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Common Mechanical Pitfalls
by Dr. Vicki Hinze
When asked, a group of editors from top
publishing houses, responded that the following are the
most often seen mechanical errors in works submitted by
By removing these errors from our works, we greatly
enhance our potential for publicationand strengthen
our writing skills.
Intrusion, Filtering, Passive Voice.
Use the active voice in writing. Avoid weak verbs:
"to be" and its variants: was, are, is. This
puts the reader on-scene, makes whats happening,
happen now. Author intrusion reminds the reader shes
reading, hence you lose immediacy, empathy between
Show, dont tell applies. Watchwords: thought,
wondered, considered, realized, and the like.
Filtered: She realized
shed breached the point of no return.
She had to kill him.
no intrusion: The point of no return. She
had to kill him.
Autonomous Body Parts.
Parts of a characters body cannot act alone. The
character must lift her hands, dart her gaze, tiptoe.
Otherwise, the visual images created in the readers
mind are horror. Disconnected body parts shouldnt
move without the characters body being attached.
Example: Her eyes roamed around the room.
Corrected: She let her gaze
roam around the room.
(Eyes shouldnt roam. Use gaze. Note that she caused
this roaming. In this corrected version, her eyes didnt
act autonomously or independent of her.)
before Effect, Reaction before Action, Syntax Error.
Whatever the reader reads first on the page, happens
first in the readers mind. This error occurs when the
reaction to something, say fear, is written down before
the action causing the fear, say a hissing snake. Or when
the effect is shown before the cause prompting that
Watchwords are: when, as, before, during, while, until,
after, and since.
To correct this error, simply flip-flop the phrases to be
sure you list cause then effect, action then reaction.
of names in dialogue.
When conversing, people dont often use names. To be
clear about whos speaking, give the character a
distinct voice, an outstanding feature, and use action
tags. Have character do something with an object and use
it to make it clear to the reader whos talking.
This writers tool does double duty: tags the
speaker and creates an illusion of action. Body language
is an extremely effective method.
Figure, Frame, and Presence.
This editorial Pet Peeve doesnt show up as often
now as it once did.
write: He leaned his massive frame against the
write: He leaned against the door.
A point: When is the last time you saw a hunk and
thought: Wow, what a nice frame?
Keep actions separate, otherwise you risk having the
character do the physically impossible. "And"
can be a wicked abuser of this mechanical infraction.
Example: She called 911 and drove to the hospital.
Can she really do these two things simultaneously?
Without a cell phone? More likely, she called 911 and
then drove to the hospital. The actions were separate.
One followed the other. They didnt occur
Items in a Series Parallel.
Make sure your subjects/verbs/syntax are in agreement.
Do: Walk and chew
Dont: walk and
be chewing gum.
Ellipsis (Series of dots)
Use the ellipsis sparingly. Otherwise, when you need it,
it lacks impact. Punctuate it like . . . this. Or at the
end of a sentence, like this. . . .
Protagonists arent like us, theyre people we
want to be like: admirable, honorable, considerate,
strong, and aspiringin their thoughts, actions, and
deeds. Theyre not perfect, but they are admirable.
Respect your characterseven your villains. Give
everyone a redeeming quality, and make them strong.
Show the readers where the scene is taking place, where
the characters are and what theyre doing. Specific,
concrete details immerse the reader. Without them, reader
cant visualize. Use the senses, and use details
that are indicative of the characters mood at the
moment. Write cinematically: using words that form
distinct and vivid pictures in the readers mind
that convey his/her emotional mood at that time.
When in intense situations, characters dont think
deeply. They think in short spurts. In fragments. Readers
read faster, which imparts a sense of urgency, hence
intensity. Point of View.
Todays trend is third person, multiple viewpoint.
That is, a single viewpoint which at specific intervals
transitions to a different character. Some experts
recommend one viewpoint per scene to avoid losing
Hint: use the character
with the most to lose as your viewpoint character.
Eliminating these mechanical pitfalls from your work
greatly enhances your writing skills and gives the editor
fewer distractions during the reading. That translates to
fewer reasons to reject your work.
© Copyright Vicki Hinze. All Rights
Dr. Vicki Hinze is an award-winning,
best-selling author who routinely shares her expertise at
national writers' conferences, online, and through her
writing guides. Her latest non-fiction book is ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL, from Spilled Candy Books for
Writers. This 589-page ebook covers everything you need
to know about the craft of writing, the publishing
business, and the secrets to getting published. ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL is available at www.SpilledCandy.com as a download or
Or you can visit Vicki's author site at www.vickihinze.com
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