatting, and ghostwriting needs. She coaches writers to help them edit and write better, and has written 4 books on Amazon, amazon.com/author/dominiquelambright.
She has two beautiful daughters who keep her focused and helps her strive to keep working at being a better person. She does everything for them and our future. She’s been writing for as long as she can remember. She’s loved words since she first learned how to write in Kindergarten.
Writing has been a consistent hobby turned career choice. And because she’s the type of person who keeps buying books even though she has tons to still read on her bookshelf, her work never feels like work. She loves what she does and knows she’ll never get tired of it.