How to make your writing less unbearable in 20 points

You asked me, so I’ll tell you

Quite a few people have asked me to read their work lately, or requested some advice. Aside from the obvious answer — read more books — I’ve identified some common problems which are either stopping your work from getting an A* , or inducing my WTF face. This is going to be bitchy, partly because I’m tired. I mean every word.

Cliche Cliche Cliche Lazy Urgh Cliche Grammar and No
  1. Write loads. Write everyday. Write down every small wordplay or piece of prose you think of. This will help build your confidence to experiment and regroup your ideas.
  2. Your first draft should never be your last one. I’ll knock something together in a few hours then revisit it over the following months. Publish it, that’s fine, but get used to rereading your work and killing your darlings.
  3. Increase your vocabulary. I cannot tell you how much I hate reading about snowy mountains and hot fires. Duh. ‘Synonym’ should be your favourite word. Look up words you use a lot and list the synonyms you like the sound of. Keep them.
  4. Play with your sentences. If you only use commas, or even worse, think that ‘…’ is an okay form of ellipsis, get the hell out of my office. I want long, I want short, I want medium, I want to hear the drum of the piece.
  5. If you aren’t writing for a toddler, challenge your reader. You know how nice it feels to learn a new concept or was of thinking from a book? Having to think about blood blooming into the snow instead of ‘the man bled lots’. Yeah. That.
  6. If you are writing in real time, is it justified? Does it really add to my understanding of your character to follow him upstairs, downstairs, on the bus, to work, fighting a dragon? Think about how you can move a story on. Memory is a brilliant structure option if you need to go back.
  7. Discussing breasts is totally banned. Ok, not completely. But if you describe your female character as a 36C with an ample bosom and blonde hair and a high chest, I’m just imagining you drooling over the page. I throw my ruler at you, sir.
  8. Don’t kill off a character because it looks tidier. I normally write in crime or psychonoire so lots of people die, but god am I bored of romance or tragedy where people just die because it ends the plot. There are so many other clever options.
  9. How long is it? Size matters. If I’m on Medium, I’m not reading for over ten minutes, even if you are Shakespeare. Short fiction isn’t worth less than a novel. Almost all the great modern authors have fantastic shorts. I’d rather read a packed short story than a drawn out novel.
  10. Dragons are over used. I don’t think I need to explain that one. I think we ran out of interesting things to do with Dragons after Eragon. And you know how that went.
  11. Please stop rewriting Twilight in a colourful variety of agonisingly bad ways. I mean, I’m impressed at your ability to make a bad source material worse, but I don’t want to read that.
  12. It doesn’t matter how innovative your idea is, you need to structure and present your story well. I love the concept of Helen discovering her sexuality in 1950s New York, the four page sentences less so.
  13. Sex doesn’t have to be sexy. Dear God, remember this point if nothing else. If we’ve just come out of a scene watching Mark Ironson murder his brother, I don’t want to read about Sexy Mark. I want sex to tell me something about him, or at least further the plot. Sex in literature isn’t the same as erotica in literature.
  14. Who is your character, beyond a plot vehicle? I’ve read 18 pages of Mark discovering that his wife cheating on him, and I have no idea who he is. Does he love his wife? Is he angry? Is he hiding something? What makes Mark follow that driver? Give him a persona.
  15. Women don’t fall in love with the hero for no reason. Ian Fleming’s writing on anything is a great example of terrible romances. Does Kitty Lilac love his money? His kindness? His humour? His devotion to justice? What has Mark actually done do make her even tolerate him?
  16. Drop the cliche and step away from the norm. Snow is cold. Fire is hot. Dragons are scary. Sexy ladies are sexy. If you feel yourself writing something that’s flamingly obvious, stop.
  17. Research anything you are writing on. Look up how nerve poison works. Study how an alcoholic walks. Read about what language was used in 1840s London. That way I won’t have to smack you with your manuscript when Lady Fiona eats pizza with Lord Montague at Trafalgar.
  18. Learn to say things indirectly. Build up a picture without saying ‘the sky was blue’. Say the heat of the summer had burnt away the grass and leaves, leaving a great empty nothingness awash with brilliant light.
  19. Experience things. I might not have made passionate love to a vampiric duke on my wedding night, but I know what it feels like to be consumed by love for someone, to tremble at the kiss of your boyfriend back in 2012 and feel swallowed by the dark in a nightmare. Really feel what you write.
  20. Challenge yourself. Even if you really love sci-fi and all you’ve ever wanted is to write sci-fi, writing poetry. Write romance. Write political fiction. Trust me. The greater the range of genres under your belt, the stronger your writing will be.

Written by

24 year old with an awful lot to say about everything. Opinions entirely my own. Usually. madelaine@madelainehanson.co.uk

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