common mistakes in lesbian fiction

May 16, 2010

Some readers on lesfic_unbound are participating in the fifty books challenge to see if they can read fifty (lesbian fiction) novels in 2010. I just finished my number 36, and there are a few mistakes I see over and over again.

I’m not saying that you’ll find these mistakes just in lesbian fiction. I’m also not saying that I never committed any of these mistakes (I wish!). But they’re what I most often notice in lesbian fiction and what pulls me out of the story for a moment, so they’re on my list of things to look for when I revise and edit my own novels.

So here’s my list of annoying mistakes that I often found in the thirty-six lesfic novels I read this year. I’m replacing character names with X/Y.

  1. POV violations. I talked about that in a previous blog post. A few of those 36 novels mentioned the “light brown eyes” or “thick blond hair” of the POV character within the first paragraph of the novel. Another book had sentences like this one: “Standing inside my doorway was a fairly tall…” And in the next sentence, it turned out that this fairly tall man is a good friend of the POV character.
  2. Constant head hopping. The majority of lesfic novels happily switches point of view in mid-scene, some of them every paragraph.
  3. The author stops the story cold to tell us the backstory of the character, sometimes even on the very first page (“X had grown up in this town…“).
  4. The relationship development is sometimes just too fast for me. In some novels, they go from bickering to being in love within a few pages.
  5. Telling instead of showing. I blogged about this before. This includes naming emotions instead of describing visceral reactions or body language, e.g., “she felt angry.
  6. In some novels, the opening drags. They start with a character sitting and thinking. I’ve even seen a story that starts with description of the weather.
  7. Too many flashbacks. Some even have flashbacks within the first chapter, when we’re not yet anchored in the here and now of the story.
  8. Overusing participles, sometimes even using two or three in one sentence. Often, participles are even used for sequential actions, e.g., Rushing up the stairs, she threw open the door. Unless she has very, very long arms, that’s just not possible.
  9. Overusing “as,” sometimes even for sequential actions, e.g., She threw open the door as she rushed up the stairs. Not possible either.
  10. Dangling participles or other dangling modifiers. Here are a few examples that made me chuckle. Slipping into bed, X was still on Y’s mind (The character slipping into bed was Y, not X). Tugging at it again, it refused to budge. And my favorite one: As a child, her father had driven them… (I hope her father wasn’t driving as a child!). This one is from the first draft of Hidden Truths: After cleaning the cabin all morning, the cool rain felt refreshing.
  11. Using character tags such as “the other woman” to refer to the characters. One novel even used “the cop” during a love scene.
  12. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs. In one novel, I counted 12 adjectives in the opening paragraph.
  13. Overusing dialogue tags other than “said,” e.g., she excitedly exclaimed.
  14. Using “she smiled” or “she chuckled” or “she sighed” as a dialogue tag.
  15. Mixing up “lie” and “lay,” e.g., she lay them on the table.
  16. Amazingly many authors have a problem distinguishing between “onto” and “on to” and between “into” and “in to.” One third of those thirty-six novels had at least one “held onto” or “grabbed onto.” One used “She went into change.
  17. Almost as many authors use “like” and “as if” as if (no pun intended) they were interchangeable. Example: It looked like she blinked.
  18. A personal pet peeve of mine: One book had a psychologist who offered to counsel a woman she’d slept with. I don’t even have coffee with my clients. I know there are some black sheep, psychologists who don’t shy away from having affairs with clients or former clients, but they don’t make for likable main characters.
  19. Spelling mistakes. I don’t mind one or two spelling mistakes in a novel. But when I’m stumbling across them on every page, it gets annoying. The uncrowned queen of spelling mistakes is definitely Bella Books.
  20. I don’t know how to categorize it, but my favorite sentence was this one: “She would have had to have seen to it that…” Wow. It makes me laugh every time.

I’m not searching for things like that when I read. Honestly. They just jump out at me.

So, what are your pet peeves or things that you often notice when you read?



  1. […] fellow writer asked me to explain one of the examples in my “common mistakes in lesbian fiction” list, and I thought I might as well post the explanation on my blog so other writers can […]

  2. OMG after reading this post, i am afraid to go back and read my novel again, you would probably rip it to shreds. LOL that’s not a bad thing

    • Hi, Erika. I know what you mean. I am in the process of republishing and revising my “old” novels, and I often wince when I stumble across mistakes or bad habit I had a few years ago. But what matters is that we as writes accept that it’s a life-long learning process.

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