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Never make it too easy or obvious for your character to get what s/he wants. The more obstacles you place in their way, the more interesting and suspenseful the story. When you don’t know what will happen, chances are your reader won’t either.
Sometimes when things seem to be going too well, it can actually add suspense, at least for a while, because the readers will anticipate things are going to crash. A classic example I can think of for this is the TV show, Scorpion. What always starts out as what they expect will be a simple job inevitably turns into the worst-case scenario. This is what builds suspense and makes the story more interesting. It’s also the way that life seems to work.
A chapter outline can be a useful tool, but don’t feel as if it’s engraved in stone. When you start forcing your characters to do your bidding instead of what they want to do, the reader will sense this disparity. Giving your character free rein often brings great plot twists.
When you find that your character wants to do something different than you’d planned, this is an excellent sign that you’ve created a credible one. Cardboard characters are like puppets and will do exactly what you tell them to do, but they also won’t be convincing individuals. No real person is 100% predictable and your characters shouldn’t be, either. If he or she gets himself into more trouble, it contributes to your story, especially when you also allow him or her to find a way out.
I think it’s a lot of fun when a character is in a self-imposed bind that I have no clue how to solve. That’s when I just let him or her figure it out. If I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, it should add to the suspense, assuming the reader won’t know, either.
Make it a habit to spellcheck your work every day when you shut down for the night. This should be part of your routine as a writer. Believe it or not, you might actually forget if you wait until you finish your current story or book. Somehow the final editing and formatting process can eclipse this very essential step.
This is obvious to me based on the many books I’ve read the past few years that are riddled with typos. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve been guilty as well, requiring a lot of time after a book was published to upload a corrected version of something that should have been correct in the first place.
By making it part of your routine, it becomes a task you don’t even have to think about, but do automatically. Done daily, it takes less time and you can be sure the final product won’t be riddled with typos, which drive readers crazy and label your work that of an amateur.
If your characters have a specific ethnicity, be sure to name them accordingly. For example, if your heroine is from Sweden, naming her Inge contributes more to her persona than naming her Yolanda. This reinforces the reader’s image of the character as well, providing a subtle, subconscious contribution to imagery.
Along similar lines, if your character is unique, an unusual name can likewise reinforce that; conversely, naming a character you want to be seen as “normal” and one your reader can relate to calls for a more common name.
All that “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” business doesn’t necessarily apply to fiction writing.
Know the difference between a serial and a series. If your story line & plot continue book to book and culminate in the last one, it’s a serial. This applies even if the stories can stand alone. A series comprises entirely independent stories but with the same characters. Examples include the Nancy Drew series (which were written by multiple authors under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene); Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, or Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series.
It’s too bad that these two terms are so similar, which makes them easier to confuse. Readers are often less than pleased to find out the book they’re reading doesn’t quite end, but carries on in another one, especially if it ends with a cliffhanger.
Your writing will reflect what you read. If you read well-written books, it will register in your subconscious and raise your skill level. Conversely, reading mediocre work may help your confidence and not hurt your writing, but it won’t help it, either.
If you want to write a best-seller, then it makes sense to read best-sellers to see what they’re all about. The next time you sit down to write something, think about what you’re reading at the time and see if you’re assimilating its style without even being aware that you’re doing so. Reading quality material can be a very painless, yet effective, way to improve your writing.
Unless afflicted by writer’s block, authors have no trouble getting words down on paper or screen. However, some have more trouble than others getting those words in the proper order. Periodically study your sentences for correct structure. Especially make sure prepositional phrases are where they make the most sense. If misplaced, they can have hilarious implications that will commit the serious faux pas of throwing your reader out of the story. Place them as close as possible to what they modify for maximum clarity.
If one of your characters has a job description you’re unfamiliar with, make sure you find out enough about it to be convincing. Some years ago I was beta reading a book where the protagonist was a computer programmer. Having been one myself, I was familiar with what the job entailed and clearly the author was clueless. Find out as much as you can and then have someone familiar with that profession read it over for a sanity check. People usually love to talk about what they do and their knowledge, a resource you shouldn’t hesitate to tap.
Inaccuracies in this area suspend credibility for knowing readers and not only throw them out of the story but out of your fan base as well. There are some areas where your imagination shouldn’t be allowed free rein.
Knowing your competition is wise in any business with writing no exception. Reading other books in your genre helps keep you on top of trends and know where your work fits in. Authors more skilled than you will keep you humble, those less so show how you’ve progressed. Studying techniques used by other authors comes in handy and can improve your own writing. Especially savor sentences and paragraphs that are well-written as examples you’ll want to emulate.