I’ve been reading a large number of self-published books lately, acting as a judge for a contest. I’m happy to report that many of them have been quite good, most are at least mediocre, and very few are truly awful. The fact is, the same can be said of the output of any major publishing house. We live in a bell curve, one way or another.

But there are a few things I keep seeing in these passionate, even exuberant labors of love, and so this week let’s get down to brass tacks and tackle some really basic writing mistakes that tend to plague all of us at one point or another, but that we should all be on the lookout for in everything we write.

In no particular order, I give you:


Galen wondered why there were no lights coming from the castle windows. “I wonder why there are no lights coming from the castle windows,” he said.

This may seem like an extreme example, obviously written just for laughs. It’s not—believe me. I see this all the time.

For the record, leave in the line of dialog, and cut the exposition. It’s always better that we get information from characters than from an unseen narrator. The only exception, of course, is the dreaded soap opera conversation that begins with any variation on: “As we both know . . .”

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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8 Responses to BASIC TRAINING

  1. Eric Swett says:

    As one of the many self-published authors out there (not one of the ones you’ve read I’m afraid), I appreciate the advice you’ve given here. I do a lot of book reviews for self-published authors and tun into a lot of these problems myself. It has helped me avoid most of them myself (at least I hope so) and running into them can be mindjarringly irritating. It sucks the life right out of any momentum the story may have built up.

    Thank you again for taking the time to share your experience and expertise with the rest of us.

  2. jakeescholl says:

    I find some of these problems in a lot of books too. Traditionally published books can be bad too. I think it’s good to find the best editor you can afford when you self-publish.

  3. It did help. Thankyou.

  4. This is wonderful advice and perfect examples. I can’t wait to share it with my writing group.

  5. Nate says:

    Reblogged this on The World Building School on and commented:
    A great article on common mistakes made by self published authors. If you are self publish or plan on self publishing then head over to The Fantasy Author’s Handbook and have a read. In fact if you consider yourself a writer then it’s worth a read full stop.

  6. Reblogged this on Espiritu en Fuego/A Fiery Spirit and commented:
    Great tips for writers.

  7. Mark Sehestedt says:

    I have to disagree a wee bit with: “It is okay to mix that up, too, and to use attribution to tell us a little bit about the mood of the character speaking.”

    That’s okay when used sparingly, but I see WAY too many authors overdoing that. 99% of the time, “said” is dialogue’s best friend. Once you start doing too much “inquired,” “requested,” “stated,” then that’s the author talking. In dialogue, the author should never talk. Let your characters do the talking.

  8. Pingback: ANOTHER POST ON THE SUBJECT OF DIALOG? | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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