Most Common Writing Mistakes: Are You Skipping the Best Parts?

The fastest way to frustrate a reader is to write everything but the good parts of a story. You’d think this would be a no-brainer. After all, as story aficionados ourselves, we’re presumably writing the story because of the good parts. The action, the romance, the comedy, the drama. We can’t wait to get it on paper, and readers can’t wait to experience it.

But sometimes, without even realizing it, we can end up skipping the best parts and leaving readers growling their frustration. This can happen for a number of reasons.

Why do authors skip the best parts?

1. The good stuff the reader is interested in isn’t the good stuff we intended to write about.

2. The scene is difficult or painful for us to write.

3. The scene requires information beyond our expertise.

4. We think we are sharing the good stuff.

What happens when authors skip the good stuff?

The result of any of these problems is going to be a scene that goes something like this:

Max braced for the showdown. It had come to this at last. He squinted against the sun and wiggled his fingers above his holstered six-gun. Across the street, Big Bad Red spat his tobacco and stalked toward him, spurs jingling. Next thing Max knew, it was all over and the townsfolk were slapping him on the back and buying him drinks. Phew, he thought. Glad that’s over.

Max might be glad, but readers won’t be. Here you’ve built up the scene, prepped them for a mighty wallop of spine-tingling, fingernail-biting, forgetting-to-breath action, and then . . . nothin’. How’s that for disappointing?

“But I left something up to the reader’s imagination!” you say. “Everybody knew what was going to happen there anyway!” you say. “The backslapping, drinks-buying scene is way more important than the gunfight!” you say.

Not to readers. The build-up to a scene is a promise to the reader. You’re foreshadowing something to come, and readers are going to want to see the payoff returned in equal measure.

How can authors avoid skipping the good scenes?

Let’s address our four reasons for skipping the best parts:

1. You never actually wanted to write about Max’s showdown. What you were really interested in was Max’s reaction to gunning down Big Bad Red.

Sometimes you can’t have one without the other. If you need a big scene to get to the next big scene, don’t skimp on either of them or the story will end up feeling uneven. And if it turns out you don’t really need the showdown, then don’t set it up so Max has to go through it to reach the scene that really matters.

2. You cringe at the thought of writing a showdown, since, as a kid, you had a bad experience High Noon.

Certain scenes may be difficult for you to write simply because of your own emotional makeup and past experiences. So you have to choose. Either write on through the discomfort (which is likely to give you a more powerful and genuine scene—and maybe even a little personal catharsis), or rewrite the story to avoid the necessity for it. But don’t skimp. Readers don’t care about your discomfort.

3. You don’t actually know anything about the Old West, gunfights, or six-guns.

Skipping the whole scene just to avoid making any factual mistakes is lazy. Lack of info can always be remedied. Put in the time to do a little research, and everything’s good.

4. You wrote the gunfight! It’s all there! Of course, you didn’t skip the best part!

Sometimes authors think they’re writing more than they are. Aside from the fact that our overactive imaginations can fill in the blanks for us while leaving them gaping for our readers, we can occasionally forget that summarizing is not showing. If the scene is important, we need to dig deep and come up with all the little details that will bring the scene to life for readers.

Ultimately, the problem of skipping the best parts comes down to either ignorance or laziness on the author’s part. Analyze your manuscript to make sure you’re not missing any opportunities or cutting any corners. Readers will thank you, and you may just discover you’ve been missing out on some good fun yourself!

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever skipped a scene for one of the above-mentioned reasons?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I haven’t, but it’s because Lloyd Alexander did this exact thing (in the Book of Three), so heinously I couldn’t believe it as a kid, and I never forgot it.

    So yes, please, for the love, don’t make your MC pass out right at the climax.

  2. Ouch. Seriously? That has to be the all-time example of what *not* to do.

  3. guilty as charged. Luckily my CP informed me this was not acceptable and I had the to put the scene in. Which I did. Successfully I might add. It was pure laziness on my part.

