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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

WRITING TIPS for the holidays

So, you've been aching to get stuck into that new story for months but work commitments/life hasn't allowed for the full immersion needed to really nut out the plot and characters. Perhaps you've got your first draft almost done. Either way, I have some tips for you - easy ways you can improve your writing, whatever stage you are at.


1.     Use strong verbs rather than ineffectual words such as 'started', 'was', 'had', 'just'. Go through your entire MS and eradicate them!

2.     Try not to begin sentences with the noun/subject of the sentence, such as 'the' or the person's name. Begin with verbs, adverbs (sparingly) or subordinate clauses. This adds variety and can have a strong influence upon the rhythm of your work.

3.     Try to keep one subject per sentence ie: if you're describing a person, keep to them, or if it’s the ocean, develop that further. Link ideas with the first word of the next sentence.

4.     For a tight, concise manuscript, go through each sentence and eliminate at least one word. You will have to rewrite, but it will make your work stronger and more punchy.

5.     Have your plot worked out, even roughly, beforehand. I now use index cards with a brief description of each scene. I put them on my whiteboard with blu-tack and can move them around at will. In my latest novel I realised I had two missing scenes!

6.     Use active, rather than passive. ie: 'the sound of glass breaking was heard by Miriam' is passive. 'Miriam started. Glass smashed somewhere in the house.' Show what the character is doing, rather than what is being done to the character.

7.     Use the speech function in Word to hear your work read back to you. The computerized voice sounds a little odd, but hearing someone else read your work makes a huge difference. While you listen, edit.

8.     NAMES - for goodness’ sake, choose character names carefully! Don’t use modern names in a medieval fantasy. Similarly, don’t use old fashioned names that just do not fit the context simply because you’ve always loved them. Made-up names add to the world you have constructed, so make sure they sound like they belong there. Unless you’re doing it deliberately for effect, name your characters with their personality in mind - for instance, (in a fantasy story), a large, crudely featured man might be called 'Grumm,' and a dainty lady of royal birth might be called 'Trilaya'.

9.     Dialogue - the way a person speaks should reflect their character and make it easy to identify them. "Great," smirked Josh. "If you had listened to my sage advice you would not now find yourself in such distress," opined Wallace. "Yay!" Shrieked seven year old Lucy.

10.  Give us a picture of what your character looks like as soon as possible. Even scant details are better than none. Don't wait for page five to tell us the colour of her eyes.

11.  Begin a new line for each speaker's dialogue.

12.  Some of our most precious and treasured words are the very ones we have to take out, ie: 'kill your darlings'. They trap you into thinking they're so wonderful that the entire story can work around them, when in fact they hold you back and annoy the reader.

13.  The old saying, 'show, not tell' is so hard to do, but you must keep it in mind. Reveal a person's feelings/thoughts/opinions through their speech and actions. It is more effective than simply telling the reader.

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