The Top 25 Ways to Blow a Book

There are only so many ways to do things right in creating a book. But there an infinitum of ways to blow a book. Nothing we—or the brilliant likes of the bestsellers—write completely escapes every mistake and pitfall. But some of those mistakes are more costly than others. Let’s take a look at the top twenty-five ways to blow a book right into our readers’ burn barrels. (Click the asterisk at the end of each pitfall to learn more about how to identify and prevent it.)

1. Open the story too soon before the primary action (prologues are often guilty of this).*

2. Begin with a dream.*

3. Force feed the reader the backstory in large flashbacks or dumps.*

4. Skip any of the major plot points at the 25%, 50%, and 75% marks.*

5. Create characters who act unrealistically or inconsistently.*

6. Include scenes in which nothing happens (i.e., no conflict).*

7. Use POV inconsistently (e.g., head-hopping).*

8. Scorn common spelling, grammar, and punctuation standards.*

9. Tell (summarize) more than you show (dramatize).*

10. Pace the plot either too quickly or too slowly.*

11. Get the facts wrong.*

12. Fail to provide strong character goals and motivations.*

13. Use the passive voice more than the active voice.*

14. Riddle the prose with clichés.*

15. Fail to properly foreshadow and frame plot twists.*

16. Create characters who are passive*/non-reactive*/unlikable*/stereotyped.*

17. Include a glut of adjectives and adverbs in lieu of strong nouns and verbs.*

18. Dump info (usually in the form of either backstory or research).*

19. Confuse readers.*

20. Purple your prose.*

21. Craft plots that are too predictable.*

22. Let your climax peter off instead of slam-banging.*

23. Resolve the conflict with deus ex machina.*

24. Needlessly kill off lovable characters.*

25. Preach at readers.*

If you can avoid every one of these pitfalls in your story, you’re likely to please agents, editors, and readers alike!

Tell me your opinion: Whats the biggest factor that blows a book for you as a reader?

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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. Those are easy ones for any of us to mess up om. Fortunately, a little practice (and sometimes experimentation) is all it takes to fix it.

  2. Great points. Perfectly ended with number 25 😀 Amazingly helpful post.

  3. Glad you found it useful!

  4. All of the above. Also… since I’m a writer, if you write a lot of books and they ALL use the exact same mechanism to make your stories work. Because yes. I WILL figure it out within the first of your five books that I read.

    Another one: The instabond, if it’s not handled right or explained. I recently read a novella where the characters fell in love in the last quarter of the book. I looked at it and thought: the book was part of a romance series. it only has 20000 words. The bond was forced so that it fit into the genre and the word count. Sad thing is that the story would have been really good if the author left the romance aspect out.

  5. Sounds like the author should’ve killed his darlings. Romantic subplots, in particular, can easily sneak their way into books in which they really don’t belong.

  6. Lengthy flashbacks do it every time, or jumping around the story. Great list. Thanks for doing this.

  7. I actually love non-chronological timelines – when they’re done right. But that’s much easier said than done. When in doubt, tell it straight. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with that.

  8. Another blog e-book… 😮

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