How Many Point of Views Are There?

Understanding point of view is crucial to novel writing. I have found that POV issues are the most common problem in the manuscripts and submissions I read. POV issues are not an easy fix–  almost an instant rejection from agents and publishers who don’t have the time to help you correct them.

From the writing classes I’ve taught, I’ve found POV issues arise because writers don’t know how many point of views there are. Writers are always surprised when I tell them there are FIVE POVs.

Yes, five, not three. Many writers can tell me there’s a first person, a second person, and generally a third person, but not the other two.

Here’s a list of all five point of views:

-First person
-Second person
-Third person (objective)
-Third person omniscient
-Third person limited

I’ll dedicate a post about each point of view in the future, but for now here’s a brief definition for each one.

First person:
The main character narrates the story, using “I” and “we” pronouns. The character is speaking directly to the reader, who is inside the character’s head.

Second person:
This narration addresses the reader as the protagonist, using “you” and “your” pronouns.

This POV is rarely seen in literature, though there are a few second person novels, such as the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. It’s more common in how-to books, help guides, opinion articles, poetry, lyrics, and other non-fiction.

Third Person Objective:
A “narrator” narrates the story, using “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns. This “narrator” can only narrate the characters’ external actions—anything they express or do. This “narrator” does not know the characters’ internal feelings, emotions, and opinions. This POV is sometimes just called third person.

While not as rare as second person, you won’t normally find this POV in modern day literature. It’s usually more for non-fiction and short stories.

Third Person Omniscient:
A “narrator” narrates the story, using “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns. This “narrator” knows everything, including but not limited to events before and after the story and all the feelings, emotions, and opinions of every character, whether the characters express them or not. However, the “narrator” is a separate being. The narration should NOT contain the voices of the characters.

Usually, the author considers him or herself the “narrator”.

Third Person Limited:
There are two ways to look at third person limited.

1. A “narrator” narrates the story, using “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns, but this narrator only knows the thoughts and feelings of only one character, usually the main character. This narrator follows the main character throughout the story and stays in this character’s perspective.

2. The main character narrates the story but, instead of using “I” and “we”, uses “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns. The main character is indirectly speaking to the reader. The character’s voice is in the narration. While the reader is not completely inside the character’s head, the reader is not separated from the character either. Some people call this POV third person close or deep third person limited.

The first definition is the traditional definition of third person limited, though more of today’s books are being written in deep third person limited. Deep POV means going into the head of the character, allowing the reader to experience what the character is doing, thinking, and feeling. Deep third person limited eliminates that third-party “narrator”, and since third person limited uses third person pronouns, the main character is indirectly telling the reader the story.

Is it Ever Okay to Switch Point of Views?
POV issues arise when the writer (unintentionally) switches POVs within a sentence, paragraph, or scene. POV should be consistent throughout a scene (usually a chapter). However, you may switch POVs at a line break, scene break, or chapter break, and the reader should be able to see that you are intentionally switching POVs.

Most books stay in one POV throughout the novel, but there are some that switch back and forth from first person to omniscient or omniscient to limited. Again, these switches are intentional and used for creative purposes. Most POV switches I see in manuscripts are unintentional and problematic.

 

Switching Perspective Among Characters:
Currently, many published books have multiple main characters who give their accounts of the story. These narratives are for first person and third person limited (which is then called third person subjective rather than called limited). There are two types of narratives with multiple perspectives.

Dual Narrative:
Dual narrative is when there are two perspectives instead of one. The story switches back and forth between each narrator/character.

Multiple Narrative:
Multiple narrative is when there are more than two perspectives, usually several. POV changes between characters are at intervals. Writing multiple perspectives for third person is called third person subjective.

How Empty Subjects Weaken Your Writing

Writers know words are important. After all, words build our stories and give them meaning, but there are some words that don’t refer to anything and can weaken your writing.

Those words are called empty subjects.

What Are Empty Subjects?
Empty subjects are subjects that don’t mean anything. We speak with them all the time, and the two most common ones are “it” and “there”.

Examples:
It is sunny.
It is one o’clock.
It was a shame that we had to leave early.
It should be everyone’s right to have clean air and water.
There were ink stains on the table.
There are some snacks in the kitchen.
There are so many weeds in my backyard!
There is a spider in my bed.

In all of those examples, “it” and “there” didn’t mean or refer to anything. “It” didn’t act as a normal pronoun because it didn’t take the place of any noun.

Subjects aren’t the only ones that can be empty. Direct objects can be empty too.

Examples:
She doesn’t like it when you don’t clean your dishes.
How long will it be before we’re seated?
I find it amazing that you passed all your AP courses.

What’s Wrong With Empty Subjects?
Empty subjects themselves are not bad. We use them all the time, they’re grammatically correct, and sometimes they convey a message faster than a specific subject. Using them from time to time is perfectly okay. However, because empty subjects lack meaning, they can weaken your writing, especially if you use them all the time. Writing is all about choosing the best and strongest words—words full of meaning.