  4. God bless the critters! There comes a time when we all need a good smack on the back of the head from a trusted critique partner. I’ve been there, done that myself.

  5. This is the first thing my gracious, brilliant editor noticed I’d done (or, um, NOT done!). And I know I did it because I was afraid to “go there” with a character–to the point of nearly leaving her out of the story–because it hurts, personally. So now, I’m busy bleeding on the page.

  6. Thanks so much! This is a priceless advice 🙂 I always have to fight so my scenes won´t be too short!

    xoxo

    M.

  7. @amy: And your story will undoubtedly be the stronger for it. Painful honesty is what creates powerful stories. I hope writing it helps you work through the pain as well.

    @Meryl: I always prefer to write long, then edit back. Much easier than trying to add filler material.

  8. I have read a number of otherwise good books that race through the last chapter(s) tying up loose ends. In doing that, they lose focus on the emotional climax of the book for the MC and I get left hanging. I want to see what happens after the “big moment”. I want to see the situation resolve (like a chord progression) to a satisfying ending. Sometimes writers don’t tie up all the loose ends, the just reach a goal or a moment where the emotional climax should be and then they present “the big moment” and promptly end the book. That also is unsatisfying, In each case it would seem the writer missed a very important “best part” – the satisfying resolution.

  9. In general, I don’t like to see denouements drag on too long after the climax and I do like to see a few loose ends left acknowledged but unresolved. But, when all is said and done, I agree. The most important thing is leaving readers with the right emotional note – and few climaxes, left to themselves, achieve that.

  10. ;^) remember when you asked about using too many big words? I am showing the shallowness of my own vocabulary. I had to go look “denouements” up. I think your brain is way bigger than mine. ;^)

  11. The hardest part is getting the crazy French pronunciation right.

  12. Denouements… nice word.. 😀
    @Steve, it’s never to late to swallow a dictionary.. 😉

    I’ve skipped a few scenes when writing.. usually because I couldn’t make it sound REAL. Of course, those stories kinda flopped anyways, because I didn’t have the experience I needed to present the plot. And I didn’t have access to the much-needed research (thus why I mostly write fantasy/westerns now).

  13. When writing fiction I always to try to bring things a notch above expectations, if I play things down it’s not because of laziness but to make a meaningful subtextual statement (i write literary fiction, i can’t help it). If challenge comes then I say to it – go bring the ammo and come back! ;)))

  14. @Gideon: Although there’s almost always a way to get the necessary research (or, occasionally, fake your way through it), knowing your limitations in that regard is always important in choosing story ideas. I’ve abandoned more than a few ideas because I simply wasn’t interested in the subjects I would have to research.

    @Grisha: I agree. Playing a scene with subtlety is rarely a bad thing – and rarely has to take away from important events within the plot.

  15. #1 is a huge problem for me. I don’t care about the details of the action—people got shot, now move on to what it means for the survivors. Of course, me not caring isn’t the same as my readers not caring, so I’ve learned to make sure action scenes have enough action to satisfy readers who care about such trivialities. You know, the vast majority of readers including me when I’ve got somebody else’s book in front of me.

  16. The rule of thumb “if it’s boring for you, it’ll probably be boring for readers,” is almost always a good one. But there *are* those moments when scenes we’re impatient with actually matter greatly to readers. I chalk this up to the fact that *we* know what’s coming next and are eager to get to the “even better” stuff, while readers can only see and enjoy what’s right in front of them.

  17. Perhaps you could use “denouements” in your next video and demonstrate the proper pronunciation? ;^)

  18. Maybe I’ll hire somebody who speaks French to say it for me. 😉

  19. I’m glad I found your site. I am now writing another historical novel.
    Jane

  20. Were you at my critique group last week? 🙂 That’s exactly what my CPs said when I had my characters in a battle scene and then jumped to the Nine-days-later-they surrendered scene. But…but…but…how did the battle end? why did the city surrender? Sigh. Revisions in progress…

  21. I’m currently editing my women’s fiction novel. I glossed over all the intimate bits; oh my were beta readers mad. I prefer the “He closed the door behind them. The next morning…” way of writing those scenes, but readers apparently do not. I put the scenes in, as tastefully as I could, and I feel my story is now better for it. (Let’s just hope my older relatives don’t read my book!)

