The Art of Reviewing: Part Four: Common Mistakes

Author: Anastasia V. Pergakis // Category:

I talked a little about this in the overview, but it really deserves its own post. There are many things that writer's do over and over again (myself included) that really need to be fleshed out and worked on.

Typos and Spelling Mistakes

Like I said in the overview, the students at the Academy often input their homework directly into the WDC system. This is often a huge reason for typos, misspellings, and punctuation mistakes. I always type in a word document to check for things like that and then copy and paste. This goes for blogger too!

One of the most valuable tools a writer can have is a dictionary. While Word and Works and all the other word processing programs out there usually catch and sometimes auto-correct mistakes, there can still be mistakes! It is best to do your own research!

This also includes words used incorrectly. I'll admit there were many times that the green squiggly line showed up in a word document and I couldn't figure out why, not matter how I fixed. Then opening up my trusty dictionary, I found that I was using the wrong word entirely!

There are free dictionaries online too, so you don't need to rush out and by one! I have a dictionary on my desk and Merriam-Webster's Dictionary Online, saved to my favorites on my computer.

Passive Verbs and Sentences

I know I have mentioned this a few times over the course of this week, but it really is the most common issue I come across. I struggle with this too - something I have to work very hard to avoid in my own writing.

While I know many writers argue that passive sentences serve a purpose, that's not what I'm saying here. I mean that passive sentences seems to take over an entire manuscript. Action scenes should be devoid of passive sentences entirely as should the beginning. The reader really needs to feel the tension and passive sentences don't give the needed effect.

Remember, what passive verbs are::: is, am, was, were, be, being, been, and verbs that end in -ing. Those are the most well known ones. There are more! Some grammar books classify them as "weak verbs" but the list includes actionless verbs like "have" or vague terms like "exist".

I tend to just write and then during the editing phase, I try to catch and change most if not all of the passive sentences. Microsoft Word as the great "Find and Replace" feature. I use that to highlight ALL the passive verbs in my manuscript. It really makes it easier to spot them and fix them.


I didn't mention this in the overview because there seems to be a bit of controversy about the topic. So where do I stand? Adverbs are good when they are used correctly - and I stress correctly.

An over abundance of adverbs in a manuscript is not good. I use the "Find and Replace" feature here again to find all the -ly words. (I use a different color than for passive verbs to make them stand out.) Seeing the amount of color on the page really helps me to make sure I have a balance of them.

Then of course, there are times where the adverb is used wrong. This happens most often with dialogue tags. I know what the reader is trying to convey, but it comes out wrong on the paper.

While "said softly" isn't necessarily a wrong way to use that, wouldn't "whispered" sound better? Then, "yelled harshly" just seems like a redundant statement to me. Isn't yelling harsh anyway? And then you run across total opposites that really don't match - "yelled softly" "whispered loudly" etc. "Yelled softly" could be turned into "said through clenched teeth" to show the anger or frustration of the character. "Whispered loudly" could be "breathed" to show the airy nature of a whisper or even "gasped" to show panic.

The point is for me, as long as adverbs are used the right way and not taking over the manuscript then they are okay. All is good in moderation!

Detail and Description

I come across this more often than not. It's another thing I struggle with myself. It doesn't plague the manuscript like some of the other issues can, but it's that one scene or two that has too much or not enough description.

Too little detail can cause readers to not get into the story. They can't see themselves there or even see the characters there so why would they read it? Even if one scene has a lack of detail, it can take down the entire story. Readers need and want to feel immersed into a story all the way through, for every second that they are reading. They need to forget they are reading - and too little detail doesn't pull that off.

Too much detail bogs down the story and the reader loses interest. Sure, the reader may be really IN the scene this way, but this causes the reader to lose the plot and the characters. If reading a story, I come across "Why are they there again?" it's a sure sign that there is too much description.

It is important to find the balance when describing the setting and characters. This is hard to do but that is where Beta readers and a critique group can really help! They - your readers - can tell you what scenes are lacking or not.

While all of these mistakes are common, they are easily fixable - often by another pair of eyes. Just remember to proofread your own manuscript and get a few others to read it too.

**Remember! I'll be answering questions tomorrow about how I review and reviewing in general. So don't hesitate to leave a question or two in the comments!**

6 Responses to "The Art of Reviewing: Part Four: Common Mistakes"

Dawn Embers Says :
April 16, 2010 at 12:14 PM

Another good post.

One of the features on my Mac that comes in handy is the dictionary/thesaurus. I use it often, whether writing, reviewing or doing crosswords. It's something reviewers should consider using too, because sometimes just because they are unfamiliar with a word, doesn't make the word incorrect. I've had to look up word on the occasion when doing a review because I was unfamiliar with it or it sounded odd to me.

I don't think I do enough description in part because I don't want to overdo it, but also because I'm better at dialogue and such. It's one of the things I need to work on with my writing.

Harley D. Palmer Says :
April 16, 2010 at 1:49 PM

Yes Dawn. I agree. Reviewers definately need to have a dictionary and a thesaurus handy too. I always have mine open when I'm reviewing.

I should have added a little thing about slang somewhere - as often I review things written by folks from England or Australia and often times I don't know the slang off hand....perhaps I'll include that with tomorrows post.

Haley Jo Says :
April 16, 2010 at 9:03 PM

I have loved your posts this week. They have been a great resource. I keep going back to my WIP and going, "Crap... I've been doing that." I can't wait until tomorrow. I have a few questions for you.

Eric W. Trant Says :
April 16, 2010 at 9:44 PM

I've loved your series, too, Harley! Great posts.

A couple of comments from an American Nobody (me):

o Thesaurus. Close it except in dire need. Otherwise, go with your first instinct. Avoid ornate words.

o Weasel words. e.g. Very, sort of, and all -ly words (adverbs). Avoid them. Just is probably the most common, followed by really, only, and probably. (get my joke?)

o I loved your points on descriptions!

o LIKE metaphors! Ugh. "Her eyes shone like emeralds!" I'm guilty of it, sure, but I correct to a better construct when possible and reasonable, and I avoid using too many on one page.

o Cliches and unmodifiers. If the phrase is familiar, it is a cliche, nuke it. If the sentence reads the same without the phrase, nuke it.

Anyway, I am hopefully adding to your post and not trying to take away from your most-excellent points.

I would ~love~ you to review my work. You sound fair and just!

- Eric

Jackee Says :
April 16, 2010 at 11:29 PM

Wow! These Art of Reviewing lists are exhaustive and so helpful. Thank you very much for doing them! I'm bookmarking them right now...

Angelica Weatherby Says :
April 18, 2010 at 6:38 PM

Maybe I should be clever and come up with a way to make a post with all 5 blog posts you've made in it... and I'm sure I'm guilty of every single common mistake. x)

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