Let’s rewrite some of our earlier examples and see the difference.

1. “It is sunny.”
Rewrite: “The sun blazes up above.”

2. “It was a shame that we had to leave early.”
Rewrite: “I can’t believe we had to leave early. What a shame!”

3. “There were ink stains on the table.”
Rewrite: “Ink stained the table.”

4. “There are so many weeds in my backyard!”
Rewrite: “Weeds are taking over my backyard!”

The rewritten sentences are stronger and make the writing more interesting. Using specific subjects will boost your writing.

Again, using empty subjects from time to time is fine, but let’s look an example where we overuse them in a paragraph:

It was raining when I stepped out of my car. Pulling my hood over my head, I ran across the street to the café– the place where I was supposed to meet Bill. It was a surprise to me that my cynical ex wanted to talk there. There were inspirational phrases on the walls, heart-shaped cakes in the desserts display, and pink roses on the tables. It seemed that this place was the girliest spot in town! When I entered, there was only a clerk and a barista. It looked like Bill was going to be late.”

Now let’s look at a stronger version:

“Rain poured when I stepped out of my car. Pulling my hood over my head, I ran across the street to the café– the place where I was supposed to meet Bill. The café was the last spot I thought my cynical ex would want us to talk. After all, inspirational phrases hung on the walls, the desserts display was filled with heart-shaped cakes, and pink roses lay scattered all over the tables. This place was the girliest spot in town! When I entered, a clerk stood behind the cashier and a barista cleaned the tables. Nobody else was here. Bill was late.”

Other Problems with Empty Subjects:
Sometimes, I call empty subjects “it” and “this” sentences because a writer is unintentionally using empty pronouns as subjects. In this case, the writer uses a pronoun, usually “it” or “this”, to refer to a whole phrase or sentence. The writer thinks the pronoun is taking the place of something, but it’s not, therefore making the subject empty. I normally find this problem in non-fiction manuscripts rather than fiction projects.

Here’s an example:

“Once the sun set, the dog barked nonstop, the children banged doors, and the indoor pipes clanked. This went on for hours.”

“This” is an empty subject because it’s not truly taking the place of anything. I understand the writer is trying to convey that all the chaos and noises went on for hours, but the word “this” cannot take the place of that whole sentence. That usage is grammatically incorrect.

A better way to write this sentence is, “Once the sun set, the dog barked nonstop, the children banged doors, and the indoor pipes clanked. All these noises went on for hours.”

Another problem with empty subjects is that they can cause writers to tell instead of show. I’ve already discussed this topic on my blog, and you can click here to read my post. Telling usually involves weak, vague words, and empty subjects are vague and weak. My first example from up above (“it is sunny”) is telling while my rewrite (“the sun blazes up above”) is showing.

Strong Words. Strong Sentences:
Writing is all about finding the best word and making each one count. Empty subjects themselves are not bad, and it’s fine to use them from time to time. However, using too many will weaken your writing. Readers will be more engaged in your novel when the writing is strong and uses each word to its fullest potential.

 

How Varied Sentence Structure Can Spice Up Your Writing

I haven’t posted much about voice yet, but voice is one of the most crucial components to your novel. With so many writers trying to get their books published, if you don’t have voice, your book will go unnoticed.

There are many reasons why some writers lack voice. It could be their first novel. They’re forcing too hard to sound like someone else. For many new writers, I have found that their writing is vague and boring. It doesn’t pop. And this problem sometimes occurs because they don’t vary their sentence structure.

Varied Sentence Structure
Sentence structure is how you arrange your words, phrases, and clauses in a sentence. Writers who don’t vary their sentences repeat the same sentence subject, length, and type. This repetition bores the reader, and it weakens your voice.

Varied sentences give your writing life. It also reduces that repetition. Changing your sentence structure will keep the reader engaged and give rhythm to your writing. To understand varied sentence structure, we’re going to talk about sentence subject, length, and type.

Varying Subjects:
The first sign that a writer doesn’t vary his/her sentences is when the subject of each sentence is the same. People who write in first person easily fall victim to this, repeating “I”—the same subject– over and over again.

Here’s an example:

“Alex opened his door and stepped outside. He felt a nice breeze and walked over to downtown. He wasn’t sure if he should go to the bakery or the burger joint first. He then noticed that he was short on cash.”

In every one of those sentence, he (Alex) was the subject. There’s no variety. The way to fix this is to alternate your subjects. You’ll have to stretch your creative muscle, but to be able to change subjects will help you craft your voice and spice up your writing.

“Alex opened his door and stepped outside. A nice breeze brushed against him. It was a perfect day to go downtown, and with the weather warm, he walked all the way there. Outside the bakery and the burger joint, a strong odor of cookies and fries filled his nose. Where should he go first? Digging into his pocket, he searched for cash, but there was only a couple of quarters.”

