My novel is still a work-in-progress, but here are some things that help me to write a little bit better, and maybe you’ll find them useful:
1. Start with a bang and get to the point. Although I enjoy reading and writing descriptions (similes and metaphors and all that good stuff), I’m not a big fan of throwing in huge chunks of descriptions when they’re not relevant to the plot. It reads almost as if they’re trying to show off their description-writing abilities, and it can get annoying. Keep in mind that story comes first. Weave the descriptions into the story. Don’t throw them at us all at once.
2. Get the words on paper. I know that sounds painfully obvious, but it’s one of the biggest challenges I face while writing. I expect my first draft to be brilliant, and when it’s not, I get frustrated and am tempted to stop writing. If you ever feel like this – ignore the feeling. It’s difficult, but don’t get upset if your writing isn’t wonderful at first. It’ll get better once you revise.
3. Your characters are real. Don’t argue. Just believe. Treat your characters not as people you’ve created, but as people you know. Friends, maybe, or enemies. Just remember that each character has feelings, has a motive, has problems, worries, concerns – everything that you have in your life. Your characters have their own minds and can think for themselves.
4. Know your characters. If you don’t know your characters well enough, how are your readers supposed to? You can use the character questionnaire page (http://sarrahhakim.com/character-questionnaire/) to get to know your characters better. You essentially interview your character to learn a little bit more about him/her. Ask questions like, “What are your favorite things to do?” “Where do you live?” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” And, most importantly, the character’s motive – “What do you want most in the world?” Knowing your characters inside and out isn’t important because you’re going to state every little fact about them in your writing. You won’t. But if you know your characters extremely well, it will reflect in your writing. Same goes for if you don’t know them. Make your writing real. Know your characters.
5. Save everything. Sometimes, after I’ve written quite a bit of my story, I decide that I did it all wrong and want to erase a huge chunk. But instead of deleting everything, I cut and paste it into a new document, named “Extra passages to [insert title of story here].” Then, even if I don’t go entirely back to the old idea, I can still insert bits and pieces of it back into the actual story where they fit.
6. You don’t need to do it in order. If you’re the type of person who is able to and enjoys going right from start to finish, then go ahead and do it in order. But I have random scenes all over the place, skipping from here to there. I often write scenes according to my mood. Then I go back and sew the story together, filling in the gaps with the transitions they need. By no means do you need to stick rigidly to the order of the story. Do it how you like. No one will know.
7. Outline. I used to think outlining would only stifle my creativity, but I’ve realized that it’s actually very helpful for longer works. It saves a lot of time and energy, because you don’t end up writing pages and pages of irrelevant scenes. Your outline can be as detailed or as sparse as you would like it to be. I personally opt for detailed ones. I even have an Excel spreadsheet with a list of all the scenes I plan to include in the story. I have a column for the point-of-view character, a short description of the scene, and the setting. Just because I’m making a detailed outline doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to change things later. It just gives me a more structured path to follow.
8. Include impossible situations. If your character ALWAYS gets away with everything and is a happy little butterfly, let her encounter an angry bear. Let a tiger swallow her and make her escape somehow. Do something to her! Put your characters in impossible situations and find some incredible way for them to escape. Readers will love it; they’ll be hooked to the book. But if you make it too easy for the character, your book will be awfully boring.
9. Share your writing. I’ve found that one of the hardest parts of being a writer is letting other people read your work. It’s a very vulnerable experience, putting your precious writing out in the open. But it’s really important to let go of that. You also don’t want to defend your work. If a reader says, “This sentence isn’t clear; I don’t understand what it means,” don’t say, “That’s because you’re not reading it right” or “Let me explain.” The reality is, when you are a famous author one day, and you’ve sold books all over the world, and tons of people are reading your books, you won’t be next to every single one of your readers saying, “I know I wrote it like this in the book, but this is what it actually means.” You won’t be there to explain anything. A reader’s feedback is the most valuable feedback you can receive. Make sure you take time to consider it before discarding it.
10. Write what you want to write, not what others want to read. This can be a bit tricky. Basically, don’t write a book solely because you think other people will find it interesting. First, you deserve to write about what’s spilling out of your own heart, and second, that’s where your writing will shine the most.
- Read Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine.
- Check out Cassandra Clare’s Writing Advice; she’s got some very useful tips.
- The Writer’s Digest is also useful.
- The Absolute Write Water Cooler is a great resource, especially if you’re looking to interact with other writers.
If you have any other questions, please leave them in a comment and I will answer them to the best of my ability!