We associate critique with the negative, and that’s fair, but only to a limited extent. Improvement may mean learning where not to step, but that’s pointless if you don’t know how to walk, run, or dance, right? Often, writers find themselves drowning in so many lists of phrases, words, techniques, and clichés to avoid they struggle to write at all. While there are roads too often taken and words that fall on the page with all the charisma of rotten flounder, those issues belong to the editing brain and not the creative spirit writing first – or even second – drafts. So, here are ten great writing “Do’s” to keep your words flowing and your ideas roaring.
Always Ask Why
Why are your characters doing these things? They already have a set goal, but why do they want that goal? How does it shape their development? Look at every choice and ask why your character went left when they could’ve gone right. Both roads may lead to their goal, so there’s a secret motivation you haven’t discovered.
Trust Your Reader
If you find yourself with a beautiful scene full of sharp dialogue and sweeping visuals, leave it alone. Treat it like fanfiction and resist burdening the reader with the valley’s five hundred years of history or a blow-by-blow description of who the space port accepts incoming ships. A few breadcrumbs to keep up with the story are all your readers need. Trust them and carry on with the story.
Let Your Characters Taste
More characters deserve lovely food and drink in their tales. Have you ever had your mouth water when children in a story stop for a picnic with sweet jam and fresh, crusty bread that steams as they pull it apart? Maybe you can taste the wine in your vampire elder’s goblet. Conversely, your hero may taste the copper rot in the air after a battle. Use your wits, but remember your tongue.
Listen to Your World
If you find yourself just listing things in the world around your character, close your eyes and listen instead. Wheels clatter over cobblestones, or the waves hush screaming gulls on a windy shore.
Dig into Texture
We navigate a lot of our lives by touch. We feel the buttons on our phone in the dark, and many of us type purely by the feel of the keys. Look for opportunities for characters to touch their world, to experience it hands-on, literally.
Writing is always a kind of escapism. It may be the kind of escapism that brings you closer to important truths in reality, but as you write, you forget about the dishes, the news, and the weather. Sometimes you want to walk around in your character’s skin and enjoy all the good things that haven’t or good not happen to you in real life. It’s Cinderella at the ball, love at first sight, magical dresses that always slim your figure. But good stories come from conflict. Good things can happen to your characters, but don’t let your fantasies overshadow their mission.
Learn to Sink into Stories
This technique is, ironically, hard to describe. When I write, I often find myself writing from an editor’s point of view, choosing and rejecting words over and over as I struggle to string a basic sentence together. However, my best writing comes when I lean back, crank up my writing tunes, and let myself slip into the world. I distance myself as much as possible from reality and just let the words go. I try not to look at the screen at all. Naturally, I still have to edit, but I always find good bones under the mess.
This is a tricky task, but it’s one every writer should master. It’s essentially the follow-up to asking “Why?” One character’s actions should tumble into other characters’ motivations. The obvious example is a love triangle. A gives flowers to B, which prompts C to go on a quest to outshine A and win B’s heart. It may be a much smaller reaction, though. A courtier sees a letter passed between guards with the prince’s seal. The courtier spreads a rumor, and the prince’s innocent plan to improve relations with the neighboring country turn into a weapon his political opponents can wield against him. One domino hits another, which falls into the next, and so on until the whole line tumbles.
Read Outside Your Genre
Everyone knows greater writers are great readers. You’ve probably heard you should read outside your genre, too. That means more than stepping from the thriller aisle to the fantasy aisle. It means leaving the fiction section entirely on occasion and venturing into the mad world of non-fiction, poetry, and creative essays. These genres – arguably – depend more on their style than fiction. While a good story tugs fiction readers along even if the prose leaves something to be desired, no one is going to read a 600 page book about the Chicago World’s Fair unless it’s a mighty good read. So go out, find some books on history, nature, people, and science. You’ll come back burdened with treasure (and the fiction section will forgive your wandering eye).
Deny Yourself Easy Solutions
I’m a trained mediator. Sustaining arguments between characters, especially those easily solved with communication or compromise, irk me. A lot. That doesn’t mean I should let them kiss and make up to make myself comfortable, though. Good writing that makes readers squirm and desperately turn the next page isn’t always easy to write. Push yourself. Deny that happy ending as long as possible (or entirely).
What is your favorite writing “Do?” Have you tried any of the ten listed here? It’s never too late to work with a new technique.