In this final post in my series of writing tips, I bring you four new tips. These look at the 'big picture' of your overall book.
Writing tip # 1 – don’t let the main drama take place off the page
Too often I see beginner writers shy away from putting their characters in confrontational situations, and as a result they tie up the conflicts off the page, all neatly wrapped up with a bow. After battling throughout the book to be taken seriously as an artist, a great, big patronage suddenly and magically drops into the heroine’s lap, making all her dreams come true and turning her into an overnight success. It may be easier for you, and for your character, but it doesn’t make much fun for your readers. Don’t be afraid to put your characters into confrontational situations, and don’t fix their problems easily. We want to see them work hard for their resolution, and we want to experience the highs and lows alongside them.
Writing tip #2 – avoid making your characters TSTL
TSTL = too stupid to live
Some writing teachers advise that your characters should be their own worst enemy and they should make bad decisions. To a certain extent that’s true: your character’s own inner conflicts should be their biggest challenge, and the decisions they make should be influenced by that inner conflict. Only when they deal with their internal issues and start to make decisions from a new perspective, will their resolution be possible.
But too often I see beginner writers take this advice very literally. “My character needs to make bad decisions? Sure, let’s have her walk down a dark alley alone at night even though she knows that the drunk man from the last scene is waiting there for her.” Now she isn’t just her own worst enemy, she’s TSTL and the average reader, not being stupid, is going to get annoyed with both her and with your book. Your characters must still make decisions that are consistent with rational, normal human behaviour. Those decisions only have bad outcomes for them because they are not being true to themselves.
So always ask yourself: are my characters’ decisions bad because I as the author am trying to manipulate the story to be more dramatic? Are these the decisions that normal, rational people would make under similar circumstances?
Writing tip #3 – Character goals vs. Story goals
Understand the difference between the character having a goal at the start of the book, and the over-arching story goal, which is usually what the character achieves once the conflict has been resolved. At the beginning of the book, your characters may not yet be on board with the story goal – they may not even be aware that is their ultimate goal. As Jami Gold says: “[The characters] might cling to the status quo, or they might be in denial, or they might have their own selfish reasons for going along that will interfere with the story goal later.”
This tension between what the character wants and what the character needs / will ultimately gain, adds tension and conflict to your story which then makes your book a gripping read.
Writing tip #4 – Find your own voice
Another mistake that I see beginner writers make is that they copy the writing style of their favourite authors. This stems in part because they haven’t yet found their own voice, and in part because they’re too insecure to be themselves. It’s almost impossible to teach someone to find their voice. It’s a very personal journey, and takes time and lots of practice, but luckily there are tips and tricks to speed up the process. As it happens, I’ll be teaching a course next month through Savvy Authors to help writers find and polish their voice.