In the new example, we alternated subjects. The text is now more interesting. If you’re really struggling to alternate subjects, using a dependent clause before the subject (such as “Digging into his pocket”) can help.

Varying Sentence Lengths:
I have found that writers who lack voice overuse short sentences while writers who have a forced voice overuse long sentences.

Short sentences give emphasis, but when overused, the reader can’t digest what is supposed to be important. The writing also feels rushed, and the flow feels choppy. Long sentences can reveal a lot of information, but when there are too many, the reader becomes too overwhelmed. They struggle to understand what you’re trying to convey.

Here’s an example of too many short sentences:

“On his kayak, Frank paddled through the ocean. The water was calm. It was perfect for kayaking. Wanting to soak up the sun, he decided to rest. He set his oar over his lap. The waves lightly pushed the kayak.”

Here’s an example of too many long sentences:

“On his kayak, Frank paddled through the ocean, which had the calmest waves that were perfect for kayaking, and because these waves were so nice and because he wanted to soak up the sun, he decided to rest, setting his oar over his lap and letting the waves lightly push the kayak.”

That paragraph was actually just one sentence, and I’m sure the next sentence would’ve been just as wordy. Because that sentence was so long, we’re overwhelmed with information, and we’re not sure what to digest.

Now let’s see what happens when we alternate lengths:

“On his kayak, Frank paddled through the ocean. The water was calm– perfect. Wanting to soak up the sun, he decided to rest, so he set his oar over his lap and let the waves lightly push the kayak.”

Because the sentence lengths were mixed, the paragraph flows better, and it’s much easier and more engaging to read.

Varying Sentence Types:
When you’re using the same sentence type over again, the reader is going to notice or at least feel something’s off.

Spotting repetitive sentence type is hard to catch. You have to know the different types before you can really notice it. There are four types of sentences.

Simple sentence: An independent clause.
Ex: I love dogs.

Complex sentence: A sentence that contains both an independent and dependent clause.
Ex: Because Jim is allergic to cats, he adopted a dog.

Compound sentence: A sentence that contains at least two independent clauses joined together by a conjunction.
Ex: I have two dogs, and their names are Titus and Caspian.

Compound-Complex sentence: A sentence that contains at least two independent clauses AND a dependent clause.
Ex: Before adopting Buddy and Spot, Yuki purchased some dog toys, and his dogs loved them.

Writers who don’t know the different kinds of sentences can accidentally overuse a particular type. Sometimes, when a writer overuses a particular type, s/he tends to overuse a particular sentence length too. Writers who overuse short sentences usually use too many simple sentences while writers who overuse long sentences usually use too many compound-complex sentences.

Let’s look at an example with too many complex sentences:

“Straightening her skirt, Bella entered her office. Seeing a large stack of papers on her desk, she sighed. Because tax season was coming up, there was more work for her to do. Even though she liked to work, the stress was becoming unbearable.”

There’s a weird flow to this. Using a variety of sentence types will eliminate that weird flow, and sometimes all you have to do is make a few adjustments. Let’s try this again:

“Straightening her skirt, Bella entered her office. A large stack of papers was on her desk, and she sighed. Tax season was coming up. More work was coming toward her way. Even though she liked work, the stress was becoming unbearable.”

Last Thoughts:
If you’re someone who struggles to vary your sentences, you’ll have to stretch your creative muscle and practice. Varying your sentence structure will spice up your writing and make it more interesting.

Is It EVER Okay To Use Passive Voice?

If you have taken writing classes or read online writing tip sites, you probably have heard to use active voice rather than passive voice. You may have heard that active voice is full of energy and is easier to read while passive voice is the opposite.

To understand more about active and passive voice, let’s talk about what they are first.

What is Active Voice?
Active voice is when the subject is doing the action (the verb). The subject is doing something.

Examples:
“John threw the ball.”
“Elise read the book.”
“Louis ran to the house.”

In every example, the subject performed the verb. John was the one who threw the ball. Elise was the one who read the book. Louis was the one who ran to the house. In cases for transitive verbs, the subject is performing an action on a direct object (the ball for John and the book for Elise).

What is Passive Voice?
Passive voice is when the subject is acted upon. The subject is NOT performing the action, and in these sentences, there’s a past participle (thrown, driven, given, loved, hugged, etc).

Examples of passive voice:
“The ball was thrown by John.”
“The book was read by Elise.”
“The letter was written by me.”

As you can see from our examples, our subjects are not performing the action. The ball wasn’t the one doing the throwing. The book wasn’t the one doing the reading. These subjects were acted upon.

Some people think that “to be” verbs ARE passive voice, which is incorrect. We use “to be” verbs all the time without being in passive voice. Many websites and instructors will also tell you that the passive voice has to follow the “to be” form. While most passive voice sentences do, this is not 100% true. A passive voice sentence can go like this:

“My dogs got caught eating the pillows.”

