Writing is hard work, but it’s not a mysterious process. The folks at AllAboutWriting have 15 important tips to help make you a successful writer.
- You need to believe in your story. Readers need to become emotionally involved and immersed in the story you’re telling them. If you don’t believe it yourself, neither will they.
- Believe in your readers. Don’t talk down to them.
- Create strong characters. We need to identify with characters if we are to care what happens to them. Let them have depth and some quirks and contradictions. People aren’t one-dimensional, nor are they stereotypes. Neither should your characters be.
- Conflict lies at the foundation of successful stories and is the engine that drives all narrative. Literary conflict comes in an infinite variety of guises, from all-out physical conflict — skop, skiet and donder — to facing a challenge or suffering inner turmoil, to the subtlest of polite disagreements.
- Write in strong scenes. We want the story told in a series of tangible scenes. Each should have a dramatic proposition that carries the story forward and develops your characters. Place us right inside the scene, so that we can see and hear it for ourselves.
- Show, don’t tell. In other words, don’t include paragraphs of explanation. Show what your characters are like, don’t tell us. Don’t tell us she’s kind. Show us her kindness, and his inability to trust – through what they say and do, and how other characters relate to them.
- Create a believable setting. You must know it well in order to write it. You need to know far more than will ever appear in your book. Knowing the details gives you the confidence to write with authority.
- Don’t get carried away by your research. Don’t write long details just for the sake of showing it off. Research is like good makeup; it should make your book look better, but you shouldn’t be aware of it.
- Write believable dialogue. This is what people first notice about a book. If the dialogue rings true, it brings pace and energy to a story. It helps you show, rather than tell what your characters are like.
- Dialogue should be the appearance of real speech. In real life, people repeat themselves, go round in circles and um and ah. The challenge for the writer is to give the appearance of real speech, without its drawbacks. Allow people to interrupt each other, have them not finish their sentences, but don’t let them go on long, circuitous repetitions.
- Every detail has a job to do. Every description, every subsidiary character, every scene, must take the story forward or develop your main characters further.
- Avoid explaining. Beginner writers are tempted to explain everything: who people are, where they’ve been and why they’re doing what they’re doing. Throw your readers into your story and trust them to work it out for themselves.
- Use strong verbs. Don’t say the valley appeared at the side of the road. Say it gaped or the earth fractured. Don’t say the men fought, say they writhed on the ground, clawing and choking each other.
- Tip well: No generic descriptions. Don’t ever use words like awesome, majestic and picturesque. Try to find the words that will allow us to see, hear, feel and smell a scene for ourselves, so that we think for ourselves that it must truly be majestic or picturesque.
- Edit well. You can fix almost anything in the rewrite. Switch from your writer persona, who loves every word, to a more critical editor. Look at every scene, character and detail. Does it take the story forward? Be ruthless.
Learn more by signing up for the www.allaboutwritingcourses.com flagship Creative Writing Course — face-to-face or online in Johannesburg or Cape Town. Happy writing!