I first began writing when I was in 4th grade, my first work was a poem called “The Setback” about Martin Luther King Jr. I read it to my teacher and she asked me if I copied it from a book. Haha! From that day on I’ve always felt the greatest compliment is when the person who reads your work doesn’t believe you wrote it. That poem was published in the St. Petersburg Times Alligator Alley section. So my first work was published! If you want a copy of the poem, which I still store in this wonderful brain of mine, contact me. 🙂
So maybe you could say I’m a “born writer”, but I don’t think so. I don’t believe that we are born anything, save male or female. We are inclined towards what comes easiest to us, but that doesn’t mean we were “born anything”. Anyway, I wrote poetry and the occasional short story as I grew up, but never focused on writing as a craft. It wasn’t until my twenties that I began to think of writing as something I could actually do for a career. So, I started doing what any great writer does; I started reading. I delved into fiction like I never had before and supplemented that with lots of “how to” books. After digging through Dickens, Kerouac, more Dickens, Caleb Carr, and Dickens again, I began my first novel. I got to 10,000 words and quit. I was well on my way to being a quitter.
Then something amazing happened. I read about a writer’s group in my little town that meets for 3 hours every Friday followed by lunch. What a great idea I thought. So I went and checked it out, and let me tell you I am the luckiest guy in the whole world. This club is full of published authors with years of experience under their belts. One lady has published over 20 books, another is an attorney, another is a retired college professor, and one lady lived in Africa for 20 years where she was held captive by her husband. I know, this group sounds like a good book idea. One step at a time. 🙂
I read my first chapter to them this past Friday and got quite a good response. Words like promise, potential, enjoyable, strong style, etc spewed forth. With all the good thought came the advice. “You need to be less passive.” “7 year olds don’t talk like that.” “If his kid was in danger, why wouldn’t he pick him up?” “Show me, don’t tell me!”
I was thrilled! Here I am, getting tips and advice from people who know what gets published. I’m writing this article now because I want to encourage you to get involved in some sort of a group. Don’t just join any group though. I tried out a few different ones that were awful before I settled on this one. Also, here are 10 tips to become a better writer I have learned from my author friends already.
- Have a protagonist with a problem. Sounds easy I know. But this one really struck me. Create a sympathetic/fantastic character that has a massive seemingly impossible problem.
- Show, don’t tell. Stock advice, I know, but worth it. Don’t ever lose a chance to let your character do something to show his character. Example- He was a bad man who didn’t care about children. Compare. Ebeneezer walked by the United Children’s Hospital, “Awful sick children, a burden on society and an expense to us taxpayers. Their death won’t be anything but a relief to us all.” OUCH!
- Each chapter should move the plot forward. Every chapter is a chance to let something happen that takes the story to a whole new level.
- Each chapter should end with a page turning sentence. A little cheap sometimes, but it works. Try ending chapters with lines that make the reader turn the page. Another dangerous situation had been avoided, but we were oblivious to the two men hiding up ahead, ready to make sure we were finished off this time.
- Have a goal for each Character. Goals help drive the story. Just as you need goals in your own life, (like finishing your novel) your characters need goals too. It helps you as the writer think like your characters, and it gives you something to shoot for.
- Create a formidable challenge/problem. We all know the main character will win, or do we? Create a problem so big, it takes all the character’s strength and determination.
- The Ying and The Yang. I call this next tip the ying and yang. Don’t let any character be all good or all bad. Your antagonist needs some flaw, and your antagonist needs a redeeming quality.
- Always Increase the Tension. Drama sells everything. Never miss an opportunity to make the love scene more passionate, the murder scene more gruesome, or your character more complex.
- Everyone loves a twist. Every good book has a twist of some sort. Maybe that girlfriend is a spy or the guy down the street is involved in some way we never thought possible.
- A satisfying resolution. We all love happy endings, or at least endings that actually end. Unless you’re writing the next great trilogy try to have some closure. And if you are writing that great trilogy, each book should still have a clear ending. Something has to be accomplished in each book. There’s nothing worse than a book that doesn’t tell you what happened to the characters when the dust settled.
I know you were only looking for 10, but I couldn’t resist. Here’s an extra tip for you, free of charge!
- Set deadlines. All the other tips mean nothing if you don’t write anything. I read a quote once that said something to the effect that you can edit bad writing, but you can’t edit the blank page. Set a time each week that a chapter has to be done, you can always edit it later, just get it done!