An Amateur Writer’s Tips to Other Amateurs
Hello, aspiring writer! I woke up today thinking about how I write, and got some bone-headed idea to write tips for other amateurs. I don’t credit myself as being a particularly good author, but through my life I’ve found a couple things that work for me in writing, and figured I’d share them with those in need of help.First of all, never type out your rough draft. Write it out on paper. Get as much done as possible, get to know your characters your setting, everything. Then type it out. This allows you to get your ideas out, and let you put out a basic outline. Keep away from editing at this stage, that’s to be dealt with next. For now, just write to your heart’s content.
While your typing, pay attention to it. I find that when I’m typing a written piece, I often find parts that are straight out bad, and I can fix them when I catch them. Type it out in Word, because the Spell-check (while not as good as a professional editor) can catch some of the mistakes you make. (Note: Don’t completely rely on Spell-check. It makes mistakes too!) They may seem little, but they break the flow.
When done with editing, something that often works for me is to read it aloud. This particularly applies to dialogue. Words that seem to be natural while writing may seem stilted or odd to the reader. This allows you to spot the inconsistencies, and fix them.
When you’re going to review your own work, print it out. It’s easier to find small details on a piece of paper rather than when you’re reading it on a computer. Not to mention you’ll still have something if your computer fries 😉
Think out your story. Think of things that would be interesting (without being stupidly reality-breaking) for scenes, possible outcomes with your characters and their situations, all of that. Write them down, stick them up, think about them, and refine them. Build your story around your ideas and your characters, not the original structure. Though this doesn’t work with all authors, I find it works with most. For some, building a structure beforehand makes it easier to write. If that’s your style, go for it!
If you love the idea but you can’t fit it into your story, bring it up for another story when you inevitably get writer’s block. Writing gets the creative juices flowing, even if you’re not writing your main piece.
Know your characters. Something I read some time ago spoke volumes to me: Don’t build a character around a situation; put the situation to the character. What I mean by this is that before writing, make your characters, and get to know them. Find their quirks, their pasts, and their attitude. This reflects enormously on their quality inside your story.
Show, don’t tell. This is one that is put into our minds since school, and still many writers break this. To me, it’s the most important thing you can do. It’s a fine line, but one which can make or break your story. The difference is that when you are telling the reader, you are just saying what’s going on. There is no emotional impact, no feeling of action. When showing the reader, you draw them into the action, put them in your character’s shoes, and let them feel the desperation, the adrenaline, and the hints of fear.
An example of telling:
“The bounty hunter stepped off the ramp, and saw that the town was deserted and shabby, but somebody had been here before.”
As opposed to an example of showing:
“With each step down the ramp the bounty hunter took, a metal clang echoed off into the town. The wind seemed to whistle as it moved through the broken and rotting wood, a fine layer of dust settled on every bench and porch. Faint footprints moved through the dust, trailing off around the tavern’s corner.”
See the difference it makes?
Get your work reviewed. I can’t stress this one enough. Whether it’s from yourself, friends, professional editors, or perhaps those on a writing forum, you have to have others take a look at your writing. You can’t catch everything, but others can. One thing to remember is that don’t only restrict yourself to those you know of the highest intellectual standard. An average person’s review can help in directing your work towards a larger audience, though you may want to keep their comments with a grain of salt when compared to professionals. Don’t get a bad attitude if you are reviewed harshly, they’re just trying to help. As long as it’s constructive criticism, learn to work with it and make your work better because of it.
Unnecessary Words! Should be avoided at all costs. Long paragraphs are fine, so long as they stay consistent with stuff that is relevant to the work. Go through with a fine-toothed comb and eliminate anything that breaks the flow of the writing. This ties in with another thing, [b]don’t repeat words! This makes the text repetitive. Try to look for fresh and better words. Expand your vocabulary!
Dialogue is one piece that often suffers from Told Not Shown syndrome. Every piece of dialogue does not need indication of who said it (he said/she said). Learn to let the reader know who is talking by their mannerisms. For instance, a nobleman will talk much differently and use different phrases than a drunken dwarf. If you’re really having trouble with this, a cheap way out is an accent. Not to say accents are bad, but they can be a tool for dialogue if you have this issue.
Action should be short and quick. What I mean by this is that in real life, fights happen fast. Keeping your sentences short and clipped (to an extent) can relay its swift and brutal nature. This doesn’t mean you can’t describe what’s happening during, or the environment, but too much of either can lead to a twenty second fight feeling like a slow-motion hour. Another rule for action scenes is…
Use active voice. In this, put your subject first, then the verb. This shows that the subject is doing the verb, or action. This makes it flow much more smoothly than it would with passive voice, where it is the reverse. The unnecessary addition of words phrases makes it harder for your reader to interpret the sentence’s meaning.
An example of passive voice:
The run was performed by Sophia.
As opposed to active voice:
Details are important. Try to specifically name things, or places. It gives them a designation, making them have more meaning. Try and use sensory details as well- obviously, the most popular will be sight as you, the writer, describe things. Try and incorporate the others as well. Smell, touch, taste, sound. All better engage the reader and immerse them in the world you’ve created.
Throw some humor in. In real life, who do you know who is completely serious all the time? Likely nobody. Take this for moderation, though; too much humor and you distract from the events or the point of the story. This doesn’t even have to take place in the form of a comic relief character; it can happen with any character.
Character Flaws. These make your characters believable and relatable. No one’s without their flaws, physical or mental. Whether your character has a temper, is an alcoholic, enjoys staying up late, is a bit selfish, likes to be in control, or has any number of bad habits, these can give you a much more interesting character.
Note: http://www.darkworldrpg.com/lore/flaws.html has an amazing list of flaws, to give you some inspiration for writing.
Verbs and Adverbs. As a general rule, verbs should be short. Short words tend to have more impact, and an action should have impact. Adverbs should be avoided in your writing, especially ones ending in –ly. If your verbs and nouns are strong, then you’re adverbs should not be there. They don’t often completely break the sentence; they just flow much worse than their counterparts.
Be interested in what you write. If you’re not interested in your topic, readers will notice. Pick something that you love to write about. This ties in with researching your topic. Know your stuff, or it not only breaks the flow but gives your writing a bad view from the get-go.
Don’t spend all your time writing. Have fun, do other things. If you sit there and write all the time (with some exceptions), you get burnt out. That reflects on your writing, and will make it worse than it could be.
Finally, stay motivated. If you can’t do that, you won’t go anywhere.
These little tips may seem to be simple and obvious, but they are so often over-looked. Of course, not all apply to every situation, and every rule is made to be broken sometimes. There’s millions others I could include, but that’s for you to find in your writing. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and learned something from it.
Good writing folks!
(Feel free to find examples of good writing at http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/…play.php?f=109, Heresy Online’s Original Works section. Many aspiring writers post their works there, and perhaps you could join their ranks, if only for some reviewing.)