writing tips

...or the random thoughts of a weary editor.

Never write passages that get in the way of the narrative.

Far too many writers forget what it’s like to be a reader. They forget the passages in books they were reading that they skimmed through or jumped over; usually descriptions that were over-long or had nothing to do with the story. They didn’t want to, or couldn’t be bothered, to read them, yet seem to think that people will want to read theirs. Stick to the point.

Punctuation has a purpose.

The rules of punctuation have developed over centuries, evolving over that time for one purpose, which is to make your writing easier to understand. To flout the rules or, worse still, never learn them in the first place, is arrogant, ignorant and, ultimately self-defeating. You may think you’re being edgy or a bit of a maverick punctuating in an idiosyncratic style, but editors and publishers will just think you can’t write. Writing is a craft. Take the trouble to learn it.

Format is important.

Again, remember yourself as a reader. Go back and pick up a favourite novel. Look at how the words are laid out on the page. See how the start of each paragraph is indented. See how the text flows without having to jump over one or two blank lines after each paragraph. A correctly formatted page is pleasing to the eye. Laying out your page of text for a story or a book as if it’s a web page is not. If you can’t be bothered to format your page correctly, you can’t blame an editor, publisher or reader if they can’t be bothered to read it.

Upper case letters are there for a reason. 

Capital letters begin a sentence or someone’s name. They should never be used for emphasis. If you want to show that someone’s shouting, use an explanation point. That’s what they’re there for. “STOP,” he shouted, is unnecessary and is the mark of the amateur. “Stop!” he shouted, is the way to write it. Another device for adding emphasis to a word or sentence is to use italics. Be wary of over-use though. Remember that reading a full page of italicised text is wearing on the eye.

Choose your language carefully.

Remember that writing is about communication. You are attempting to communicate your thoughts and ideas to your reader. They don’t want to read your book with one hand and have a dictionary in the other. There are writers out there who have vast vocabularies and seem hell-bent on proving to all and sundry just how highly educated and clever they are by using obscure or arcane words and language. The only thing this kind of high-minded and superior attitude proves is that they are poor communicators.

Learn to spell.

An obvious point I would have thought, but one that’s missed time and time again. I was once editing some work of a writer who had set his story in the West Indies and was using the native patois for some of the dialogue. A brave attempt to add texture to his work, but when he described his character as speaking in a native patio, the effect was ruined by the sound of my laughter. When he repeated the phrase later in the story, I realised that it wasn’t an accident. He simply hadn’t checked his spelling. All, even the most basic, writing software has an integral spell checker. Use it or, if you’re writing long hand, use a dictionary.