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How not to write a story

Margaret Bail, an agent for the Andrea Hurst & Associates, wants to help writers by telling them how NOT to write stories.

Bail, who is also a writer, presented a workshop at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference Saturday. Several of her tips also came up during sessions in which agents, editors, and instructors critiqued pages that attendees had submitted.

Check out this list and see if you’ve committed any of these cardinal sins of writing.

In the beginning:

Don’t start with the protagonist waking up. Besides not wanting to see him or her in bed, Bail doesn’t want to see your character brushing her teeth, washing her face or anything else in her morning routine.

Don’t start with your character having a premonition.

Don’t begin with an epilogue. And that goes for prologues too. While prologues can work, it’s rare in Bail’s experience to find one that does.

Don’t start with secondary characters.

Don’t begin with description of your character, weather, or setting. Hook your readers in the first few sentences with action.

Middle of the story don’ts

Show don’t tell and when you tell, don’t overwrite. For example, don’t use excessive description and details that stop the action.

Don’t use dream sequences

Limit the number of points of view

Don’t kill your main character near the end of the book and then switch the point of view to another character.

Grammar don’ts

Don’t use exclamation points. If your ideas or action is exciting, it will be obvious without the mark.

Proofread for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Figure out which weak words you overuse and eliminate them.

Now the caveat: When it comes to writing, agents and editors agree that it’s possible to break the rules. Just make sure you’re doing it for a reason and that it works.

Stay tuned for more tips from the conference in upcoming posts.

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