Tips for Writing a Book: Part II

Yesterday’s tips for writing a book covered some general ways to improve writing. Here are some specific pointers:

Show, don’t Tell

Every writing student has heard this, but what does it mean?

Consider this simple example. “Marjorie was stunning.” I’ve just told you that she is a beautiful girl.

“Marjorie’s dark shining hair tumbled over her shoulders, and her sea-green luminous eyes surrounded by flawless café-au-lait skin seized my casual glance and held it captive until I realized I was staring.” Which is more interesting to read? Which one helps the reader create a mental picture?

I once took a class on “show versus tell”, and the instructor advised that every writer should think about each scene as if it was part of a screenplay. If a movie camera can film it, then the writing is showing. Obviously, you won’t be able to write a book that is all showing, but especially in fiction or narrative non-fiction, more showing is better. When you edit your work, look for places you are telling, and try to re-write them so you are showing instead.

Use the Active Voice

Another common error is the use of passive verbs. “The gate was locked” is much weaker than “she locked the gate,” which is the active form of the verb. The more active verbs, the stronger your writing will be.

Avoid Repeated Words

We all have our favorite words and tend to use them often. Or when describing a scene, we repeat a word. This repetition tends to bore the reader. So if you’ve used a word (other than the a, an, the kinds of words) more than once in a paragraph, look for a synonym.

Purge the Adverbs and Adjectives

Overuse of adverbs and adjectives just bogs down the reader. Instead of saying “he stood up abruptly” why not simply say “he jumped up”? Look for places you can substitute a more precise noun or verb for adverb-verb or adjective-noun clauses. Your writing will move along faster and will take on more life.

Perform a Reality Check

I recently read a book in which the hero is driving through a snowstorm. As he’s about to crash into a snowdrift, he runs his hands through his hair.

Really? He takes both hands off the wheel to run them through his hair? Maybe after he’s crashed, but not before.

Writing like this takes the reader out of the story to wonder if the writer has thought about what he is writing. Along these lines, take the time to do proper research of your subject. If you have your heroine who works as a pharmacist, make sure her living arrangements reflect her income. If you show the reader that she resides in an opulent mansion and employs a butler, make sure it’s clear to the reader how she got her money. It certainly isn’t from her salary.

Write, Rewrite, and Rewrite Some More

Don’t make the mistake of thinking your first draft is good enough. Edit carefully, get others to read and comment on your manuscript, and edit some more. Then you’ll be more likely to have a book you can be proud of.

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