1. “Don’t fall into the trap of rewriting chapter one until it’s perfect. And don’t discard everything you write halfway through because you’re sure it sucks. Writing stuff that sucks is part of the learning process!”
I needed this advice this week. Everyone gets to a point with their work-in-progress where they think it isn’t working. Instead of throwing out my half finished novel I’m learning from it, and looking for ways to get it back on track.
2. “A character’s dialogue and actions should be unique to him.”
We all have phrases and actions we overuse in our fiction. But that’s actually OK, as long as we use this as part of our characterization. If a character regularly uses the word “ludicrous” or constantly tugs nervously at her braids, that’s fine. It helps develop the character. Just don’t have everyone using the same (unusual) word or having the same nervous tic.
3. “Names are critical. They really can set up and define a character.”
Uncle Scrooge, Professor Snape, Holly Golightly. An aptly named character is worth a whole paragraph of description.
4. “Engage all the senses when describing a place.”
This reminded me of an old writing tutor who set us the exercise of writing a descriptive passage without any visual description. We could include sounds, smells, textures and tastes and even emotions/intuition, but nothing that required the power of sight to observe. Try it. You’ll often be surprised at how powerful a piece of writing you produce.
5. “Dialogue defines a character. Even in the most basic of conversations between two people, there will be distinct differences in how they speak to each other.”
This is an extension of number two, but is particularly relevant to writing dialogue. Everyone speaks differently. Everyone has their favourite words, phrases and speech patterns, their quirky turns of speech, even their own way of pausing mid sentence, or starting sentences in the middle. When you find a character using an unusual word or phrase, or speaking in a certain way, make a note of it. Make sure he speaks this way throughout the novel and give all the other characters their own way of speaking too.
6. “A good plot draws its energy from the reader’s curiosity.”
If you’re ever stuck for ‘what happens next?’ ask yourself what the reader is curious about at this point, and explore that. You don’t have to reveal the answer to the reader’s current questions. Now may not be the time for that. Maybe it’s the time to build on them a little more.
7. [First drafts are] “a gift to a writer. The fact that no one but you will ever see your early work – unless you want them to – lets you pour onto the paper whatever damn words you choose, knowing you can go back to fix them later.“
Another thing I needed to hear right now. I was getting self-conscious about my writing. Why should I be? It’s a first draft. It’s for my eyes only. I can fix it later.
8. “Write something every day, even if it means getting just a few sentences on the screen.”
Or even a few notes in your notebook. Never let a day go by without writing something. Don’t let yourself start to get out of the habit.
9. “Is the ending important? Hey, this is where your reader will decide if he should buy your next book.”
Or as Mickey Spillane once put it:
“The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.”
10. “The odds are stacked against a book that’s self-published. It’s hard enough for a general trade publisher to find distribution.”
Regular readers may be surprised to read me stating that (although of course it’s Janet’s statement, not mine). If you stop by here often you’ll know that I’ve been researching self-publishing options and even wrote a pretty extensive blog post based on that research, Fifty Self-Publishing Resources For Authors.
But Janet is talking about fiction, and I agree with her. Self-publishing works best for non-fiction books that focus on a niche that the author has already established credibility in and a built a platform around. Self-publishing fiction is a risk, at best.
Janet goes on to point out there are some very successful books that started out as self published fiction books, from A Time To Kill through to The Tales of Peter Rabbit. The odds are stacked against self published fiction, but they’re not insurmountable. Few things ever are.
Janet Evanovich (born Janet Schneider; April 22, 1943) is an American writer. She began her career writing short contemporary romance novels under the pen name Steffie Hall, but gained fame authoring a series of contemporary mysteries featuring Stephanie Plum, a lingerie buyer from Trenton, New Jersey, who becomes a bounty hunter to make ends meet after losing her job. The 19 novels in this series consistently top the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists, most recently with Notorious Nineteen.