That example was in passive voice, even though there was no “to be” form. To rewrite this in active voice, it would be, “I caught my dogs eating the pillows.” Those “get” and “got” verbs can be tricky.

You also can’t make intransitive and linking verbs passive. Words such as “run”, “swim”, “arrive”, etc can only be in active voice. There is no way I can make my third active voice example (“Louis ran to the house”) into passive voice.

Why Write in Active Voice?
Active voice is clearer and more direct than passive voice. For novel writing, the best stories keep the readers turning the pages. Active voice has energy. It’s more exciting and interesting. It keeps readers engaged. After all, it is called active voice.

Also, most times, active voice is less wordy than passive voice. Cutting out unnecessary words always benefits your writing.

Is It Ever Okay to Write in Passive Voice?
Yes.

When I’m grilling people about using active voice, it’s when they are writing academic, legal, scientific, business, and other formal papers. Whenever you are conveying a lot of information for the reader to learn, active voice is a must.

Novel writing is different. It has more freedoms. Writers are conveying a story rather than tons of information, and novel writing is meant to be creative.

In novel writing, using passive voice is all about strategy. There are times when it is better to use passive voice than active. Here are some situations where passive voice is better.

1. Emotions and Surprise
Passive voice is great tool when you want the readers to feel a particular emotion. Let’s say you want your reader to feel sympathy. Let’s look at this example:

“The town was hit by a tornado.”

We were introduced to the town first, and then we learn what happened to it. Your reader will more likely feel sympathy for the town when using passive voice than the active voice’s version, “A tornado hit the town.”

Now let’s say you want to surprise your reader. Back in the old days, Latin speakers used passive voice all the time to surprise others. Here’s our next example:

“The thief was chased away by a pink poodle.”

By having “pink poodle” at the end of the sentence, we surprise the reader. It’s not wrong to say, “A pink poodle chased away the thief”, but I prefer the passive voice version. In my opinion, it’s funnier– more of a surprise.

2. Emphasis
Words usually stand out at the end of a sentence, so if there’s something you want to emphasize, passive voice can help because the person or thing doing the action usually falls at the end of the sentence.

So for example, “A $100,000 donation was given by the President of the United States.”

Here, we’re emphasizing that it was the president who gave this huge donation. His title stands out because he’s at the end of the sentence.

3. Avoiding Names or Not Knowing Names
Some people will use passive voice to avoid name dropping.

For example, “The team was misrepresented.”

Who misrepresented the team? We don’t know, and maybe the author is purposefully leaving out names. Or maybe the author doesn’t know. Passive voice works great when we don’t know who’s doing the action or if we don’t want to reveal who’s doing the action.

Final Points:
Active voice is still a must. It’s more engaging and easier to read, but don’t be afraid to use passive voice. However, it’s not something to overuse. After all, it is called PASSIVE voice, and too much passive voice can weaken your writing.

How to Write Believable Dialogue

For readers (and editors), nothing’s scarier than pages full of long paragraphs of text with no dialogue in sight. Dialogue helps break up paragraphs. It pushes the story faster. It helps show characters’ personalities. (And honestly, long paragraphs of text belong in textbooks, and I didn’t read mine when I was in college).

But despite how much readers love dialogue, many aspiring writers struggle to write it effectively. I have mentioned dialogue before in previous posts, so now it’s finally time to talk about it, but before we can talk about how to write great dialogue, we need to discuss what bad dialogue is first.

 

What is Bad Dialogue?

Bad dialogue makes readers cringe, and once you know what it is, you can easily spot it. I’ve found there are four types of bad dialogue.

1. Characters Sounding the Same:

One very common problem new writers struggle with is giving their characters their own voice. Happy-to-go Lucy should not sound the same as hot-headed George, and the elderly professor should not speak the same as his high school students.

I feel this problem occurs when writers don’t know their characters on a deep personal level or struggle to get inside their heads. The more developed your characters and the more you can immerse with them, the easier it is to write dialogue for all of your characters.

 

2. Exposition Dialogue:

Usually, I find exposition dialogue in fantasy and sci-fi manuscripts, but it can turn up in any genre. Exposition dialogue is when the characters’ dialogue is full of info dumping, explaining only background information and plot.

The problem with exposition dialogue is that it lacks emotions and personality. I’m not saying that you can NEVER have exposition in your dialogue. Sometimes you need it, but when your characters are only info dumping and explaining plot, they’re acting as plot tools, not characters with feelings, emotions, and personalities.

But the bigger problem with exposition dialogue is that it’s not natural and realistic most of the time. You can spot exposition dialogue if your characters are telling each other information they should already know.

So example, let’s say best friends Jamie and Kerry are chatting, and their conversation goes like this:

“Did I tell you that my older sister, Mary, just got engaged?” Kerry asked. “She and her fiancé, Jerry King, have been dating for three years when she moved to Baltimore and met him when she began her job at International Banking.”

