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7 Things to Avoid When Writing Fiction

Priya has been previously shortlisted for the Margaret and Reg Turnill Writing Competition (2020) and the Val Wood Prize (2020).

I seldom read every word in a book. As a fairly voracious reader, I decidedly like books that can skillfully move the plot without unnecessary padding or underwhelming details. Details require a fine balance that few authors have mastered. Considering I stick mostly to the urban fantasy and romance genres, I find it even more difficult to come across books that respect that balance.

So keeping that in mind, I’ve listed seven things that I, as a reader, skip while reading a book, and I think a lot of other readers would agree to it.

Details require a fine balance that few authors have mastered.

Details require a fine balance that few authors have mastered.

1. Characters Narrating Incidents

2. Cold Descriptions

3. Dialogues for Information Dumps

4. Describing Every Person

5. The Lover

6. Using Foreign Language

7. Strategizing (in the brain)

Let's look at the above points in greater detail:

1. Characters Narrating Incidents

To be precise, what drives me mad is when a character narrates to another character something that has already unfurled in the previous pages. Romance novels are notorious in this aspect. Take, for instance, the protagonist meets her friend over dinner and tells her what her boyfriend did and how it’s just soooo romantic and the friend interjects with the Ooohss and Aahhha and some more annoying squeals (I hate that word, squeal).

The author needs to keep in mind that he is writing for a reader. The reader already knows what has happened. The reader is smart enough to remember what has happened. Reading filler dialogues drives me mad. I can guarantee that it also drives other readers mad.

2. Cold Descriptions

…The town of Blfhurwnfunr was situated near Fhfninfrif, another town, which was 10 km away. Blfhurwnfunr has a thick forest on its left, the beautiful blue ocean to its right and a volcano in the middle. It is a quiet town. It rains all the time. The buildings are stone-coloured and drab. People wear dull grey clothes and barely speak to each other. People mostly work in the diners and shops or in own their businesses. The children attend the Blfhurwnfunr High School. There is a sheriff in the town, who drives a grey police car, and nods at people. People nod at him…

I couldn’t come up with more but you get what I’m trying to say. As a reader, I could not care less about what colour the buildings are unless it’s important to the plot. Of course, world-building is a craft in itself. I enjoy good descriptions but an entire page on the town Blfhur-whatever, or worse, two pages on the town of Blhurd-whatever would make me jump quick and high.

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Cold Descriptions can get tedious.

Cold Descriptions can get tedious.

3. Dialogues for Information Dumps

I love dialogues. When I read, I nearly always jump to the dialogues. Well-crafted dialogues can evoke emotions, help further the plot and tell a lot about a character than a simple flat description. But authors sometimes use dialogues for dumping all the information the reader needs to know⁠—monotonously, spewing word after word, as if the other person is such a good listener and wouldn’t inject him half-way, like ever.

The (insert item) can be found in the dense forest of Ghffbrg, guarded by dragon and other animals not known to man. The dragons have sharp claws and teeth and they breathe fire. Beware. First locate (insert another item) and then proceed to defeat the dragons. You will find Princess Jfrfrugebog there, up in the tower. Princess was kidnapped at age two yet she will be a beautiful, well-groomed woman who can speak clearly and concisely and will be sassy. So be on your toes, young man.

I’ve read worse information dumps.

4. Describing Every Person

Some books want to describe every major, minor, and inconsequential character.

Lara entered the room. Lara was a gorgeous 5 ft. seven inches tall woman, with a small bust and a cute butt. She has silky honey-blonde hair and green eyes. She was wearing a knee-length green sweater dress with brown suede boots. By her side was her husband; Devon was a fit, muscular 6 ft. tall guy who had jet-black hair and blue eyes. Devon was wearing a pristine white shirt with black trousers and shiny- black Oxfords.

Now I’d even be forgiving if Lara and Devon were relevant characters who are inserted to move the plot. But I’d cry if the author also goes on to describe the barmaid in that very order.

