Category: Writing Tips

Research ~ A Necessary Evil

Research ~ A Necessary Evil

Allison stepped onto the patio, enjoying the coolness of the desert southwest evening. Saguaro cacti were silhouetted against the sunset, and a roadrunner darted behind an agave plant. A cactus wren perched nearby. Allison walked further into the yard and stopped to stand beneath a giant magnolia tree…

Okay, I won’t say research is evil, but it hasn’t always been my favorite thing to do. When I first began writing fiction, I didn’t want to be bothered with research. All I wanted to do was to get the story out of my head and onto the computer screen.

“Write what you know.” I heard these words repeated over and over by several seasoned writers.

So I began with something that was comfortable to me. I loosely based the setting of my first novel on my hometown. However, the subject matter required research on my part to make part of the story believable.

My second novel, currently in draft state, necessitated me spending time on the Internet, looking for information about arsonists. (Suffice to say if someone looked at my browser history, and didn’t know I was a writer, they might want to report me to the nearest law enforcement agency.)

It’s easy to slip into a comfort zone. Therefore, the “write what you know” advice only goes so far. If an author continues to use the same setting or story line, readers will quickly become bored with their work and move on. Even though we might write in the same (or similar) genre, we want to generate stories that continue to please our readers and entice new ones.

Hence the need for research. We want our fiction to be believable. So what’s wrong with my opening paragraph?

Saguaro cacti, agave plants, roadrunners, and cactus wrens all fit within the scene. However, magnolia trees do not grow in the desert southwest. A simple mistake like that can cause readers to lose interest and damage our credibility as writers. Worse yet, they could leave a bad review, and we all know too many one and two-star reviews can make or break a book.

How do we go about gathering information? Fortunately, we live in an age where we have instant access to almost anything we want to know. Google and Bing can be a writer’s best friend.

A word of caution—just because something is on the Internet, doesn’t make it true. It’s best to check several sources and/or websites. Wikipedia, while popular, isn’t always the most accurate source because anyone can post anything.

In addition to the Internet, talk with experts. Law enforcement officers, physicians and nurses, fire investigators, military personnel, etc. Most times people are willing to answer specific questions you might have. When meeting with these people, go prepared. Have a list of specific questions so as not to waste their time or yours.

Travel to locations where you want to set your stories. Look around, observe, talk with locals, get a feel of the area, and make copious notes.

I’ve come a long way in regards to conducting research since I started writing fiction. In fact, I’ve probably spent more time gathering information for a current short story than I did with both novels.

The reason? It’s a setting and a story line that is totally beyond my scope of knowledge. Hopefully, my research has paid off. On a recent vacation, while touring a former aircraft carrier turned museum, my husband was impressed that I was able to identify two types of aircraft without looking at signs. I admit that I’ve learned a lot of interesting things from doing this project.

What about you? As a writer, do you enjoy research? What are some of your favorite methods?

 

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What Does A Good Book Synopsis Look Like?

What Does A Good Book Synopsis Look Like?

As authors, we spend a lot of time on our manuscripts – whether they are novels, novellas, short stories, poems, or other genres. We want to get the most out of our marketing, and one of the best marketing tools for our published content is the synopsis of our work.

A well-written synopsis can really help sell your book.

In my opinion, the key to a good synopsis is to give a clear, concise description of your story. You’ll want to include your elevator pitch, why the plot or main conflict is important, and how the story ends.

A synopsis can be cold, almost clinical in its writing, and somewhat boring. That is okay. You’re not using the synopsis to hook your reader – in fact, the book blurb (which I will write about next month) is what will hook your reader. If they like the blurb, they may read an exerpt, or even your first few chapters to see if they like it. A synopsis will not be published with its book. It’s a selling point for a publisher.

There are several different ways to write a book synopsis, and in this article, I discuss the method that has worked the best for me. I have seen publishers ask from as little as 500 words to a synopsis that spans 5+ pages. Each publisher is different. It’s good to know how to write a one page synopsis, which is what I will be focusing on.

The purpose of a synopsis is to summarize the book. A well-written synopsis gives a summary of the plot, and details what is unique about the book, what will help it to sell. It should be between 500-750 words, and it should read similarly to an abstract in a research paper. The language should be neutral and as clear and succinct as possible. Writing the synopsis can be harder than writing the book itself. Having a good synopsis is only one key to marketing strategically for a published work, but it can mean the difference between a publisher accepting a manuscript, or moving on to see what someone else has to offer.

Writing synopses is tricky business. Here are the main things to include when writing a successful and enticing book synopsis:

  • The main character or characters
  • A brief description of the main characters, such as prominent traits that are germane to the story
  • Establish the main setting
  • An elevator pitch (see the link above, by Staci Troilo, about writing an elevator pitch)
  • The rising action, and why it is important – without saying it’s important
  • A sentence describing the type of journey the main characters are going to undertake
  • The ending of the book

Because a synopsis is a summary, it’s a good idea not to go heavily into detail when writing one. Here is a list of things that should not be included in a book synopsis:

  • Excessive character detail
  • Excessive setting details
  • Subplots of the story
  • Background characters
  • Plot twists

To write a good synopsis, I follow a certain formula.

1) I make sure I’ve written my elevator pitch – I always like to include it in my synopsis as a great way to introduce my main characters and the setting.

2) I ensure that all of the character names are in ALL CAPS or emboldened the first time they are mentioned. This helps for the reader to find the character(s) quickly within the synopsis.

3) I use the elevator pitch to introduce the synopsis, and elaborate slightly on my main character by giving a few of his or her traits.

4) If it’s not already in the elevator pitch, I mention the setting in as little detail as possible.

5) I explain why the character is in their current conflict, giving some depth to why the conflict should matter. Pulling from the first Harry Potter book, for example:

Harry winds up in the wizarding world, where everything is completely new to him, including his own fame. Having been raised without magic, he struggles to fit in, and slowly starts to discover how his history fits into the history of this world. Something isn’t right, though, at his new school, and Harry finds himself being drawn in to the mystery of the sorcerer’s stone. As he delves deeper into his search with his two friends, Ron and Hermione, he learns that the staff at Hogwarts is guarding the sorcerer’s stone and what makes it valuable. What he didn’t bargain for was that his own fame is inextricably linked to the man who he suspects might need the stone to stay alive. 

This description of the rising action describes Harry’s journey and gives him a reason to want to investigate the sorcerer’s stone. It tells us why his journey is important and tells us what the rising action is.

6) I re-read what I’ve summarized so far, ensuring that I’ve explained the book’s conflict and highlighted what is unique about my book. In the case of Harry Potter, what is unique would be the introduction into an entirely new world, something that would be described before the rising action.

7) I summarize the ending.

8) I ensure the formatting is correct. The margins are 1″ on all sides, the font is 12 pt – I use Times New Roman – and the spacing is no more than 1.5 between each line. I like to use 1.15, I think it looks better. All paragraphs are indented by 0.5″. My name, address, phone number, and email are in the top left corner. In the top right corner is the genre of my book and the word count. I hit return five times, then add in my title. My title is centered, in all caps, and beneath my title is the word “Synopsis”, also centered. Here are two documents you can view as examples. Synopsis Template .docx Synopsis Template PDF


This is my go to strategy for writing a solid book synopsis. What about you? Do you have a good formula for writing a book synopsis? Comment below – share your ideas.

Revisions and Elevator Pitches

Revisions and Elevator Pitches

Booksie AnswerDear Booksie,

I’ve been working really hard on my dystopian space opera/fairy tale mashup novel. It’s got all the cool elements of the genres I mixed, and it starts with a really neat description of a dark and stormy night. It took me three whole weeks to write these 200,000 words. I think it’s just about ready to be sent to the publisher. What’s my next step?

Cordially,

Thrilled to be Finished

 

Dear Thrilled,

Ah, the excitement of completing a novel. All writers feel that heady rush. And that first time? Well, you’ll never feel quite like that again. Congratulations.

Now for the tough-love portion of my reply. Grab a box of tissues…

You’re nowhere close to ready to submit. Sorry. I don’t have to read your draft. I know. Don’t send it to anyone. Heck, don’t show it to anyone. It’s not ready to meet the world yet. You’ve got a lot, and I do mean a lot, of revising to do.

