This award-winning author writes under two names: Janice Thompson and Janice Hanna. She got her start in the industry writing screenplays and musical comedies for the stage. Janice has published over fifty books for the Christian market, crossing numerous genre. In addition, she enjoys editing, ghostwriting, public speaking, and mentoring young writers. She’s particularly thrilled about this season of her writing life, where romantic comedies rule the day. Quirky wedding-themed stories suit this fun-loving author. After all, she has served as mother-of-the-bride four times over the past five years! Janice currently serves as Vice-President Christian Authors Network and was named the 2008 Mentor of the year for ACFW. Janice is passionate about her faith and does all she can to share the joy of the Lord with others, which is why she particularly enjoys writing. She lives in Spring, Texas, where she leads a rich life with her family, a host of writing friends, and two mischievous dachshunds. She does her best to keep the Lord at the center of it all. You can find out more about Janice on her website Common Fiction Mistakes
The following is a list of common mistakes writers make. I know these issues well, because I’ve struggled with many of them in my own writing.
- Weak opening paragraphs and lines: I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, but the opening of your story needs to hook the reader. How do you do that? Jump right into the action. Start with a line of dialogue, and make it one that raises questions. Or, start with an action that makes the reader wonder where the story is headed. Do not start with a simple opening line. These days, readers expect to be hooked right away.
- Telling, when you should be showing: If you haven’t figured out the difference between the two, please do a study on Active vs. Passive Writing. This is such a common problem. “Telling” the story is quite a temptation. Pay close attention!
- Overuse of passive verbs: If your sentences contain a lot of passive verbs (is/are/was/were) you’re probably using the passive voice. Choose strong, active verbs to make your manuscript sizzle!
- Repetition (i.e. starting sentences and chapters with same word without realizing it). Writers tend to have “pet” words (words that appear repetitively throughout the document). Check your manuscript carefully for repeated words, paying particular attention to the words you use to open a sentence.
- Characters lacking depth: Read through your manuscript to see if your characters are “layered” enough. Check their motivations. What makes them tick? No cookie-cutter characters, please!
- Creating characters that are too perfect: Sometimes, in the quest to create variety, a writer will present characters that are just too, well, perfect. Problem is, there are no perfect people in the world, and readers know it. Be careful not to make your bad guys all bad, or your good guys all good. We’re all a little of each, you know!
- Making all characters same race/dialect/region, etc.: This is something that is often overlooked by writers. Add some variety to your characters. Don’t make them all alike.
- POV issues: You want to stay in one character’s head/thoughts per scene. No head-hopping! No jumping around. This is a major temptation for newbies. Become a POV purist!
- Poor plotting, or plotting that doesn’t have a belly of the whale scene: I see a lot of weak/predictable stories. Not just poorly written stories, mind you, but story ideas that just aren’t “great” conceptually. Usually there’s not enough to them. Lay out a careful plotline, making sure you’ve got a “real” story before committing to it. And please, please make sure you have that “belly of the whale” scene at about the 2/3 point in the story—the point where the reader wonders how/if the characters are going to make it. This is critical, regardless of the genre.
- Believability (Yeah, right!): Is everything in your story completely believable? If you’re using humor, you might get away with a bit of suspended disbelief, but in serious pieces it’s a lot tougher. Make sure everything is as “real” as it can be.
- Timeline and consistency issues: Make sure the thread of action makes sense, and double-check things like eye color, hair color/length, etc.
- Overuse of adverbs: -ly words are not your friend, at least not in professional writing. You can sprinkle in a few, but use them sparingly.
- Clichés: Editors hate them. . .like the plague. J
- Inverted sentences: I see these a lot when editing for new clients. Writers twist up their sentences, putting action in the beginning when it should be at the end (or vice-versa). Look at your sentences and ask: “Is this the best way to say this?”
- Lack of tension/conflict: Some editors like to see writers ratchet up the tension on every page. This can be done internally and externally. Even if there’s no external tension (say, no hurricane blowing in off the gulf) your POV character can still be going through internal storms.
- Purple prose: Trying to “high-brow” or write in an unnatural way. Beware of flowery language. Unless you’re a true literary writer, you’ll want to stick to the basics, and not write to impress.
- Writers who care more about getting a point across (sermon) than the characters in the story: If you care more about the “point” (the message) than the story/characters, you’ve got a problem. You want readers to fall in love with your characters and “woo” them with your gentle message. Preaching/slamming a message down the reader’s throat will not only offend your reader, it causes you to lose the story in favor of the message, which is never a good thing. Jesus never jumped out of a parable to slam-dunk his followers with the message. Instead, the message was always built-in. . .subtle, yet clear.
- Inserting Christianese (language known only amongst Christians), or other spiritual things that don’t feel natural: Watch out for this! You want your story to appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike, so don’t deliberately alienate the reader. On the other hand, if it’s “in character” for one of your characters to be “overtly religious” then make it clear it’s a characterization issue, not an “author trying to get the reader saved” ploy, (which usually goes over about as well as a lead balloon).
- Assuming your story idea is completely unique and has never been done before: There is nothing new under the sun. However, you are uniquely created and will put your own slant/twist on things. Pray before you begin, asking them Lord to show you how to make your story unique, but don’t be surprised when an editor/agent says: “Yeah, I’ve seen this done before (blah, blah, blah).”
- Inflexibility – people who are so married to their story that they refuse to make any changes to it: This is a huge no-no if you want to work hand in hand with an editor on your project. While you might have a great story, there will always be ways to make it better. Lean on the professionalism of those God places in your path. Let them help you through the process—and don’t take offense!
LOVE FINDS YOU IN POETRY, TEXAS Belinda Bauer in her ivory tower… In the quaint community of Poetry, Texas, Belinda spies an opportunity. The town is filled with farmers and railroad men in need of wives, so why not set herself up at as a marriage broker? Belinda sends little poems to prospective brides all over the country, and her plan seems to work. One by one, women begin to arrive in Poetry. There’s only one problem: Belinda doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing, and most of the brides marry the wrong men! One client is particularly unhappy. Georg Kaufman, the local barber, has lost more than one prospective wife to Belinda’s fumbled attempts. For some reason, she just can’t seem to find Georg’s perfect match, though it’s not for lack of trying. Is there a poetic ending in store for Georg—and for Belinda herself? Watch the video trailer for Love Finds You in Poetry, Texas
FOOLS RUSH IN Bella Rossi may be nearing thirty, but her life is just starting to get interesting. When her Italian-turned-Texan parents hand over the family wedding planning business, Bella is determined not to let them down. She quickly books a “Boot Scoot’n” wedding that would make any Texan proud. There’s only one catch–she’s a country music numbskull because her family only listens to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Where will she find a DJ on such short notice, who knows his Alan Jackson from his Keith Urban? When a misunderstanding leads her to the DJ (and man) of her dreams, things start falling into place. But with a family like hers, nothing is guaranteed. Can the perfect Texan wedding survive a pizza-making uncle with mob ties, an aunt who is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and a massive delivery of 80 cowboy boots? And will Bella ever get to plan her own wedding? Book one in the Weddings by Bella series, Fools Rush In is fun, fresh, and full of surprises. Readers will love the flavorful combination of Italian and Tex-Mex, and the hilarity that ensues when cultures clash. Watch the video trailer for Fools Rush In