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Bad habbits


As a young writer I was wandering if there are any bad habbits?

I know to show not tell.

But is there any bad habbits that i might come across?

Philip Overby

Article Team
My worst bad habit is always not finishing what I start. I have the tendency to have what I call "creative ADD" in which I get distracted easily by newer, shinier ideas. So I have a slew of unfinished manuscripts.

Lengthy exposition seems to be a common problem in fantasy fiction, even by professionals. I know it's important to establish your world, but I've noticed some writers (Steve Erikson or China Mieville) who don't really explain their worlds very much. They just jump right into it and you just have to go along. I like that style better. I get tired of opening up fantasy books with reams of historical knowledge and magic rules without a hint of a main character in sight.

That would be a bad habit that I'm glad I kicked. Some people like doing that though. Cheers to them.

I also have the bad habit of "internally editing" almost everything I do. That way, it makes it difficult to continue with a story when I am constantly saying "well, that doesn't make much sense." Some people spends years and years writing something before they finally just give up and throw it away because it doesn't fit their perfect vision. Just write and worry about editing when you're finished. Not to say just write a bunch of crap, but don't scrutinize every aspect of your own writing. It makes writing tedious for you in the long haul.

Another bad habit I kicked. Yay!

There's also the phrase "killing your darlings." Some people become so in love with their concepts and characters that they don't recognize when it's not working for the overall story. So they keep trying to shoehorn something that doesn't belong. Don't be afraid to kill or maim a character you love. Don't be afraid to take chunks of manuscript and toss them out. It's fine. No one has ever died from taking something out of a story. Least I don't think...

Bad habit three that I kicked.

Just some food for thought. May not help you much, but these habits really slowed me down over the years.


Well, I think Phil's got the main ones covered there. I'd like at add descriptions of characters: a lot of starting-out writers, not just fantasy writers, describe characters in very particular terms: short or tall, hair colour, eye colour, and nothing else unless the character has a scar, or the writer describes the character as "beautiful" or "handsome" without qualifying it or without recognising that this is a value judgement and making it the opinion of another character.

Eye colour in particular annoys me. I don't think I could tell you the eye colour of anyone I know except my immediate family, my fiance, and my best friend. Not even some of my closest friends, including two of my housemates. It's not something I notice, and in any case eye colour isn't relevant to the story, or if it is, it's generally (not always) a badly done cliche or a stupid unexplained weird eye colour. On the topic of stupid eye colours, words used to describe both eye and hair colours annoy me too, and seem juvenile - topaz eyes should only be used when describing a piece of artwork where topazes have been used for the eyes. If a character has blue eyes, say they're blue. Pale blue, bright blue, sky blue, dark blue. Not topaz or sapphire or peacock or any nonsense like that.

When I meet someone for the first time, generally the things I notice are hair (not just colour, but also things like length, whether it's straight or wavy, if it's styled in a particular way, how it frames the face, whether it's receeding, etc), skin tone (and I'm not talking about black/brown/white here, or at least not only, but also things like tanned skin, pale skin, and also the quality of the skin - smooth, spotty, wrinkled), facial structure (nose shape, jaw shape, eyebrows, cheekbones) and build (which includes height, shoulder width, musculature, fattiness, etc). But even within that, dumping a full description the first time you meet a character is boring as hell. Upon first meeting a character, I tend to put two or three key physical traits in - he's tall, muscled and tanned; she has long red hair that goes down to her knees and an easy smile; he is sturdily built with a square jaw and heavy brows, she is slender and graceful with smooth, pale skin. Then you can add details as you write. She stared into his blue eyes. He brushed his blond hair back from his face. She stroked the cat with her long fingers. He flexed his muscles. That sort of thing.

My problem with character descriptions more recently is that I've gone the other way. After being flamed a bit when I was about 14 for posting something with quite a lot of early character description including some of the things I've suggested avoiding (ocean-blue eyes, raven hair, beautiful), I stopped giving character descriptions at all, and it's only recently that I've made an effort to describe characters again. Without them the stories I wrote seemed a little flat, and not especially real for me. I find it helps to have actual pictures of characters. I asked a friend who is a brilliant artist to draw a couple of my characters for me from descriptions I provided, and he did a great job, but you could also draw them yourself or, after writing the description, search the internet for people who match your description. You can always use image manipulation software to swap one person's hair onto another person's face and a third person's body (or the old classic, scissors and glue).

