There are an amazing number of sites on the
web that teach writing techniques. My goal here is to help beginning authors avoid many of
the simple mistakes that I and many other authors made when starting out.
||A good word processor
can be worth it's weight in gold. (How much does a CD weigh anyway?) I wrote my
first story in 1999 using Microsoft's Word 95. It was a good program in that it caught my
spelling errors, but the grammar checker was IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) atrocious and
difficult to use so I turned it off. I realized later that part of the perceived problem
with the grammar checker was due to my poor grammar. Coming from a technical background
(computers) I didn't realize how poor my grammar and punctuation were until I started
getting reviews of my stories. The helpful criticism that I received prompted me to
purchase Office 97 Professional. The grammar checker was a major improvement in the
package and it really helped me to improve my writing skills to a point where new stories
receive very few flags as I write.
||No matter how good a
word processor is, it can never find all of the errors. A good editor or
proofreader has a fresh perspective when reading your stories. You know what you wanted to
write and tend to miss simple errors when reviewing your own work. Sending it to a friend
for reviewing, or one of our volunteers, can make a big difference in the final story that
||One of the most common
mistakes that new authors make is to use the carriage return, or 'Enter' key at the end of
each line. It looks okay on your computer, but when formatted for posting, each
line looks like a new paragraph. It makes it difficult to read and looks foolish. Use Carriage returns ONLY at the end of the paragraph.
||Use a separate paragraph for
each speaker. Do not combine spoken text from
different characters in the same paragraph. It confuses the reader. The reader should be
allowed to concentrate on the plot without trying to figure out who is talking.
It can be also annoying to read "he said/she said" in every
paragraph where dialogue is limited and only two speakers are present.
A good general
rule is to identify the speaker every third time they speak in two
person conversations, but in every single paragraph
when there are more than two speakers participating in the conversation. There is no rule that prohibits
paragraphs as small as one word.
||If you wish to become
a good writer then you must write, write and write. This does not include
re-writing. Do not make the mistake that some aspiring authors make by holding onto a
story, and re-writing it forever. It's understandable that you want to make each story as
perfect as possible, but after you have edited it and had it proofread, it is time to
release it. You will learn more from constructive reviews than you ever will from leaving
the story residing in your computer while you re-write it endlessly.
||Your relationship with your
editor is important. They must know what you expect
of them. Make sure that they understand if you only want them to proofread the story, if
you want them to offer suggestions about re-writing sentences or paragraphs, or if you
want them to suggest plot changes that will enhance the story. And make sure that you
understand what they will do for you. You are not obligated to implement their
suggestions, but you must always accept their suggestions with gratitude. They have
performed a free service for you and deserve your appreciation. If their writing style and
opinions differ substantially from your own then choose a different editor next time, but
never be rude to any of them when they have tried to help you.
||BEFORE you send your
story to an editor, SLOWLY re-read every word you have written. All stories must be
proofread by the author before sending them to an editor. If possible, read them aloud as
if you were reading to an audience. DO NOT make up words unless you clearly define their
special meaning in the story! If you create a new phrase or word, save in in your
My last step is to LISTEN to the
story using a program called ReadPlease. They offer a FREE
download at: http://readplease.com/rpdownload.php
The first time I listened to one of my stories I was astounded at the
number of errors that I discovered. This was after I had reread the
story a dozen times looking for such errors. Hearing the story read
grammatical errors jump out at you. I strongly recommend trying this
free alternative. The company offers an expanded version for $40.00 that
allows larger files to be read. If you have the means, I highly recommend getting it with the
16k AT&T Natural Voices option. Naturally, I chose Crystal for the voice, but
I have no association with the company and make nothing from this
endorsement. I'm just convinced that it's the best way to proof your
stories, not to mention the enjoyment from hearing it read aloud while you
sit back and relax.
||Your selected editor
will advise you on how to send your story to them. Word 6 format is
recognized by almost all Internet sites and is a common format that can be read by most
word processors. Some editors will prefer rtf (Rich Text Format) for stories being sent to
them. When you contact them, they will advise you of the best format. HTML (HyperText
Markup Language) is generally not desired.
||When you offer your
stories for free, you cannot expect anything in return. A published author is
compensated for every book sold. Our only compensation may be the counts which show how
many times our stories have been read. We hope that our stories will be embraced by every
reader and that they will shower their affection upon us in the form of tons of fan mail.
The truth is that relatively few readers will take the time to write to you, but as you
continue to write, you will improve and so will the number of your fans. DON'T be
discouraged and DO continue to write. Pay attention to the constructive comments that
people offer and work on improving your skills. Perhaps one day you'll have a book on the
best-seller list but it's unlikely that it will be one of your early stories. We all have
to learn by doing. What we receive for our stories is mainly the self-satisfaction of
expression. Along the road we travel as we write, we make friends in the writing community
and have the opportunity to learn our craft from experts. If you continue working at it,
one of these days you will be one of them.
||Tips # 10 - 19
offered by author
||Your and You're.
It's very common to make errors with these two words. Avoiding errors is simple. A
spelling checker will not catch this error. "You're" is a contraction of
"you are." Whenever you can substitute the words "you are" and the
sentence reads correctly, then use "you're" rather than "your". For
example: "You're much too smart for that." "You are much too smart for
that", makes sense and therefore "you're" is correct. "Your"
refers to possessing something. Whenever the sentence refers to a possession (a possession
does not have to be a physical thing), then use "your". For example: "Your
ego is much too big." To double-check that "your" is correct, try
substituting "you are". "You are ego is much too big" is obviously
wrong, so "you're" can not be used and "your" must be correct.
||There and Their. Again, avoiding errors in picking the right word is easy. And
again, a spelling checker will not catch this error. "There" refers to a place
or direction. "Their" refers to a possession (a possession does not have to be a
physical thing). "There she goes again", is correct because it's a
place/direction she's going. "Their egos are too big", is correct because they
possess their egos. *note from Crystal - Another similar word is they're. It's a contraction for
'they are' and mustn't be confused with the words referred to above.
||Make your dialog (and
narrative--that is, non-dialog story telling) read smoothly and naturally by using
contractions. For example, "I am going now and I
am sure you will miss me", sounds wooden. People don't speak like that. They say,
"I'm going now, and I'm sure you'll miss me." In the narrative, contractions
read more natural, too. In the narrative sentence above I wrote "people don't speak
like that," instead of "people do not speak like that." Infrequently,
you'll want to avoid contractions to indicate someone is speaking very carefully, or with
anger. "I will not put up with this!" works better in that situation than
"I won't put up with this!"
||After you finish your story,
forget it. The best way to find awkward sentences,
unclear narrative, plot contradictions, and careless phrasing is simply to finish the
story, put it aside for as long as needed, and then read it from beginning to end. Some
people need to forget the story for a week, some for three weeks. You'll find what works
for you. When you pick it up again it will almost be as if you were reading something that
someone else wrote. The errors will jump out at you. Correct them, then either let it sit
again or send it in, depending on how much rewriting you had to do.
||Its and it's. This is an easy
one, too, and it's similar to the problem with "your" and "you're".
Substitute "it is" and if the sentence reads correctly then use
"it's", the contraction of "it is". "Its", on the other
hand, is possessive. For example, "I insulted the alien and its face turned
red." It owns its own face. We also know that's correct because substituting "it
is" makes the sentence read "I insulted the alien and it is face turned
red", which is obviously wrong, so the contraction "it's" would be wrong.
That leaves "its", the possessive, as the correct choice.
P.S. By the way, a thing can possess something. That's why it's correct to
write "at next week's meeting" rather then "at next weeks meeting". In
the second case you've made "week" plural, which wouldn't make sense. However,
if you do use a plural than the apostrophe goes AFTER the word. When talking about many
computers and their hard drives, for example, you would write "the computers' hard
||Show, rather than
Tell. This is an old and basic tip. The shock hurt him badly. VS. "Aaagh!"
he screamed, and doubled up in pain.
Jim was not a nice person. VS. Jim gave him a choice of eating a bowl of worms or being
Telling that it hurt him is weak.
Showing it is better. There are many times when narrative should be used to tell something
because it would make the story too long if every statement was illustrated by an
incident. Generally, however, it's best to show rather than tell.
||Read your story out loud. If, while reading out loud, you come across a sentence where you
stumble, or otherwise have to stop and start reading the sentence again, or where you have
to emphasize a word or phrase with your voice, it is very likely a sentence that has to be
rewritten. It's more effective to read your story out loud after you've let the story sit
for a week or more.
believable behavior. Many stories have scenes where characters behave in a way that
is unlikely. This may be done to hurry the story along, or because that's the way the
author would like to have the character behave. It detracts from the story, however, and
makes it unbelievable and less enjoyable. This pops up in all kinds of stories, but
especially in those involving forced behavior. The subject suddenly obeys some outlandish
command that the author may enjoy, but is far too abrupt a jump. If the character is going
to do something extreme the only way to make it believable is to at least hint, very early
on, that he or she is especially weak willed, already inclined in that direction, etc.
The rule on character behavior is that anything that deviates from
"average" or "typical" behavior must be established as reasonable for
this character far before the event takes place. To give an exaggerated example....
If a person chooses to die rather than drink a glass of orange
juice it must be established well before that scene that he has a very unusual and very
strong fear of orange juice, and perhaps even why he has this fear. Only then will his
behavior make sense. If you wait until the scene to tell about his unusual fear it will
sound contrived and phony.
crutch. Some people write paragraphs that go on forever, presenting the reader with
a huge block of type that readers are tempted to skip. Others write nothing but short, one
or two sentence paragraphs, presenting a story that looks like an outline. People do the
same with sentences. Or they get hooked on a certain word or a phrase, and use it over and
over. There are hundreds of crutches. Fine yours and eliminate it.
There are reasons for using long sentences, for example. They slow down the
narrative and work well when a character is considering something in his or her head, or
when a serious bit of narrative is being used. Short sentences speed things up, whether
it's comedy or drama. They are also easier to read and clearer, but get boring after a
time. The easiest advice is sometimes the best....mix it up, and avoid your writing
||Almost all word
processing programs have built in spelling checkers. After you have made all your
corrections, and only then, run your story through the spell checker. It's the last step
before sending it to your proofreader. ( Crystal's note - I disagree
with RJMcD on this last point. See # 7 above.)
||I will add more tips as they occur to me and
I will be happy to consider additional suggestions from any authors who wish to offer
Please report any