Now, if I were Jamie, I would be wondering, “Why are you telling me all of this? I know already!” If Jamie and Kerry were best friends, Jamie would already know that Kerry has an older sister, her name is Mary, who her fiancé is, where she lives, and probably where she works. Except for the engagement, all of this information shouldn’t be new to her, and therefore, this dialogue is not realistic.

 

3. Stilted Dialogue:

Some writers seem to have the idea that they have to be formal in their writing, especially in dialogue.

It usually sounds like this:

“Lisa, would you please walk the dogs because, even though I wish I could give them the exercise, I am coming down with a cold and do not have the energy to walk,” Bob said.

Stilted speech is usually when the dialogue is too formal, as you can see in the example. It sounds too much like from the olden days or people in the Bible. This problem also occurs when writers don’t use contractions, slang, curse words, or informal words.

If we take the example up above, natural sounding dialogue would go like this:

“Lisa, please walk the dogs. I’m not feeling well,” Bob said.

 

4. Clichés and Stereotypes:

We all know that we should avoid clichés. Clichéd dialogue doesn’t develop character. It doesn’t give your characters personality. There are plenty of websites that list clichéd expressions to avoid.

 

What is Good Dialogue?

Now that I’ve explained what bad dialogue is, now it’s time to talk about good dialogue. There are three components to good dialogue.

1.) Personality:

As I said up above, bad dialogue doesn’t reflect the character’s personality, and each character doesn’t have his or her own voice. If you have read my Show, Don’t Tell series, then you know that I believe that dialogue is a great way to show personality.

Here are some things to consider when giving dialogue personality:

Outlook:

What is the character’s outlook on life? Is he optimistic and pessimistic? Hopeful or depressed? An optimistic character who had his date canceled will most likely say, “That’s alright. We can go out another night!” versus the pessimistic person who would say, “I bet that %@#@ canceled on me to see some other guy. Whatever. I don’t need her.”

Emotions:

Emotions reflect our personalities, especially the way we channel them in our words. How does your character express his or her emotions? Someone who is normally happy can easily channel her happy emotions. Someone who easily gets angry will have no problem expressing anger.

Characteristic Traits:

How do you describe your character? Is she smart? Is she happy-to-go? A character who is intelligent will most likely use big words and complex sentences while a very happy, peppy person will use happy, bubbly language.

Upbringing:

Our upbringing shapes our personality. If a character grew up where yelling and cursing was common, it’s likely that she yells and curses at others, while a character who grew up in a quiet family might be shy and doesn’t like to talk.

Interests:

What are your characters’ interests? A character who love athletics might use language found in sports while someone who love her religious youth group might likely to quote her bible or pastor.

 

Each character ought to have his or her own voice. Here are some things to consider to help you make your characters sound different from each other:

Age/Generation:

A five year old will speak differently from a forty-five year old. Every age uses different phrases and words. The time period when your characters grew up also impacts dialogue. Slang from the 80s is very much different from slang in the 2000s.

Nationality/Culture:

Our culture affects how we choose our words and who/when to speak with others. Women who live in an oppressive country that prohibits them from working and attending schools will use different language than women who live in a free country. Think how your story’s setting and culture affects your characters’ speech. Even in the United States, someone from Texas speaks differently from someone from New York.

Career/Occupation:

Our careers and fields impact our language choice, and we pick up words and phrases from our jobs. A doctor speaks differently from an elementary school teacher. Even in the same field, different positions can affect dialogue. In a factory, a machine operator will not sound the same as a manager.

Education:

Many learn to read and write in school, and some people are in school longer than others. Someone who earned a P.H.D will speak differently from someone who only finished high school.

 

2. Advancing Plot:

While we want dialogue to sound natural and be realistic, there is some real-life dialogue that does not belong in your story. Every line of dialogue ought to contribute to the plot and conflict.

Look at each line of dialogue. If you take it out, do you lose vital information for the plot? If not, then it’s best to take it out. Anything that is small talk, chitchat, conversational, or lacks anything to do with plot is a waste of space. Pointless dialogue that is just filler is boring, and readers will only skim it.

 

3. Sounding Natural and Realistic:

The best characters sound like real people; their dialogue is believable. The best way to see if your dialogue is natural is reading it out loud. That’s the best way to catch chunky, awkward lines. If you’re tripping over your dialogue a lot, that is a sign that it needs work.

As crazy as it sounds, one of the best ways to learn how to develop natural dialogue is people watching and eavesdropping. Listen to how people talk and interact with each other, and use what you’ve observed for your writing.

Learning to write good dialogue takes time and practice, but once you master it, dialogue will flow onto the pages.

Why Agents Are Not Connecting With Your Characters

If you have queried a project before, you may have received rejections with the following feedback: “I didn’t connect with the characters.”

