I just realized that it has been quite some time since I’ve written a resource post. I recently went through some saved material on my computer and I stumbled across these tips. The following are not my own personal guidelines. They originally appeared as an article from a 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest’s newsletter. Now I don’t think that any writing guidelines or advice should be categorized as absolute but I think that most of these are really important. I am guilty of slipping backstory into every spare moment and sometimes my characters say too much. However,…I always try to build complex and interesting characters. One of the most difficult aspects of writing for me is not actually sitting down to write but in trying to get it right the first time. I am hoping that these 10 points remind me to simply start writing and that everything else will fall in place (if I remember them). So this post will be tacked onto the bulletin board above my desk as I try to work on this year’s fiction. I hope you enjoy them and also find them useful.


1. Start your story in the right place—when something exciting happens, when something unusual comes to pass, when a worthy challenge has been presented to your protagonist.
2. Save the backstory for later, and be sneaky about it. Feed it in carefully and sparingly just when the reader needs to know. And use only the most essential details of the past. Don’t have your protagonist staring out the window so that you can tell your readers through internal dialogue everything you need them to know. (This is called an “info dump,” and is to be avoided.)
3. Avoid saying too much or too little. Saying too much bogs down your pace and can come off as pretentious. Saying too little makes it difficult to connect with your characters and can strip your story of its emotional impact.
4. Build conflict. The conflict is the engine that drives your story. If you don’t have much under the hood, you aren’t going anywhere. Layered conflict, or conflict that grows and changes as the story progresses, is even better. It keeps your reader from getting frustrated, bored or weary of the protagonist’s journey.
5. Stay active. Active writing means keeping the reader in the action. It means moving forward in real time. It means using specific details as opposed to clichés and generalizations. It also means using better diction and stronger verbs.
6. Skip the boring stuff. Nobody wants to read it. Use snappy, realistic dialogue that is unique to each character and isn’t bogged down with too many tags or adverbs (“she said sternly …”).
7. Create characters who are interesting and layered—which means they are not perfect. They must also be properly motivated or they will not be believable or sympathetic.
8. Help your reader suspend disbelief by avoiding a plot that is too contrived or coincidental. Put in a strong foundation at the beginning of your book so that whatever turns on it is credible and rings true.
9. Avoid writing that is overly dramatic or self-indulgent. Writing that tries too hard becomes obvious very fast.
10. Trust your reader and use plenty of subtext. By this I mean … be careful not to make everything quite so obvious. According to Alicia Rasley: “Subtext is like a gift to the astute reader—an additional layer of meaning implied by the text but not accessible without a bit of thinking. … Experienced readers aren’t confined to the text—what’s printed on the page—they interact with the text, fully participating with the writer in the making of meaning in the story.” Such reader participation heightens the emotional impact of a story.


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