As part of the admonition to “show, don’t tell”, learn to render emotions as opposed to using a simple modifier. Compare the impact of “He fumed with anger” to “His eyes flashed daggers, fists tightening at his sides” or “His heart raced, fury surging through him like a fire storm.” Concentrate on the physical sensations of the emotion you’re trying to express to capture what it actually feels like. One of the marks of good writing is conveying emotions to your reader in an effective manner. If your reader feels something, then your story is upgraded to an experience and becomes much more memorable.
Scrutinize all prepositional phrases to determine if they’re needed or whether the sentence can be reworded to avoid them. If they’re redundant in any way, zap those suckers out of there! For example, saying “He put his hat on his head” could easily be shortened to “He put on his hat.” Where else would he put it? Economy of words for maximum impact should be your goal.
Always check your manuscript for over-used words and phrases, such as: so, just, in order to, therefore, or any of your personal favorites. It’s easy to fall in love with a newly discovered word, then use it so much it annoys your readers. Some of the words I’ve seen over-used are ubiquitous, baleful, and humongous. You’re probably not even aware of this on the first draft, so put it on your list as something to look for when you start to edit. Once you discover your favorite, learn all its synonyms so you can replace it with ease.
If part of your story takes place in the military, make sure you use rank, terminology, and dialog correctly. For example, a superior officer would not tell an underling to “relax”, he would more likely say, “At ease.” Also remember that military personnel typically address one another by their rank instead of their name. Authenticity adds to the flavor and credibility of your story. Lack of it will throw a knowing reader out of the story and your fan base.
One of the most important things you must do as an author to make your work stand out is to create vivid characters readers will remember. One way to add color to your characters is by giving them a regional accent. Capture it in writing by deliberately misspelling their dialog to reflect how it sounds phonetically. Just make sure you’re familiar with what that particular accent really sounds like or anyone from that region will recognize it’s not authentic, which could do you more harm than good. Accuracy is always important.
Always strive to be the best writer you can be. Reading books by established authors published by well-known publishing houses provides examples of outstanding writing and editing that you should emulate. Most indie writers are still progressing to their best work. Some will be less skilled than you are, others more advanced, but to grasp the industry standard, read those accepted by reputable publishers. It’s good for your ego to read books from beginners, but to improve you writing, study techniques employed by seasoned, experienced authors.
Understand there are several types of editors. Just because you hire one, doesn’t mean they’ll do the job you expect, especially if you don’t understand there are different types. They may do a great job within their realm, yet miss other problems. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve found in books where the author supposedly hired an “editor.”
Here’s the basic run-down: Proofreaders look for typos. Copy editors look at punctuation and grammar. Line editors look at everything. Content editors look at plot & characterizations. If this is news to you, then I suggest you read this great article that gives more detail.
Suspense is essential in any story. If you don’t know what will happen next, that’s a good indicator your reader won’t, either. The more obstacles between the protagonist and what s/he wants, the better. When your character gets him or herself into such a mess you don’t know how s/he’ll get out, then you’re on to something. Be sure to let your character solve the problem in his or her own way.
Be original! If you’re going to rehash an over-used plot vehicle, give it a new twist. If your story is too predictable, you’ll lose readers. If you must use a theme that’s not original, such as zombies, vampires, space battles, or swords and sorcery, make sure your characters are real and interesting enough to carry the story. You see this in romance novels all the time. There’s nothing new about falling in love, but engaging characters who pull you into their emotions make it work.
If you write science fiction, don’t violate the known laws of physics without providing rationale for doing so. Invent new laws if you like, but make them believable. A lot of technical folks are likely to be in your audience and you’ll lose them forever if your science isn’t credible. Noises in the vacuum of space (like the explosions you hear in movies), earth-like gravity on a small asteroid, and unrealistic orbits are some of the things to look out for. If you don’t know something that relates to science, look it up or ask someone who does. Satires (such as “The Worst Man on Mars”) have a bit more latitude.