24 April 2015

Guest post: Jolene Haley on the characteristics of good writing

First off, I’d like to thank Sione for having me today. I’ve been a follower of her blog forever and I’m just delighted to contribute to it!

As an avid reader and writer who works hard at my craft, I’d like to offer up one piece of advice that I’ve learned while writing, publishing, and working for publishing houses. The most important thing you can do for your writing and your writing career is this: Write well.

Now, this piece of advice may seem elementary but really, it’s not. In the age of Amazon, where anyone can publish a book, this is the simple magical ingredient that will set you apart from others. It doesn’t matter if you have the most brilliant cover art in the world or if you’ve spent a million dollars on marketing, if your book isn’t well written, you’ll run into problems.

How can you create brilliant words? Well, some of the great authors and poets like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Joyce may tell you that the secret is a typewriter and a strong drink (or five). That certainly may get the words buzzing but here are characteristics of great writing in my book.

You show more than you tell.

When I first started writing, telling rather than showing was my biggest writing sin. What’s the big deal if I tell you that my main character is frustrated or that she likes the boy next door? Why do I have to show it? Showing, and by that I mean telling the reader using the five senses (sight, touch, smell, hear, taste) will build an imaginative scene, taking your words from the page and bringing them to life. If you tell your entire story rather than show it, you’ve left no room for your reader’s imagination, and sadly, your story will be one dimensional and flat.

Here are a few resources to help amp up your showing vs. telling:

Showing vs. Telling in Your Writing

Creating Three Dimensional Characters

Your writing has voice!

This was another one that I struggled with in the beginning. Everything has voice, right? Right. But a boring, flat voice or a voice that doesn’t quite fit the character may be the difference between someone buying your book or sliding it back on to the shelf. If your main character is an eight-year-old kid, ask yourself, does he sound like one? Does he think like one? Does he act like one? All of these things will factor in to your character’s voice and your voice as a writer.

Here are a few articles to help with voice and getting to know your character:

Voice and Style

Writers’ Tools: Character Interviews

How to Create Secondary Characters That Sparkle!

Making Characters Believable

Revise! Revise! Revise!

No one crafts a perfect novel on the first try. It doesn’t matter who you are or how long you’ve been writing. You have to write your book first, one word at a time. Once you’re done, your work has only just begun! After your first draft is complete, it’s time to begin the tedious but oh-so-important task of revising and editing your story. Get rid of all those pesky adverbs, cut scenes that aren’t important, build up and add to your suspense. Your writing may not be great the first time it pours from your fingertips. The words of my first draft are never fantastic. But after revising and editing my work, my writing becomes more than just words on paper.

Here are several tips to help with revisions and editing:

Editing For the Big Thing

The Six People You Have to Be When Line Editing Your Novel

Copy Editing Wizardry Tricks

How to Be a Published Writer: Step 3

In conclusion, I’d like to stress that I am a firm believer that anyone, yes ANYONE, can be a great writer. You can write well. You can write the next best-selling book. The only way to accomplish this is to write as often as you can. Read as often as you can. And try using these three key ingredients (show more than you tell, hone your voice, and revise your work) to create and mold your story. You can do this!

(Seriously stop reading now and go do it! Write well!)

Jolene Haley is an author and the curator of the best-selling horror anthology The Dark Carnival through Pen & Muse Press. She also runs a YA horror blog The Midnight Society, the author resource site Pen & Muse, lifestyle blog Moonbeams & Mischief, and small horror press Hocus Pocus & Co. She writes every genre under the sun, but prefers horror. When she’s not writing she can be found cuddling her two dogs and enjoying the beach, where she lives. You can connect with her via Twitter, Facebook and her blog

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