When we write, our aim is to hook the reader and make them want to read more. To do that, we need to be smart writers and use all of the tools in our mental toolbox. Here are 10 great tools and tips for writers to use:
When we start out, though, at the beginning of a story or novel, it’s easy to fall into rambling description that switch our readers off. Opening sentences and paragraphs with in-the-moment action are the best way to get readers involved quickly.
With dialogue, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to make ‘said’ look different, with alternatives like ‘retorted’, ‘exclaimed’ and ‘bellowed’, to name but a few, creeping in. The problem with these substitute verbs is that they only serve to stand out as obvious and disrupt the flow of the narrative. Use simple verbs like, ‘said’, ‘asked’, ‘shouted’, ‘whispered’ where at all possible. Where it is absolutely clear from the flow and the tone of the dialogue who is actually speaking, added verbs are potentially not, actually, needed.
3. Read Aloud
It’s good practice to read your work aloud. Why, you might ask, when I read in my head? Reading your prose and dialogue aloud ensures that your sentence structures and dialogue flow with a natural rhythm, something that is vital to keeping your readers engaged with your story.
4. Kill Your Darlings
This is a well-discussed tip for writers. We write and sometimes there’s a particular sentence or paragraph that we just love and it becomes a darling for us. On re-reading or editing, it may be clear that the darling we loved doesn’t actually work like we’d hoped. Don’t hang onto it, let it go or it can spoil your work.
5. Just Write
Do just that – write. It’s easy to get side-tracked by daily life. It’s easy to think you’re not ready to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) because your work isn’t thought-out properly. You can deal with that in the editing stage. Today, this minute, you need to sit down and get going. Yes, you may have to write yourself into a flow, but you have to get started to do that. Think about signing up for a writer’s retreat. This will give you dedicated time, freedom and inspiration to get on with your writing whilst you’re looked after.
6. Set Targets
If you set a word count target, it gives you an aim to stick to. Offer yourself a treat if you reach your target (a chocolate bar, glass of wine, whatever works for you). If your daily routine changes, set yourself a weekly target so you can write more one day and less another.
7. The Order
Don’t feel you have to write your story or book in a sequential order. It’s quite acceptable to write the finish before you start. If you get stuck at a point in your story, turn your attention to another part. This will give your subconscious mind time to work on the tricky bit, whilst you’re working on your word-count target.
8. Don’t Edit Too Soon
Once you think your work is finished, put it away in a darkened cupboard (or laptop folder) for a while before you set about editing. Your mind needs to move to another space, forget your story and come back to it afresh to allow you to edit it objectively.
9. Don’t Over-Describe
How many books have you read where you’ve seen large chunks of prose and, on starting to read it, have just skipped over it? Try to avoid that in your writing. Go into enough detail that the story is carried forward but don’t overdo it, adding description just to up the word count. Of course, doing that during the first draft is perfectly fine but, when you edit, be brutal.
10. Use Exclamation Marks Sparingly
Exclamation marks are really a lazy punctuation, often used to try to get emotion across. Used too often, they are another device that disturbs the flow.
Above anything, number 5 is they key. To be a writer, you just need to write. The minute you are writing, you are a writer. Crack on.