A Few Writing Tips for Beginners

tipSince I’ve studied to be an author, I have picked up a few tips along the way that might help other writers, even if you only write fanfic. These are just basic tips, not the in-depth type of thing normally mentioned on other blogs.

1. Use proper spelling, grammar, and capitalization. Don’t use chat-speak in stories. Saying “she wuz 2 l8,” is going to make me stop reading your story instantly. Instead, say something like this:

She touched his throat. No pulse pounded under her fingers. She was too late.

2. When a new character speaks, start a new paragraph.
Don’t do this:

Rob sat in the chair. “We can rest here a while.” Jen nodded. “Sounds good.” Rob smiled. Jen sighed. At least Rob had the energy to smile.

Instead, do this:

Rob sat in the chair. “We can rest here a while.”
Jen nodded. “Sounds good.”
Rob smiled.
Jen sighed. At least Rob had the energy to smile.

3. Keep in one tense. Don’t mix past and present tense.

She runs, gasping for breath. She tripped over a stick and her face slammed into the hard ground.

This should be one or the other.

Past: She ran, gasping for breath. She tripped over a stick. Her face slammed into the hard ground.
Present: She runs, gasping for breath. She trips over a stick. Her face slams into the hard ground.

Present tense is often used in first person, but it is rare to see it in third.

4. Don’t head hop. This is a little more complicated than the others I mentioned, but I see it a lot. It normally happens in third person, not first person.
Head hopping is when you switch the point of view from one character to another without letting the reader know. The reader thinks they are in one person’s head, then they are suddenly thrust into anther person’s head without warning. This style used to be common, which is probably the reason new authors sometimes fall into the trap of doing it. Some people can do this well enough to get away with it but as a general rule, it’s very difficult to pull off well.

Jen knew it was too dangerous to go out in the open, but she followed after Rob. He was a bit crazy, but she couldn’t let him walk into some ambush on his own. Rob looked back at Jen. Why did she look so nervous? It wasn’t like there would be an ambush in the middle of the clearing. Unknown to the pair, there was an ambush at the edge of the clearing.

At first, you thought you were in Jen’s head, but then, you are in Rob’s head, and then, you find out something neither of the characters know. It’s rather confusing. If you want to tell the story from more than one POV, you need to separate things. By separating these scenes with a chapter or page break, you will alert readers there is a change.

Jen followed after Rob, her gaze darting around the clearing. Why did he always do crazy things like this? He should have known an open place was the perfect spot for an ambush.
_________

Rob glanced back at Jen. Why was she so nervous? It wasn’t like there would be an ambush in the middle of the clearing.

You could do the same for the ambusher by having another break in the story.

5. Use active verbs, not passive ones. This can also cut down on the adverbs in your sentences, which is a good thing. You can also show things, instead of telling.
She was walking quickly toward a boy who was on the ground. He had a runny nose and was sad.

Instead, do this:
She ran toward the boy who lay on the ground. He sniffled as tears streamed down his face.

Now, it’s an interesting story because it shows the boy is crying, rather than just saying he’s sad. Note that the second example is actually shorter, even though it shows what is going on better than the first example.

6. If you’re writing fanfic or historical fiction, do a bit of research to get the world right. There might not be Mountain Dew or TV in Star Wars or a story set in 1923. Putting products into your story that don’t fit can jar readers.
Also, try to avoid using slang or language that might not be in that world. It might jar a reader if a character in a Lord of the Rings fanfic says, “Groovy,” or if a character in Victorian England starts spouting R rated swear words.

Here are a few links to get you started on more in-depth stuff. I haven’t checked out all the links on the second two lists.
The Author’s Chair
Fiction University Online Resources
100 Best Websites for Writers

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About Jessi L. Roberts

I live and work on my family’s cattle ranch in eastern Montana. I have a flock of chickens, a hyper golden retriever, some cows, and a few horses. I enjoy fantasy and science fiction and my head is full of wild sci-fi story ideas, some involving apocalypses and others involving aliens. I have been published twice in Havok Magazine, an imprint of Splickity.
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