So tl;dr: when describing characters, don't just say what colour their hair and eyes are, don't make value judgements like "beautiful" unless it's a character's judgement, don't use stupid colour descriptors, but also don't avoid describing characters altogether.

Good luck.


Well, let's start off by identifying my #1 bad habit, at least when it comes to expository writing: trying to say everything at once.… :eek:

Much as I hate to state the obvious: spelling and grammar. Nothing points out the amateur–worse, one who doesn't take pride in his work–as much as not knowing grammar; spelling errors are nearly as bad. Most editors won't bother reading past the second mistake, if they're both on the first page of the manuscript. (In this late day, editors generally expect all mistakes to be corrected by the writer before submitting: they want things that are ready to go to print… and their consequent inattention often shows through in the print version. There are very few real "editors" around any more; for the most part, so-called editors are basically just people who select manuscripts for publication, not people who actively take part in the writing process.)

A major corollary to this is not to trust the computer's spelling and grammar checkers. I can't emphasize this strongly enough. Your computer is no more intelligent than your pop-up toaster. You must supply the intelligence yourself; you must know what you're doing. You can't just okay the first choice your spellchecker gives you when it identifies a word it doesn't like: you need to make the correct choice yourself, and what you intended may not even be presented. (Earlier versions of Word, for instance, would consistently flag my most common error, "teh"… but of all the options it gave me for correction, "the" was not on the list!) Also, the spellchecker won't flag a word if it is a real English word–whether it's the one you wanted or not, whether it's even grammatical in that position or not. Conversely, it will flag plenty of real words that aren't in its dictionary; you'll have to check these by hand. Grammar checkers work only for the most basic sentences… they positively hate the sort of complicated things I write. Nor do they catch all ungrammaticality even in straightforward cases. I once wrote an editing exercise for an English as a Second Language class I was teaching, in which I had inserted 42 errors for students to catch; upon running Word's editing functions, it flagged only a single item–and that one was correct!

Speaking of complex, convoluted sentences: yes, that is definitely something I am conscious of. You should have seen the sorts of things I'd turn out before I started devoting attention to making sure they weren't incomprehensibly long and involved. :rolleyes: Most people will not suffer from this particular weakness.

Not finishing what I start is a habit of mine as well, but I can only consider it "bad" in terms of productivity: I'm more concerned with final product than with lots of product, and if something isn't going anywhere at the moment I'll set it aside rather than force it. On the other hand, if you do this you should get into the habit of revisiting older works on a regular basis; if I don't have anything particular in mind when I sit down, I'll cycle through several of them until I hit one I have something new to say about. (As this implies, I'm also an "internal editor" in the sense Phil mentioned, but I regard this as a good thing… so long as you understand that you'll never get "perfect," so shouldn't expect it. Get it to where you can't think of a way to take it further, and call it done then.)

Level of detail can go either way, for me. On the one hand, "show, don't tell" has been the dominant paradigm for English writing for a long time; on the other hand, there's always a question of how much you want to show, how much you need to show, and when it becomes unnecessarily extensive–basically, when it starts dragging on the story, I would say. As much as I encourage the use of concrete detail, in my own writing I'm constantly asking myself "Why am I still talking about this? Shut up and get on with the action!" Which, if you're writing for publication, is a bad habit, as editors want to see detail. Of course, most small fiction markets have a word limit of 2,000 words, 3k if they're generous… and then say that they want to see not only detail but "character development." :confused: How you're supposed to do this in 2k words or less continues to escape me: I almost always have more story than that. So I tend to write in what would by today's standards be regarded as a very "spare" style, in terms of detail. (And contrary to what one might expect from seeing my expository work.…)

It is often the case that writers don't understand what "show, don't tell" means, by the way. It does not mean using lots of adjectives. It means using precise language–particularly in verbs, as a single precise verb can replace a more general one with two adverbs and a prepositional phrase attached to it, yet convey a better sense of the action than a circumlocution of any length. The same applies to nouns… and then to adjectives and adverbs when you finally do reach the point of needing one. In another application (one that applies particularly to poetry, but which is true elsewhere as well), "show, don't tell" also means you shouldn't "tell" the reader what to feel (think, etc.): you should present the scene, and let the readers work out for themselves what they "ought" to be feeling… or what the characters are feeling. This is also why aesthetic or value judgments–e.g. "beautiful"–should be avoided. They might be appropriate when the reaction of a particular character isn't clear from the action, or might deviate from what "normal" reactions to the same stimulus would be… even so, this can be handled by showing what that character does, rather than saying "X thought Y was beautiful."

