ALLi partner member Alison Jack, who is a professional editor, shares writing advice that she wishes she’d known when she was writing her first book , Dory’s Avengers.
Her top tips will boost the confidence of anyone at the start of the self-publishing process – and plenty who have progressed beyond novice status or who are trade-published. (Interesting to note, too, that this professional editor also hired an editor for her own work – another sound piece of advice!)
When I was writing my debut novel, I knew nothing about the publishing process and scoured the Internet for advice. I found it by the bucketload, most of it contradictory. This obviously wasn’t much help, but over the years I have managed to sort the wheat from the chaff. I hope my experiences, both good and bad, will be of help to other new authors.
Writing Your Book
Apart from the basics: grammar rules, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction, there are no rules for writing a book. If someone tells you there are, ignore them. Perhaps you’ve heard of the author voice. This is unique to each individual author. Don’t worry if you make mistakes, your editor (me, for example – cue best professional smile) will help you sort them out. The most important thing from your point of view as an author is that nothing stifles your voice. Allow your writing to flow.
The following list will give you a few hints, especially if you’re writing fiction, but I want to stress they are guidelines, not rules. Some are things I’ve learnt from writing my own novel, others come from my experiences as a copy-editor.
- Try to avoid irrelevant storylines, although if a few sneak in a good editor will highlight them.
- In real life you get to know the people you meet gradually, so think of introducing your characters in the same way. A mistake I made was naming too many characters in the opening pages of my book. A lot of these characters turned out to be quite minor, and my poor readers wasted time trying to remember them all. No character, not even the lead character, benefits from a huge introduction on page one. It will leave your readers’ heads whirling, and they’ll forget most of the details. If your protagonist is in her twenties, pretty and called Jane, that’s all you need to say to begin with. Her outgoing personality, horse riding expertise and dedication to Chelsea Football Club (or whatever) will become apparent as the story progresses.
- Only you can discover whether your natural writing style is to plot each stage of the story carefully or see how it pans out. I am a pantser, but I have edited excellent work by plotters. Whichever style suits you is the correct style, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not!
- Prologue – do you really need one? My debut novel’s prologue has regularly been slated as the weakest part of the book; some critics even said they didn’t think they were going to enjoy the book until they got to chapter one. Everything introduced in the prologue became apparent as the story progressed anyway. Lesson learnt. Book number two will be prologue free.
- Epilogue – you almost certainly don’t need one. I originally included an epilogue in my book because, despite the story coming to its natural conclusion in the final chapter, I found it very difficult to let go. Luckily a friend read the epilogue and hated it, and I’d scrapped it before sending the manuscript to prospective publishers. I’ve yet to read an epilogue that adds anything to a story, so if you feel inclined to write one please question your reasons for doing so.
- Try not to be too wordy. Question every adverb and adjective – do they enhance the sentence? Are you using complicated words when simple ones will do? Do you have a favourite word or phrase you repeat over and over again? Your editor should point these out if so, but do try to limit them. One of my favourite phrases was ‘incandescent with rage’. If I’d been given free rein, my book would have been seething (literally!) with furious characters, but thanks to my editor the phrase only appeared once, thus guaranteeing it maximum impact.
- In dialogue, it soon becomes evident which character is speaking at any one time. The words spoken often show who is speaking and what mood they’re in so there’s no need to tell the reader, and if you haven’t yet been told it’s better to show rather than tell, you will be!
- Try not to overuse certain words. ‘Just’, ‘only’, ‘again’, ‘back’ and ‘also’ are favourites. Your editor will help point these out.
- Only use ‘started to’ or ‘began to’ if the action which follows is not going to reach its natural conclusion.
- Are you going to write in UK or American English? Decide on one and be consistent.
- Are you going to write in past or present tense? Ditto previous point.
- If you’re writing in the first person, beware of suddenly switching to the second person. For example: ‘I was working in my shop, and it was really busy. You couldn’t stop for a second or the customers would complain you were going too slow’ is a tad confusing.
Your editor will point out and/or correct all of the above, but the tidier your manuscript is when you send it off for editing the quicker and cheaper the process will be. Hey, I’m doing myself out of work here! Moving swiftly on… Good luck with your writing, and I wish you every success.#TopTips and #writingadvice for beginners by @AlisonJack66… Click To Tweet
OVER TO YOU Would you like to share any writing tips that you wish you’d known when you started out? Or are you just starting out and have some specific questions you’d like answered? Join the conversation via the comments box below!