Sometimes there is so much to remember when we’re writing that it’s easy to forget some things, but all it takes is some quick and easy tips to give ourselves that little push to make sure we’ve covered all the necessary elements to write a good story.
So, to make sure you don’t miss the obvious, here are some quick and easy writing tips:-
That’s your opening gambit. Or something very similar.
In other words, start your story at a pivotal moment in your character’s life, a moment of change, a moment of jeopardy, or even a bang; something that makes the reader instantly sit up and take notice.
Don’t ever start a story with lots of backstory. That means the reader would have to wade through three of four pages of boring information before anything notable happens. Your opening chapter, and your opening sentence, should grab the reader and throw them right into the action, right from the outset.
2. Tempt, Tease & Tantalise
Sell the story like you mean it. In other words, never lose sight of the whole story and what it means for the reader. So you’ve grabbed their attention with a good opening, you’ve set the scene, you’ve introduced the main character and you set up the conflict…but then what?
Well, you keep doing just that you have to hold the reader’s attention for the entire story – tempt, tease and tantalise the reader from the opening sentence to the closing paragraph. That means you have to keep them reading by tempting them with what may come, you have to engage and entice them with the story by dangling those carrots and you have to excite and frustrate them in equal measure, right until the end.
3. Create Conflict
If there is little conflict there is no story.
Every story needs it. That means there will be a protagonist and an antagonist working against each other, and there will always be something stopping the main character reaching his or her end goal. That’s what conflict is about.
Conflict causes tension and tension causes atmosphere. Your story should never be as flat as a calm lake. Instead it should be rolling and roiling like a stormy sea.
Conflict comes in three forms, so make every use of them:-Man v. man (external)
Man v nature (external)
Man v himself (internal)
4. Raise the Stakes!
Don’t make it easy for your main characters.
In fact, make it as hard as possible for them to reach their ultimate goal. Be mean. Back them into corners, give them problems to deal with, place barriers in their way, give them dilemmas and force them to make choices.
Keep raising the stakes...readers love it.
5. Dump the Info Dump
Many writers fall headlong into the info dump. This is when there is too much explanation in the narrative, where the writer has forgotten that huge chucks of information will bore the reader senseless. Readers don’t mind information, but in small, easy to digest snippets. In truth, they just want to get back to the action.
If you’ve written three pages of explanation or backstory, go back and edit it until it’s no more than three or four paragraphs.
6. Go on a Wordy Killing Spree
Go through your story and kill all those pesky adverbs and adjectives - they just love to creep into the narrative and weaken it. Instead, replace them with nouns and verbs, which strengthen the narrative.
Get rid of all those dangling participles at the beginning of sentences, look out for repetition, weed out the instances of ‘was’ from your descriptive passages, and make sure your descriptions don’t suffer from wordiness.
7. Show, Don’t Tell
Everybody knows this maxim. Where important descriptions are concerned, show the reader, don’t tell them. Your story isn’t an instruction manual. If you tell the reader everything, rather than show them, they won’t be able to engage with the story or your characters, they won’t be able to imagine being there in that moment.
For example, don’t tell them that two characters are trying to cross a fast flowing river to rescue someone on the other side, that they used a rope and made it safety. That’s boring.
Show the reader how the characters struggle with the current, show the danger, the fear. Show them the conflict (man v. nature), and show the determination and strength of courage and finally show them the relief when the reach the other side.
By ’showing’ the reader, you strengthen your key scenes considerably.
8. Make Your Ending Count
Your ending should never be a damp squib. It should be satisfactory for both writer and reader – in other words, it should be absolutely right for the story.
Don’t overwrite it, or let it drag on, but don’t leave the reader scratching their head or feeling they’ve been short changed, either. Put as much effort into creating the right ending as you would to create a great opening for your story.
If it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. Endings should tie up all the loose ends and more importantly, leave the reader gratified and contented with the outcome.
9. Read Your Story Aloud
Another great way to edit is to read your story aloud. This may seem strange, and you may feel silly doing it, but it is a fantastic way for you to actually ‘hear’ what you have written, as opposed to reading it.
Reading it aloud allows you to listen to your dialogue – does it sound real enough, does it make sense? It also allows you to hear the pace of your story and whether it flows correctly, and whether all your sentence structures read well.
10. Write, edit, write, edit…
First drafts are but the skin that covers the bare bones. That means no one can ever write a perfectly polished, publishable story/novel first time around. It never happens, because the story will be full of mistakes, there will be too many long scenes, stuff that doesn’t quite make sense, characters that can be ditched, holes in the plot, not enough description, or not enough dialogue, or subplots and loose ends that need to be tidied up.
What writers do, however, is edit each draft until it’s a close to perfect as possible. Some writers can do it in two or three edits, depending on their experience, others need four or five edits. But each time you edit, the story should improve, until there are no plot flaws, everything reads smoothly, there is a good balance of narrative, dialogue and description, there are no grammar errors, the subplots compliment the main story and the characters are fully fledged and so on.
Never lose sight of all these elements and you won’t go far wrong in your writing.
Next week: Does cross-genre writing really work?