Here are a few things I wish I’d applied when I first started writing my story. I could have spared myself COUNTLESS rewrites.
- Don’t overuse the word “that.” Read the sentence without the “that” and if it still makes sense, cut it out. Example: “My friend said that she’d be there soon.” Taking out “that”: “My friend said she’d be there soon.” Better. Less wordy. Still makes sense.
- Don’t give all of your information right away, but let it unfold little by little, creating questions and mystery for your reader. Just be sure to answer the questions sooner or later. Don’t leave the reader hanging after the book is finished, wondering about a mystery introduced at the beginning.
- Don’t dump all the scene setting information into one paragraph, but weave the details into the dialogue and action, letting it unfold little by little. Once in a while, you can set a few scenes in a paragraph or two, but use this tactic sparingly.
- Use very few –ly verbs. Example: “She QUICKLY ran to the store.” Better = “She ran to the store.” The second example is less wordy, simple and straight forward. By saying “ran” one already assumes it’s quickly. Stating quickly is redundant. You can use SOME –ly verbs, but use them sparingly and always ask yourself if you can write the sentence another way to possibly leave it out.
- Show, don’t tell: Don’t say, “She was frustrated.” Instead say, “She placed her hands on hips and huffed a short breath. With pursed lips and eyebrows turned inward, she walked away shaking her head.” Nowhere in the second example was the word “frustrated” mentioned, but the reader knows she was because I described/showed her expressions and actions. This type of description uses more words, but with proper execution, it’s not “wordy.”
- If you picture a scene in your head as being boring, your reader will think it’s boring too. Change it, take out unnecessary drivel, or completely rewrite the scene.
- Have a catchy first line/paragraph. It’s what will set the mood for the reader and immediately draw them into your story.
- The reader should be introduced to your main characters by the first few pages or at least the first chapter, no later. When you introduce them, state their problem right away so the reader knows what the characters are up against. Also, make your characters have flaws so they appear human and will relate to the reader. No one is perfect so your characters shouldn’t be either, but they should be better (or worse in some cases) by the end of your story. No character should remain static from beginning to end.
- Beware of clichés. Example: “It was raining cats and dogs.” Instead, make your own description: “Rain drops plunged to earth from dark clouds, pummeling the tin roof with a resonance that rivaled the accompanying thunder.”
- Don’t OVERUSE similes (descriptions using “like” or “as”). Some similes are all right, and needed at times, but you shouldn’t feel you MUST COMPARE everything to something else. “The aged woman’s tanned face bore numerous wrinkles and deep creases, much like a prune.” You really don’t need the “much like a prune,” for the first part was description enough. It is, however, at the writer’s discretion, but too many similes can get redundant.
There are so many other things I’ve learned along the way from books and writer’s conferences, but those mentioned above stood out in my mind as I wrote this post. I am not perfect, and I still struggle with these points in my own writing, but I try to clear them up before handing in my work to a publisher. Hope the tips help.