Seven Deadly Sins of Fiction Writing

deadly-sins-of-writingIn addition to the five fatal mistakes cited here, several editors had their own pet peeves to share. Here are seven other problems that can speed your story to the rejection pile:

  • Preachiness. “Stories that present an obvious moral, without nuances, subtlety, or complexity, are the first to hit the [reject] pile,” says Skylar Burris of Ancient Paths.
  • Cliches. “I did, actually, receive a story that began, ‘It was a dark, stormy night.’,” says Tom Rice of Elbow Creek Magazine. “It shows that a writer is not particularly careful with the quality of the story.”
  • Outlandish names. This is another peeve of Tom Rice: “Nothing pulls me out of a story more quickly than thinking, ‘You know, no parent in their right mind would have named their child that.'” Tommy Zurhellen of Black Warrior Review agrees: “Don’t be cute. When I see Mercutio or Hezekiah, I drop the story. Write about real people.”
  • Lack of knowledge. “If your story revolves around hacking into computers, it’s best that you at least know your way around your own computer,” says Tom Rice. “If you are writing a story about the Old West and you want to include an Indian character, make sure that the tribe he/she was from actually existed within the confines of the territory you are using.”
  • Autobiographical stories. “Leave the baggage in your own house, don’t put it in an envelope to send to an editor,” says Andrew Gulli of The Strand Magazine. “The great writer is the one who despite having bad parents and despite all the difficulty is able to create something so completely opposite that it is very believable. It is easier said than done.”
  • Cute Titles. “If we get another title like ‘Getting Vanessa’ or ‘Moving Shane’ we will sue somebody,” says Zurhellen. “Don’t be cute. Keep it simple and short.”
  • Stupid cover letters. “Give us your name, some previous pubs, and sign off,” says Zurhellen. “Editors don’t want to know what the story is about, or how long you worked on it, or what your mom thinks of it, or what someone semi-famous said about your writing, or who rejected your last story.” Don’t include your resume or CV, and keep your cover letter to one page. And make it interesting, says Don Muchow of Would That It Were. “I do not like authors who are scared, humble, diffident or otherwise unsure of themselves. Send me the kind of biographies you’d tell me at a party, not the kind you’d put on your resume. If you don’t think you’re interesting, no one else will either.”

Moira Allen is the editor of and the author of more than 300 published articles. Her books on writing include Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals (Second Edition), and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests.