I've only been a professional writer of fiction for a few years. Non-fiction, sure, as I’m a trained historian. But on the fiction writing front, I still feel like I’m learning something new every day even though by the end of the year I’ll have over ten titles to my name. I continue to read on the craft of writing and discuss it with my author friends and critique partner because just when you think you’ve learned all there is to know something changes.
In my capacity as an author, I’ve had the chance to work with young and unpublished authors. It has been a joy, and I want to encourage all of you authors out there to give it a try when or if the situation should arise. Recently, I had a young woman send me her short story. I knew she’d been working on this piece for a long time. Something like 6-9 months. When I read it through the first time, I thought it was well written but she’d fallen into a couple of traps that young and inexperienced writers often fall into.
As you begin your first manuscript or even after several, keep these things in mind:
- Begin your story where something new or exciting happens – when something changes. What makes this moment different than the hundreds of others before hand? It is very important to start your story in the right place.
- Telling vs Showing. This is a biggie and one that is harped on over and over, but it is very important. It is so much more interesting and dynamic for you to show us that Ben is a kind hearted person who would give his shirt off his back for a friend than to just have the narrator state that. Let the reader determine what kind of person your character his by what he says and what he does. It also helps to lengthen that word count.
- Back story. Be careful with the back story. You can bog down your reader and your story by laying the back story in too thick. Remember to drop back story in lightly at different points in the story. It is much more intriguing when you can work it in through showing and dialogue.
- Dialogue. This can be a toughy. We want to write believable dialogue and yet be as grammatically correct as possible too. Remember also that not every character should speak the same. An old maiden librarian will speak differently than a diabolical con-man. Think about every word coming out of your character’s mouth and analyze if your character would actually say that.
- POV or Point of View. Decide who is telling this story. In romance, it has been the rule to stick with hero and heroine and to switch only at scene breaks or chapters. This of course is not set in stone but a good rule to work by as you begin writing. In other genres though, it is acceptable to write in any of your character’s POV’s and to switch in and out of different character’s thoughts within a single scene. Personally, I believe you can get so much more out of a scene if you stay with one character and ‘experience’ that moment as that character: descriptions, emotions, and thoughts all coming from that one character.
- Variety. Make sure to have a good combination of description, dialogue, narration and introspection. It is easy when you first start writing to use a lot of narration and ‘tell’ the story. A good way to test your manuscript is to high light each part in different color highlighters. Then you will see if you are heavy on narration and light on description or dialogue.
Good luck to all you new writers out there. There is so much to learn. Keep reading on the craft and keep writing. That is the best advice you can get as you continue your journey to publication and onward.