5 General Tips For A Better Writer: From Me, To You

5 General Tips For A Better Writer: From Me, To You

A Lesson by Sebastian Romero

5 general tips that have helped my writing, and I hope it can also help yours. :)


5 General Tips For A Better Writer:

I. Is this really the place to start? 

So here’s an exercise: Read your second paragraph… if it could work as a beginning of the story, then delete the first one, and keep any phrases and quotes you like for later. Do this again, until you find a paragraph that is finally needed and intrinsic to the story. Yes, most of what we write is a filler or repetitive or dull, especially in the first draft. We are too busy writing good dialogues, that we forget about doing the descriptions well, or vice-versa. So at the end of the day, most manuscripts get lots and lots of cuts. I once had a teacher who told me a story: she showed the first draft of her memoir to one of her teachers, and the teacher just plainly crossed out the first fifteen pages and told her coldly: Your story starts here. She now has that memoir published, without those first fifteen pages.

Here is an example with one of my stories (this story has mature content, so if you’re not 18 y/o, don’t read the following excerpt):

He did not want to f**k her with a condom. This was his first time, and he wanted to feel the full experience of sex. So he was the one that had suggested it; a safe way to have the full experience without any of the repercussions. At first, she hadn’t liked the idea, but he had convinced her

The white sheets had fallen from the bed, and everything in the room stopped breathing as he penetrated her. Her legs opened for him. Knees on the bed, head on the pillow, breasts face down. She hummed, as in preparing her mind for what her body was about to go through.

After a couple of months, I re-read it and found that that first paragraph was unnecessary, so I decided to start the story with the second paragraph. This of course doesn’t happen always, but it can happen sometimes, and even if we know it, it can be hard taking out a part you really like.

II. DON’T tell me how your character is from the beginning: 

Okay, so this is a mistake everyone makes. And I mean everyone! At least in our early ages as writers. We all think that our character is great, and probably the next Hamlet or something, and so, we tend to want people to see this too; to admire our characters as much as we do. However, don’t do it on the first page or chapter! I’ll tell you what I mean with an example:

Sara woke up feeling as if she hadn’t slept at all. This had happened to her lately because she had been depressed. She’d always been a sad girl, but lately she’d been even more depressed than ever. 

She got up from bed, and saw her room all clean. She smiled. She always liked having a clean room. Her mother always got into fights with Sara’s sister, Mary, because she never cleaned her room. But she was used to it now because her mother always got into fights with them, it was almost a routine….

From just this beginning we know Sara’s depressed, likes cleanliness (maybe a little OCD), and that she has a troublesome mother. And sometimes, in some books (especially in the Young Adult books), you can know the character completely merely from their description in the back of the book.  This has two main problems, in my opinion:

This makes for a boring character development. The reader knows the the character from the start, and doesn’t feel the need to stick around and see how it goes. Also, it can make me (the reader) feel that you want to shove your character in my face. As if you were a small kid with a new toy like Look, look! I have such a cool character! See it, he’s like this, and he can do that! Look! it’s great, isn’t it? I know you probably don’t want to do it consciously or on purpose, and sometimes this happens because you’re afraid that the reader won’t get the character. Don’t worry, I’ll get him if you describe him well enough. Remember the golden rule, Show, don’t tell.

It can tie you up. If you start adjectivising your character at the beginning of the story, then you are tied to that description for the rest of the story, which also makes it into a boring write. If you say Sara’s organised, then she has to be organised all of the novel, or have a real reason for her to change. See what I mean? On the other hand, if you don’t literally describe the mindset of you character and his personality, then you have more places to go. Take Anna Karenina (or Kitty from that same book) for example: No spoilers, don’t worry, but they are totally different characters at the beginning and at the end, you almost can’t believe they’re the same. Is part of Tolstoy’s magic, but he couldn’t’ve done it if he had told us all and every single characteristic of his character at the beginning of the novel.

III. I’ve read this so many times, I don’t know if it’s good anymore: 

Sometimes, we are so stuck with our reading and writer, we can no longer see our text objectively.And usually, when this happens, there are misconceptions and errors with what you want to say and what you actually say.

Exercise: Read your text out loud, then ask someone to read them out loud to you. Check, how did you two read the text differently? Did the other person emphasize on something different? Did he give a different emotion? This can help you see if that part is good or not. Also, it can help you see how the reader could react to those dialogues and those descriptions, and how he could interpret them. 

IV. Why me? Why this? 

Ask yourself: Why should this story be told and why should I be the one to tell it? I’m not saying this to annoy you, or to tell you that you shouldn’t write that story, I’m saying this because most literary agents and editors and publishers ask you this. And if they don’t, this still can give you an idea if the story’s worthwhile or not.

For example, take Beloved by Toni Morrison, or Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Why are these books so recognized and loved? On the other hand, why have books like The Sacrifice by Joyce Carol Oates been so utterly rejected? Well, in my opinion, it doesn’t have anything to do with the book itself, but on who wrote it. The three books deal with a similar topic (of course, among many others, and in different contexts): they three have main characters who are black, and they being so has a strong impact on the story. However, Morrison is an African-American author, and Achebe is an African author, whereas Oates is a white author from New York. There is a small sense of What? What right had you to write that? with Oates’ book. Note that I am not saying that it’s a bad book, or that she shouldn’t have written it, but among many reviews I’ve read and interviews I’ve seen, that topic always arose: why did she write a book that had so little to do with her? 

I don’t want to tell you you should just write what you know because I don’t believe that. Just that you should be prepared to know that answer: Why are you writing this book? And also: Why should this book exist? 

V. Read and write and read and write and read and write! 

If you’re not inspired, then read something that might inspire you. You should always be writing something, and always reading a book. I don’t mean all the hours of every day, but that if someone asks you what are you reading and what are you writing, you always have something to answer. This way, you’re always up to something. If you read, then you get to see what has already been done, and what you like, and what you don’t really appreciate. And when you write, even if it’s bad, it helps you to get better. 

Writing is like exercise: no one can expect one day to wake up and go to a marathon and win, you have to train yourself. And what’s the gym equivalent for a writer? Starbucks. Lol, just kidding haha. It’s reading and writing! So don’t stop, even if you’re not inspired, write a page a day, read three chapters a week , write a novel in a month, read an entire series in ten days, do whatever you want, but never stop! Never stop…

P.S. I will try to upload more '5 General Tips' every week or two. Thank You so much! :)

P.S. 2. Every lesson about a specific topic will have three or four challenges or exercises, but the '5 General Tips' won't. If you want that to change, please tell me.

I really, really hope I could help you in anything at all. I'll keep posting :)

I normally don't ask this, but please rate and comment: what did you like? What didn't you like? What did you find helpful? I need to know so I know how to improve too :) You want more tips? For me to express them even more fully? To be more concise? What do you want?

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Posted 2 Months Ago

Very useful..
Second and third point was very useful for me because I suffer a lot in context of these points.
Well done...and please keep helping us.

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Posted 3 Months Ago

Hi... Thanks for the knowledge you are sharing. I have posted 3 of my writings in this... If you have time to go through then can you point out my mistakes.... I want to improve...
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Added on July 5, 2016
Last Updated on July 6, 2016
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Sebastian Romero
Sebastian Romero

Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

I am a Mexican author. I study literature and psychology. I'm moving to Iowa next fall.