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12 Tips for Writing Publishable, Readers Friendly Works
Imagine reading a poorly punctuated book, with misleading title and images, garnished with wrong use of words and spelling errors, and incoherent paragraphs, or watching a movie with inaccurate use of characters, costumes, settings and plots. Surely, such work of art will not be interesting.
It's true that every literate individual can write, but all literate persons are not writers. A writer is the one who is by his philosophical strength and knowledge, and by his creative ability, holds readers at ransom, and makes them to quest for more. How this could be achieved, you may ask?
Here are twelve major tips of writing publishable, readers friendly works:
Cover Title – The cover title of every book is its billboard, which tells viewers at a glance, the material contents of the book. For this reason, every publication, be it a novel, a magazine or an article, must have a captivating title, capable of capturing reader's interest. It must not have a misleading title. The title must be able to portray the theme of the work. Every title of a book must not only be attractive, but also, to some extent, create suspense.
Permit me to share an experience with you. When I was writing my first novel, I was disturbed about what would be the best title for the literary work. Though, the first very day I started the project, I named it ‘Warring Spinster.’ The title encompassed all the actions a character in the novel – Ekwe-Ekwe – had taken to ensure that she accomplished her goal.
After several months of hard work, I took the manuscript to my editor who having gone through the script, suggested that the book should be named ‘Empty Battle.’ Yes, the title was good. In the novel, there was a theme of acute jealous and its negative consequences, at which, the title was drawn. Though, I rejected the title, because it represented only a theme which was reflected in the last chapter of the novel. So, it was not qualified to occupy the cover page.
I gave the manuscript to a friend who went through the script and named it ‘Desperate Spinster.' When I evaluated the two titles [Warring Spinster and Desperate Spinster,] I found out that ‘Warring Spinster’ might be a misleading title. In a war, there must be two or more enemies fighting for a course best known to them. But it was not so in the novel. There was no physical or spiritual combat among the conflicting characters.
‘Desperate Spinster,” was considered appropriate, because throughout the story book, Ekwe-Ekwe felt she had little hope of getting married, and if she would not protect that hope, she might end up being unmarried. She concluded within herself to do anything humanly possible to ensure that her interest was protected, without even taking into consideration, the resultant effect of her action. The subtitle: ‘Story of a Ricocheted Plot,’ was added to enhance suspense.
Cover Picture – Picture conveys messages and attracts readers faster than inscriptions. No wonder a common maxim, “A picture worth more than a thousand words” A viewer could be quickly attracted to a picture of a yelling child with a caption, ‘The Wailing Child,’ than what the same caption could do if it has an ordinary or no picture.
Always use pictures that are in line with the title of your work. Use pictures that are capable of leading readers into the book contents. Cover page pictures should not be used or seen as makeups. They must not be decisive, too. A book titled, ‘The Ugly Face of the Night,’ must be horror in nature, and is expected to have a horrible picture with horrible background.
A colleague of mine, Martina M. Wolisi, published a novel titled: ‘Help for the Needy,’ with a cover page picture of a bible like story of Jesus Christ. Please, permit me to say that my intention here is not to make a critical review of this book, rather, I am just trying to buttress a point, for you to understand why you must take your cover page title and picture very serious.
Having gone through this well written and interest rising book, I discovered that the general theme of the novel was theme of philanthropy and its rewarding result.
Throughout the story, there was no bible reference or quote, not to talk of Christian preaching, yet, it had such religious title and picture that would make it lose its target audience.
Chapter Title and Picture – This has the same trait with cover title and picture. The title of each chapter must align with the contents of the chapter. The pictures used in a chapter must represent the contents of the chapter, and vice versa.
Intro - Good writing skill is beyond making good sentences. The way a story teller begins his story matters a lot. If your story starts with a poorly prepared lead, readers will not be interested to read more.
It is better to start a story of an upcoming event thus: “The day is dawn. It is new yam festival day. Umuene Central Square is filled to capacity and wrestlers are set to perform their part…,” than to start such story this way: “Umuene community is having her new yam festival today. There will be wrestling competition in the village square to entertain guests…” The two examples above have the same contents, but one is active and interesting than the other.
Coherency – To which extend does your communication flows? Are your chapters and paragraphs in line with the development of events, or are they badly arranged? These are the basic questions you consider, while writing on any subject matter. Poorly arranged chapters and paragraphs are capable of throwing readers off balance. Always check what should be said before another. Make sure that your work leads readers from one chapter to another and one paragraph to another.
Setting – What one is writing on determines its location. If you are writing on the tradition of a particular community, it will take village or traditional setting. If you have chosen traditional setting for your fiction, ensure that all the locations and scenes are purely village.
Describe every scene in such a way that readers will feel they are in the village. Do not use stadium, instead of village square; main-roads, instead of pathways; news caster, instead of town crier; mansion, instead of hut; exotic car, instead of outdated vehicle or bicycle; fountain and pipe-born-water, instead of stream; court, instead of king’s palace; police, instead of village guards; etc.
The violation of these rules is only acceptable in some areas where they seem inevitable. For instance: A writer may use living in a mansion, and driving the latest car in town to tell a story of a character that lived a luxurious life in the village, and how it landed him into trouble; or a character who was wretched, but after passing through hell, became rich.
Characters – Choose characters wisely. Name them according to their roles. Describe them in such a way that readers could feel as if they are physically seeing them. Ensure that their attires suit the scene they are and the role they play. Be cautious of what your characters say. Let the elders speak in parables, while children talk childishly.
Chapter Contents – Do not allow your book chapters to run into several pages. Try as much as possible to keep each chapter contents between 1,500 and 2,300 words. A departmental research I conducted on sustainable readership has shown that readers are encouraged to read more when they progress from one chapter to another within a short period. It would be boring to read a chapter for two hours, but not boring to spend the same hours to read the same chapter contents, if it is split into two or three chapters.
Simplicity – Be simple in words usage. Do not distract your readers with uncommon vocabularies. Try as much as possible to carry all average reads along. You can only be communicating when the majority of your followers are really enjoying the topic of your discussion.
Writing for children is quite different from writing for adults, while writing for secondary or high school students is quite different from writing for university students, and so on and so forth.
Diction – While it is your right to speak in any language of your choice, it is also the right of readers to understand every sentence made in your book. If you are writing in English, interpret every other language used outside English, including professional jargon.
Review Your Work – Go through your work, again and again. Check wrongly used words, typos, grammatical and spelling errors. Ensure accurate use of verbs. Check tenses and verb tense sequence. Take punctuation very serious. Wrong use of punctuation hinders communication flow.
Try as much as possible to keep your writing in active voice. It is better to say, ‘Police caught him in the act,’ than to say, ‘He was caught in the act by the police.’ Writing in active voice promotes words economy.
Give Your Work to an Editor – "Two good heads," they say, "are better than one." Do not make your writing project a personal affair. Allow others to air their views as regards to you writing. Give it to friends who are educationally sound to vet. They may surprise you with their findings. Let a qualified editor contribute. Don’t be in a hurry to publish without going through the corrections made. Your editors may have tempered with the original message of your work.