It’s disheartening for writers to hear that agents didn’t connect with their characters. Why is that? You, the writer, love your characters, so shouldn’t agents love them too?

There are several reasons why an agent isn’t connecting with your characters. Here we go.

1. Your Characters Are Not Fully Developed (AKA, They Don’t Feel Like Real People)
Most of the time, agents reject manuscripts because the characters are not fully developed, hence they cannot connect with them. The best books have well developed characters who feel like real people. Learning to develop characters takes time and practice.

Here are signs that your characters are underdeveloped:

a. Your Characters Lack Personality
Everyone has a personality. It should be clear from the start what your character is like. If we can’t grasp who your character is, the agent is not going to want to keep reading.

Examine your character and identify his/her personality. If you can, great! If you can’t, there’s a problem. Ask beta readers to identify your characters’ personalities. If they are giving you different answers, then something isn’t transitioning right in your novel.

Usually, the problem is in the dialogue. Our dialogue says a lot about our personality. When the dialogue is dull, dry, and gives no personality, then the agent will not feel a connection with the characters. A well developed character will have lively and believable dialogue that matches his/her personality perfectly.

b. All of Your Characters Act and Sound the Same
Not only is it important that your characters have personalities, but it’s also as important that they all have different ones.

This problem can also come from dialogue. If all of your characters sound the same, then you haven’t developed them enough yet for each character to come alive.

c. Your Dialogue is Boring, Dry, and Unnatural
Besides having characters sound the same, there are other issues that can occur in dialogue that affect character development.

Other issues include stilted speech, exposition dialogue, and clichéd dialogue. All of these will make your dialogue sound unnatural, and when you have unnatural dialogue, your characters’ personalities won’t shine through.

d. Your Characters Lack Goals and Motivations
Every book has this basic plot: your character wants something and someone/something is in his way. Your characters’ goals and motives drive the plot, and without them, there would be no story.

Wants, goals, and motives show a lot about a person, and if these are not present in your novel, your characters will be boring. Nobody likes a boring character.

2. You Are Telling Instead of Showing
If you have read my “Show, Don’t Tell” series, you’ll know showing is crucial to character development. Showing brings your characters to life; telling does not. Agents want to read about characters who come to life.

If you want to read more about show, don’t tell, click here.

3. Your Characters Are Not Believable
Agents want believable characters. What is a believable character? They are like real people. They have wants, goals, personalities, motives, hobbies, interests, loved ones, and most importantly, flaws.

Usually, unbelievable characters arise when the writer does not give them flaws. These characters are perfect. They have the perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect family, and basically the perfect life that nobody has. Perfect characters are unnatural.

Nobody is perfect. Every agent and reader has flaws, and they want to connect with characters who have flaws too. Sometimes we connect more from our flaws than our strengths.

And honestly, if your characters are perfect and get everything they want easily, you’re not going to have much of a story. Perfect characters are boring, and agents do not want boring characters.

4. Your Characters Are TOO Unlikeable
There are some personality traits that nobody likes: whininess, jealousy, manipulation, etc. While books about anti-heroes and criminals get published all the time, these characters still have redeeming traits that the agent can connect with.

While I said before that characters need flaws, they should have strengths too. There needs to be something that makes the character likable or redeemable.

Whininess is one trait that agents and readers can’t stand. Most of the time, listening to someone whine is uncomfortable, so if we don’t like whining in real life, we won’t like it in our books either.

5. Your Characters Are Not Proactive
Throughout your whole book, your characters should be doing something. They need to be proactive and engaged in a conflict. If they’re not doing anything, the agent will get bored. Agents and readers do not connect with characters who just sit around drinking coffee, chit chat with friends, and just think about stuff (especially the past). If your characters are inactive, the agent will wish she were reading something else.

Well developed characters are proactive. It doesn’t matter what their personalities are. Whether they’re strong and outgoing or quiet and shy, a proactive character is doing something relating to a conflict.

6. Your Characters Are Just Not For The Agent
Sometimes, and unfortunately, an agent didn’t connect with your characters because of her own personal taste.

When that happens, just keep querying and find the best agent who will love your characters.

5 Signs That You Hired A Bad Editor

I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: there are too many bad freelance editors on the Internet. Most of the time, writers never realize they hired a bad editor, or if they do, it’s already too late.

I’ve already written about how you can spot a bad or unskilled editor based on his website or an email interaction. But what if you’ve already hired an editor? What if during the process you wonder if your editor is really as good as he claims to be?

Here are some signs that your editor is a bad one. If you suspect that you’ve hired a bad editor, fire him and try to get your money back. Even if you can’t get the money, you need to stop wasting your time with someone who is doing more bad than good for your manuscript.

1. Changes Your Manuscript
The biggest red flag is when s/he makes changes to your manuscript. This is not the same as RECOMMENDING changes. That’s what real editors do. And I’m also not talking about inserting a comma then or there, moving two words around, or fixing a spelling error.