Revisions

  • First, consider your genre. (In your case, your “interesting” mashup of genres.) Have you followed the necessary tropes for that genre? It’s okay to break the rules, but not for the sake of innovation. Only break the rules when you completely understand them and have a great reason to do so.
  • Next, go on Amazon and look up bestsellers similar to yours. Check their word or page count. If you’re too low, you’ll probably need to add description. If you’re too high (and believe me, 200,000 words is way too high), you’ll need to cut.
  • Remember the phrase, “Kill your darlings.” said by just about every author you’ve ever read? Do that. And do it again. And again. And again. Just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it belongs in your novel. If it doesn’t define character or advance plot, kill it.
  • Read each scene by itself. Does it start with a hook and end making you want to turn the page? Does it serve one specific purpose (either being an action or a reaction)? If not, fix the issues.
  • Consider the work as a whole. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Does it answer all the questions you implied you would answer? If not, clean up the problems.
  • Read it again for grammar, punctuation, typos, etc. Fix all those issues, too. Then go back and do it all again. (Joan Hall recently wrote a post on proofreading. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.)

Okay. By this time, you’ve been through your novel several times. Are you now ready to send it to a publisher?

No.

Now you need to share these pages with your critique group and/or beta readers. Take their comments into consideration. And revise again.

When you’re confident you’ve done your very best and there’s nothing more you can do, it’s time to submit to a publisher. To do that, you need an elevator pitch and a synopsis.

The Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a quick description of the crux of your novel. It’s called that because you’re to picture yourself in an elevator with an agent, editor, or publisher. You have only three floors to wow them. What do you say? (Think ten seconds, or fifty words.)

If you can answer five questions and put those answers together into a brief paragraph, you’ve got an elevator pitch. Try this:

  • Character (or characters, if you have two POV characters). This is more than a name. This is the identity plus a key descriptor for the character.
  • Situation. This is the problem the character is facing and why action is necessary.
  • Objective. What is your character’s goal? What is the one thing they wish to accomplish? (This should be an answer to the problem faced above.)
  • Opponent. This is where the antagonist is mentioned. Try to avoid “evil for the sake of evil” and show the unique and compelling details of this foe.
  • Disaster. This is the climax of the novel. Not the resolution of the novel. The climax. The black moment. The point in the story where it all hits the fan. (Note: your pitch should not reveal the resolution to the problem. If it did, there would be no reason for anyone to read the story.)

Okay. If you can answer these with vibrant words and string them together into one to three sentences, you’ll have a solid pitch.

Here’s (what should be) a well-known example. (I’m using the better-known film rather than the book.):

  • Character—Dorothy Gale, a sweet farm girl from Kansas
  • Situation—She’s stranded in Oz and can’t get back.
  • Objective—She wants to see the wizard so he can send her home.
  • Opponent—The Wicked Witch of the West, who wants to kill Dorothy for the murder of her sister and the theft of the powerful ruby slippers.
  • Disaster—Dorothy must defeat the witch and bring proof to the wizard or he will not help her.

Here’s the first draft, where I’m not worried about word choice or word count:

A Kansas cyclone sweeps sweet, innocent Dorothy Gale over the rainbow to the wonderful land of Oz, where she is blamed for the death of a wicked witch. Stranded, she sets off to find a powerful wizard to send her home. His payment for his services is the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West, who is determined to kill Dorothy for dropping a house on her sister. With the help of three new friends, Dorothy sets off to face her greatest enemy—but only one will survive.

Not bad. Eighty-nine words. Now it’s time to tighten.

Here’s the second draft, where word choice becomes more important and word count matters:

Swept over the rainbow by a Kansas cyclone, young Dorothy Gale finds herself stranded in the wonderful land of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West blames her for killing her sister and stealing her magic slippers, so she determines to kill Dorothy and take the magic for herself. Dorothy and her new friends seek a powerful wizard’s assistance, but his payment is the death of the wicked witch. When Dorothy faces her greatest enemy, only one will survive.

Better. The sentences are tighter, and we’re down to seventy-nine words. But there’s still room for improvement.

