1.18 – Ten Tips to Becoming a Better Writer

In this episode, I . . .

Share ten tips to becoming a better writer.

Tip #1– Read, Read, Read
One of the easiest ways to learn great writing is to read great writing. Pick up books like the kind you want to write and read them. This will help you learn what works and what’s being published.

Tip #2– Know Your Reader and Your Genre
Decide who you’re writing for and what you’re writing. Picture books for kids? Chapter books for beginning readers? Contemporary stories for middle graders? Young adult fantasy? Historical romance for adults? Pick a genre and audience and stick with it for a while. You can always change your mind later, but if you’re seeking publication, you’ll want to brand yourself in some way.

Tip #3– Point of View
Decide which person’s head you’ll be telling the story from. I suggest telling the story from one person’s head, or point of view, at least for your first book. Head jumping can be frustrating for readers. If you want to use more than one point of view, switch with new chapters, or at the very least, at scene breaks.

Tip #4– Problem?
I’ve read books where I was in the third chapter before I knew what was happening. A story must have a plot. The easiest way to do this is to give your main character a major problem to solve. Readers need to know as soon as possible what the character wants. If you don’t have a problem, you don’t have a story.

Tip #5– Show, Don’t Tell
This was a great mystery for me when I started out. You’ll hear it over and over in your quest to becoming a published author. The best way I can explain this is to pretend you’re a camera man filming a movie and the viewer knows nothing that you don’t film, or show them. A sentence like, “Courtney felt scared,” is telling. To show this, you’d need to describe what that video camera is recording. For example: “Courtney stepped onto her front porch, gaze fixed on the opened front door. From inside, a thump. Breaking glass. Her heart rattled. What to do?”

Tip #6- Delete Adverbs
An adverb is a part of speech that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. For example: “She was beautiful”; “He drove perfectly”; “They played very well.” Adverbs are often formed by adding ‘ly’ to an adjective.

Adverbs are “telling” words because they tell the reader what to think. Practice your new showing skills by trying to rewrite the adverbs in your book. Not every adverb, but most of them. For example: “She was beautiful” doesn’t really show us much. The reader would rather see her beauty. For example: “She was small-boned, with big brown eyes and lashes that seemed to blink in slow motion. Her hair fell in black coils over her shoulders and down her back.”

Tip #7– Be Specific or CUT, CUT, CUT!
When you’re writing your first draft, just write. Give yourself permission to stink and plow through. Then when you go back to edit (because you must edit!), look for passive, dull, inactive words that mean nothing of interest.

For Example: John climbed the tree and looked at the mountain.

This tells us the facts and not in a very interesting way. Let’s see if I can replace the boring, non-specific words with concrete, vivid ones that help the reader see what I want them to see.

John shimmied up the swaying willow and gazed at the monstrous, craggy peak of Mt. Denali.

This gives us more information. We get the motion of the swaying tree and geography: we know he’s in Alaska.

Good writing is using the right words in the right place. This takes practice.

Tip #8– Get Rid of, or Make Simple, the Said Tag
This is one of those places where an agent or editor can take one glance at your manuscript and know if you’re an amateur or professional. The dreaded said tag. And even worse, the dreaded said tag with the even more dreaded adverb attached.

For Example: “Get out!” Sharon screamed angrily.

This goes back to showing vs. telling. First of all, the reader should know what Sharon is feeling based on the surrounding scene. If Sharon finds her brother in her room, reading her diary, and you write: “Get out!” Sharon screamed. The reader knows she’s angry, so there is no need to tell us with that extra “angrily” -ly adverb.

Also, an exclamation point doesn’t whisper. That particular punctuation mark shows volume. So, if Sharon’s brother is in her room, reading her diary, you might write: “Get out!” without any said tag at all. But if the scene is different, maybe Sharon’s boyfriend just confessed to having cheated on her, you might write: “Get out,” Sharon whispered. And the reader would know she’s mad, but that her volume was more intense pain/holding back tears rather than screaming anger.

You could also use action to show her emotion. For example: Sharon jerked open the door. “Get out!”

Tip #9– Avoid Flashbacks
There is nothing more confusing that a flashback in the middle of nowhere except more than one flashbacks in the middle of nowhere. The best rule of thumb is: Don’t tell the reader a bunch of information if the reader isn’t yet dying to know. Instead, hint at a secret. Give clues. And if you must tell a past event, get creative. Put the facts into dialogue or narrative. Or break up the story like glass and insert a shard here and there throughout the story, planting clues for the reader to figure out. This is far more mysterious than pulling the reader out of the story for three pages to tell them something they don’t want to know. Let’s be honest. They’ll skip over it. So if you must have a flashback, keep it short and have a good reason to stop the story.

Tip #10– Write, Write, Write!
You’d think this would be obvious and yet I waste so much time thinking about nothing, biting my fingernails, writing to do lists of what I’m going to write, getting tea and snacks, than actually writing. Here’s the thing, if you’re not writing, you can’t hope to improve. So, you best get typing now and stop wasting on YouTube!

Keep on writing!