I’m talking about big changes like:

  • Inserting additional adjectives and adverbs
  • Changing the meaning of your sentences, changing either words or the whole sentence structure
  • Deleting or adding sentences and paragraphs
  • Changing descriptions of places, characters, and other things
  • Adding or deleting dialogue
  • Changing your characters’ personalities, goals, and motives
  • Deleting or adding scenes
  • Changing your voice
  • Changing your plot and story

Even worst, you’ll know if you have a bad editor if he is inserting grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

Editors don’t rewrite anything. They comment and point out problems for you. At the end of the day, the writer is the one who has to make changes.

It’s YOUR story, not the editor’s.

2. Hidden Fees
A good editor will be upfront about time and costs. He will usually estimate them before he begins his job. If you’re getting fee after fee, that is a huge sign that your editor just wants your money and has no interest in helping you. It might even be a scam.

If later on an editor realizes that he has to do more work than he estimated, he will be honest about it, but he won’t be sending you fee after fee. Some editors want payments upfront just to show they won’t hit you with hidden fees.

3. Unresponsive and Missing Deadlines
Communication is important in a writer/editor relationship. Professional editors take their work seriously, and they know they have an obligation to help you and meet deadlines. We know you will have questions about our work and our feedback. If your editor is not communicating with you, he is either a scammer or has poor communication skills.

Your editor should be hitting deadlines too. If we expect children to turn in their homework on time, we should expect adults and professionals to do the same. If your editor is missing deadlines because he has bitten off more than he can chew, he still needs to communicate that with you. Yes, sometimes we miss deadlines. Sometimes we’re just behind or emergencies come up. While I can’t speak on the behalf of all editors, I will always contact my clients when I’m behind. If I realize ahead of time that I’m not going to meet a deadline, I will contact you.

4. Unable to Explain Comments and Recommended Changes
When writers and editors work together, writers should be able to ask questions about the feedback. If a suggestion doesn’t make sense or if they disagree with it, they should be able to ask for a further explanation.

One advantage an editor has over critic partners and beta readers is that an editor can explain why something needs changing. A critic partner can tell you a sentence is chunky. An editor can explain WHY it is chunky. A critic partner can say you should show instead of tell. An editor can explain WHY you should show. A beta reader can tell you a scene doesn’t make sense. Editors can explain why. Get it?

We expect writers to disagree with changes we recommend, and we will talk about it. If your editor can’t explain why you should make the recommended changes, then he’s not skilled or he doesn’t care.

5. Provides Little to No (Critical) Feedback
Honestly, many writers enter the editing process with a mind set that their book is already perfect and the editor will only find minor mistakes.

Sorry, that’s not the case.

Good editors dig deep. They will be honest and point out every problem they find. You will receive A LOT of critical feedback, and yes, the editing process with an editor can be overwhelming. We always advise to take it slow. If your editor is giving you all praise (no criticism) or providing little feedback, that’s a sign that the editor is not skilled to catch all the problems in your manuscript.

These bad editors can really hurt a writer’s career. Once an editor tells a writer his manuscript is all ready to go, it is really hard to critique that writer’s work after that. The writer will believe that his work is perfect. He won’t listen to anyone with constructive criticism, and if his work was poorly edited, convincing him to listen criticism is beyond challenging.

A good editor will provide tons of feedback. If you’re not getting much feedback, it’s time to fire your editor.

How To Spot A Bad or Unskilled Novel Editor

Thanks to self and digital publishing, freelance editors can now find more work. Unfortunately, this has opened the door for unskilled and bad freelancer to take advantage of writers. There are a lot of bad editors on the Internet, and writers now have to struggle to find professional and honest editors. Bad editors leave writers with bad experiences, and they give good freelance editors a bad name. You should never have to spend any time or money on a bad editor, but sometimes you don’t know you have a bad editor until it’s too late.

Some of these editors just want your money. Some of them have their hearts in the right place but don’t have the skills to help you. But how can you tell a good editor from a bad one? Well, here are some signs of a bad or unskilled editor, just based on their website and a few email interactions.

1. Makes Ridiculous, Far-fetch Claims and Promises
This is a given. If an editor makes over-the-top promises, that’s a sign that he’s a scammer. Professional editors are honest about what they can and cannot do.

Far-fetch claims are like:
“You must have your novel professional edited before you send to agents and publishers.” (This is false)
“I can edit 50 pages in an hour.” (Not possible, even for proofreaders.)
“I can make your book a best seller!” (We can never guarantee that your book will be a hit.)

If an editor makes promises that are too good to be true, you’re probably facing a scam or an editor way over his head. Run away.

2. Provides No List of Services
There are four types of editing:

1. Developmental editing or content editing– editing for plot, characterization, and story
2. Line editing– editing for paragraph structure, sentence structure, word choice, voice, and anything involving with the writing itself
3. Copyediting– editing for grammar, punctuation, spelling, fact checking, and consistencies
4. Proofreading– editing for typos, missed grammar and spelling issues, and sometimes formatting

Good editors list what services they provide. They will also explain how each service works. If you don’t see a webpage devoted to what services the editor offers, that’s a red flag.

