TIPS ON BECOMING A BETTER WRITER
So you’ve written your novel, and edited the heck out of it, but how do you get it good enough to actually get published? I went through that problem for a long time, slowly getting to where I had to be. Here are some of my suggestions, now that you’ve got a workable product. How do we turn an everyday Volkswagen into a Lexus?
My first suggestion to every new writer is to find a GOOD writers conference (or 2 or 3!), hopefully somewhere near enough to drive to…unless you’ve got cash to burn. Then I recommend you fly to Maui. That’s the Cadillac of conferences.
A well-run conference is usually operated by local writing groups. The Florida Writers Association, for instance, hosts a 3-day event every October, usually in the Orlando area. While these better conferences will almost always have several agents and editors to whom you can pitch your work, the real reason for going is for the classes. You’ll find a plethora of sessions on every phase of writing, publishing, promotion and how to find agents and editors. More classes than you can possibly attend.
Once you start listening to professionals show you what makes great writing, you’ll be stunned at how little you actually knew. There often are critique sessions, too, and you’ll have a chance to network with other aspiring writers, and maybe establish some critique partners. And if you’re lucky, you may connect with an agent or editor who will be willing to read your work. Personal contact can get you past their slush pile, even if they don’t eventually take you on. At least you may get some real feedback.
Okay, you’ve attended a conference or two, and are fired up over transforming your work into the gem you know it should be. Here are a few things to make your novel stand out as professional.
The first thing to do is to go back and shorten your chapters. Three to five pages each, sometime even less. Occasionally, one may need to be a bit longer. I took many chapters from TRAPPED and made three or four chapters out of them. Start a new chapter every time you change a point of view. TRAPPED has several of little more than one page.
Look at James Patterson. You’ll see that even though it’s all the same basic scene, there are chapter breaks. This makes the story more immediate, and keeps the pages turning. Instead of wishing this damned chapter will finally end so you can go eat, you’ll want to stay with the next short one, just to see how things pan out. Believe me, it works.
In the same vein, keep paragraphs short…seldom more than 3 sentences. This keeps white spaces on the page, and makes everything easier to read. Nothing is more daunting than looking at a paragraph that’s a half-page long.
And anything you want to stand out…to make important…should be on its own line.
Keep dialog brief and punchy. In real life people ramble and make many verbal pauses, but that’s a no-no in a novel. Use contractions, as we all do in every day speech, and don’t overdo accents that are tough on the reader to follow. You want your audience to know who is talking without adding a “Tag,” by use pacing, and maybe colloquial words, like “y’all,” and “Miz Maren,” as my character Kevin does in TRAPPED.
And speaking of tags, stick as much as possible with “he said; she said,” when you do need one for clarity. Groaning, muttering, cursing, etc. get pretty quickly overdone. Let you reader know the speaker was “groaning” by how it was said, not by describing it. Several professionals complimented my limited use of tags in TRAPPED. Direct inner thought is usually done in italics, compared to described thoughts, that are in regular fonts.
i.e.; What the Hell’s going on? How can he treat Kevin like that?
Challenge yourself on your dialog. A popular technique is to read it out loud to someone else. You may suddenly see how stilted it might sound.
Then, in your final edit, change static words into more descriptive action words. He “shambled across the room,” rather than “walked.” She “studied his face” rather than “looked.” He “darted out the door,” rather than “ran.”
And cull out extra words, and try not to repeat a descriptive word in the next sentence.
All little things that may help differentiate you from the pack.
Author: George A. Bernstein
Genre: Romantic Suspense
The darkness is still, silent. Jackee Maren’s heart pounds reverberating through her body as fear sears her veins. Someone’s coming. No way out. This time they will kill me. Her breath is short, her chest burns. Must run. Faster. Faster! Her eyes fly open, her heart still racing with blinding fear. Jackee breathes deeply with relief and stares at the ceiling desperately trying to calm herself. The same dream. Something, someone is watching… and waiting.
