How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: fiction no-nos


Welcome to Part Twenty-Six of this popular series. This week, novelist and publisher Lucy McCarraher rounds up the key mistakes you can make that will ruin your fiction and make you look amateurish … and, how to avoid them.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

Fiction no-nos

While you’re reviewing the four major sections of your story, or indeed while you’re writing, try keeping an eye out for these fiction no-nos that will make your work appear amateurish and turn off readers, agents, publishers and editors alike. We will talk about the comprehensive work of self-editing your story in a couple of weeks, but you can make the job easier by weeding out these easy to make, but basic blunders as you go.

1. Too much information

In shorter stories, especially, you can overload the writing and the reader with too much information, which is distracting and slows down your plot. Where you come across patches of very detailed description or dialogue, interrogate it word by word, sentence by sentence, asking whether this information actually furthers the plot, draws out the theme, develops character or gives a sense of time and place.

A couple of well chosen sentences can set a scene in the reader’s imagination. A minor character doesn’t need to have their appearance and attitudes outlined if they don’t have a significant role in the story. Quality of information is much more telling than quantity and you can rely on readers’ imaginations to add light and shade around your precise and colourful brushstrokes.

2. Data dumping

Different to no-no No.1, this one can trip you up especially at the beginning of the story or when introducing a new character or situation. This is where you feel the reader needs to know a whole lot of back story, or the minutiae of someone’s character, and just to make sure they get your point, you’ll tell them up front.

Worst of all is the “As you know…” dump, where you give the reader information on the pretext of one character telling another a whole load of facts they already know. Is it likely that you’d say to your closest friend, “As you know, Emma, I married my husband Dave six years ago and we used to be very happy, but since the birth of our twins, Tim and Tom, things haven’t been so easy…”? Never tell characters what they already know.

Think about real life: when you meet someone, or go somewhere, for the first time, you don’t get presented with a CV, or a behaviour guide. You pick up information gradually, through all your senses and intuition, which allows you to piece it together in your own way. This is how it should be for the reader of your story – weave background and additional information into the action, dialogue and events as you go along. If you come across ungainly dumps or clumps of information, dig them out, separate and replant them one by one.

small__12263510883. Collecting clichés

We all use clichés in conversation; they are everywhere in written and spoken media; we often write them without even realising how stale and, in fact, meaningless they have become. In descriptions they fall from our lips and finger tips: “Her face was as wrinkled as a prune”; “He was a big, strapping lad”; “She looked as fresh as a daisy”; “The meadows stretched as far as the eye could see”; “The sunlight danced on the water”; “He gave it his all”. These similes and metaphors that have been so overused for so long have been drained of meaning and literary value.

Nitpick through your prose for any clichés, in narrative, description, dialogue (unless the character is addicted to cliché) and find either simpler or more original replacements.

4. Breaking the rules

At the start of your story, you have laid down a set of rules for the reader to operate within. They might pertain to a historical setting, where travel and communication is limited; or a futuristic world with an invented science and technology. They will be implicit in your characters, who will act according to the personalities you have drawn for them; or in external circumstances like police procedure.

If at some point in the story, in order to achieve a plot twist or your ending, you break these rules or introduce a deus ex machina (arbitrary “magical” event or person), the reader will lose faith in you and interest in the plot.

Associated with breaking the rules is the no-no of knowing jokes about, for instance, future or real worlds. For instance, in a historical novel do not have a character joke about how terrible it would be if women had the vote, or the impossibility of a woman prime minister. In a science fiction universe, refrain from having your cloned characters shocked at the concept of primitive human conception. They come across like the exaggerated wink to the audience of a ham actor.

5. Too true to be good

My first attempt at a novel was a thinly disguised tale of part of my own life. I sent it to an agent who told me it was (a) boring and (b) unbelievable. It was too contrived, she said, to have a novel about families with a central character who was a family researcher, whose mother was the director of a children’s charity and whose father was a genealogist. “But it can’t be unbelievable,” I whined, “It’s true!” Truth and fiction are not the same thing, she snapped.

Don’t make the same mistake I did by assuming that life provides stories ready made for fiction. It doesn’t. I learned my lesson and my next attempt at fiction was put together around the information I have collated for you in this series here on It was short-listed in the Richard and Judy “How To Be Published” competition and was first published by Macmillan.

Since then, friends have often offered me real life stories that “would make a brilliant novel”, and others have come for help when they’ve tried to write up one of their own real life experiences. Being true, though, doesn’t make a story into good fiction and if you find too much co-incidental or unstructured “truth” in yours, be ruthless and shape it back into believable fiction.

6. Don’t be a wannabe

We’ve all read a new best-seller and thought we could have come up with a story just as good, and probably written it better, too.

Just remember that, if you’ve had that thought, so will a great many other would-be fiction writers, and some of them will have made the mistake of actually writing what they think is the next Lord of the Rings, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Grey.

All these books were successful because they were original in concept and execution; their authors were inventive and took risks; they weren’t imitating someone else’s technique or content. Your story and your style should be your own and not that of a wannabe J K Rowling or J R R Tolkein. If you find yourself borrowing a bit of plot or slipping into the style of a favourite author, get a grip and find your own voice again – it’s more likely to bring you success than being a pale imitation of someone else’s.

Next week we’ll finish our reviewing work with Act Three – the ending of your story.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher


Managing Editor, Rethink Press.


Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English … INSTANT DOWNLOAD
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here

photo credit: Jonas B via photopin cc