Third draft:

Swept over the rainbow by a cyclone, Dorothy Gale gets stranded in Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West blames her for killing her sister and stealing her magic slippers, and she threatens Dorothy’s life. To avoid danger and get back home, Dorothy seeks the help of a powerful wizard, whose payment is the death of the wicked witch. When the battle commences, only one will survive.

Okay. Down to sixty-seven words. One more revision should get us to fifty or less.

Final Draft:

A cyclone sweeps Dorothy Gale over the rainbow to Oz. Stranded, she seeks help from a powerful wizard. He won’t send her home until she kills the Wicked Witch of the West, who has been terrorizing Dorothy for killing her sister. Who will survive their epic battle?

Goal achieved at forty-seven words. I could continue tweaking to really make it shine (and I would suggest that), but we don’t have all day. Please note—the pitch is written in third person, present tense. No matter the POV or tense of your novel, always write your pitch (and your synopsis) in third person, present tense.

Now that you’ve got your pitch, what are you going to do with it? You don’t send it to agents or publishers.

Well, for starters, memorize it. People will always ask what your book is about. This is the answer.

Booksie QuestionWhy’d I tell you to write this now, before your synopsis, when it doesn’t get sent to anyone? Because having a fifty-word description of your book will help you maintain focus as you work on your novel synopsis. You need a suscinct statement regarding what your story is all about.

Learning how to craft a synopsis is a long and detailed process. It’s probably best if we tackle that the next time. Actually, I believe author K. E. Lane wants to discuss it, so keep your eyes out for that one, coming soon.

Until next time…

Booksie

PS—Send Booksie your publishing and writing questions. He’ll sort through them and post his answers.

Staci Troilo

Ten Tips To A Better Manuscript – Part Two

Ten Tips To A Better Manuscript – Part Two

So last week we talked about ways to get a first draft into fighting shape as a manuscript. This week, we’re going to cover the last five tips about turning that manuscript into something worth submitting. Any manuscript in its final phase has been edited so many times the writer may want to pull their hair out. But it’s those steps that give the manuscript its extra edge, and its those little steps listed below that really round out the editing process leading up to submission.

6. Layout. 

This is where we want to make sure our draft is in order. Some people naturally write in order, from beginning to middle to end, and that’s fine. But not all of us do. Going back and ensuring the story is in the correct order seems like common sense, but it’s also incredibly important. And who knows? Perhaps the order of events can be rearranged to make the story better.

7. Cohesiveness. 

More active reading! Actively reading to make sure all of the plot points make sense is a crucial tip. Does the main plot resolve itself in the end? Do the side plots tie into the main plot, and also have a resolution? Think about what is most annoying about a book that doesn’t fit together properly, then make sure your book doesn’t have the same qualities. Fix any issues and move along to the next drafts.

8. A catchy first page. 

Something important to remember is that the first page is make or break. As authors, we only have so much space on the first page, and that page has to grab a reader’s attention. A good first page is invaluable, so readers and the person evaluating the manuscript for the publishing company wants to keep reading.

9. Grab a beta reader or three. Or four. 

It’s important that our eyes aren’t the only eyes reading our stories. After a few drafts, when the manuscript has been cleaned up and fleshed out, send it to trustworthy people. Make sure they’re a mixture of different types of people, from readers to writers, but ultimately, I can’t stress enough that it’s important these people are trustworthy. We want them to tell us the truth about their thoughts so we can make changes where it’s necessary. We also want to make sure they won’t steal our work or leak it somewhere. Take Stephanie Meyer’s trouble with her manuscript “Midnight Sun” – this is a great example of what could go wrong if we pick the wrong beta readers.

10. Edit and edit some more.

Lastly, after our notes and the notes of the beta readers have been compiled, it’s time to make that final draft. It may take one or two drafts, but that’s all right. Once that whole process is through – and it’s a lot of work – we deserve a pat on the back. Now, it’s time to submit the manuscript, and hopefully, without butterflies. Good luck authors!

 

 

Ten Tips to a Better Manuscript – Part One

Ten Tips to a Better Manuscript – Part One

We all get them. The butterflies that populate our stomachs before submitting a manuscript to a publishing company. The process is nerve-wracking enough without second guessing our submissions. It all starts with the first draft. The brainstorming, stream-of-consciousness, and outlines have all been converted into an organized draft that resembles a manuscript. Now what? With these ten tips, authors can feel more confident about turning their first draft into a full manuscript by using a solid editing process, and quell those butterflies.