A tragic car accident leaves beautiful, vibrant Jackee Maren completely paralyzed, mentally alert but trapped in “Locked-in Syndrome,” able to move only her eyes. Jackee’s husband, Phil, is devastated and her two young boys left with nothing but a shell for a mother, but still, Jackee senses the foreboding of an evil presence and knows time is short.
Slowly, Jackee learns to communicate with her physical therapist, Kevin, by blinking her eyes. As evidence comes to light that her car accident was no accident, Jackee knows she must expose the person who wants her dead before they get a second chance.
While Jackee works her mind to put all the clues together, she discovers she has the ability to sense the thoughts of others, but she hides this talent from everyone but her sons, not knowing whom she can trust. By actively exercising her new psychic ability, Jackee finally learns who masterminded the accident but seems helpless to stop them from trying to kill her again.
Slowly a psychic plan forms to not only ensure her boys are safe forever, but to exact revenge on her would-be murderer. Jackee vows not to rest until this would-be-killer understands what it is to be TRAPPED! But she must hurry, with only a year to live.
George's main interest now is as a serious novelist. He has attended numerous writers’ conferences and seminars, including that of famous fiction agent, Donald Maass, and he has worked with independent editor, Dave King, all with the goal of improving his craft.
George's first novel, Trapped, is published by TAG Publishers, after being a finalist in their Next Great American Novel contest. Dee Burks and her staff really love the story, and have put a lot of effort into comprehensive editing and revision suggestions, making Trapped the best it can be. Trapped was also a finalist at the 2012 Florida Writers Association RPLA fiction contest, and has since acquired over seventy 4 & 5-Star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
George has also recently released his 2nd novel, A 3rd Time to Die, which has been received with several 4 & 5-Star reviews. The most common comment for both novels is: “I couldn’t put it down.”
Turn signal flashing, she eases into the right lane in front of a large, battered pick-up, with less than a half-mile to the Old Orchard Exit Ramp. Jackee Maren rarely drives so aggressively, but first delayed by her two sons’ late departure from school, and then navigating around a minor fender bender on Dundee Road, she is already ten minutes behind, and she’s never late. The Northern Illinois Chapter of the United Way won’t start their planning session without their chairwoman, and Jackee hates the idea of keeping so many busy people waiting.
Peeling onto the ramp, her attention is drawn to her two boys, bickering and shoving in the back seat. Glancing back at the road, a ridge of goose bumps cascades down her spine. They’re hurtled toward a string of glaring taillights… cars unexpectedly stopped by a red light at the first intersection off the expressway.
Jamming a foot on the brakes, she’s stunned when the big Mercedes slews sharply right, smack into the path of the huge pickup truck, which had exited behind her. It slams into the rear fender of the sedan, sending it careening off the road, the seatbelts gouging her shoulder, crushing the breath from her lungs.
“Hang on boys,” she gasps. Oh God! My sons! They can’t die here.
They spin down the embankment like an eccentric top, ricocheting off a bridge column. The wheel torn from her grip, the air filled with the screech of rending metal and the stench of burning rubber, the car rears like a great angry beast, its rear legs hamstrung. Slamming down, it hurtles backward into the culvert, bucking and skipping along the steep embankment.
Despite seatbelts, Jackee is flung around like a rag doll in the jaws of some huge terrier. The air bag erupts in the midst of their tumultuous downward plunge, rushing out at 200 MPH, just as frontal impact slings her forward.
Her face catches the brunt of the blow, skewering lips on her teeth, smashing her nose. A searing bolt of pain fires across her brain, igniting a burst of red heat behind her tearing eyes. A sharp pitch right crushes her left cheek against the window, knocking her momentarily senseless. The sedan teeters, enveloped in a cloud of dust, hunkering precariously on its haunches before crashing down on its wheels, coming to a thunderous, grinding stop.
She awakens to wailing and blubbering from the two small boys in the rear seat.
“Mommy!” The call gasped through ragged breathing.
“Mommy!” Now a frantic screech.
“I’m…I’m here.” We’re alive! Thank God, we’re all still alive.
She sags against the seatbelt, every joint singed with agony, unable to will herself into action.
Help should be coming. She moans. Gotta hang on… She slips out of consciousness.