Top 10 Story Issues: Learn What to Avoid

Part of being a story editor means I’ve met a bunch of interesting writers and I get to read a lot of draft novels. It’s one of the great pleasures of my job. It’s also an amazing learning opportunity.

Today, I want to share the top 10 issues I find in manuscripts hoping you can learn from them.

Here we go…

1. Word Count — Doesn’t follow the genre requirements

Inappropriate word count is the issue I see most often. For example, a 200,000 word mystery novel means the writer doesn’t know the expectations for the genre.

I also see random scene lengths, instead of scene lengths used to control pacing. Scene length can be shortened to increase pacing and lengthened to decrease pacing. This is an often underutilized method.

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2. Point of View — Confused, inconsistent, unbalanced

A scene is told through a character’s eyes. That character is the POV character for the scene.

I often see a lack of control when writers change POV characters within a scene. This is called head hopping, and it’s jarring to a reader.

The order the POV characters appear, the number of times they appear, and consistency within a scene are all important. If an author hasn’t put enough thought into who has the POV for each scene, the novel can appear disjointed.

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3. POV Goal — There isn’t a clear one

A character goal is simply what a character wants. The goals will drive the story forward.

The POV goal is what the POV character for the scene wants.

When you know the goal, you can start thinking about all the ways the character will fail at achieving the goal, what obstacles you can put in the character’s way, and how the character will feel about failing.

A scene where the POV character doesn’t have a goal will lack tension. And without tension the reader gets bored.

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4. Purpose Of Each Scene — Isn’t clear

The purpose of the scene must relate to the overall story. If the scene is not driving the story forward or developing your characters, then ask yourself why the scene is in your novel.

If you don’t have a reason for the scene to be in your novel, think about cutting or rewriting the scene.

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5. Scene Anchoring — Without it the reader is lost

A writer can be too close to their story and not “see” that the reader is lost. The mistake is to not anchor the reader in the point of view, the timing of the scene and the setting.

You know who has the POV, where the character is, and the timing of the scene because you wrote the scene, but does your reader? If the reader can’t figure out the POV, timing and setting within the first couple of paragraphs, you may lose them–the reader I mean and not the character.

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6. Scene Entry And Exit Hooks — No exciting hooks

The beginning and ending of each scene is a chance to keep the reader engaged. This mistake is to ignore having entry and exit hooks for each scene.

When creating a scene entry hook, consider:

  • Starting in media res (opening in the middle of action)
  • Foreshadowing trouble
  • Using a strong line of dialogue
  • Raising a question
  • Not wasting words on extraneous description

The exit hook is the magic that will keep your reader wanting to begin the next scene. Types of Exit Hooks:

  • Cliff Hanger–perhaps your protagonist’s life is at risk
  • Revelation–show the reader something that will change the course of the story
  • Setback for the protagonist or antagonist–one of these characters should be very unhappy about the latest event
  • A secret revealed–you can either reveal a full secret or only part of a secret
  • A question left hanging–this will tease the reader, making them want the answer
  • An unexpected plot twist–this will keep the reader guessing

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7. Tension — Not enough

A lack of tension in a scene may mean the reader puts your book down.

It’s important to know the difference between tension and conflict. I often see a lot of conflict but not enough tension.

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8. Backstory — Too much, too early

Backstory is the story that happens before your novel begins. Sometimes during the story, you need to inform the reader of something that happened earlier in a character’s life. You may have files upon files of information you store elsewhere that you use to develop your characters, but what we’re concerned with here is what the reader needs to know.

Too much backstory early on will bore your reader. Don’t risk it.

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9. Timing — Confusing timelines

This issue occurs when a story jumps around in time — meaning the story is not told in a linear fashion. This can be great, but only if the reader can follow it.

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10. Story Arc — Key scenes are in the wrong place

I’ve read many manuscripts where the story arc is not followed. When the author rewrites the story and move the key scenes to the correct place, the story goes from mediocre to good, or good to great. Who doesn’t want that?

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Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Fictionary will help you address each area listed above. You’ll be able to focus on problem areas in your manuscript and improve it quickly.

Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories?

If you’re interested in having me (Kristína) edit your story, send me an email at For a $0.03 word, My expertize is story editing.  I’ll comment on the content and structure of your manuscript focussing on characters, plot, and settings, and then evaluate your story arc.  I copy and line-edit as I go, although this is not my main focus..

You’ll receive a covering letter with what you do great, what needs work, and advice on how to proceed. I’ll do line-by-line commenting as I read, so you’ll receive the .docx file back with changes and comments tracked. The comment types will vary depending on the level of your writing. Some manuscripts need very little copy-edit, others need more. If you have a particular writing habit that needs work, I’ll point that out too.  

©2019 Innovations Inc.

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