7 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer
All writers want to write great books. None of us set out to be cliché or mediocre we set our sights on the sky and attempt to lasso the moon with each new book. However as I write/edit each new manuscript, I learn things about my craft that I didn’t know before. My writing matures and my style settles. This is what I have learned from my experiences on how to write a better story.
- Show don’t tell. I know, I know, they’re the three most dreaded words to an author. The problem is most people give the advice without explaining what they mean or how to do this. When I finish a manuscript, I have a list of common key words, which I use, that almost always indicate I am showing something rather than telling it. I do a search and correct as many as those parts as I can so my books can be more engaging for readers. Words like felt, thought, heard, saw, etc. are telling words. Ex. Edgar heard a knock on the door —TELLING. Suddenly there came rapping as of someone gently tapping, tapping upon my chamber door.—SHOWING (by the ever wonderful Edgar Allen Poe).
Showing puts the reader in the scene, telling is like the reader is listening to their coworker recount their weekend on Monday morning.
- Eliminate unnecessary words. As a writer our job is words. Every word you choose to put in your manuscript should have a purpose, a function. If it does not, then get rid of it. All those extra words do is make your sentences heavy and tiresome. Words like that, had, just, etc. will bog down the sentence and keep your writing from having that smooth, polished flow.
- Moderation in all things—especially adverbs. This goes hand in hand with the above tip. While you are being conscious of your word choices you should also be certain you are not over using words, phrases, and ideas. Imagine if Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind had said “tomorrow is another day” 50 times. Would those words at the end have been as impactful? Would her steely determination have lived on as it has? Absolutely not. Don’t repeat yourself because it lessens the impact, which brings me to adverbs. A few well place adverbs can strengthen your sentences and meaning, but if you riddle the manuscript with adverbs you are not doing yourself or your writing any favors.
- Clichés are boring. Everyone knows them and has heard them a million times. I am going to repeat myself, words are our jobs. A cliché might very well fit, but you are a writer. If you can come up with a better phrase then you will grab the reader’s attention, paint a vivid picture in their mind, and leave your mark on them.
- Back story balance. This point in particular always reminds me of my mom. She will tell me about a movie or a book she read. While she is telling it, she will interrupt herself and give me back story that she failed to mention while she was recapping. Her retellings are often long and hard to follow. Don’t let that happen to your book. So you have some back story in your character’s life that you need to share, don’t dump it on the reader in a great big heaping pile that they have to dig their way out of. That invites skimming or worse putting the book down. You spent the time writing the words make people want to read them. Find creative ways to introduce as much back story as necessary with what is currently happening in your story. Keep it short, succinct, and as unobtrusive as possible.
- Utilize all of the senses. One of my favorite writing exercises in my creative writing classes is to write a paragraph describing something that utilizes all of my senses. It is a great way to bring to life a moment of a scene.
- Read more. Reading will improve your vocabulary, open your mind, and expand the scope of your abilities. Words are our job and hopefully our passion.