Top writing advice for beginning authors?

Q&A With Shay Each Sunday

First: My debut book of poetry, Bleeding Flowers, was released this last week! I’d greatly appreciate your support and hearing your thoughts:) You can find it here.

So, for this week’s Q&A I wanted to share some tips that I go over a lot in my editing work, and I still catch myself doing some of these. I thought about maybe alternating my blog with writing advice/general personal writing questions/personal questions. Maybe this will diversify the posts a bit and give those seeking advice a place to find it! I know I’m personally constantly looking for advice…

As writers, there is always room for improvement and to keep developing our craft. For those of you who run into issues writing or have never studied it much before, let me give some staple starting points.

Q: Top writing advice for beginning authors?

A: #1 will always be SHOW VS TELL. This is something that writers will struggle with throughout their whole careers even if not necessarily as obvious as when starting out, because of course “telling” has a place in a story, right? What is meant by showing vs telling is usually appealing to the senses in some way rather than giving a factual statement. For example: Instead of saying, “she was sad.” You’d want to show your reader that emotion in visceral detail: “tears streamed down her face, her shoulders shook, her chest heaved.” Etc etc. This isn’t possible every single time, but I think one of my professors at SLC said something like, “you should appeal to the senses at least every 3-5 sentences.” I could be remembering that wrong, but it’s a good exercise to keep in mind, because you want your reader immersed in the scene, not simply reading “facts.”

Another extension of this is to limit the use of adverbs because they are pretty much always “telling” words. So, there you go, appeal to the senses!

#2 Develop your characters in an authentic and realistic way. Think about how your own real life interactions go, what your own dialogue is like, how real people act, and translate that to your writing. Whether it’s a fantastical or realistic world you’ve created, the characters still have to be believable within the scope of that world. Give them depth! Humans (and other creatures) are interesting.

#3 Include setting. This is sort of another point on showing vs telling, but I personally think it’s important to set the stage, and I know many readers agree. Give us reminders of where the characters are during a scene and what the place is like. It would feel pretty jarring to think a character is having a conversation in a car to then learn they’re in someone’s living room, right? I forget the exact quote but one writer once said something like getting your character from the house to the car can sometimes be the most difficult thing to do.

#4 Determine your point of view and tense. If you are going to write in first person, make sure you stay with that POV, same with past and present tense. Don't switch between tenses within scenes. The only time it’s usually acceptable to switch between tenses is if there’s a scene break and the story is being told in flashbacks/memories. For instance, in my first novel Crashing Waves, I wrote the core of the story in past tense, but there are scene breaks to the present, where my main character is being interviewed by a detective. Those scenes are written in present tense so that the reader is taken back into her memories as she is. Definitely do not switch tenses within the same scene though otherwise your reader will be confused about when the story is happening! Same with POV—if you have written a close third person account following one character, then the reader can’t suddenly know what other characters are thinking and feeling. This is referred to as “head hopping” and it’s basically considered sloppy writing. So, there you go—choose your tense and point of view and stick with it! You can of course always revise or change your mind later when editing though:)

#5 Keep writing, refining, and editing! Always keep at it. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Nothing is ever perfect. But, practice is key to improving, and over time you will figure certain things out just to have new questions about something else. Fun process, right?

Let me know if you have any questions about writing or otherwise, I’d be happy to hear from you and try to answer them in a future Q&A.