My post about what I’d learnt from being published generated a bit of interest, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore the subject of writing in greater detail. This time, I’m going to outline five pointers I’ve picked up through the study and practice of writing. Hopefully it’ll be of some help…but make sure to heed Point #5, which is probably the most important point of all!
1. Don’t Be Wishy-Washy
I’ve always had an issue with describing action that’s about to happen, rather than the actions themselves. When going through both the proofreading and the editing stages, I do everything I can to remove terms like “seems to”, “try to”, “almost”, “slowly”, and every phrasing that positions the character as passive, rather than active. The fewer qualifiers you use, the stronger your writing will be. Of course, as with all rules this one will sometimes need to be broken, but the trick is to be more conscious of making that choice.
2. Pick a Perspective and Stick to It
Jumping from one character’s point-of-view to another is one of the major hallmarks of a first-time writer, and the faster you jump the more off-putting it can be to your reader. Distinguish for yourself from the onset whose perspective will best serve the story and stick to it. That’s not to say you can’t write things from the point-of-view of an omniscient narrator, but I tend to fit that a POV like that works best in small doses. You can find ways to change perspective if you need to, whether through chapter or paragraph breaks. But avoid switching POVs in the same slab of text.
3. Have Something Happen in Every Chapter
The temptation for a writer is to indulge themselves in description, to fill their stories with rich detail, poetic imagery and unique metaphors. It’s so tempting that you can lose yourself in it, which will often leave readers bored as they slog through all this description to get to the actual story buried underneath. I could write an entry in itself on how description is best used to reflect mood and character, but the main point I want to make is that the way you create momentum in your story – and how you keep the reader engaged – is to make sure that you include at least one notable story development in every chapter. Don’t miss the opportunity to include a new piece of information, a new complication. Which leads to…
4. Pose Questions to Your Reader and Make Sure to Answer Them…Eventually
Every story is essentially a mystery story. It starts with something going wrong (as almost all stories do) and then the central question becomes “How will the character fix this problem?”. But along the way, you can pose a variety of other questions to the reader. One trick is to have the characters reference something or someone, make the reader curious about this person or object, and when the time is right reveal the nature of the subject in question. Make sure to not string out your reveal, however, and always keep track of what information you’ve provided and what you haven’t.
5. Everyone’s Approach is Different
By all means, listen to what the authors you admire have to say, but always remember that there’s no prescribed method of writing. Take the best advice – in other words, the advice that most applies to you – and use it to synthesize your own approach.
‘Til next time.