1. The Characters
It’s not necessary to use the character's full name and title(s). We already know these people.
Assistant District Attorney Joe Maxwell sat at his desk reading a report. When Catherine Chandler opened the door and looked in, he could see District Attorney Moreno peeking over her shoulder.
2. The Name Game
Find one name for the character and stick with it. Father, Jacob Wells, Jacob, Dr. Jacob Wells. If all these names pop up in the narrative throughout the story, your readers are going to be confused.
3. Opening With A Bang
Catherine Chandler slammed the drawer of the filing cabinet. It had been a long time since she was this livid with her boss, Assistant District Attorney Joe Maxwell. She simply hoped that her anger lasted until his return to the office.
Starting with a bang is a metaphor. It means you should begin your story with action so that you can immediately captivate your audience, not that someone is making a loud noise.
4. More Information Than You Need - And It’s All On Page One
Janet Rizzo was a tall, statuesque blonde
who almost topped six feet. Her husband was a chiropractor and their
children had perfect teeth and attended the best prep school in the country.
She had a corn on her right foot, and when it rained, it caused the foot
to ache horribly.
Janet's husband was prone to drink too much, and when he drank, he lied. His parents were still alive, but he rarely visited them. Janet's parents were dead, and she missed them.
Janet had a degree in bioengineering from MIT, and when she wasn't creating wonderful little gadgets for her company to sell off and make a mass fortune on, she enjoyed gardening and photography.
Last night, Janet was abducted by aliens and returned within what she thought has been hours of her abduction, but her husband told her she was gone for only three minutes.
Why not start your story with the last paragraph, then give your readers the rest of the information in snippets as the story progresses? Does anyone want to know this much about Janet so early on, and wouldn’t most people prefer to read the story rather than have the information fed to them in one gulp?
5. Poor Research
When readers realize an author doesn’t know what he/she is talking about, they’ll stop reading. Getting your facts straight builds the readers’ confidence in your writing. If you’re not sure about your information, take the time to research it. It will be well worth the effort.
6. Subject and Verb Agreement
Catherine opened the balcony door and grabbing Vincent through it. Why did he always stay out on the balcony, always hid in the shadows. A lot of times, she suspected that he resists her effort to get him into her apartment just to be contrary.
There’s no need to elaborate on this one!
7. The Never-ending Paragraph
If the first paragraph of your story has twenty-seven sentences in it, the reader may feel overwhelmed and less than enthusiastic about continuing to read it. Learn to recognize when the flow of your story changes, and break large paragraphs into smaller ones.
8. Talking Heads
Few readers are willing to read and reread passages like this just to figure out who is saying what:
"I’m not sure."
"Is anyone hurt?"
“I don’t think so.”
A simple 'Vincent asked' or 'Catherine said' would clear up the confusion immediately.
9. Did You Really Mean To Say That?
One of the clearest markers of bad writing is the unexamined cliché. Think hard about every single word and phrase you use. Don't write "Vincent gave his heart to Catherine" unless you mean she’s collecting organs in her spare time.
Linda S. Barth July, 1999
With thanks to “LaLizWoman”