Some you’ve probably heard already, some you might not have.
You may find some great authors make these mistakes, but they generally do so with a purpose in mind.
A reliance on stock phrases and unoriginal descriptions. Try to avoid them, especially on the first page. Some writers show remarkable imagination with their story, but lapse into using clichés in the writing. Know your genre well, because a cliché in the plot can be anything that has been done too many times.
A laundry list of physical description. Over-describing every detail of the setting. This happened in the very first novels, such as Robinson Crusoe. Now we know readers can fill in gaps with their own imagination.
Small talk or witty banter in dialogue that takes up a lot of space, doesn’t mean much, and isn’t really relevant to the story. See more on writing dialogue here.
Switching point of view without control. We hear the thoughts of one character, and then immediately jump to the thoughts of another character. You can switch point of view, but it needs to be clearly demarcated, with a new section or chapter, so the reader knows which character they are following.
Poor use of backstory
A common sign of a poor opening is a long, over-explained backstory. Generally, your reader is less interested in what already happened than in what is about to happen. Jump into the story. In medias res. Into the mix of things.
Lack of strong verbs
It usually doesn’t spark our imagination if we are told that something just is or was. The man was on the floor. → The man slumped on the floor. Similarly, don’t overuse ‘There is/are/was/were’. There were a great number of protesters in the square. → Protesters filled the square.
The villain can’t be evil just for the sake of your story. Any type of villain or antagonist should be complex, interesting, and have their own motivations and character arc. Why are they so malicious? What do they want?
Repeated phrases which the writer becomes attached to. Overusing character names. Probably most important to avoid is repeated plot points. If a character does something, the next scene can’t be that character relating everything that just happened to a friend. A good writer is in control and subtly drip-feeds the reader the right information at the right point to keep us intrigued.
‘Voice’ in writing is not the style, or even how you tell the story. It’s more about the musicality and rhythm of your words and sentences. Avoid imitating the voice of writers you admire. Writers often talk about the moment when they realised the work was really their own.
Characters fall flat when the writer no longer pours imagination into them; their names pop up and they say things, but they have stopped being vivid and real. If you grow bored of your characters, your reader will too. Avoid this by digging deeper and exploring their depths and inner conflicts.
Unconvincing plot points
Any unconvincing plot point where the characters seem to step out of character, the world seems momentarily suspended, and the reader is pulled out of the story. This seems to happen when a writer loses their way with the story, and goes with plot points that are more convenient than vital and convincing. One way to prevent this is with outlining.
Not keeping the reader in mind
The reader only knows what you let them know. Lack of control over the flow of information from you to the reader can result in a variety of problems. Information dumping, repetition, confusing or incomprehensible writing. Often you can sense great potential in the story, but the writer falls short because they haven’t put enough thought into the reader’s experience.