One suggestion for avoiding a bad habit, one I have to remind myself of constantly: make a list of words you use too often. I'm terrible about using "just" and "even," for instance. Learn what your "overused" words are, put them on a sticky note on your monitor so that you remember to give serious consideration whenever you're tempted to employ one… and then look for them again when editing your draft. (The "find next" function is great for determining which are your personal problem words. As an aside: my mother first brought this sort of problem to my attention when I was much younger, with her complaint that every action in the Sword of Sha-na-na was done "quicky." She exaggerated… but not by a lot.)

Something that I'm not certain is a "bad" habit: I hate reusing words in close proximity. I'll go to great pains to avoid repeating any particular non-"function" word (preposition, conjunction, determiner, pronoun) in the same paragraph, or even (!) on the same page. This does lend considerable scope to my vocabulary, but I have the feeling I sometimes take the exercise to excess. At any rate, make friends with your thesaurus, and use it regularly.

Which, in turn, leads to something that is a bad habit among writers: using the thesaurus incorrectly. Don't just (!) look at the list of "synonyms" and trust that their meanings are identical with the word you want to replace–because they aren't. You must look up the definition of unfamiliar words before you try to use them. If your computer is no more intelligent than your pop-up toaster, neither is your thesaurus.

Transition words: forget what your high school teachers told you. You don't need them at the beginning of each paragraph. Use these only when the action is such that the reader might get lost without them.
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Because I can never resist this: I here append an excellent list of writing does and don'ts, from one of America's foremost writers. The fact that they are presented in reference to a specific work, and are themselves in and regarding a writing style that dates back more than a century, does not lessen their relevance in any way; at most, one needs only generalize from the particular. I suspect most of you have seen this before, and will recognize it instantly—and that far from stopping you from reading it, you'll plunge in with confidence that you'll be at least as delighted as the last time you read it.

And so, from Mark Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses":

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the "Deerslayer" tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.

2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the "Deerslayer" tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the "Deerslayer" tale.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the "Deerslayer" tale.

5. The require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the "Deerslayer" tale to the end of it.

6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the "Deerslayer" tale, as Natty Bumppo's case will amply prove.

7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the "Deerslayer" tale.

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is persistently violated in the "Deerslayer" tale.

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the "Deerslayer" tale.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the "Deerslayer" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the "Deerslayer" tale, this rule is vacated.

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14. Eschew surplusage.

15. Not omit necessary details.

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

17. Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Even these seven are coldly and persistently violated in the "Deerslayer" tale.

The essay goes on for a considerable length, providing extensive detail in support of the author's point; for present purposes, the list will suffice. I do encourage anyone who has never read the whole thing to track it down… assuming you need any encouragement, after the teaser. :cool:
yes yes they are.. I was shocked when I read Bry's novel and omg you should see the errors in it! I have half a mind to slap his editor around a bit for letting that much slip by LOL... A real bad habit I have.. which is one of the reasons I am still writing the same book two decades later... Hitting a wall HARD and getting so frustrated I put the manuscript on the back burner and start on something new. By the time the wall lifts and I get back to writing, it's never the way it was supposed to be and I end up having to start all over to get back into the groove of what I wanted the feel of the book to be

Mdnight Rising

doh ! >.< I have really big fingers and they hit the other buttons as i type........hehe tho of course if they would have assigned an editor like they said they was going to on the novel it wouldnt looks so damned terrible........NEVER go to PublishAmerica to publish yer books .......... well that my opinion anyway
Perseverance without enjoyment. That's one bad habit many published authors could happily drop. I've lost count of the number of books I've read which have been mind-numbingly boring because the author has lost interest in what they're writing halfway through but have carried on regardless because they've been told that's what 'real' writers do. If you're not enjoying writing something then there's little chance anyone will enjoy reading it. Don't be afraid to bin it and start again. Writing fiction shouldn't be all about spelling, putting apostrophes in the right place or finding a market, it should be about enjoyment. I've always considered getting published a rather minor consideration; I write because it provides me with a pleasure few other past-times can compete with (I'll quickly draw a veil over the others:D). As far as I'm concerned storytelling isn't a means to an end, it's the end itself.


My personal 'bad habit' is perhaps cussing. My narrators are prone to a lot of it.

