Novel Writing Tips and Tricks

Writing your novel has been a long and often frustrating process, but you are not the writer you were when you started. The process of novel writing has improved your skills.

Writing Tip for Today: Let’s talk about some ways your revisions or your next project can be even more effective.

Watch Those Looks

In fiction, characters seem to do a lot of looking, staring, frowning or glaring. As you write, think about going beyond a look (even if it is across a crowded room) and at the least vary the “looks” with more precise verbs.

Some ideas include: grinning, grimacing, glowering, gazing, staring, beaming, ogling, sneering, smirking. If you need more suggestions, I recommend the Emotion Thesaurus by Becky Puglisi and Angela Ackerman. This handy guide can help you write past the generic toward the particular.

For the best experience for your readers, move past all these and instead use sentences (beats) of action in and around the dialogue. By pairing action with dialogue, your scenes will come to life in a cinematic way.

One Sentence Test

Write one sentence that describes your character, the setting and the main problem, goal or obstacle in the story. This often feels really scary! Like writing a query letter, it can make a writer sweat bullets. But the One Sentence Test doesn’t have to be so challenging.

Trick #1 uses former agent Nate Bransford’s formula for helping you get to that one sentence. Here it is: [protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist’s quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist’s goal]. Fill in this form and your story (or lack of) will pop out at you.

Trick #2 uses your own first paragraphs to track the story movement. Read each chapter’s opening paragraph in order. Does the story unfold in a logical way with forward movement? If not, you’ll know that you will need to revise so that readers understand and experience the story the way you envisioned it.

Show, Don’t Tell

Another way to test your draft is to sift for telling, explaining or otherwise narrating in a way that prevents the character from acting out the story. Especially when it comes to emotions, try to allow your characters to act it out rather than telling readers that the character was angry, sad or happy.

Trick #1 for avoiding these telly passages is R.U.E.—Resist the Urge to Explain. As you write a scene, imagine what your character is doing, feeling and describe it as if you are watching a movie. Instead of explaining your character’s actions and feelings, act out those same things using interior dialogue, body language and the character’s reactions.

Trick #2 to up your showing skills involves not allowing your characters to verbally tell your reader about story elements. Characters don’t tell each other things that both already know. For instance, if you need readers to know where your character works, just put it into the narrative. Don’t write, “Are you going to work at the General Electric plant at Main and 1st Street?” The character already knows where he works. “Are you going to work?” might be necessary—especially if it impacts the story in some way.

For all my readers: Here’s a pdf of 10 Novel Tests you can use to gauge your novel’s strength or weakness. Enjoy and Happy Easter!

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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