In the first part of this blog I offered five tips to help the beginner writer come across as more advanced than they actually are. From establishing the gender of your protagonist, where they are in the setting, their Point of View and then keeping the story moving I reflected on a few key components. So now I’ll resume –
6.Keep the reader in the moment.
Another big tendency I often see is lots of exposition about a characters past, or the narrator telling us details about them instead of showing them (therefore breaking the old ‘show don’t tell’ rule). More advanced writers seem to take the view that if you want the reader to know something you need to weave it into the now. You can’t stray into exposition for more than a line or so as the story then doesn’t feel crafted. I suggest that you try to weave in any key information you might offer as exposition into the dialogue. Or the action. That’s often the best way forward.
7.Start your story in the right place.
If you find that you are needing to weave a lot of exposition into the story, then have you really started the story in the right place? Why not start it earlier?
The narrative frame that an author applies to tell a story is very important. Bring your reader into the story at the most fruitful, exciting, revealing part. At the point that shows the most challenges occurring for your character, so you can really grip them. If that has already happened, your narrative frame is too late. If that hasn’t happened when the story opens, why not start the story later? Yes, there will be some details you need to blend in to allow this to happen. Have these details in dialogue, or have a brief prologue. Some authors offer maps and glossaries to smuggle this information across in a way that doesn’t interfere with the story. But once your writing begins, I think make sure the story starts!
8.Ensure the prose is driven – either by plot or character.
Another aspect I want to bring up is to ensure your piece is being driven by something. By and large, the reader is invested from the start of a piece of creative writing by the plot (for instance; ‘who killed the x and left the dead body?) or the character. If you don’t have a strong plot on offer to hook the reader into a narrative then the character hook is essential. Key to finding it is asking yourself what is your characters key need, or vulnerability. Work that in right at the start and keep that as the central issue.
9.Dialogue mid-sentence does not require a full stop.
In prose from beginner writers I often see sentences like this-
‘I won’t do it.’ Was Jack’s response.
But as we are mid-sentence we need a comma mid sentence, and no capital letter-
‘I won’t do it,’ was Jack’s response.
We want the reader to suspend their disbelief and feel a part of the story. They can’t do that if they are stumbling over a punctuation issue. Which leads me onto my final point –
10.A comma is needed before an addressee
Finally, a good way to come across as an advanced writer (that an editor, agent or publisher will really notice) concerns the dialogue. Have a comma before the name of someone being addressed, in dialogue. So-
‘Come over here Jack,’ she said.
‘Come over here, Jack,’ she said.
It took me a whole novel to work this one out, and repeated prompts from a most patient editor- so don’t worry too much if you haven’t got that one yet!