 

 

1. Research

All good stories have some kind of research. Whether the story is set in a brand new world crafted from scratch, or in the world as we know it, research will help bring the world of a story to life. Writing about magic? Research other stories and see how they made it work and why. Writing about politics? Research different political systems and parties to make the story come to life. Even in fantasy, details grounded in realism can really help readers relate to the world and feel like they are part of it.

2. Supporting details.

Like doing research, supporting details go a long way to not only flesh out a story, but to draw the reader in. There is a fine line between telling instead of showing, but that’s why the editing process takes more than one draft.

3. Make notes. 

One of the things I personally prefer is to make notes rather than delete. Some things that I think were a good idea in one edit turn out to be a bad idea for the story over all. Not all things have to be changed, and that’s the key to a good edit. Take notes while actively reading, and making edits based on those notes. Save them, and save each draft separately so no work or writing is lost, because we never know what could be recycled!

4. Active reading.

Once the first draft is complete, the research is done, and the right kind of supporting details have been added, go back and read the book. I can’t stress enough how important it is to read actively instead of critically. There will be several edits based on your active reading during the overall editing process. Actively read for glaring plot holes, and cohesion. Edit to fix those. Then go back and read again, maybe searching for details that are out of place or no longer belong. Maybe cut a scene that worked in the first draft, but upon a second or third reading, just doesn’t fit into the next draft. Don’t forget to save those scenes, though, they might still be useful! Active reading helps to get us through the multiple draft process with a focus that enables us to read our work without criticizing our voice as an author.

5. Trimming.

While actively reading, it helps to read for things that just don’t need to be there. This is the excess fat that is trimmed from the story. Maybe there was a whole scene about a food fight in that draft. It may be fun to write, but if it doesn’t further the plot or add depth to the story, it doesn’t belong. Trim it out, but save it as a separate file. It may come in handy down the road.

 

Well authors, that’s it for this week. Hopefully, these tips will get the wheels greased and help to refine the beginning of the editing process. Tune in next week for the next five tips!

First Draft or Stream of Consciousness?

First Draft or Stream of Consciousness?

It may be the first time you’re tackling a writing project or the thousandth time, but you’re not alone. We are all guilty of it at some point. “Stream of consciousness” writing. We sit down and start writing whatever comes to our minds first.

For a lot of authors, this is a great way to brainstorm or to get the beginnings of a scene or character outline mapped out. But for many who are just starting out, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the stream of consciousness writing that kick starts our creative juices and the “crappy first draft” (as many writers like to call their first cohesive draft of a project—if not an even more colorful name) that is the framework for a work-in-progress (WIP).

 

Identifying Stream of Consciousness Writing

One of the quickest ways to tell if your current WIP is in its first draft phase is to take a step back and read it. If it reads like a diary entry, going off on tangents and with ideas headed in all different directions, then your work-in-progress is actually just stream of consciousness writing. Many new authors mistake this as a first draft because it’s the first time they are getting their ideas down on paper. Unfortunately, writing is a little more complicated than that, and it requires a bit more leg work in its beginning stages.

 

Using Stream of Consciousness to Your Advantage

Something important to keep in mind, especially if you are a first time writer, is that stream of consciousness writing isn’t bad. It can be very useful, especially when you’re just trying to get words out onto the page. Any writer will tell you that some days, that’s a struggle! Some days, just writing a short, fifty-word exercise seems like a monumental achievement. And let’s face it, writer’s block is a real problem. Getting words down on the page can give you that small victory you need to keep plowing forward in your writing goals.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your stream of consciousness writing is not where your editing process should stop. While getting the words onto the page is important, it is still just the first step to envisioning your ideas. The first draft should always have some kind of structure and timeline to it, with a real framework to build off of. If you don’t have that, you’re still stuck in the stream.

 

Turning Stream of Consciousness into a First Draft

Experienced authors will tell you that even their first drafts have first drafts, and they aren’t joking. In order to reach the coveted “drafting” stage of writing, an author will go back over their brainstorming, research, and outlines with a fine-tooth comb looking for like concepts, timelines, and cohesion. Those stream of consciousness ideas that went off on random tangents or maybe that stemmed new concepts are reordered and organized into paragraphs and chapters that follow an ordered and structured chain of events. They become the framework for the first draft of a story.

