- Try to give your sentences punch by giving the meat of it at the beginning.
- Use semi-colons sparingly. In almost every instance in my edit, I’ve changed them to periods or commas. They are
distracting, for the most part.
- Watch run-on sentences. A good way to ‘find’ these is after you write a chapter, read it out loud. This will
help you find the spots that sound awkward or go on too long. It may seem awkward at first, (and your family or roommates
think you’ve gone a little cuckoo) but it is a very effective way of finding the ‘lumps’ in your work.
- No dashes where commas should be.
- Many writers have lots of ‘he’s’ and ‘she’s’ in their writing, so use their names
(or descriptors, such as the sheriff) so we know who you’re talking about.
- With all your main characters, intersperse little details about their appearance. Each character should be ‘fleshed
out’ within three chapters. We should know pretty much what they look like by then, hair, eye color, how tall, any unusual
distinguishing marks, etc.
- The buzz on ‘thoughts’ in text these days is to put them straight into the text, no quotes (single or dbl)
around them, no italics. This is straight from my editor, who’s published oodles of novels. Also, you’ll
notice that I’ve written the thoughts in past tense, rather than present. That, too, is the way publishers prefer it
these days. It seems awkward at first, but it isn’t hard to do.
- When one person is speaking, you keep it all together, unless it’s a new paragraph. For instance:
"Hi," he said. "How are you?" See? All one line.
However, you format several paragraphs like this:
"Hi," he said. "How are you? I’ve been trying to call you for days. In fact, it might have been a whole week since
we talked last. NOTICE HERE, NO QUOTES.
"I think if you’re going to blow me off, you’d at least pick up the phone to do it."
So when it’s more than one paragraph of dialogue, you don’t put quotes at the end of the first one, but you
put quotes around the second paragraph of dialogue.
- About using titles as names. Use Doc (with a cap D) when you’re using it as his name, thus, there’d be no
‘the’ in front of it. I went to see Doc. I always like visiting the doc. Same with sheriff. We have the best sheriff
in the state. Everyone likes Sheriff Parks.
- About POV—Point Of View: this one messes everyone up, but it is important to stay in your MC’s pov.
- Watch tense. Most stories are told in the past tense, so you don’t want to go from past to present. For instance,
don’t say: He closed the door, and turning to the roomful of people, he smiled. That uses the past, then present, then
past again. Instead: He closed the door, then he turned to the roomful of people and smiled.
- About adverbs: the buzz in publishing these days is that adverbs (ly words) are not often used. So in keeping with this,
be sure to use more description instead. For instance:
He walked quickly down the street. ~or~ He walked down the street, each of his steps getting quicker until he was jogging.
- About show, not tell: This is another buzz in the publishing world. When you ‘show’, you are using dialogue,
etc to show what you’re describing. ‘Telling’ is just flat explanation or back story.
Do some research and be very conversant with the time you’re writing about and add realistic details.
Show cars of that era, describe clothes and hats, etc. This will not only give your work the edge it may need to be published,
but it will give the reader a real treat, feeling like he or she is actually there during (for instance) WWII times. This
is absolutely vital, so hop on the net and/or read a few books from that time in history to plug in those realistic details.
Watch sentence structure. Many writers have numerous sentences starting with The ____+ verb. Use different
sentence structures to provide variety for your work.
Use contractions in your text, or it makes it read rather jerky and formal. When you’re writing, not
sure if you stop every so often and read your work out loud, but that is a good way to find places that don’t flow as
well as you’d like.
About sight words like look, glance, see, watch, notice, etc. Instead
of saying: She watched the bird fly up to the top of the tree, say: The bird flew up to the top of the tree, so high it seemed
it would touch the sun. When you avoid using a sight word, it gives you more opportunity to elaborate and be descriptive.
Use the find feature in edit and find all the sight words you can and fix those.
Use sensory description, not just what can be seen. Describe smell, touch, taste, or hearing. Put yourself in each ‘scene’
and ask yourself, what do I smell, feel, taste and hear? You obviously don’t want to include every sense in each scene,
but don’t rely solely on what your characters are seeing. Give your characters movement.
Exclamation marks should be used SPARINGLY, and never two together.