I write books for middle grade and young adult readers. And every so often I pause to sharpen the saw and learn more about the craft. Recently I took a break while writing my third book and focused on the editing process. This led to some broader learnings from the web, an editing book and my own realisations.
Avoid speech attribution by being clever with context and implied speakers.
In plain English – keep to ‘X said’, ‘X asked’ and above all avoid the need for explaining who is speaking with paragraph character beats or actions, either before or after the first speech in a section.
Keep to a strict viewpoint per section or better still chapter.
Why? Because only experts can make head-hopping work. Also, it is a far better read if your reader can get to know a character’s viewpoint for a while. Plus, it gives the writer time to develop intimacy with a character.
Use character’s inner dialogue sparingly to show their feelings, thoughts and concerns, but only based on what they can actually see from their perspective.
This helps to engage the reader in who the character is and what they are striving for. Too much inner dialogue though can distract from the plot. Too little and the reader can not get to know the character.
Lose the italics and exclamation marks.
Because – if the dialogue is strong enough it can stand on its own merits without signposts. And vice versa.
Read a lot and make notes as you read.
This won’t help you become the authors you read, but it will help your subconscious absorb the tone, words, structures and flows. Your notes are crucial to retain what you notice. I recommend noting that which you would never imagine writing. And then using similar structures made your own. Never attempt to be someone else, but do try to develop your own voice / style / approach.
Professionals vary word choice, sentence structures and use of verbs. Because if we repeat the same words or phrases over and again it becomes annoying.
Question arcs for the major characters.
Finding different ways to repeat the core themes of the story as questions posed by the protagonist, helps to drive both the hero’s chains of action and the reader’s perspective of what the story is really about. The context of the question will vary by story type – who did it? how? where are they? how to survive? where is the prize? how to win? does she love him? etc.
The antagonist has to have a convincing motive to allow the protagonist to be convincing.
In other words, flesh out what the antagonist wants and why to properly define the converse for the protagonist. Too often action movies fail in this respect and suffer as a consequence. Why does your anti-hero do what they do? What do they really want? If you as the writer do not clearly define this, it is unlikely that your work will convey a convincing sense of what the hero / protagonist is struggling against.
For example –
Our hero wants to save the world and get the girl/boy – fine.
But why does the anti-hero want to threaten the world in the first place? What do they gain? Their own certain demise? Some weird rebirth from the ashes and a power kick?
What does Jason Bourne actually want? To kill everyone in the CIA / FBI who made him a super-spy? Or to figure out who he really is and live a happy life somewhere? Otherwise he’s pretty much on a survivalist kick and a hiding to endless retreads.
Remove -ly words of all kinds – slowly, quickly, badly – gone… make them active in the verbs – He crawled along. In a split second she drew her gun. He was a terrible shot and he knew it. (Yes I cheated).
And cut out the droning on that gets in the way of the plot. Less is more. More or less. If you need filler (excessive – narrative, back story, inner voice, description or repetition) perhaps your plot or subplots are too thin. You do have a plot outline don’t you? Read up on the 5 act plot or hero’s path if you don’t.
That’s all for now folks
Happy writing and reading
Author of Sean Yeager Adventures