January 15, 2013
As publisher, I read tons of manuscripts, summaries, and queries. I’d say around 50% of each business day consists of reading. At least 50% (not counting emails). I also enjoy reading for pleasure, in my free time. It’s safe to say that I’m somewhat of a professional reader. As a bestselling author, I know the pitfalls to avoid in writing a book… Here are five writing tips that writers (especially new writers) should find helpful:
- Outline your story before anything else. I’m aware that some writers can just “wing it,” but the vast majority of writers end up fighting severe writer’s block when there’s no outline in place. I’ve found that writer’s block is usually a result of poor planning. You should sit down at some point — before trying to actually “write” your book — and outline (chapter-by-chapter) your book. Of course, you don’t have to stick to the outline 100%. You should allow some characters, etc. to grow organically, but an outline will keep you on track.
- Decide on the point-of-view (POV) and stick to it. A first-person narrative, for instance, should stick with one point-of-view throughout the entire manuscript. This means no “head popping,” i.e. showing the thoughts of multiple characters… Third-person is a little different. There’s third-person limited and third-person omniscient. With third-person limited (e.g. Harry Potter), the POV stays with one character — for the most part — throughout the narrative. Most events are described through a central character’s POV. Look at how J.K. Rowling handled the Harry Potter series. With third-person omniscient, the narrator knows all and sees all. In other words, the narrator is everywhere at once. POVs can switch often, but you should try to stick to one POV per scene if possible. Of course, I’ve seen some big name authors break these “rules,” and in some cases it works.
- Don’t use a thesaurus often. In an attempt to avoid repetitive words, some writers crack open their thesaurus, land on a big “million-dollar” synonym and decide to toss it in the story. This is especially common in dialogue tags. It’s okay to use “said” more than once on a page, regardless of what anyone says about repetition. It’s entirely acceptable to state: “I’m hungry,” said Tom, patting his stomach. Don’t try to look clever as a writer by constantly replacing “said” with verbs like “jested,” “quipped,” “hissed,” etc. In fact, in many cases you can stay away from the “said” dialogue tags altogether. Simply remove “said Tom” and just write “I’m hungry.” Tom patted his stomach. It’s obvious there that Tom is the hungry one…
- Use an active voice. Which version sounds better? The loud noise was making him angry OR The loud noise angered him. Stick with the latter scenario as often as possible. By removing “was making” and replacing the sentence with “angered,” I took a passive sentence and made it active. Google “active writing voice” and you’ll see some more (and probably superior) examples.
- Revising is not your enemy. I know finishing the first draft can be extremely exciting. You should go out and celebrate. Seriously, writing the first draft is a huge accomplishment! However, you should never submit your first draft to an editor. Never. Go through your manuscript a couple times, at least, looking for spelling and grammatical errors, passive voice, improper POV switches, etc. In short, revise. Send the editor your “final draft.”
J.J. Hebert is the bestselling author of Unconventional and Weepy the Dragon. He’s also the founder and president of MindStir Media, a full-service self-publishing and book marketing company.