Tips on Becoming A Stronger Writer
by George Bernstein
So, you’ve written your masterpiece, edited it, refined it, and maybe even attended a writers’ conference or two. You’re fired up over transforming your work into the gem you know it should be. Here are a few things I’ve learned to make your novel stand out as professional …things I believe has made my novels, A 3RD TIME TO DIE and TRAPPED, so hard for readers to put down.
One of the first things I do is go back and shorten chapters. Three to five pages each, sometime even less. Yes, occasionally one may need to be a bit longer, but most can be cut into several “pieces.” I took many chapters from both novels and made three or four shorter ones out of them. Start a new chapter (instead of a double line break) every time you change a point of view. I have several of little more than one page.
Look at James Patterson (not necessarily his “co-authors”). You’ll see chapter breaks at any small pause in the action, even during the same scene. This makes the story more immediate, and keeps the pages turning. Readers want to keep going, just to see how things pan out. Believe me, it works.
Similarly, keeping your paragraphs brief… seldom more than 3 sentences… keeps white spaces on the page, making everything easier to read. I’ve seen many novels… sometimes even by “top” authors… where a long paragraph just begs to be broken into smaller pieces. Nothing is more daunting than looking at a paragraph that’s a half-page long.
And anything you want to stand out… to make important… should be on its own line. As an example, turn, “How can he do that? Damn!” into:
“How can he do that?
Keep dialog brief and punchy. In real life, people ramble and make many verbal pauses, but that’s a no-no in a novel. Don’t hesitate to use contractions, as we all do in every day speech. Where it used to be considered wrong to use, “don’t” instead of “do not,” it’s now not only acceptable…it’s preferred.
Don’t overdo accents that are tough on the reader to follow. In A 3rd Time to Die, my 17th and 19th Century characters speak in the colloquial usage of their times, to help set the scenes, but writing in badly corrupted speech and/or accents is a bad idea. It can bog down the action and take readers out of the story.
You want your audience to know who is talking without adding a “Tag,” by use pacing, and maybe colloquial words, like “y’all,” and “Miz Maren,” as my character Kevin does in Trapped. Or use background preferences, as my character, Phil, does with sports. He’s “the quarterback” and Rhonda is the “new team manager.” It works, making speech attributions plain without tags.
And speaking of tags, when you do need one for clarity, stick as much as possible with “he said; she said.” Groaning, muttering, cursing, etc. get pretty quickly overdone. Let you reader know the speaker was “groaning” by how it was said, not by describing it. Several professional editors and reviewers complimented my limited use of tags.
Direct inner thought is usually done in italics, compared to described thoughts, that are in regular fonts. i.e.;
What the Hell’s going on? (1st person thought). How can he treat Kevin like that? (3rd person description)
Next, challenge yourself on dialog. This is where many writers fail, sounding stiff and unnatural. A popular technique is to read it out loud to someone else. You may suddenly see how stilted it might sound.
Then, in your final edit, aggressively seek out static words, changing them into more descriptive action words. He “shambled across the room,” rather than “walked.” She “studied his face” rather than “looked.” He “darted out the door,” rather than “ran.” He “settled into the chair,” rather than “sat.”
Finally, cull out extra words, and try not to repeat a descriptive word in the next sentence.
All little things that may help differentiate you from the pack. Offer your readers that Lexus, instead of the Volkswagen.
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Genre – Romantic Suspense
Rating – PG13
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