People ask me all the time – “When is your book going to be finished?”
I smile and say, “Hopefully soon.”
Sometimes they’ll ask why it takes so long, and I go into a spiel about all the things involved, and every time this occurs, I am reminded of the difficult task I took on.
So what DOES make it so difficult? I mean, there are people I know on Twitter and Facebook who churn out short stories and novellas left and right. They have ebooks galore.
The answer to that question lies in the writer.
We are all different. We all have different standards and techniques and focus.
I’ve read short stories that were published online and not edited. There were misspellings and improper grammar use and wrong punctuation.
I’ve also read books with those same problems and more. Plot holes, inconsistent characters, lack of goal for characters, vague writing, poor description, and leaps of logic are just a few…yes, very few…of the things that can go wrong when putting that novel swimming in your head on paper.
Now…I know that if I read it, it was published. But, as I said, every writer is different. The standards I have set for myself won’t allow me to get by with the kinds of problems I listed above. I know that the finished product won’t be perfect in everyone’s eyes, but that doesn’t matter.
It just has to be perfect in mine. I have to know that I have done the best job possible for me.
And I have high expectations.
So…I thought I would post them.
This has been the list of some of the criteria running through my head on this journey.
My Top 25 Things To Remember When Writing:
- Create a first line that hooks the reader.
- Begin with the inciting incident. Does this event propel the story into motion?
- Get the reader invested in the main character on the first page. Let the reader inside the main character’s head.
- Know goals of each character. This is what drives them to do what they do. They must always want something.
- Know the characters inside and out. Give them strengths yet show their flaws.
- Establish the main character’s social context in opening scene. Is she at peace? Struggling? Where does she fit in her world?
- Show don’t tell.
- Use as few adverbs as possible.
- Use strong verbs.
- Be sure transition between paragraphs/scenes/chapters is smoothe.
- Design scenes that have a purpose. If it doesn’t propel the story, is it necessary?
- Maintain flow by writing rhythmic sentences.
- Do not inject yourself into the character when writing dialogue. Let them speak for themselves. If they would ‘cuss’, but you, the writer, don’t, the obvious choice is to let the character be who they are. Their actions, voice, motive should ring true.
- Remember that each character will change in some way. Show that happening. Subtly.
- Make dialogue have significance. It should reveal, further the story line, and give insight to character motive.
- Avoid cliches.
- Be careful with dialogue tags. He said, she said, is best.
- Don’t info dump anywhere. Sprinkling character history/backstory into the text is better than dumping it. The reader will put 2&2 together.
- Use words like was, is, am, are, there, had, has, then, than, been, being, and were sparingly.
- Choose suitable metaphors.
- Be careful when using techniques like foreshadowing and flashback. If you do it, do it well.
- Remember that every action sparks a reaction.
- Balance use of description, dialogue, action, and internal monologue.
- Create suspense, tension. The reader must have this to keep turning pages.
- Keep the main conflict at the forefront, but allow sub-conflicts to resonate in and between characters.
Now! With all that being said, there are still things like proper grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, etc. that I pay attention to as well, but I plan to have my work edited by someone who knows those rules better than I do before I even query an agent, so things like knowing when to use was vs. were and detecting passive voice, didn’t make my Top 25.
HOWEVER! I do suggest you brush up on basic grammar rules and keep them in play while you work to prevent a lot of re-writing later when an editor has slaughtered your manuscript.
So…if you’re just beginning your novel journey or if you’ve been at it a while and just can’t get it right, I hope this list helps you focus or just makes you think. Best of Luck!
What about you? What standards do you have set for your writing? What criteria do you use?