 

Whether you’ve been writing for twenty years or twenty seconds, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of getting your ideas from your head into tangible words on the page. Keep in mind that while this is exciting, those words still have a long way to go before they are ready for the final edits.

Always remember to keep writing, keep editing, and keep reading. Eventually, you will become a pro at converting your stream of consciousness into a completed work in progress.

Top Ten Critique Tips

Top Ten Critique Tips

Top 10 Tips for Improving Your Fiction

Do you need help putting the finishing touches on your masterpiece?

Are you stuck on a chapter and need some advice?

All authors need a second set of eyes on their work. Someone that will give honest feedback and check for errors. If they ask for your help, they trust you and value your opinion. They are depending on your skills to make their story better.

Below are the top ten tips to providing a helpful critique.

Remember, if this isn’t your favorite type of story, let the author know. However, don’t be afraid to critique something if you’re not familiar with the genre. While reading, consider the target audience before making suggestions. An honest evaluation is critical for any author.

 

 

1. Begin by reading the piece.
Don’t make any corrections or judgments until you have read the complete work. This will give you a feel of the story and tone the author is using.
2. Write down your thoughts as a reader.
After you have finished the initial reading let the author know what you thought about his work. Tell her what worked for you and what you believe needs changing.
3. Suggest feedback on what could be changed including grammar and spelling.
If you don’t like the description, give an alternative. For example, “The ride was boring.” You think it would be better is the author used “The ride dragged on for ten hours and all you could see from the window were cornfields for miles.”
4. Give praise if you liked something but never criticize the author personally.
This is important for the author. If something made you smile, touched you in any way, or made you hate the villain, let the author know. This feedback will help the author make corrections to that work as well as in composing future writings. If you didn’t like something, don’t attack the author directly. Suggest an alternative. Let the author know that passage didn’t work and why, and then suggest an alternative.
5. Does the opening draw you in?
Most readers judge a book in the opening few pages. If the opening doesn’t grab you, most likely it won’t grab the reader. Let the author know why you didn’t like it. Give her a suggestion to make it better.
6. Does the story flow logically?
Tell the author if there are holes in the plot. For example; if you are in a hospital and want information on a non-relative patient, you wouldn’t be able to go ask the doctor or see the information regarding that patient in the computer. Also, you cannot know something just because you need it to advance the plot. The story needs to get there logically.
7. Is the setting detailed enough to ground the reader?
Give the reader subtle clues as to where you are. You can use nurses, doctors, and the operating room to set the scene in the hospital without saying you are in a hospital.
8. Are the characters well rounded or one note?
Give the reader information about the characters in casual conversation or in small amounts in narration. The reader doesn’t want to read an entire chapter describing what a character looks like and does for a living. And remember—even villains have some redeemable quality, so factor that into your descriptions.
9. Does the author switch point of view?
Did the author stray from the current character point of view to another point of view? Does she head hop? If you are telling a story from the man’s point of view, you cannot have a paragraph from the woman’s point of view.

For example:
Max spied the redhead sitting alone at the bar. She was tiny, had red hair, and a beautiful smile. Max hoped she would notice him.

At first, Fiona just played with her drink, stirring it with the tiny straw. Finally, she looked up and locked eyes with Max. Her heart pounded with excitement.

In this example, the POV character is Max. That means the second paragraph is out of POV (or there was head-hopping) because it’s not from Max’s perspective, but rather is from Fiona’s. This is distracting to readers and should be avoided.
10. Show. Don’t tell.
For example; he was angry.

This sentence tells us the man was angry. To show us the man was angry, try this instead:

John stomped across the room, tackled Ralph , and pinned him to the ground. While down, he repeatedly punched him, beating him until his face was unrecognizable.


The critique process is vital to producing a well-crafted novel. But remember, critiques are only suggestions by your critique partners and you don’t need to follow every suggestion. So find someone you trust and start a working critique relationship.

There you have it. The top ten tips to becoming a good critique partner. Do you have any other tips to add? Let’s talk about it.

