Every author has their own list of writing tips.
These are mine.
#1. Keep it simple. Less is almost always more.
Experienced writers can handle a large cast. Less experienced writers often find three or four characters challenging, but can’t resist the temptation to increase the size of their troupe.
The same goes for your writing style. Write simple, direct sentences. Clear, engaging dialogue. Get to the point. Your job is to tell the story, not to flatter your own ego.
If you can’t write a paragraph using the simplest language and hold a reader’s attention, you shouldn’t even attempt to complicate you work with alliteration, allegory or other devices.
#2. Always move your story forward.
Be aware of pace. Edit the scenes in your mind, like one would a film, as you write. Even when your characters are stationary, like on a sofa or in bed, give us some information that moves your story and its plot forward.
#3. Learn when to release information.
Some writers give us everything at the beginning, or play coy and wait until the story is ending. A smart writer will sprinkle information throughout the story, thus taking their readers on a journey from page one until the end.
#4. Keep your plots simple.
Yes, it’s fun to have a plot full of twists and turns…as long as both you and the reader don’t get lost along the way. Don’t be frightened to keep things simple and stick with the obvious. If your reader enjoys your writing and your characters, they’ll follow along.
The Seven Samurai is an extraordinary movie, but its plot is not complicated. We, the viewers, quickly understand the story – a group of poor farmers seek the help of samurai to protect their village.
It is the cast of charming characters and the small, simple situations we see them interact in leading up to the climax that keep us engaged. Remember that.
#5. Develop an ear for names.
You may have a good physical description of your character, but a horrible name will spell its early death. Ask yourself does the name fit the character? Would you give your child this name? Would this name interest you meeting this character before you actually see them?
And consider the age of your reader and how many books you hope to write that include this character. I can think of a few writers whose characters’ names fit when their audience was full of ten-year-olds, but were far less appealing when the same audience members turned sixteen.
This same advice applies for naming fictional towns or even worlds.
#6. Put yourself in the place of the reader as you write.
Read your newest paragraph as a reader might and ask yourself, is this clear enough? Does it make sense? Does my dialogue ring true? If you have any doubts, revisit your work and edit.
#7. Work with a good editor.
I cannot emphasize this enough. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how good you are at constructing plots, syntax, catching typos, etc. You need to work with an editor. You need a fresh set of eyes to point out your best work and your worst work, and help you shape your story. An editor is not there to make you feel good; an editor’s job is to get your work in shape so your future readers feel good about your novel.
You may have to try out a few editors until you find the right fit. My editor has become one of my dearest friends, and we work hand in glove. Any writer will tell you, a relationship like that is golden.
#8. Listen to your beta readers.
Find intelligent people to read your work. The kind of people who will give you honest notes, not tell you what you want to hear. Choose people who read your chosen genre. One or two who don’t typically read your genre is good too, but often readers of history, for example, may dislike fantasy and will not find themselves engaged with your work.
Listen. Embrace the critiques and use this time to fix the holes in your work.
#9. Hire a proofreader.
Typos happen. Every publisher in existence has released a book with typos. Many famous books have gone through several printings, including their covers, before blocks of type have been corrected. Yet, it’s important to get your manuscript fit for print. A good set of independent eyes makes all the difference.
#10. Study Film.
Study film, especially foreign language film. Watch how scenes transition, characters interact, and symbols are introduced. Eventually, you will see scenes in your mind and understand how to fluidly transition from one scene to the next.
Like a musician must develop his ear by listening to music, absorbing and understanding the melodies and harmonies, chord changes and rhythms – its language – so must a writer read to absorb, understand and be able to converse in the language of prose. We do this by learning from the masters. Remember, the only thing that’s original is our individual approach. That’s our fingerprint. Everything else is borrowed and adjusted to fit our life experience.
Kaja Blackley is the author of Maggie MacCormack and the Witches’ Wheel now on sale at: maggiemaccormack.com