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5. The Lover

In most books, we have a love interest. They keep things interesting. I wouldn’t read a book without an element of romance, at some level. But the protagonist needn’t keep describing his or her love interest every single time. I understand the author wants to drive in the point that the protagonist’s lover is an attractive person, but somewhere along the way, he has to draw the line. In every other paragraph, we have a He takes my breath away; she’s gorgeous; he makes my heart pound, she’s so beautiful that every guy on the street is looking at her; His smile makes my heart flutter; She has such a hot body and, etc. It gets very annoying later in the book.

I also hate it when the author info dumps us with all the physical features of the love interest at one go: his hair was honey-blonde with brown streaks and his eyes were the colour of bright, green emeralds. His jaw was strong, and his cheekbones high, dimples deeply impressed on both sides. He looks fit underneath the shirt, all muscles and no fat… subtly releasing them throughout the story could be a better alternative.

If I’m reading an English language book, I expect the book to be written in English.

If I’m reading an English language book, I expect the book to be written in English.

6. Using Foreign Language

If I’m reading an English language book, I expect the book to be written in English. If the protagonist speaks in French or Latin or German or whatever and the other character responds in the same non-English language and nobody but Google translates it to me, then I’m already skipping the part. Sometimes, in high fantasy novels, authors create their own languages. It’s important to remember that your protagonist may know the language but your readers don’t. Be sensitive.

7. Strategizing (In the brain)

Notorious among first-person narration, the protagonist would go on listing everything in his or her mind just to ensure that the reader remembers what happened on page 40. Then the protagonist would debate and deliberate and weigh in every course of action. It helps to create authenticity because as people we do weigh in our options but it requires a skillful author to make sure the reader is still reading all the filler paragraphs of ifs and maybes.

BONUS: Prologues

I’ve never read a prologue, like, ever.

Suggested Alternatives


Character Narrating Incidents

Skip this part. Move on with the plot.

Cold Descriptions

Release descriptions when the plot calls for it. Try to invoke all the senses.

Dialogues for Information Dumps

Information should not be released/dumped at one go. Sometimes, a simple 'He gave me instructions,' line is enough and the reader can learn about the instructions as the story moves forward.

Describing Every Person

One characterization is enough for minor characters. For that, try to understand major and minor characters.

The Lover

Twice is enough. We get it.

Using Foreign Language

Just translate it for us.

Strategizing (In the brain)

Use it sparsely. It should be used only to address the major conflict in the story arch.


Don't even. Please.

Feel free to drop in your insights. Thanks.

Questions & Answers

Question: I find that I use twins a lot in my writing. Is that something I should avoid?

Answer: I don't think twins are something that should be avoided. There's all the possibility of having a set of twins in your story. Now coming to your question, I'd like to state two things: if you use multiple twins in the same story, it can get "unrealistic." In real life, how many people do you know who have a twin? Second, if you're writing different stories, then feel free to incorporate one set of twins in each. It could turn out to be something that sets you apart as an author. Hope this solves your question.

© 2019 Priya Barua


Priya Barua (author) on April 23, 2020:

@Akash, You've articulated exactly what this post is about. Thanks for dropping in.

Akash Agarwal on April 22, 2020:

Writing novel is not an easy thing. One had faced too many issues since he complete his novel. It is important to know what to write, it is equal important to know what must not be write. You put a light on that part of the writing. Thanks for sharing such a nice article.

Priya Barua (author) on January 29, 2020:

@Bushra, thanks!

Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on January 29, 2020:

Entertaining read. Thanks!

Priya Barua (author) on December 19, 2019:

I suppose it will be difficult writing a book like that!!

Liz Westwood from UK on December 18, 2019:

You have given plenty of food for thought in this article. I am now beginning to wonder how I read books and which bits I might skip. Have you ever tried to write a book avoiding all of the above?

Priya Barua (author) on December 17, 2019:

Thanks for the comment @Umesh!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 17, 2019:

I am also a bookworm but had never seen the things with that angle. Nice article. Good reading. Thanks.

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