Joyce’s Writing Tip #1 – Marketing – To Blog or Not to Blog
There’s a lot of info out there telling writers they need to blog to develop a platform for marketing their book. This is leading to a lot of aspiring writers spending time writing a blog they don’t enjoy that no one wants to read, commenting on other blogs that they don’t want to read and in general, trying to create a community that isn’t natural and doesn’t make sense. And losing a lot of precious writing time in the process. Of the published writers I know personally, four of them have extremely successful blogs that support their writing and help them sell books. A couple of them are struggling with blogs that don’t do them any good. The rest (twenty or thirty successful writers) depend on school visits, bookstore events, conferences, virtual tours and other techniques to promote themselves and maintain a fan base. Before you’re published your main job is to keep improving your writing and to think ahead to what marketing tools will best suit your personality and skills. A good manuscript beats a good platform every time.
Writing Tip #2 – Revision
To elevate your voice, do one revision read just for verbs. Eliminate ‘stiff’ verbs like ‘entered’ and ‘exited’ and vague verbs like ‘moved’. Search for adverbs that may be propping up weak verbs (or just wasting space – ‘quickly snatched’ is redundant.) Change as many passive verbs as possible to more active. Instead of ‘There was a tree in the back yard’ say ‘A tree swayed in the back yard.’ And use verbs to characterize! Good guys ‘weave’ through the crowd. Bad guys ‘slither’.
Writing Tip #3 – Prologues – Pros and Cons.
For my money, it’s mostly con. Some fantasy readers like a prologue, because they love doing homework before the book starts…but for most readers, prologue translates to ‘author doesn’t know where to start’ or ‘here is some boring stuff to learn before the story starts’. What’s the solution? Flashbacks. Start the story where you’d really like it to start, right before the inciting event, and save the earlier material for a flashback later on. That way it’s all in scene (more engaging) and your main character is in on the information and won’t have to catch up to where the reader is. If your prologue contains info the main character doesn’t know about the past, get another character to tell them the story. (Remember Jaws?)You still get to stay in scene. The beginning of a book is where you hook the reader…don’t waste that valuable moment with something 50% of readers say they skip!
Writing Tip #4 – Plot
Lots of writing teachers suggest you start with thinking about a character who wants something. I’d like to suggest something that has worked better for me. Start with a character who needs to change. In other words, in your ordinary world, show us someone likeable but who has a flaw, a need, a lack, something that the reader automatically wishes would change. Then, consider what kind of story you can bring to that character to create the change and craft your inciting event around that. For example, if we see your main character is really bright, but ignored by teachers because she is afraid to raise her hand and speak up…what would teach her to have more confidence? Maybe being forced to run for class office. Maybe being drafted into being a secret agent. Maybe finding out she has a superpower. Your choice. But the reader will be fully engaged in your story if they see a needed character arc and they see you are going to fulfill it.
Writing Tip #5 – Dialog
Remember when writing dialog, that the more emotional a person gets, the lower the register of their language and the simpler their sentences. There’s a scientific basis for it…when the limbic system is flooding us with feelings, the cerebral cortex starts shutting down and the language centers can’t work at full capacity. So a person in control (or feeling emotion but still holding onto control) might say, “I am asking you for the last time, please put that remote control down and let me watch the program I want to watch.” But once someone loses it, they sound much more like a six year old: “Give me that! You @@##$! I mean it! Give it to me now!” Make sure your characters are LESS articulate when you want to ratchet up the tension.
Writing Tip #6 – Punctuation
Punctuation is voice! It’s so easy to dismiss punctuation as ‘some little thing the editor will fix’ but you may never get to an editor if you don’t learn the rules for yourself. Punctuation affects the rhythm of the sentence (syntax) and therefore, the all-important Voice that all agents and editors are looking for. Industry professionals are punctuation geeks; this is what we think about all the time. When we see you haven’t learned the rules, or when we have to double back to get the meaning of the sentence, your spell is broken. The magic is lost. Read this tip below without punctuation:
Punctuation is voice its so easy to dismiss punctuation as some little thing the editor will fix but you may never get to an editor if you don’t learn the rules for yourself punctuation affects the rhythm of the sentence syntax and therefore the all important voice that all agents and editors are looking for industry professionals are punctuation geeks this is what we think about all the time when we see you havent learned the rules or when we have to double back to get the meaning of the sentence your spell is broken the magic is lost read this tip below without punctuation
Writing Tip #7 – Character
The most important thing to remember is to express yourself through your characters instead of trying to write ‘about’ people you know. Yes, your family and friends are very inspiring 🙂 but they can only provide inspiration for a character that comes out of your soul, and your experience. Every protagonist must be an aspect of you, or they’ll feel wooden to the reader. Every antagonist is your shadow, a part of yourself too horrible to be let out any other way. All the minor characters are other aspects of yourself, splintered through the prism of the book. If you are having trouble feeling a character, you have to stop and find a way in…the same way an actor would.