My friend, and fellow writer Patrick Bohan, is a self-proclaimed addict of writing information, instruction, and tips. He loves to wade amongst the sea of fictions best information, instruction, and opinions.
Over the years he’s put together his top FIVE pieces of advice that have stuck with him and made a positive impact on his writing career. https://www.patrickbohanbooks.com/blog
He has generously shared these with me and I’ve thrown in my two cents (maybe more like a dime) worth of opinion and observation.
Patrick’s words and those he quoted are all in italics.
Essential Advice #5: “Get the story moving fast! Novels today are competing with a lot of other entertainment. I think it’s important to grab a reader with the first 25 words or so.”
This is brilliant advice for any writer but can be easier said than done.
The question is always: how do I grab a reader?
Well, the reader needs to feel immersed immediately into the story. Don’t waste time with introductions–those can follow. Show the protagonist in the middle of action or conflict right from the start.
Do a lot of reading yourself and pay attention to the first few paragraphs.
What is unique about them that makes you want to continue?
Twenty-five words is quick to catch a reader, but it’s also indicative of our fast-paced world. People’s time is valuable, and they don’t want to waste it.
Now go do your homework—read, read, read —oh, and then go read some more.
Essential Advice #4. “Read your writing ALOUD. Don’t read in your head, don’t mumble – actually read the entire piece aloud, projecting. Reading it to another person? Better.”
This is great advice but you must … yes, must… read aloud. By doing this, you’ll not only catch mistakes but also awkward phrasing or stilted dialogue.
If you change words when you’re reading then the word on the page is not right.
One thing I notice when I do proofreading is some writers forget to use contractions in their dialogue. You don’t want to get slangy, but it should come across as realistic.
Read it all out loud—not just once but twice or as many times is necessary to rewrite to achieve a natural flow to the words and paragraphs. You’ll be thankful you did.
Like Patrick says, when you’re reading it aloud, there’s nowhere to hide.
Essential Advice #3. “Keep conflict coming! It’s not enough to get your protagonist in some kind of trouble on page 1; you have to keep building complications into the story. If everything is easy for your characters, the story will stall out and die.”
Conflict, also known as tension, is what keeps the reader turning the page.
I once attended a talk given by New York Times #1 Bestselling author Kelley Armstrong http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com. She equated this essential piece of keeping the conflict front and center, to putting your dominant character up a tree (metaphorically speaking of course) and then standing back and throwing rocks at him. Those ‘rocks’ are the stumbling blocks to his freedom. He needs to act in order to move forward. That is how conflict is developed and it’s up to the author to keep it going.
Nothing for the key character should come easy. Their journey of discovery keeps the reader interested.
Another way to look at is when that character solves a problem, there’s another one right around the corner. We readers want to cheer the character on to success.
Essential Advice #2. Things must get WORSE “You’ll hate me. But in 6 months, you’ll be a better writer. From this point forward, you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Loves, hates. Instead of characters knowing, you must now give details that allow readers to know them.”
Writing really is a journey, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
There’s a lot to learn and put into practice. In fact, a talented writer never stops learning. They will continue to grow in their craft and within themselves, which will affect their writing style and creativity.
As we continue on through life and experience unique things it makes us develop further as writers.
Using “thought” verbs make your writing passive and boring. Don’t have sentences like “George hates going to school.” First off, you’re telling me and not showing me and the sentence is mundane. Show me. Perhaps…
George’s stomach clenched with the idea of having to return to school…
Show me through action that he hates school. Work on finishing this sentence to illustrate what George is thinking or feeling. Be aware of the “thought verbs” and if you see them in your writing, go back and rewrite.
Now Patrick’s #1…
Essential Advice #1 (The GOAT tip): “Writing is Tireless and committed collaboration. We must strike down the insidious lie that a book is the creation of an individual soul laboring in isolation.”
This is a great tip and like Patrick says, you must BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK! Take advice. Your work can always be better, you can always be better. Its other people, especially our audience, who help us improve most. Listening, (not accepting everything you hear, mind you!), but listening to feedback had been the best way for me to improve, from writing to life. It sounds dumb, obvious, silly, even. “oh, of course, I listen!” But I know for the longest time, I didn’t.
I heard, but I didn’t listen. I’d qualify the advice, or make it less seriously based on the advice-givers credentials, or think my work was the exception to rule because of some obvious detail the advice-giver had missed. But when I really started listening to all my audience feedback, that was when I produced work my audience really loved. It was also when my writing went from meh to muy bien.
This simple John Green tip saved my work.
I like to review these 5 tips every day before writing. They’ve changed my writing and my life, and I hope they help you, too.
My number one Essential Greastest Of All Time tip would echo Patrick’s. https://www.patrickbohanbooks.com/blog
Writing is a very solitary endeavor and there can be a knee jerk negative reaction to receiving advice, constructive criticism, or comments to something you’ve worked hard to produce. Put that initial reaction aside and hear what people are saying. It’s important.
BUT, if you’re not willing to listen, you’ll never learn how good you actually can become.
So, that collaboration mentioned in the John Green quote is your own opinion and thoughts mixed with all of those around you. Be thankful for advice and growth it can take your writing to the next level.
And I’d add one more tip…
Make sure you read. I know it takes time but it’s essential that you read well written (an not so well written) books, short-stories, flash fiction, essays, magazine articles…It doesn’t matter. Read, read, and read some more.
Read within your genre and outside of your comfort level. Listen to an audio book.
Take note of the things you see. The rhythm you experience, the vocabulary, the placing of the words, or the jarring mistakes. Learn from them. Always be willing to learn.