Do you ever get writer’s block? Not sure how to complete the sentence, round off the scene or develop your character?
There’s a lot more to writing a book than just an idea for a story.
But, there are no hard and fast rules. Every writer has a unique style and approaches their writing in an individual way.
Your editor can help with grammar, spelling and punctuation, but no-one can create the heart and soul of your story but you.
So, here are ten top tips to hone your writing and allow it to flow:
Don’t bombard your reader with characters
Be careful not to introduce too many new characters at once. Your readers will lose track of who’s who, and will find the story difficult to follow. Try to introduce the main characters first and most thoroughly, and save more minor characters until a little later. This way your readers will become familiar with the key characters first, helping to shape their understanding of the story.
And don’t be tempted to give everything away about your characters all at once. You need mystery and intrigue to keep your readers enthralled.
Keep it relevant
Keep the main storyline on track. Not only will deviations distract and even confuse your reader, but it will be harder for YOU to make sure the story has a proper beginning, middle and end. Going off on a tangent detracts from the main plot-line, and weakens your story.
Plan your route
Some writers are more structured in their planning than others, but either way, you need to know where the story is going.
It’s like planning a road trip – you can’t get to your destination if you haven’t planned the route. Once you know this, you can tell the story in any order you like. You can start at the end if you want to. But first YOU need to know where the story starts, and where it ends.
You need a hook.
This is exactly what it says – you hook your reader into your story right from the start. The hook needs to be in the first chapter. It can be anything, an event, the behaviour of a character, a secret gets uncovered. A compelling event or circumstance your readers just HAVE to know more about.
A hero’s journey
For a story to be great, your hero must go on a journey, both physically and emotionally. Obstacles must be thrown at him, and he must persevere and overcome them. There needs to a conflict that’s resolved.
Your main character must be flawed and human, so your readers can relate to him. He can be dark, but needs some redeeming features to keep your readers on his side.
Take a moment to think of some great stories you’ve read or watched, and the journey of the ‘hero’ in these stories. Two of the best shows to have been on TV ever (in our opinion) are Breaking Bad and House of Cards.
Think of Walter White, and all the life events and experiences he went through. He had cancer, he hid it from his family, he was struggling financially. But boy did he overcome these hurdles, even though the story took some very dark twists and turns.
And President Frank Underwood, still scheming his way through US politics in the Whitehouse. At the end of EVERY episode I throw my hands up in the air at the cliffhanger the story’s been left on!
Now that’s great storytelling. It keeps you hooked, and keeps you guessing, until the very end. And the reason you care so much? It’s because you’re invested in the hero and his journey.
Don’t confuse ‘action’ with ‘plot’
‘Action’ and ‘plot’ are not the same. There can be lots of action going on, but if the story is not progressing and moving forward, then there’s no plot. The characters and story need to go somewhere.
Be careful of overusing certain words
Beware your natural tendency to favour certain words. I’ve read quite a few books where the author had, probably unknowingly, overused particular adjectives, and it became quite irritating.
Overusing certain words or phrases also lessens their impact, so save them for when they’re really appropriate, and use alternatives in other places.
Decide whether you are going to write in UK English or American English, and stick to it. Likewise, decide which tense you are going to use, and if you’re writing in first person or third person and keep consistent.
Know when to stop
Know when to stop writing at the end. You don’t have to explain what happened to every character in great detail. The climax of the ending itself is usually enough. The climax will satisfy your reader, without explaining lots of details that they won’t find engaging anyway.
At the same time, you need to do the conflict in the story justice with a worthy ending. So don’t just let it peter out, or leave it open-ended. Even if you’re writing a sequel, this instalment of the story still needs to have a clear ending.
Leave out the prologue and epilogue
You should say all that’s needed between the first and last chapters. Prologues and epilogues can be a sign you don’t know yourself where your story should start and end.
If you’re undecided about adding a prologue, consider very carefully whether it’s saying anything that won’t become apparent as the reader progresses through your story. At worst, your prologue could stop people from reading the rest of your book.
Only add an epilogue if it enriches your story in a way that can’t be done within the closing chapters. Don’t add one just because you can’t bear it to end.
What are your top tips for writing your story? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
We’re Peter and Caroline O’Connor. Creating beautiful book cover designs for authors all over the world is our passion. Every author should be able to benefit from a beautiful book cover design (not just the lucky few who get signed by a big publisher). We design, podcast, and coach authors full-time so we understand your struggles. Currently accepting new clients.