A bad habit authors have that personally peeves me is using a single world for all, or a great deal, of their novels. This isn't a problem, obviously, if it is a planned series. Using the Harry Potter mini-universe for all of the Harry Potter books is fine. It could become a problem if she started writing about the Mauraders, the Founders, the next generation, etc. The needs of the world in one story differ from the needs of another. We are only human, and no matter how many years we spend worldbuilding, we're going to skimp on the details of the economy if the only time it features is "That'll be two pieces of eight," "Here you are." You begin to RetCon previous ideas, create continuity errors, etc. It gets worse the more books there are. Three books or so, it usually still works. 20+ books, just stop. Obvious exception is Discworld, because of the built-in clause that things can change at a whim.


A bad habit authors have that personally peeves me…

"Peeve" as a verb? I like it. I was surprised to discover it's actually in the dictionary that way. Learn something new every day.… :D

is using a single world for all, or a great deal, of their novels.

I guess it depends on how things develop. I've seen a number of stories the author originally intended as one-offs that grew into massive, ongoing series… and these tend to be my favorites, because I love seeing a world developed in ever-increasing detail. (That, plus if you liked the first book, you don't want the story to end… at least it works that way for me.) But, yes, once the author realizes that the story is going to be extended beyond the initial work, he needs to begin paying close attention to continuity, and will be well-served to work out as much of it in advance of future stories as is possible. This is one reason I put so much effort into the fantasy world I am currently working with: I wanted to create a coherent, extendable world first, and then start setting stories in it. The paradigm example of this is–as usual–Tolkien, who spent decades building his setting up, and had a good 4-5x as much unpublished as published material on it (at least: that's based just on what has been published since his death). Not an exercise for everyone.…

A somewhat different approach to continuity is to simply ignore it. This can work as long as the differences can be explained as things that fell outside the knowledge of the narrator(s) of the earlier stories. One of my favorites on this is Steven Brust, who, as far as I can tell, deliberately inserts continuity "errors" in each new book.… ;)
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As for cussing… who gives a rat's aß?. People talk that way. I tend to avoid it generally (if for no other reason than it requires me to get creative when I do want to have characters express themselves using, as Spock once put it, "colorful metaphors"); plus, it's more likely to get you published if your submission doesn't read like a matrilineally-fornicating Eddie Murphy monologue. Most people don't want to read that excrement. But there's no divinity-condemned reason not to use fornicating "bad language" if it's appropriate to the aggressively-sexually-active setting, and as long as it doesn't copulate up the storytelling.
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My narrator is first person, so it isn't dialogue exclusive cursing (actually, my story has very little dialogue at all). Of course, it is part of his character, and the story is certainly not meant for youths, but still.

As for the worldbuilding thing, I don't think extensive worldbuilding is what helps. No, quite the opposite. The story and the world must inevitably be intertwined, and any writer who writes in a world long enough is going to change something in order to better the story. A good world should reflect the story, and vice versa. I would even go so far as to say that any good world can't contain multiple, unrelated stories unless they are so grossly similar that the word 'unrelated' is oxymoronic. The two must be built in tandem in order to be complimentary, and stories that are based on some odd footnote in your worldbuilding planner just aren't going to be as good as the one in mind when you made the world - and let's face it, we're going to have at least a couple of story ideas in mind while worldbuilding.


For the worldbuilding thing, I would accept three series, as long as they are short, set in one world, but after that the author should change it up. You don't want to spend your whole writing career focusing on one world especially if you have more ideas.


As Opichua was saying, the best story is usually the one that led to the creation of the world. You might be able to find other stories in that world, but they probably would not be as good as the first one or the same thing told in a different way.
goos point... I was thinking of my novel.. The first one isn't so much the creation of the world, just the main cities.. the other books in the series take place in different areas of the world and join together in the final book back in the place the series had started o_O


Yes, I don't really mind that, provided you've planned for it. What I mostly have a problem with is writers who sit down and make a (likely very thorough, but very specific) world with one story/series at least dancing about in their head, and then any time they want to write another, they set it there. If you've already picked a few stories to tell, then your worldbuilding would reflect all of them because they are effectively a series, albeit a loosely connected one.
oh they're more connect then you know LOL... Each major place in the continent the books takes place on is distinctly named in the short story companion that will prelude the actual story in the first book... Yes I've decided the beginning is 1) too long to be an effective prologue.. and 2) is better left as it was initially written as a short story. It's too small to be placed in it's own volume but it'll fit perfectly at the beginning of my book before the actual novel >^.^< You guys really helped me alot with deciding this so thank you all >^.^< When I get over my paranoia I'll share what my books about... right now I'm so paranoid someone will steal it LOL It's happened to me before x.x!