Jan. 30, 2024

The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

Many people oppose the concept of hard 'rules' about writing and argue adamantly against blanket do's and don'ts.

As Marc Neuffer (one of our favorite contributors) recently said...

"Rules often become truncated sound bites, their original, expanded context lost, doing more harm than good. Especially for new writers. Rules like:

DON'T use adverbs and adjectives.
DON'T head hop.
DON'T repeat words.
DON'T use offensive words (so many new ones).
SHOW don't tell.
Who appointed the Rules Police? It's not Orwell's 1984.


All that matters is that you entertain and don't confuse the reader."
Nevertheless, there are some basic issues that can KILL a story, be it a short story or a novel. These include:
- lack of characterization
- lack of plot (or a bad plot)
- or just bad writing
At the risk of antagonizing those who don't like RULES, I am going to summarize some of the major problems I have seen in writing... as The 7 Deadly Sins of Writing

SIN #1: Low Stakes

Stakes are paramount in a novel–they force your character to act. High personal stakes create strong conflict because each choice or action will carry a hefty price. Low stakes lead to mediocre conflict and a risk that the reader will not care about the outcome. What is important to the characters needs to seem important or the reader won’t care and may simply stop reading.

SIN # 2: Counterfeit Characters

Poor characterization is a major killer to any work or writing. Flat, uninteresting, or stereotyped characters can turn readers off and fail to make them care about what is happening. It is difficult to add details that make subjects of a story realistic and ‘three dimensional’.  But then again, you can overdo it and lose focus on plot or description too. Poor characterization can also compromise plot because it the reader doesn’t know why a character is behaving a particular way, their actions may seem illogical or capricious.

SIN # 3: Missing the Mark on Voice & POV

POV is important and shifting POV can create major disruptions to a story. It this story being told by an omniscient narrator, in past tense… or is it being told by a protagonist in (present tense or real time. Mixing POVs is rarely successful. Headhopping  occurs when the author reveals internal thoughts or viewpoints from more than one character. Sometimes showing different [perspectives can be enriching but more often, it can be very confusing. One of my favorite pet peeves is when the readers hop from one person to the next and that that they eventually know what everyone is thinking (except the villain). This is a cheap cheat that artificially creates suspense.

SIN #4: Plot Snafus

Errors with plot are numerous. Sometimes, authors let their characters drive the story and it can meander or wander and never really progress very well. Plots can be too simple or too complex. They can be inconsistent or there can be plot holes to make events seem illogical. Plots can also be too contrived, forcing things to occur that are simply not realistic. Similarly, while sub plots can enrich a story, too many can mess it up and confuse readers and characters as well.

SIN #5: Flat Wordsmithing

This means just poor writing. Bad metaphors. Poor word usage. Monotonous or unvarying sentence structure. Run on sentences. Improper punctuation. Words that are used too frequently.

This can have multiple causes. Errors can be introduced in re-writes. Also, too much focus on plot or character can leave the story bereft of adequate description.

Description can be the writer’s most powerful tool in translating what they envision to a story readers can share. Not only does it breathe life into settings, characters and emotions, it is one area where honing our skills IS A MUST. Flat description often happens when the writer doesn’t strive hard enough to utilize the five senses. Describing sensory feedback makes tales more immersive especially when descriptions reveal not only what people see, but what they hear, and feel, sense or smell.

Lack of sensory description can leave the reader outside of the story and more distant from what occurs.

SIN #6: Dialogue Disaster

This is a problem with many writers. Especially when dialogue forced, unnatural or contrived… or when it designed to reveal information the author feels relevant. It is often preceded by the words “As you already know…“  abd then is followed by details that would never be said in real conversations

SIN #7: Too Much Information

This is a problem with many writers. They obviously KNOW more about that ‘has’, ‘is’, or ‘is going’ to happen than the reader and they sometimes tell too much; including information not essential to the story or background details that don’t really matter.

BONUS SIN: Disappointing The Reader

The greatest sin, however, is letting the reader down… by failing to draw them into the story, by failing to make them care, by confusing them, or failing to meet their expectations by giving them a tale worth the time they invest to hear it or read it. If they do not enjoy what they read, they may stop before the end or they may finish and leave dissatisfied.

Readers give us time (and money!) in exchange for not just a great story but for an EXPERIENCE. If the tale we tell is flat, they can feel unfulfilled or worse, feel that they have wasted their time. Making them feel satisfied and drawing them into a story that they learn to care about can be the highest form of entertainment. Our goal should be to have our readers close our book with a smile and a sigh.  It should be a reward for the time they invested. They should not regret it and we should not let them down.

Ultimately there are only two real RULES.

  • Have a good story to tell.
  • And tell it well.

Note: they 'sins' have been heavily adapted from the following blog  by