Other things to consider...
Avoid Cliches and Stereotypes
Cliches are expressions like “the patience of Job” or “money can’t buy happiness.” Some of them are true, and so are stereotypes or “cliche-ed situations.” But they are so hackneyed that readers (and editors) roll their eyes when they read them, unless they’re treated in an original way. So try not to use them in your writing, unless you can make them particularly funny or compelling.
Here are a few examples of what I mean:
- It’s dark in the house and the heroine hears a noise. She trips over something, but of course – it’s the cat. This can work. But usually, the reader sees it coming a mile away (see what I mean? – why couldn’t I come up with a less hackneyed phrase to express this?)
- The hero just loves a woman who will EAT.
- A gossipy neighbor who conveniently has exactly the information the investigator needs.
- He’s a kindly old gent with twinkly eyes.
- A plump fellow (or woman) who is messy and slovenly – and maybe even toothless! And definitely an abuser of her foster children.
- The villain who never dies. He just keeps on coming back to cause more and more trouble for the hero and/or heroine.
Point of View
In genre fiction, most scenes are written in one character’s point of view or POV. That means that the reader experiences the scene from that character’s perspective. The reader is in his skin. You read his thoughts and feelings. You can almost anticipate what he’s going to say next and why. Most successful authors do not switch POV in the midst of the scene – it can cause too much confusion for the reader. Some authors are good at moving seamlessly in one scene from one character’s POV to another, but it takes skill and practice.
Usually the scene is written in the POV of the character who has the most to lose. Or the most conflict with what’s going on. The POV character can conceal certain facts from the other characters, but let the reader in on the secret. Sometimes it’s the POV character who is receiving a huge revelation and the reader is in on his reaction to it.
One last tip about POV. If the scene you’re trying to write isn’t moving along correctly, try switching the POV. You might find a solution to your predicament that way.
Hook the Reader from Page One
Take a critical look at your beginning pages. Do you need to scrap them and start your book in the middle of Chapter Two? Maybe even Chapter Three! Lots of beginning writers spend too much time giving background information right at the start of their work. This is not the way to capture your reader and make her miss her bus stop! (Just kidding. I wouldn’t want anyone to miss their stop).
It’s far better to get the book started in the middle of some kind of action, whether emotional or physical. It sets up the reader to care about what’s going to happen next. They are engaged. They can’t wait to turn the page. Then somewhere down the line, you can filter in all that valuable information you once had up front. Readers don’t really want to read an essay about your character’s past. They want it eventually, but write it so it emerges organically from the story.
Passive Voice — Avoid It!
This is a choice of style, but generally, use of the passive voice slows down the pace of the work and weakens it.
Here are examples:
Passive: The lion was shot by the hunter. Active: The hunter shot the lion.
Passive: When Eric was hit by the baseball, he was taken to the hospital. Active: Tom hit Eric with the baseball, and his dad took him to the hospital.
Not a huge difference between the two, but the active voice in each example is more dynamic. It is also clearer. Sometimes the passive voice is useful. “John was murdered.” It lends a bit of mystery to the sentence, better than “Someone murdered John.” You might also show weakness in a character by using the passive voice in dialogue: “My homework got lost.”
As a general rule, though, try to avoid the passive voice in your writing.
Margo Maguire © 2011.