Three Mistakes Writers Make In Their First Chapter

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By Amy Giuffrida

Agents and  editors receive countless submissions on a daily basis and need to make hard decisions about whether or not to move forward with a manuscript. While you may have an amazing concept, sometimes the revisions necessary to ready a story for pitching are too deep and extensive. There are three big mistakes writers make: info dumping, telling, and including extraneous information. Although these can be found throughout an entire piece, each are fixable errors if you know what to look for.

Info Dumping

What is an info dump? According to Wiktionary, an info dump is:

  1. (chiefly computing) A large volume of data supplied at the same time. 
  2. A long paragraph or series of paragraphs in a work of fiction that reveals often tedious or dull expository information through the voice of the narrator.

In fact, you can think of this as a form of long-winded telling. This type of exposition generally rambles on and on about something that happened in the past—some of which may be important information—but it isn’t presented in a fluid way. So, how can you ensure that you aren’t including an info dump in your story?

Often times, writers begin their stories with info dumps, which tends to mean that they aren’t beginning in the right place. If there is backstory necessary to the plot, then it should be included. You may have begun too far into the story, so there’s little way to add the information necessary without putting it all in one place. If this is the case, rethink where your action begins. Maybe all that is needed is to begin a little earlier in the character’s life. 

Telling

This is a popular phrase, but what does it mean? Telling is passive writing. It not only tends to overuse adverbs, but can also be wordy and sound more like a laundry list of information. The author supplies the information, but doesn’t truly allow the reader to feel emotions, this pushes the reader away rather than drawing them into the action. Showing is active. It allows the reader to visualize what is happening and evokes emotion, bringing about an emotional response. And that’s what writing is all about–having the reader care about your characters and think about the story well after they finish reading.

Extraneous Information

Your reader is on a need to know basis. If what you are writing has nothing to do with the current situation a character is in, don’t include it. If the information retells something from earlier, don’t include it. Any background about a person or place should be sprinkled throughout the story, not written as a large chunk.

During the revision process, these three characteristics of sophomoric writing should be on your checklist. Begin by asking yourself whether or not a scene or chapter is necessary to the story. If you cut it, will the action still move forward? Make sure ALL of your words have purpose. Also, look for the areas where there is are multiple sentences or paragraphs full of telling. No one wants to read a laundry list of physical attributes or information that doesn’t connect to anything. So before you submit what you’ve worked so hard on, decide what information is necessary, then either cut or rewrite to ensure that your reader truly enjoys the amazing story you’ve written. 

Amy Giuffrida is an assistant with Holloway Literary. Follow her on Twitter @kissedbyink.