writing

Getting your writing off to a great start in 2022 #writingtips #amwriting

It’s been a tough couple of years, and goodness knows what 2022 will bring. COVID has shown us that we just don’t know what’s around the corner. But there’s something about January, despite what’s going on the world, that always feels full of hope. It’s like opening a fresh new notebook, full of blank pages just waiting to be filled. 

If you are planning on setting some writing goals in 2022, are beginning your first novel, or cracking on with your twentieth, thinking of self-publishing or are about to query agents, are a first-time author, or a seasoned pro, this is a great time to take the opportunity to brush up on your writing skills. Throughout January and February, I’ll be posting some writing and editing tips to help you on your writing journey.

From advice about the proper use of dialogue tags, to the problems with exposition, from commonly confused words, to managing transitions between scenes, the blog will be full of advice, quick tips and pointers to help get your writing on track.

Make 2022 the year your writing is the best it can be. 

And if you’re considering hiring an editor, do get in touch.

Do You Really Need an Editor? #writingtips #amwriting

The short answer is yes, you do.

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re thinking of self-publishing. You’ve spent hours writing. You’re proud of your work, but nervous about how it will be received. You’ve spent time revising and polishing when you could have been doing other things. You’ve already paid out for a professionally designed book cover. You really need to start making some money on this project. So you don’t need the extra expense of an editor, do you? Well, yes, you probably do.

You’ve written your masterpiece. You’ve had family and friends read it; they’ve pointed out a few typos but have told you it’s wonderful and that you should publish. So that’s what you do next, right? Well, possibly, if your friends and family are completely impartial and will tell you the honest truth. And if you are completely sure that you’ve managed to catch every typo and grammatical error in your copy. And if you’re one hundred per cent sure that there’s nothing that can be improved, corrected and enhanced by a completely impartial, professional eye. By someone who edits as their job and whose reputation depends on how well they do that job.

You need an editor because, not only will you not see all the typos and grammatical errors but you will be too invested in your work to see it impartially. You know your characters and your plot inside out. You know the sequence of events and why and how things happen. And this is where the problem lies. You can’t ‘un-know’ all of that, so you can’t see the flaws in plot, in structure, in characterisation. You can’t read your book from beginning to end the way a reader will. And if there are flaws and inconsistencies, if there is more than the odd typo, then your readers, if you publish without having had a thorough edit, will be happy to point them out in reviews.

I understand how attached you are to your work. I know how horrible it is to send that work to someone else and have them criticise it, however constructively. However, I also know that this process is far less painful than sending your precious work out there, warts and all, to have those warts picked over by readers and reviewers.

So the question is not ‘can I afford to hire an editor?’ but ‘can I afford not to?’

If you’d like to discuss having your work edited, please do get in touch. You can use the contact form here, or email me at alisonewilliams@sky.com.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Punctuating Dialogue

Make sure you punctuate dialogue correctly, particularly when using question marks or exclamation marks before the closing speech mark. So, for example:

Incorrect:

“Who’s there?” He asked.

The sentence consists of the dialogue and the dialogue tag, so there shouldn’t be a capital letter in the middle of the sentence; even though a question mark is usually used at the end of a sentence, here it ends the sentence that is spoken, but not the sentence that the dialogue is a part of, so this should be:

“Who’s there?” he asked.

And:

“I’d like a cup of coffee,” she said.

Note here that, although the sentence of dialogue has ended, the sentence itself hasn’t, so you don’t use a full stop at the end of dialogue, you use a comma.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Commas #Writing #Editing

1) Use a comma to separate items on a list. This always reminds me of a memory game I used to play with my kids on long car journeys:

I went to the shops and I bought an apple, a banana, a cherry and six bars of chocolate.

Be careful to avoid confusion here though:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine and cheese and tomato. 

Now, are we suggesting here that I eat sandwiches with all these fillings? Or that I like hummus sandwiches, and sandwiches that contain sardines AND cheese AND tomato. Or sardine and cheese. Or just cheese and tomato? Commas can clear this up:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine, and cheese and tomato.

2) Use a comma to separate a series of actions, events or elements in a sentence:

She opened the door, peeped inside, and screamed her head off.

3) Use a comma before a conjunction to connect two independent clauses:

She opened the door quietly, but he still heard her.

This is a case where the comma could be left out, but using it here helps the pace of the sentence, and adds to the suspense.

4) Use a comma after the introductory elements of a sentence:

Opening the door, she felt a scream rise in her throat.

Use a comma to set off parenthetical information:

She opened the door, her heart banging in her chest, and peeped inside. 

The bit between the commas can be removed without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.

5) Use a comma to separate adjectives.

She was a scared, pale little thing. 

If you can put an ‘and’ between the adjectives, then it’s probably better to use a comma there instead – you might say ‘she was a scared and pale little thing’, but not ‘she was a scared and pale and little thing’.

6) Use a comma when you are writing speech:

This door’s hinges,’ she said, ‘are in need of some oil.’

And

‘I think we should oil the hinges,’ she said.

7) Use a comma before a phrase that expresses a contrast:

‘The door was tall, but not very heavy.’

