Hi writer friends! Here are some elements I focus on while I’m writing and when doing a critique. Hope you find them useful!
1. Only use pronouns (-ly words and those such as “really” and “very”) when necessary. Often a sentence is stronger and clearer without these extra fluff words.
2. Get rid of all unnecessary “that”s. If you do a search for the word “that,” you might be shocked. It’s one of the most common overused words. For example: “What is it that you want?” Can easily be changed to “What is it you want?” Of course there are times when “that” is necessary or is used stylistically to punctuate a sentence. Just be aware and use your best judgment.
3. Sprinkle action/movement/detail/thoughts throughout long moments of dialogue so we can clearly visualize the scene. Oftentimes we forget to do this, and it leads the reader to feel as if the characters are standing there like statues, speaking monotone words back and forth. Show us what is happening, and how the character(s) is/are feeling.
4. Be careful of “Info Dumping.” This is especially true of the beginning of a story. We have so much to tell the reader, but it’s important that we only “tell” little bits here and there, and that we do our best to “show” those details instead. For example, we can have the characters speak about it. Or we can show a flashback. It doesn’t all have to be explained at once. Take the most pertinent details of the world, and show them to us throughout the first 2-3 chapters. Let the world build as we learn our main character.
5. Keep the dialogue believable. Of course if you’re writing fantasy or historical, your characters might speak in a formal manner. But if you are writing contemporary characters, it’s important to make them sound realistic by using contractions and shortening their speech. Try saying it out loud and hearing how it sounds. And for the love, don’t have your characters call each other by name a lot. In real life, we don’t use each other’s names often unless it’s an important moment.
6. Don’t “date” your novel with slang words and company/brand names. One of my characters uses a flip phone. I regret that deeply, lol. It never dawned on me in 2010 that the average person might no longer use flip phones by 2019. Instead of using exact names for tech equipment, you can simply say, “She answered her phone.” Readers will imagine whatever form of technology they currently use. As far as slang words, use them sparingly because what is “cool” today might be ridiculous in two years. This same idea goes for music. Just know that as time passes, readers down the road either might not understand your references, or will think to themselves, “This book is kind of outdated…”
7. Beware of stereotyping characters. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. My favorite kinds of stories are those that show how complicated and ambiguous the characters are, even the villains/bullies/mean girls. Show us the compassionate cheerleader, the genius linebacker, and the self-doubting villain. In real life there is so much gray area. Show that in your fiction too.
8. Be careful not to make your main character too perfect. We want our main characters to be likable, or at least likable enough to want to go on their journey with them. But if a character is too pious, never makes mistakes, has every love interest fawning over them, has every talent and ability…it can feel boring or unreliable. Every character needs flaws. Something they’re bad at. Something they’re afraid of. Something they regret.
9. Avoid “Purple Prose.” The words and descriptions should flow from you. Don’t try too hard. Sometimes writers “overwrite,” meaning an abundance of adjectives and ornate, elaborate descriptions that can pull readers out of a scene. This is called purple prose. There is a fine line between beautiful writing and overwriting, and much of it is subjective. I’m a commercial writer, not a literary writer, so for me less is more.
10. Watch out for “instalove.” Instant attraction is one thing. We definitely want to experience all of those warm and fuzzies right along with the main character. But if the main character and love interest share a deep devotion too quickly, the reader will call foul. We want to feel the growing tension between them. We want them to earn their love as the story progresses, and for it to happen organically. Perhaps some couples experience instalove in real life, but in a book, it’s less appealing.
Happy writing, friends!