There is so much fiction writing advice out there, I finally decided to strain it down for myself to what I think are the essentials. See if you agree with me!
- Write fiction every day.
This is number one. You make it a habit, you build your writing muscles, and you produce lots of stuff to work with later.
- Always be aware of what the villain is doing.
I only heard about this idea a while ago, but it makes so much sense. And it’s fun to imagine what the guy or gal is doing behind the scenes besides rubbing hands together in glee.
- Use a professional editor (not your mother, even if she is a professional editor).
Once you have done your very best with the material you wrote, you should have someone go over it, if just a proofreader. If you do that, at least there’s one thing readers and reviewers cannot complain about.
- Begin each scene with action (no one lying in bed mulling things over), and nailing the location and characters present right away.
This is hard, and I admit I don’t always accomplish it. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes, to say nothing of second nature. (What the heck is first nature, anyway? Or third?)
- End each scene with a cliffhanger—it doesn’t have to be heart-stopping, it can simply be a question.
Another hard thing to accomplish, but worth a shot. It might even help you write the next scene. You’ve already set something up that the characters have to deal with. Make a list of all the things that can go wrong in life. Use one to end each scene. Fire, flood, a dead body. You get the idea.
- Be absolutely sure the reader always knows who is speaking.
Nothing is more annoying than wondering who is talking and having to go back and read several paragraphs to figure it out because the writer left off an attribution. This is one of my pet peeves. And I see it happen in almost every novel I read, no matter if it’s self-published or one of the “big publishers” in New York who put it out. Maybe rule #1 should be: don’t annoy the reader.
- While editing, hunt down and delete every single unnecessary word and phrase.
This makes for a tight story, thus a better story. There’s no downside, and if you make it a goal during your last pass-through, you will have a better piece of writing.
- Read fiction every day.
Learning from other good writers is so enjoyable, isn’t it? And reading bad writing can show you what not to do better than any advice about it given to you.
- Read non-fiction every day.
Just for fifteen minutes is enough, but of course, the more the better. I suggest at least one book about writing a month. You can also use this time to do some research. Or just read about things you are fascinated by. You might be able to work them into future work.
- Write fiction every day.
Try not to repeat yourself. But when something is really, really important, just do it!
Anyone have a rule they swear by that they think everyone should follow? Let us know in the comments!
BIO: Jan Christensen grew up in New Jersey and now resides in Texas. Her nine published novels include three series and one stand-alone. She’s also had over seventy short stories appear in various publications, among them a collection, The Artie Crimes, from Untreed Reads. She’s past president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and a member of Mystery Writers of American, and Sisters in Crime. Learn more on her website: www.janchristensen.com