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Active and Passive #Writing #Editing

Using the active voice makes your writing simple, clear, concise and immediate, drawing your reader into the action of the piece and giving your writing energy. Using passive voice, on the other hand, can make your writing seem too formal, dull and wordy and can create a distance between the reader and the words.

Passive 

In passive sentences, the thing acted upon is the subject of the sentence, and the thing doing the action is usually included at the end of the sentence, for example:

The book was read by Sam.

The book is the subject receiving the action, ‘was read’ is the passive verb and Sam is doing the action.

Active

In active sentences, the thing or person doing the action is the subject of the sentence, and the thing or person receiving the action is the object. So:

Sam read the book.

Sam is the subject doing the action,’ read’ is the verb and the book is the object receiving the action.

What’s the problem?

The problem with passive is that the thing or person receiving the action becomes the subject of the sentence, but he, she or it isn’t actually doing anything. They are having something done to them. The first sentence isn’t grammatically wrong – it makes complete sense, but it sounds unnatural and forced. Another issue with passive voice is that it can be wordy. For example:

Passive

It was thought by most people that I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

Contrast the active:

Most people thought I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Sex Scenes #Writing #Editing

  • Skip the euphemisms. Show your reader some respect. If you need some awful examples to avoid read 50 Shades (Down there? Really? What are we, eleven?)
  • Make it consensual. Obviously consensual. Non-consensual sex is not erotic or sexy. At all. It is just wrong.
  • Your characters are not porn stars. Unless they are porn stars. It needs to be hot, but not unbelievable. Don’t use clichés from terrible porn movies.
  • Stay true to your characters. As with all action scenes and as with all dialogue, your characters need to behave and speak in a way your reader can believe they would behave and speak.
  • Make sure the scene has a purpose. Like any scene or event in your book it needs to drive the story forward.
  • As with all your writing, but especially when writing about sex, use all five senses. ALL of them.
  • Often the idea of sex is more erotic than the act itself. Build up the tension.
  • Act it out! Seriously – one of my best teachers on my Masters course had written both excellent fight scenes and excellent sex scenes and she insisted that the best way to make both realistic and readable was to act them out. (That way you don’t end up having your characters do things that would take three hands each and I don’t have to sit there on a Tuesday afternoon wondering what’s supposed to be going where when I’d rather be eating a biscuit).

Once again, my top tip is to read. Shirley Conran and Jilly Cooper write better sex scenes than a certain other author mentioned above as does Sylvia Day (sometimes). And of course you can’t beat a bit of D H Lawrence. Though in my humble opinion Flaubert did it best with poor old Madame Bovary.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Verisimilitude (or keeping it real) #Writing #Editing

How do you ensure that you keep the ‘reality’ of your fictional world intact? Here are the pitfalls to avoid:

  • Something unusual happening in your fictional world that you haven’t prepared your reader for
  • A character that notices something they wouldn’t notice in real life, says something they wouldn’t say, or does something they wouldn’t do
  • In fantasy, a character not using a skill that you have given them when they should do so
  • Unrealistic dialogue that is used to convey information 
  • In historical fiction particularly, an object, custom, behaviour that didn’t exist or wouldn’t have happened in the time in which your novel is set
  • Continuity. This is as important in fiction as it is in films. For example, if your character has his hands handcuffed behind his back, don’t have them in front of him two minutes later (as in Reservoir Dogs).

Much of writing is about building believable and compelling worlds, but those worlds must follow a logic that the reader can relate to, understand, and around which you can create interesting and dynamic stories. 

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Transitions #Writing #Editing

Transitions are used to:

  • Change time
  • Change location
  • Change character viewpoint
  • To skip unimportant time periods or events

So how do you use transitions skilfully?

  • Start a new chapter – this easily lets your reader know the narrative has moved on
  • If you’re changing scene/time/viewpoint  within a chapter use a physical sign like ***** centred on the page, or double space and then don’t indent the first line of your next paragraph.
  • Keep it short and simple – ‘that night’, ‘the next day’.
  • Jump right in – rather than say: ‘When Linda arrived at the coffee shop the next morning’ go for ‘Linda slid into the booth and took a sip of her latte’. We know where and when Linda is straight away.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Exposition #Writing #Editing

You need to ‘show’ your reader information, not simply ‘tell’ them. This way you ‘expose’ the back story without being boring. And some of the best ways to do this are through dialogue, conflict, revealing a character’s thoughts and using physical props such as newspapers, letters and emails. 

For example, have your characters talk to each other  about events that have happened, what those events meant to them, how they felt and reacted to those events.  But a word of warning. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Flashbacks #Writing #Editing

  • Make sure a flashback follows a strong scene. Flashbacks can be problematic in that they remove your character and therefore your reader from the action in your narrative. A strong preceding scene can ensure that the narrative is sustained.
  • Ensure your reader knows exactly where and when he is. Make the transition into the past clear.
  • Use the correct verb tense. If your main narrative is written in past tense, then the first sentences of the flashback should be in past perfect. You can then continue in simple past.
  • When the flashback is over, make sure the transition to the ‘present’ of the narrative is smooth and clear, so that your reader isn’t confused or disorientated.
  • Acknowledge the flashback. It should have an effect on the character who experienced it and on the narrative.