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3 Mistakes New Writers Make
- Avoid wordiness. Keep it simple.
- Stop using cliches. Be creative.
- Don't rely on spellchecker. Edit.
- Find inspiration all around you. Write it down.
- Does this sentence sound right? Read it aloud.
- Trust your gut. Take a chance.
- Most important of all: Keep writing!
The Tools of Success
While simple tips such as editing properly and avoiding wordiness can provide a definite boost to a novel or story, numerous factors influence quality of writing. One of the most important aspects of writing is the reader. Not only do writers need to know their intended audience, but they must keep them in mind at all times while writing. In no way do I mean that they should only write what they think readers will like, throwing their own visions out the door; however, it is vital to give readers the tools to connect to a work.
Think about it. How many times have you put down a novel because the author didn't give you what you needed to enjoy it? The descriptions aren't clear. The characters lack depth. The plot lags too long. Every avid reader has experienced a poorly written novel and could add to the list, but all I see is a common thread that revolves around the reader. At times it can be easy to forget that the reader doesn't see exactly what you envisioned without your help. It's easy to fall into certain traps that leave the story flat. For this reason I like to read my work the next day with a fresh mind and I always make sure to avoid the following easy mistakes.
The Worst of the Worst?
It's a commonly held belief that the Star Wars prequels have some terrible dialogue. Which quote is the worst?
Dialogue can kill a scene if a writer is not careful. Every part of dialogue must serve a purpose. If it doesn't, drop it because its most likely just filler that has no purpose to the plot. Keep in mind the following tips:
- Dialogue should fit the character.
- Avoid repetition and exposition.
- Don't rely on dialogue to tell the backstory between two characters unless there's good reason (this goes back to show and tell).
- Avoid too many direct questions and answers.
- Use body language to show reaction or emotion.
- Don't use character names too often.
- Choose our words wisely.
- Don't state the obvious.
- Use simple dialogue tags (he said, she answered, he asked, etc).
If it sounds corny, out of place, or over the top to you, it probably will to your reader. Read dialogue out loud. The parts that need deleting will jump out quickly.
When dialogue is right, we know. When it's wrong we also know—it jags on the ear like a badly tuned musical instrument.— Stephen King
Stalling the Plot
Every part of a novel should move along the plot. Readers don't need fluff that at the end of the novel makes no sense. They don't need to know that June went to the rodeo on a Sunday if that has nothing to do with advancing the novel in some form: creating conflict, raising tension, introducing an important character, developing her character, etc. Make sure everything has a purpose. In the novel I am writing, I dwell for a moment on a peaceful scene: a colorful fall forest, cool and welcoming, full of the usual sounds of the woods. It serves a purpose to provide contrast and even an eerie, misplaced calm. Even the dialogue in the woods is particular. It breaks the tension just long enough to provide a deep breath before the next big event.
Think of the plot like a road trip. Once you hit the road there may be interesting pit stops along the way, but everyone is focused on getting to the final destination. Your focus should be on that final destination, that satisfying ending your readers have been turning pages to reach.
Descriptions: Telling Versus Showing
Show and tell is not just for kids. Writers have to find the right balance between telling the reader what's happening, what characters are feeling, etc, and actually showing them. There's a difference between telling:
Jane was embarrassed after nearly falling down the steps.
Jane's ankle twisted, three inch stilettos tilting her right foot sideways and leaning her body forward. The front of her shoe tipped over the edge but her hands gripped the rail just in time. Her face flamed until she realized the stairwell was empty.
Speaking as a reader, I notice that many writers love to skip over the details when, in fact, I long for them. I want to be there! On the other hand, there are times where a writer has to tell the reader something because it adds a raw emotion or deeper meaning. A good writer can find the balance between showing and telling so that the reader gets enough information to be in the scene, but the story does not lag or get bogged down in pointless detail.
Final Tip: Think Like the Reader
I do one simple thing that has made a world of difference, I believe, in my own writing: I try to think like the reader by asking myself questions. Based on what I wrote...
- Can I see it based on the description?
- Can I understand that fast paced action sequence?
- Does the dialogue feel forced, unnatural, or over the top?
- Do I clearly know the place and setting?
- Do I feel a connection to the characters?
- What's the point of A, B, or C? How does it connect to the overall plot?
- Does A, B, or C serve a purpose?
If I can answer these and similar questions to my satisfaction, I know I am on the right track.