  22. I think there is another reason why writers skip the good parts — we are trained from childhood to hid the stuff we love. To be a little embarrassed about how much we like something.

    An awful lot of writers hide their light under a barrel because they honestly think it’s dorky and stupid and nobody else will like that part.

    Imho, if you feel embarrassed about something that’s a sign you should go after it, fully indulge in it, and make it the central thing in the scene or story.

  23. Yes, believing that everyone is the same as you can be a dangerous thing. For instance, I do tend to skip over (or skim at the very least) the more hard-core action bits (or gory bits) in crime fiction, so I tend to leave them out of my own writing. But of course that is the very reason many people read crime fiction… I know I am never going to be gory for the sake of being gory, but maybe a little less lady-like restraint would be liberating!

  24. At the finish of my current wip, I hurried to get the first draft done and I knew it was going to take some work to make it up. I realize looking over it now, that I did skip all the good parts. I rushed so I wouldn’t have to deal with everything and instead summarized it all. This is something I’ll definitely have to fix during my next drafts.

  25. The only time I felt like skipping an important moment is in the event of a love scene. But in my defense, 1) some readers may actually prefer it not written out, 2) this is the case of #3 and “research” into that stuff would end up rather awkward.

    (also, you’ve got one “suthors” up there, instead of “authors”)

  26. @Jane: One of my favorite genres!

    @Char: Patience is such an important part of the writing process. Good thing we’ve all got it in spades. 😉

    @ED: Gratuitousness (whatever the subject) is never necessary. But readers will always want to see characters reacting in crucial moments.

    @The Darling Novelist: Good point. The writers who take risks are often the writers who end up creating really memorable scenes. If *we* love something, chances are good readers will love it just as much.

    @Marina: What about cozy mysteries? I’m sure there are others out there who enjoy the mystery genre without enjoying the grungier bits.

    @Traci: Although erring on the side of too much showing in the first draft makes for an easier revision (since there’s not a lot of effort needed to cut and slash), the opposite approach can actually prove more fun in that second draft. It’s fun to return to a story and get to flesh out interesting scenes.

    @Adam: Thanks for catching the typo. Consider it fixed.

  27. Yes I’ve done this before! I’m too lazy… 😛

  28. Happens to the best of us! 😉

  29. Finally, found a mistake I’m not making. xD A good read non the less. I do wonder though if a scene can have to much action, description and the other goodies?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, sadly, there *is* such a thing as too much of a good thing! :p But it all depends on the balance of the scene. We want to pack in as many goodies as possible without tilting the balance too far in any direction.

  30. mimsy/darkocean says

    One of the few things I don’t have a problem with. O-o I love writing the fight/conflict scenes. 😛 I do like to review this blog posting from time to time though.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, who wants to skip the best parts anyway? What fun is that? :p

      • None at all. Makes for a dry book. 😛 Although from the books I read growing up, some times there would be a rotten egg in a book, a battle scene that went on for so many chapters that it was frustrating! Just get on with the story already, you know?

  31. I might be a bit guilty. For sure in my rough and 1st drafts.

    My problem: I have this scene I really, really want to write but it is like 15-20 pages ahead of the scene I am at (or it might be related to the next book in the series) and my fear is by the time I get to that scene I will have forgotten it or forgot how the dialogue went. (I have that happen too many times to count. Sometimes it works out better. Other times I’m left lacking and pining away wondering how I can mentally retrieve the forgotten information.

    • Nadia Syeda says

      Write the scene on a separate document and fast-forward 15-20 pages, insert it into the manuscript. There’s nothing wrong with writing out of order when inspiration strikes as long as you’re organized about it.

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