The other day, I followed a link to a free KPD download from Amazon. The title sounded great, the summary was interesting, and there was nothing to loose in a free download.
Or so I thought. I did lose something else, though: My writing cool.
Let’s back up a little.
The story was about dragons, and I always love that. The concept was interesting, the plot involved enough to cause tension. Even the setting was fun to discover. All this was enough to keep me reading.
But the writing itself was atrocious. I honestly can’t see how this would have bypassed any serious editor. And this is what brought on an urgent wish to impart some dos and don’ts about writing. Hopefully they might help others put out a novel that is not just interesting but a joy to read.
1) DO NOT write in present tense. Ever. It feels awkward to read. And it basically implies that your command of grammar is not firm enough to deal with present perfect, past tense and past perfect. It’s the absolute sign of the beginner and amateur. (Yes, there are exceptions. But you’re only allowed to break the rules after you know them.)
2) Read the story out aloud. If you get bored after three sentences, something is wrong.
3) Vary your sentence structure. SPO simply doesn’t cut it if you use it all the time.
4) SHOW DON’T TELL. This one is huge. There is an enormous difference between telling: “XYZ looked at ABC sadly.” and showing: “XYZ held her breath for a moment, then looked away so ABC wouldn’t notice her tears.”
5) Learn to LOVE your language. Writing is like painting with words. If you limit your palette, you might be painting in black and white. The best way to learn about great language use is to read, read, read. And keep an eye open for how those authors use English, how they play with words, synonyms and expressions. This is what distinguishes forth grade story telling from real writing. LOVE your language. Learn it inside out.
6) If you want to use quaint expressions like thee, thou, thy and thine – for heaven’s sake learn the grammar behind them! They DO NOT mean the same, nor can they be used interchangably. A simple google search can go a long way.
I have been guilty of almost all those things. I know that writing good copy is a process that never ends. Yet I hope that this short list will help someone turn out a better novel before sending it to Amazon. Oh, and the author of the novel that sparked all this shall remain nameless.
*Picture by Pati Montano, from Wikimedia Commons