My Personal Top Ten Writing Tips
May 6, 2019
We write because it gives us a chance to play God. We get to decide everything. We build our own worlds for each book.
I was recently asked by a writer’s guild to provide the top ten tips I have for writers.
They may not work for everybody.
They work for me.
And here they are:
- When it comes to writing a novel, the author has three jobs. Sit down. Shut up. Stay out of the way. When the author tells the story, it falls flat. In reality, the author is nothing more than a stenographer or a court reporter. The author listens. The author writes down what the characters do and say. The characters tell the story.
- Want to know the only trait I want my characters to have? Secrets. Buried deep, there are secrets. Just below the surface, there are secrets. Can’t sleep? He’s bothered by a secret. Can’t commit to love? She’s bothered by a secret. Keeps a pistol in his belt? He’s frightened of a secret. Cries herself to sleep at night? The secret has broken her heart. Secrets create conflict, and conflict creates the story.
- What are the most important two weapons a writer has? The beginning and the ending. As Hemingway said, The first sentence makes the reader want to read the rest of your story. The last sentence makes him want to read your next book.
- A novel, like life, is simply a series of short stories piled one on top of the other. Full of pathos. Full of humor. Full of drama. A little love. A little sorrow. A little anger. Occasional suspense. Always a mystery, usually fraught with a secret or two, and frightening at times. Each chapter is a short story. Each scene is a short story. Each passage of dialog is a short story. And all of them should have a beginning and ending. All have a touch of conflict or tension, even if it only deals with the inner struggles of the characters.
- When you sit down to write your next novel, don’t worry about a plot. Don’t try to find all the missing pieces before you start writing. You don’t even know which pieces are missing yet. All stories, regardless of genre, hang on one single incident, a crisis that leads to a decision, or a decision that leads to a crisis. Figure out the incident. That’s the moment when the life of your hero or heroine changes forever, for better or worse. All you need to worry about is the incident. The characters will take care of the plot. They always do.
- It’s a question that haunts every writer. What can I do to bring readers into my mind so they can see the story through my eyes, so they can fully experience the story I’m telling? It’s not a difficult task. Just make use of the five senses, especially when beginning a new chapter or new scene in the novel. That way, the reader will see, feel, touch, smell, hear, and experience exactly what your point of view character does.
- I’ve often said that novels only have seven basic plots. Love. Hate. Greed. Revenge. Power. Ambition. Jealousy. And they were all covered in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. I think maybe that’s a little too verbose. To me, a plot is broken down this way. Characters in conflict. Things get worse until they get better. Characters make decisions, and they are not always good ones.
- Imagination is looking down the road or across the room and seeing what no one else sees. Literally, it is seeing what isn’t there and what exists only in your mind. And if you write the scene correctly, it now exists in your reader’s mind as well.
- So how do we make our characters interesting? It’s easy. We make them believable. Write your stories about people. Don’t sit around making up characters. People are living, breathing, human beings filled with love and fear, likes and dislikes, hopes and emotions. Characters are only caricatures.
- We write because it gives us a chance to play God. We get to decide everything. We build our own worlds for each book. We breathe life into those characters who dwell in our world. We put words into their mouths. And they don’t talk back to us. Well, when they do talk back, and the characters suddenly take on a life of their own and jump into the middle of a conflict they triggered themselves, we know we really have a good scene going. I just duck and get out of their way. The characters may suddenly be in control. But, never forget, they wouldn’t exist at all if we hadn’t built their world for them and given them a place to live, love, and do their dastardly deeds.
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