Monday, February 18, 2013

George Bernstein – Tips on Becoming a Better Writer

Tips on Becoming a Better Writer
by George Bernstein
So you’ve written your novel, and edited the heck out of it, but how do you get it good enough to actually get published? I went through that problem for a long time, slowly getting to where I had to be. Here are some of my suggestions, now that you’ve got a workable product. How do we turn an everyday Volkswagen into a Lexus?
My first suggestion to every new writer is to find a GOOD writers conference (or 2 or 3!), hopefully somewhere near enough to drive to…unless you’ve got cash to burn. Then I recommend you fly to Maui. That’s the Cadillac of conferences.
A well-run conference is usually run by local writing groups. The Florida Writers Association, for instance, hosts a 3-day event every October, usually in the Orlando area. While these better conferences will almost always have several agents and editors to whom you can pitch your work, the real reason for going is for the classes. You’ll find a plethora of sessions on every phase of writing, publishing, promotion and how to find agents and editors. More classes than you can possibly attend.
Once you start listening to professionals show you what makes great writing, you’ll be stunned at how little you actually knew. There often are critique sessions, too, and you’ll have a chance to network with other aspiring writers, and maybe establish some critique partners. And if you’re lucky, you may connect with an agent or editor who will be willing to read your work. Personal contact can get you past their slush pile, even if they don’t eventually take you on. At least you may get some real feedback.
Okay, you’ve attended a conference or two, and are fired up over transforming your work into the gem you know it should be. Here are a few things to make your novel stand out as professional.
The first thing to do is to go back and shorten your chapters. Three to five pages each, sometime even less. Occasionally, one may need to be a bit longer. I took many chapters from TRAPPED and made three or four chapters out of them. Start a new chapter every time you change a point of view. TRAPPED has several of little more than one page.
Look at James Patterson. You’ll see that even though it’s all the same basic scene, there are chapter breaks. This makes the story more immediate, and keeps the pages turning. Instead of wishing this damned chapter will finally end so you can go eat, you’ll want to stay with the next short one, just to see how things pan out. Believe me, it works.
In the same vein, keep paragraphs short…seldom more than 3 sentences. This keeps white spaces on the page, and makes everything easier to read. Nothing is more daunting than looking at a paragraph that’s a half-page long.
And anything you want to stand out…to make important…should be on its own line.
Keep dialog brief and punchy. In real life people ramble and make many verbal pauses, but that’s a no-no in a novel. Use contractions, as we all do in every day speech, and don’t overdo accents that are tough on the reader to follow. You want your audience to know who is talking without adding a “Tag,” by use pacing, and maybe colloquial words, like “y’all,” and “Miz Maren,” as my character Kevin does in TRAPPED.
And speaking of tags, stick as much as possible with “he said; she said,” when you do need one for clarity. Groaning, muttering, cursing, etc. get pretty quickly overdone. Let you reader know the speaker was “groaning” by how it was said, not by describing it. Several professionals complimented my limited use of tags in TRAPPED. Direct inner thought is usually done in italics, compared to described thoughts, that are in regular fonts.
i.e.; What the Hell’s going on? How can he treat Kevin like that?
Challenge yourself on your dialog. A popular technique is to read it out loud to someone else. You may suddenly see how stilted it might sound.
Then, in your final edit, change static words into more descriptive action words. He “shambled across the room,” rather than “walked.” She “studied his face” rather than “looked.” He “darted out the door,” rather than “ran.” And cull out extra words, and try not to repeat a descriptive word in the next sentence.
All little things that may help differentiate you from the pack.
Good luck.
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Genre – Mainstream / Suspense
Rating – PG13
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