A good editor will NEVER offer all four types in one round. They may not even offer all four types of editing. Most editors only have skills in one or two particular types. There are some who only perform developmental editing. There are some who only offer line editing. Some, like me, will offer both developmental and line editing and offer a package deal. Each good editor tells you what he provides.

A sign of an unskilled editor is misusing these terms. If someone says he provides a developmental editing but also says he’ll be checking for sentence structure and misused words, that’s a sign that he doesn’t understand the different types of editing. Stay away from these kind of editors too.

Also, not all freelance editors edit novels. There are freelancers who edit magazines, newspapers, academic papers, etc. You need to find someone who specifically edits novels.

3. Provides No Preferences in Genre or Age Category
Editors are readers. We have certain genres that we like, and the books we like to read are usually the books we edit. Good editors list what genres and age categories they edit, and they also list what genres they don’t consider. There are very few editors who read and edit everything (and yes, I envy those people), though they will state that. They won’t try to hide it. Some editors may even say they won’t edit anything with gore and sex.

You need an editor who reads and edits your genre and age category. Why would you hire someone who only reads mysteries when your book is fantasy? And do you really think someone who only reads adult books has the knowledge to help you with your young adult book? That doesn’t make sense at all!

4. Has No Knowledge in Marketing
Time for business talk. Marketing is a big deal in publishing. We have genres and age categories to target the right readers for each book. If a publisher were to publish an adult sci-fi, they would not target middle graders or people who only love romance books.

I know people advise writers to read all the time. Editors need to read too, but more importantly, they need to be reading books that are current and have been published in the last five years. Good editors know what is going on in the market and what is going on with the genres they edit. They know what is popular, which genres are oversaturated, which tropes are popular, which tropes agents and publishers hate, current book clichés, clichés in specific genres, etc.

You need someone with expertise in your genre so he can help you make your book stand out. You don’t want your book to be the exact same as all the others, right? You need someone to help you avoid clichés and steer you away from overused tropes in your genre. I’m not saying you can’t use popular tropes, but it’s important to be original. We want to help you make your book stand out. Someone who doesn’t read and is not up with the market won’t be able to help you.

It’s hard to know if an editor is up-to-date with the market. If you want to know how current I am, check out my twitter. I like to tweet pictures of my dogs with the books I’m reading. Yes, I read old books and classics, but I make it a priority to keep up with the market.

5.) Has No Experience in the Publishing Industry
Lots of writers believe that the best editor is a former librarian or English professor. Sorry, those are not the best people to edit your book, especially for developmental and line editing.

If you’re planning to hire a freelancer, it’s best to hire someone who has experience in the publishing industry, whether s/he be a former intern, editorial assistant, editor’s assistant, literary agent’s assistant, literary agent, in-house editor, or so on. These guys have the insight of how the editing process in the publishing industry works, and they will have that marketing knowledge you will need.

For copyediting and proofreading, you can hire someone who is fantastic with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and fact checking. Just make sure your editor really has the skills.

6. Is Unwilling to do Revisions and Multiple Rounds
When writing a book, you will spend more time editing and revising than the actual writing part. Good editors and writers know a book undergoes MANY revisions, and good editors understand that you may need more than one round of their editing services. They are willing to help you until you reach the point where you no longer need their help. This does not mean you pay the editor only once. You have to pay for additional rounds, and for many editors, they accept clients on a first come, first serve basis. You will have to confirm that you want additional time slots with your editor if you’re considering multiple rounds of editing.

When an editor claims that he won’t do multiple rounds or at least a second round, I find that suspicious. Good editors want to help you. If an editor won’t do at least a second, I don’t believe he has best interest in you.

7. Refuses to Provide Sample and Client List
Good editors know hiring someone is a big investment, and they want you to be comfortable when you’re hiring them. They are willing to provide a sample so you can get a taste of their service. You can also ask for a list of their past client so you can contact them and discuss about their experiences.

Bad editors won’t do that. If they’re scammers, they won’t even have past clients, just writers who had their money stolen from them.

Other Signs of a Bad Editor:

Unprofessional, sloppy website-
If an editor has an unprofessional and sloppy website, he is probably an unprofessional, sloppy editor too.

Poor grammar on website-
Bad grammar, many spelling errors, and misuse of punctuation show the editor doesn’t have the skills to help you.

Special deals-
Most good editors are set on their prices. Special “limited time” offers are rarely ever good.

No Articles-
Some editors write articles or blog post to show their expertise. Not all editors do this, but if you find an editor who can show she knows what she is talking about, then great.

Pressure-
You should never be pressured to hire a particular editor. If someone is pressuring you, he just wants your money. Run!