If you look on the side of a packet of hair dye you will see pictures of how light – or dark – you hair will go by using the product depending on your original hair colour.
There should be some such diagram for writers with regards the ten points that follow.
They WILL improve your writing but it depends on its colour when you begin.
I suppose if you don’t like the shade when you have finished you could reapply, and reapply – I think they call it re-writing.
Just before the ten points here’s a slight tangent. Apparently one way of writing a book is to start by summing up your concept in a single sentence so everything is included in that one sentence, a good sentence.
Then add another sentence, then another, but each time the essence of the story must remain and every word must have a reason to be there. If you did that conscientiously, when you had finished, you would find these ten points had been kept.
But let’s presume that is not your way, let us presume that you write with passion and you re-write with a cool eye, these will help.
1. Avoid unnecessary words. We all know those words that seem to make it into every sentence we write. All the “thats”, “justs”, and “reallys”. As a rule of thumb, if you can remove the word without changing the meaning and tone of the sentence you should probably remove the word. I stress the word probably because all writing and editing rules have and will continue to be broken by brilliant writers. With experience comes confidence. With confidence it will be easier to know when to leave the word be and when to delete.
2. Use strong verbs in place of weak verbs and adverbs–most of the time. I know many new writers (and some not-so-new writers) balk at this rule. If you’re writing a novel with a humorous tone, it’s better to say that Mary “yanked off her socks” rather than “pulled off her socks”. Always go with the verb that provides a stronger image and is more suited for the tone of your story. As for adverbs, it’s best to avoid them unless the adverb brings something new to the verb it is modifying. Vanessa tiptoed softly across the foyer is horrid for the simple fact that softly brings nothing new to the verb tiptoed. Now, if Vanessa tiptoed clumsily across the foyer that’s different. This introduces the possibility that Vanessa could be caught.
3. Show, don’t tell. Yes, it needs to be said again (and again and again). If you write Jack was sad about his father’s death, I don’t care. If you tell me Jack’s throat ached as he placed his father’s running shoes into the goodwill box then I’m invested. Even if I haven’t lost my father, I can relate to that painful sensation of being overcome with emotion. Always keep your point-of-view in mind as you write. Even if you’re writing in third person, you can still get inside your characters’ heads and describe what they’re feeling on a sensory level. Always keep your point-of-view character’s five senses in mind.
4. Make sure your characters have goals. Your main characters (protagonists and villains) should have clear goals for each book (main goal), chapter and scene (mini-goals). You’d be surprised how many chapters and books I’ve read for critique purposes where the protagonist had no goal whatsoever. A reader will not care about your character’s story if they don’t know where it’s going. Sometimes it’s as easy as stating the goal: Neil wanted to get over his divorce, but Kelly wouldn’t let him. It’s usually better to convey this information in a more subtle fashion. Once this seed is planted in your reader’s mind, they officially have a reason to stick around and see if Neil gets what he wants. Each chapter and scene must have the main goal simmering beneath the surface as well as a mini-goal.
5. Avoid filters. Filters are those pesky words that get between your reader and your book, disconnecting them from the narrative and allowing them to get up and go run those errands they would have otherwise put off. Filters are words like feel, felt, see, saw, looked, touched, smelled, etc. They are words that describe a sensory experience. Bad: Barry looked at the spaceship and his jaw dropped. Good: The elevator doors opened revealing a spaceship the size of the Empire State Building. Bad: Barry felt as if this was his last chance to go to space. Good: This was Barry’s last chance to go to space.
6. Stay patient. There may be some people who can churn out a bestseller in one month, but I’m not one of them and chances are neither are you. You may feel rushed to finish that zombie vampire romance novel because the market is hot right now, but before you self-publish or hit ‘send’ on that query letter ask yourself this, “Is this the best you can do?”
7. Be considerate of your reader’s time. Most people don’t have time to read a 250,000-word (1,000-page) novel. If your book is that long (or over 100,000 words) and it is your first book, you need to put it in the drawer to marinate for a while. Then go back to it and cut, cut, cut. On another note, don’t waste your reader’s time reiterating the same points over and over again like the uncle who tells the same war stories every time you see him. If you told me in chapter one that Jessica has curly, brown hair, you don’t have to keep telling me this every time she flips her hair or runs her fingers through it.
8. Don’t insult your reader’s intelligence. This goes sort of hand-in-hand with the last one. One of my worst pet peeves when critiquing a new writer’s work is they hardly ever give their readers enough credit to figure things out on their own. If you tell me that John walked into Helga’s bedroom and she gasped before she shoved him out, you don’t have to tell me she was nude. A sly grin on John’s face will do. Don’t spell everything out for your reader or they’ll think you have no faith in them.
9. Learn to ask for and accept criticism gracefully. You would be surprised how willing people are to give constructive feedback. Secure yourself a few trustworthy, honest beta readers and be good to them. Learn to identify the good advice from the not-so-good advice. When in doubt, ask for a second or third opinion.
10. Know when to put your manuscript in a drawer. If you feel you’ve done all you can for your current work-in-progress and you’re still getting rejections or complaints from your writer’s group and/or beta readers, it might be time to put away this manuscript and start something new. Sometimes, we get so invested in a project that we lose all objectivity. Thousands of writers have had to set aside manuscripts that they loved in order to work on something that other people will love. There’s no shame in that. Not everyone has the same taste. Pride has no place in writing.