As promised to my fabulous writing students — here is the whole list:
Tips for Writers
Everyone needs a little help now and then. So here are a few things which I’ve found to be particularly helpful as I write. First is my writing cheat sheet — these are things I always have to keep in mind either while I’m writing, or, as is more likely, while I’m editing my work.
1. Watch POV… no head-hopping. Example: That’s a great coat, she said, thinking it the ugliest coat she had ever seen in her life. He smoothed down the front of his sports jacket. “Thanks.” He knew she would like this coat, it was his favorite.
2. Use all five senses.
3. No Dumping of information: This goes for place description and descriptions of people. You don’t need paragraphs of either one, just subtle hints. “This was definitely not a room for small children, she thought, as she sat down on the cream colored sofa next to a table laden with fragile ceramic pieces.”
4. Watch for run-on sentences: two separate ideas in one sentence.
5. Begin in the middle of a scene when possible.
6. Show vs. Tell: lean toward showing rather than telling, using dialogue where possible. But if you need to tell, don’t hesitate — not everything needs to be shown.
7. Inner dialogue: is there too much, too little?
8. Show how the character is feeling through their actions while avoiding cliché — not just frowning but slumping her shoulders with her fingers curl into a fist.
9. Don’t forget the emotional baggage: state of emotion and state of mind that each character is in at each point.
10. Consistency of character: make sure what a character does is in character and not just what you need them to do at that moment.
11. Each chapter should begin with a bang and end with a bang.
12. Make sure the heroes are heroic — don’t make them do something stupid too often. And don’t have them do something the reader won’t forgive them for.
13. Is the chapter good enough to send in to a contest? Would you proudly ask your favorite author to read this as a sample of your work?
14. Action: Does it stir the reader to any emotions or does it simply further the plot? Action is moving the reader, not necessarily the character.
15. What is the point of the scene? Must be clear within the first page.
16. What is the emotion I want to convey? Is it done in a coherent, moving way?
17. Watch passive voice: Passive voice means that the subject of the sentence is having something done to it — the subject is the passive recipient of the action indicated by the verb. Ex: “She was pelted with tomatoes for using passive voice too often.” Active voice: “The judges pelted her with tomatoes for using passive voice too often.” The poor writer is still getting pelted, but the subject of the sentence is now “judges.” No more passive voice.
18. Leave out the exposition: backstory told from the omnipotent view point. And just about anything told from the omnipotent author’s viewpoint.
19. Emotions should be shown, not told through dialogue tags. “Really?” Her eyes lit up with excitement. Not “Really,” she said, excitedly.
20. R.U.E. “Resist the Urge to Explain” — assume your readers are intelligent, they’ll get it.
21. Don’t interrupt dialogue with too many beats (or breaks), it disrupts the scene. But do use them. Fewer beats = more tension.
22. Make sure you don’t repeat yourself, saying the same thing in many different ways one right after the other. If you say it once, it’s enough. Repeating yourself just drags things out for the reader, they’ll get it the first time, so you don’t have to go on saying the same thing again and again. Get it?
Many of these ideas come from Renni Browne’s Self Editing for Fiction Writers.