Edale is on blog tour this month for her book Chaos in Milan. I hope you will check out the stops which can be found here:
Best Writing Tips
The internet is filled with tips for writers, whether they are working on their first book or are veterans at the craft. In no particular order, I will share ten that have served me well.
- Write something you are passionate about. If you are not emotionally invested in the characters, subject, theme, or plot, how can you expect your readers to be? I love history. I get enthused about research, discovering new things about the past that I missed when gaining my Master’s Degree in the subject. I am also passionate about the themes that appear in my stories, primarily the idea that we are the masters of our own destiny, the captains of our own ships.
- Be prepared. Even a “pantser” needs to plan. Have a good idea where you want your story to go. Create an outline, even if you deviate from it as you go along—I always do. Even if you are writing contemporary fiction or fantasy, some research is necessary, so do it.
- Make your characters authentic people. Everything about them should be consistent—how they dress, speak, act, what music they like, what car they drive, to their hairstyle and friends; would a girly-girl who likes to have her hair and nails done, wears dresses and high heels drive an old beat up pickup truck or shop at the dollar store? And be sure that your characters grow from start to finish. They needn’t change immensely, but growth should occur. Avoid the trap of one or two-dimensional characters, especially when writing the villain. He or she needs motivation for what he says and does.
- Don’t be afraid to erase. Whether it is while you are writing or when you go back for final edits, some things will need to be added, subtracted, or updated. When I was working on Secrets of Milan, book two of the Night Flyer Trilogy, I discovered that a little chapel called the Church of Quo Vadis had been built along the Appian Way near the site of one of the many ancient catacombs of Rome. Because I didn’t know about it when I started the book, I had to go back and insert a clue into the diary and then mention it again so it didn’t just “come out of nowhere.” Details like that are important to making your plot consistent and believable.
- Don’t be afraid of criticism. It is important to have friends and betas read your manuscript before you declare it to be complete. Besides glaring errors, they may point out any places they become confused or inconsistencies in the characters or storyline. Having fresh eyes and ears is important as something may seem perfectly clear in your mind, but to a reader it may not.
- Read your chapters aloud. Doing this helps you to catch all kinds of awkwardness that you may not notice when reading silently.
- Hook your readers at the very beginning of the book. I have taken classes (which I advise) including a masterclass with James Patterson, and one thing every best-selling author points out is the importance of the first line, first paragraph, and first page of the novel. Many sales are through Kindle Unlimited, where the author is paid according to pages read, and most books sold on Amazon have a “look inside” feature where the potential buyer can read the first few pages of the book before deciding whether to purchase. They will not wade through 4 or 5 pages of what they think is boring to get to an exciting part, so we as writers who want to sell books need to catch their attention from the start.
- Pay attention to pacing. Non-stop action can be exhausting; lack of action can be boring. There are three key elements to balance in writing: description, dialogue, and action. You must have character development while the plot of the story moves forward. Nothing takes place in a vacuum, making eloquent but concise description necessary. Putting your ideas on paper then requires a balancing act of fast, slow, and medium paced paragraphs and pages.
- Words matter. Sometimes I spend minutes deciding on just the right word, consult my thesaurus, read aloud for flow, and then go back days later and change it to something I think sounds better. My ProWritingAid is always hollering at me about adverbs, repeated words and phrases, generic modifiers, and suggesting alternatives that it deems to be an improvement. I listen to it—but not always. Editing programs are a tremendous tool, but they can’t write your story for you. Even though you are writing a novel instead of a short story, if you approach word choice the same way you will do yourself a favor. Don’t use five words where one will do; find the word that best describes the idea you are trying to get across. And don’t use some obscure term from the thesaurus that no one ever heard of just to keep from using the same word twice. Word choice in dialog is of particular importance, as every word your characters utter tells us who they are, and we want to be consistent.
- Point of View has become increasingly important in recent years as compared to when I started writing a lifetime ago. Contemporary publishers don’t want manuscripts written in what I learned as omniscient POV. They are fine with first person, as long as it is consistent, or third person written from one character’s POV at a time. Say you are writing a romance and want to convey what each person is thinking about the other. You would need to have a break between each character’s POV. The best way to accomplish this is to establish at the beginning of a scene who’s POV that scene is from, include his thoughts and attitudes as the scene unfolds. When you want to switch to the love interest, make a space or break and pick up with her reaction to whatever he has said or done. Be sure not to switch back and forth with every sentence; this is called “head-hopping” and is very frowned upon.
This brings me to my most important piece of advice—just do it! Quit procrastinating, excuse hunting, and saying you’ll start tomorrow or next week. Take time to sit down and write. Not ready to start your epic trilogy? Compose a short story. Journal about your day or your dreams for the future. Just write! The more you do, the more comfortable you will become doing it. Fear of failure is very real with any endeavor, but I encourage you to be courageous. In truth, the only failure is not to try. Your habits may not include setting aside a time to write—change your habits. You are the captain of your own ship, the master of your destiny. The only person who can stop you from becoming an author is you.