 

Quick and Easy Editing Tips

Quick and Easy Editing Tips

Whether you are traditionally published or an Indie author, self-editing is an absolute must. While there is no substitute for hiring a professional editor, there are a few tips writers can do before submitting that manuscript to an editor, publisher, or even beta readers.

Look for “crutch” words

Every author tends to rely on what I call crutch words. These are different for every writer, but reading through your finished manuscript will enable you to become familiar with your own. As you review, look for repeated words or phrases. Some of my crutch words are well, perhaps, and so.

There is nothing wrong with any of these words, but I have a habit of starting sentences with well and so. “Well, I planned to go to town,” or “So, what’s the next step?” In both cases, I can eliminate the first word without changing the meaning of the sentence. If you find you overuse a word, but leaving it in some places is a must, then refer to a thesaurus for synonyms.

Look for “red flag” words or phrases

We’re all familiar with passive vs. active voice. Using active voice is always best. Words such as here, there, of, was, were, will be, to be, thought, felt, heard, saw, and smelled are often a key to the use of passive voice.

I’m not saying it’s always bad to use these words, but when you see one of them think of ways you can rephrase. Rearranging a sentence often results in changing from passive to active.

Look for “-ly” words

I’m not going to say never use an adverb, but it’s always better to use an active verb. Consider the following sentence. He walked slowly down the sidewalk. He sauntered down the sidewalk gives the reader a better visual image.

Look for “dead” and overused words

Words such as that, just, and very, if overused are known as dead words. Most of the time you can eliminate them and not change the meaning of your sentence. As an example, “This is the most fun that I’ve had in a long time.” Instead say, “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

I admit to having a hard time removing the word just. But when I say, “He just left,” what am I saying?  Five, ten, fifteen minutes? A better way might be, “He left about fifteen minutes ago.”

Of note, we often use the word just when speaking. Using it in dialogue is okay, but still use it sparingly.

Self-editing isn’t hard. The more you write, it becomes easier to spot the things I’ve mentioned here. This isn’t a comprehensive list of editing tips, but taking these few simple steps will make your manuscript much cleaner before you send it to an editor.

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10 Ways to Improve Your Fiction Writing

10 Ways to Improve Your Fiction Writing

Top 10 Tips for Improving Your FictionLooking for a down and dirty list for story writing improvement? Look no further.

Here the top ten ways to hone your fiction writing skills:

10. Dissect novels you enjoy.
Look through your favorite novels by other authors for techniques and tricks to improve your characterization, settings, plot, pacing, dialogue, and exposition.

9. Keep your eyes peeled for sources of stories.
Watch people in public settings, take note of funny family events, analyze television shows and films, consider news stories. Ideas are everywhere.

8. Conflict is key.
Don’t let your characters have it too easy for too long. Conflict makes fiction interesting.

7. Hone your characters’ voices.
Don’t let all of them sound the same. Every person thinks and feels things differently in real life. Characters are no different.

6. Follow a three-act structure.
There’s a reason that formula is so prevalent in plays, film, and fiction. It works. The hook and rising action take up the first quarter. The three conflicts and responses take up the second two quarters. And the last quarter deals with the climax and resolution.

5. Work with a theme.
Whether you outline or not (and I’m an advocate for outlining), a theme will help you focus your message.

4. Symbolism increases the potency of your message.
Imagery and symbols can add continuity to your message and strengthen it.

3. Start with a strong hook.
After your cover and your back cover copy, your opening is what will determine if people buy/finish reading your story. Don’t start with scenery descriptions or back story. Start where the story really begins—with change to the status quo.

2. Use secondary characters to your advantage.
Secondary characters can provide necessary comedic relief and help advance plot. They also add a complexity, richness, and authenticity to your storyworld.

1. Vary your sentence structure.
Short, choppy sentences indicate high-action and tension. Long, descriptive sentence denote exposition and a break in the action. Both are necessary. Besides, the variety makes for more interesting reading in addition to indicating the pace.


So, there you have it. The top ten things to keep in mind when you write fiction.

And for every point I wrote up there, I bet you can think of ten of your own that I didn’t include. Why not share some of your tips in the comments below?

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