Spelling and grammar are important, but some problems are harder to find until you’re aware of them. Try these top 10 tips, they will make your writing better.
Tip #1 – Let go
Write a section freely. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, and exact phrasing of ideas in the first run. Write from the subconscious. Let it go, let it flow. Leave the book for at least a week before editing.
Tip #2 – Write once, Edit twice.
After completing a section, first edit the structure. Does the story make sense? Are the events clear and well illustrated? Again, don’t worry about spelling, grammar, here. Keep that for last. Get your story flowing and fix up paragraphs that skip important details. Fix events that are out of sequence.
After you’re satisfied your phrases make sense, start on spelling and grammar. You will often delete paragraphs, so don’t polish them until they flow.
Tip #3 – Show, don’t tell – Use your reader’s imagination
A book is not just a collection of events, it is a doorway into a different world.
Imagine you are an observer in the scene. What do you see, hear, smell?
Don’t explain what your characters are thinking. Rather describe their body language, their actions, and words.
Don’t tell the reader about something before it has revealed itself in the story.
There was no one in the road so he went to the window and opened the blinds. He looked out and aimed the gun. He shot four times.
He pried open the old blinds, dust falling everywhere. Standing out of sight he leaned forward and quickly looked at the road below. Satisfied that no one was looking his way he perched his rifle on the window sill, breathed in, and squeezed the trigger. Four shots. Four muffled echoes. Four people lying crumpled on the ground.
Get our of your character’s mind. Don’t explain what they are feeling, rather give the reader clues. Let the reader figure it out for themselves. Don’t tell the reader what is right or wrong, let them decide based on the events and dialogue.
I ate the ice cream. I loved it.
The cold ice cream melted in my mouth. I smiled and closed my eyes.
Here the reader could imagine what you want them to feel, and perhaps feel it too.
Tip #4 Avoid Cliches
Don’t start your story with the character waking up or having a dream.
Don’t start your story with the character running away from something.
Don’t start with a weather report.
Don’t describe what your character sees as they look in a mirror.
Avoid wizard/elf/mutant/vampire/werewolf stories. You have the power to create a new world, use it!
Avoid making your lead character perfect. Give them interesting conflicts we can relate to.
No prophecies. We may as well just read the last page. A story is mostly about the unknown.
Avoid FBI agents who travel by helicopter to that one guy who is the world’s best at XYZ, and give him full authorisation to lead the entire army.
Avoid that final airport scene where the pretty girl is going to fly away unless someone runs after them.
Tip #5 – Talk to me
Has it been five pages since someone spoke?
The reader might be getting lonely and bored. Entertain them. When characters talk the reader feels like they are in the room. Keep the reader in the room. What do your characters do when they talk?
The danger here is your characters talking about things just to pass the time. If a dialogue isn’t helping the story or your character, delete it.
Tip #6 – Unpack your bags
Reveal the nuances of your characters and locations. Is your character a bit quirky? Use this to move the story forward. Let your characters have quirks in their movements and speech. Let others respond to this. This is better than simply telling the reader your character is quirky.
Tip #7 Silence the passive voice
Passive sentences sound like they are being read out by an accountant.
Passive: He was driven to the house by the cab driver and then the car door was opened by him.
(something was done by something)
Not very interesting, it’s a shopping list of events, not an animated image.
Active: The cabby took the money and grunted a thank you. John grabbed his broken case and stepped into the rain.
(something did something)
Tip #8 Trim the fat
You don’t need to write every movement and direction unless it reveals character or plot.
Fat words are words that don’t add anything to the sentence.
If cutting them out makes no difference, cut them out.
Adjectives are like jewelry – Adding a few is stylish, but don’t overdo it!
He started walking to the shop. When he got there he bought a loaf of bread.
He walked to the shop and bought a loaf of bread.
Readers know how walking works, you don’t need to explain it, unless there is a good reason.
He turned left into Picard Street, looked up and to the right, and turned right into Doris Lane.
He drove down Picard Street, looked around, and stopped in Doris Lane.
Readers know how driving works. Explaining it is boring.
“Hi.” he said.
“Hey.” she replied.
Readers know how talking works, you don’t need to tell them. Leave out dialogue attribution unless it would confuse the reader. (e.g. if a character talks out of turn, or at the beginning of a paragraph)
A better attribution is to reveal more about your character’s state of mind.
“Hi.” John fidgeted with his blazer, avoiding June’s gaze.
“Hey.” She pulled out her cellphone and walked to the car.
“Can we talk?”
“Shh. It’s Gary.” She walked away, giggling at something Gary was saying.
Tip #9. Write up, not down.
Your readers are more clever than you
. Seasoned readers are intelligent – you don’t need to ‘dumb-down’ concepts or use smaller words unless larger words obstruct the flow of the story. Find the best word. If you can’t think of the best word use a thesaurus, of course don’t overdo it and use words no one understands.
Tip #10. Read it aloud
Most problems are discovered by reading aloud. Better yet, reading to a friend or another writer.
Grammar exists to help people flow through a book as if they are listening to it, anything that you struggle to read your readers will struggle to understand.
Join a writing group. They’re usually called writer’s circles.
Give a reading. Listen to a reading.