Today I’m going to be covering the writing tips that have helped me the most on my path to becoming a (soon to be) traditionally published author. The corresponding YouTube video can be found here.
Please keep in mind that this is what works for me, and may not work for everyone. However… It does work for me. So here are seven tips to keep your writing clean, enjoyable for readers, and focused. Why seven? Because I couldn’t think of eight. Now, let’s begin.
1. No Prologues
The first book I ever wrote had a prologue that was completely pointless. Most prologues are used for tone setting or information dumping, and are entirely skippable. In fact, many readers do skip them. If the content in a prologue is necessary to your story, then just call it Chapter 1 and be done with it.
Some people can write prologues that are good and amazing, but chances are that you are not the exception, you just wish you were. I know I wished I was, and I wasn’t. Do your worldbuilding and tone setting in your chapters instead of relying on a prologue to do the heavy lifting for you.
Adverbs are all those beautiful, descriptive words that end in -ly, and a few other words like ‘very’. And most of them need to go. I am so, so guilty of having too many adverbs and I do like using them a lot, so this is hard for me. But try to limit your adverbs. About half of them you can cut out of their sentences and lose nothing. In fact, it can make your sentences stronger to have them cut. For example, take this sentence: You can cut out adverbs and lose almost/basically/practically nothing.
If you cut the adverb, it’s: You can cut out adverbs and lose nothing.
You can see which sentence has that little extra punch to it. If you limit your adverbs like this, your writing will have that extra punch.
The best way to do this, I’ve found, is to write your first draft with all the adverbs you want. Make it an all-you-can-read adverb buffet. Then, once you’re done, use the ‘find’ feature to search for all instances of “ly”, “very”, “only”, etc. and go through each one to see if they are necessary where they occur. In my current work in progress, I had 1224 instances of words that end in -ly. After this editing process, I had 789, and stronger sentences throughout my work.
3. Good Characters
Don’t make your main character unlikeable. If I’m not rooting for your protagonist for some reason, I’m not going to want to finish your book. I can’t root for your protagonist if they’re a big sack of cow manure fertilizer, boring, or blandly cruel. There’s a trend that’s been around for a while that focuses on anti-heroes and straight up villains telling stories. The problem that too many writers trying to do this with their books fall into is that in making their character edgy, they forget to make them likeable. That makes me not want to see them succeed as protagonists, especially if they’re like anti-heroes or villains. On the opposite end of the spectrum are characters who are so good and perfect that they’re boring. On this note, please remember that ‘clumsy’ is not a character flaw. Readers more often than not want to be able to see themselves in a protagonist, want to be able to enjoy the protagonist’s personality, or see them as someone who could be someone fun to hang out with. If the personality is bland, or the protagonist straight up doesn’t care about the harm they do without any other factors in their personality redeeming them as a character (not necessarily with a redemption in their character, but salvaging them as an interesting character), why would any reader continue that book? There are lots of examples of anti-heroes or bad characters that are highly successful, but they’re also likable due to a variety of personality reasons. There’s lots of examples of paragon characters who are highly successful, but there’s more to them than outward perfection. If you don’t nail that on the head, your book will fail.
The way I design a character and have a blueprint to fall back on to keep them consistent is to pick a person or two that I know in real life as an interesting person and write down personality traits about them, the good, bad, and ugly. I pick out what works for my main character and keep that list in a saved document. This gives my characters the benefit of having real life personalities to draw on, making them feel more alive as characters. This might not work for everyone, but I find it works very nicely for me.
4. Finishing a Writing Project
This is advice more for people who look at the idea of writing a 80,000 word novel and think there is no way I could ever finish something that long. It just seems like so much work and you psyche yourself out before you even begin, or you have trouble convincing yourself to finish.
My first writing project ever was a mediocre (at best) stage script. I wanted to write a fantasy novel, but that was so daunting. So, I wrote just the settings, movement direction, and dialogue, and found myself with a forty-page script I later turned into a play. Once I had that script, I could easily go through and fill in the prose, turning it into a three-hundred page novel manuscript. Having a completed writing project, that first forty-page script, was life changing for me. It made me feel competent, to have a completed project in my hands. It told me I was capable and I could do it. I could write. So I recommend this to anyone struggling with the thought of how much work goes into writing novels. There’s also the added bonus of this method being a dynamite way to really, really hone in on perfecting your dialogue. When all you have is dialogue, you get really good at it.
5. Read Your Work Aloud
You will be shocked how much you missed in those first ten rounds of editing the first time you sit and read your work aloud. When it’s all in your head, your mind skips over things. When you read it aloud, you’ll find sentences that just read a little funny but can be fixed with slight revision. You’ll find dialogue that feels out of character. Typos you overlooked. When you read aloud, you’re forced to give every word attention that reading silently neglects. It’s the best editing advice you will ever get, I promise.
6. Forget the rules
They’re more like guidelines anyway! Seriously though. All those rules about not starting a sentence with conjunction words like and, those rules about proper English? You don’t need them. Well, you do, but not all the time. Characters are human, like us, and most of us don’t speak following strict English rules. Even in the prose, your distinct voice doesn’t always have to follow strict rules, and a little poetic license can go a long way into making you sound like you on the page. That’s not to say that you should disregard how to use commas correctly (the bane of all writers’ existence, I know) or forget to put periods at the end of a sentence. But allow yourself enough wiggle room to express yourself.
7. Exclamation marks!!!
On the note of punctuation… calm down. You do not need all those exclamation points. They undermine the strength of your writing by bombarding your reader with too much shouting, making the sentences that do warrant an exclamation point lose their power. You always want your writing to hold power because that is what will grip your readers and keep them engaged.
The best way to handle exclamation marks is the same way I recommend handling adverbs. Write what you want as you want it for your first draft, with all the exclamation points you want. Then, when you’re done, do a search in the document for all instances of an exclamation mark. Go through and trim them out so that only the ones that are 100% necessary stay.
That about wraps up my 7 writing tips from a (soon-to-be) traditionally published author! I hope that you found something helpful here.
If you like my writing tips or have a writing subject you’d like me to make a blog/video about, please leave a comment!
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