10 Common First-draft Problems

Or what we’ve learned from reading submissions and critiquing your stories

by Nancy Kay Clark
CommuterLit editor & publisher

Copyright is held by the author.

1. Lack of story and scene structure. Yes, occasionally one reads a brilliant slice-of-life story, but that is the exception. Stories need scenes, conflict, resolution and characters who change emotionally and spiritually during the course of the narrative.

2. Burying the beginning. We’ve written many critiques that state “your story actually started on page four.” Start close to the action or incident that sets the story in motion. You may think you need a lot of set up and preamble, but you probably don’t.

3. Too large a canvas for your word count, which leads to rushed story climaxes and conclusions. Don’t rush the story; let it unfold at its own pace and find its own length, or, if you must adhere to a word count, take a slice of the narrative and make that into the whole story.

4. Inconsistent world building or descriptions that don’t move the plot along. Readers will believe pigs can fly, as long as you don’t change the rules of your world half way through the story. As well, remember lengthy descriptions can impede pace and distract readers. Do we really need to know everything about the setting in clinical detail?

5. Lack of dialogue or lack of meaningful dialogue. We want to hear directly from your characters, but we don’t want to hear idle chit chat. Every line must further the plot, character development or theme. Every character should want something in each interaction.

6. Endings that come out of nowhere. Seed your endings early.

7. Stories concerned more with style than substance. A story needs both — but if we had to choose one over the other, we’d choose substance.

8. Too many cliches.

9. Too many adjectives. There is such a thing as an overwritten story.

10. Telling not showing or telling and then showing. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the difference. The best way to avoid telling is to concentrate on writing scenes — even essential backstory can be done in flashback scenes.