5 Practices to Improve Your Writing
Been feeling like you're ready to take the next step with your writing?
Want to have confidence in the quality of your work when you hand it off to an editor or a family member/friend?
Thankfully, there are some simple "best practices" that will really boost the quality and professionalism of your writing work, especially if you practice and implement them at the first-draft level.
I go more in-depth in the companion YouTube video, but here are the 4 best practices I go over that will help you take your writing from amateurish to professional:
1. Good Grammar
This may seem like a given, but I cannot stress it enough. Knowing how to properly construct sentences and paragraphs will go incredibly far in your writing career. Not only will it make your work far more credible, but from there you can hone the art of sentence flow. And while a solid understanding of grammar on your part won't completely erase the need for an editor, it will really cut back on the amount of work they have to do (which could, theoretically, save you money in the long run).
2. Dialogue Tags
Have you ever read a book and started to get annoyed at how many "said's" there were? I know I have! Knowing how to mix it up with dialogue tags can really improve the flow of your writing. A dialogue tag is a word that comes after a quote, describing how the words were spoken. (e.g. "I'm hungry," Max said. "Said" is the dialogue tag.) Your reader might not even notice, but it will help create a more vivid experience for them. Here's a quick example on how a change in dialogue tags can really change the connotation of a sentence:
"What are you doing?" the man said.
While this isn't necessarily bad, it doesn't give the reader any information on the context or how they are supposed to feel in response to this part of the scene. Let's try it with a more powerful dialogue tag:
"What are you doing?" the man roared.
Well, that sure changes the implication! Now your readers can clearly tell that this man is unhappy and potentially hot-tempered. All in that little word! What if we used a dialogue tag with the opposite meaning?
"What are you doing?" the man whispered.
Now it could be a secretive situation or even a tender moment. You can see how a simple change in dialogue tags potentially creates or dulls a vivid image for readers. That being said, don't be afraid to use simple tags like "answered," "asked," and even the good ol' "said." If you get too flowery and fancy, it'll be just as annoying as if you always use "said"!
Oh, and bonus points if you occasionally use no dialogue tag at all. For example:
"What are you doing?" She turned to see a husky fellow towering over her, his arms crossed over his chest. He wore an unapproving expression.
Doing this with your dialogue is actually an aspect of "Deep Point-Of-View", a technique we'll touch on in our next point.
3/4. Deep POV/Consistent POV
These two points are so intertwined I'll be grouping them together. If you've never heard of deep point of view, here is a quick introduction:
Deep POV accomplishes in the third person what the first person accomplishes naturally. (For review, third person uses the pronouns "he" and "she", while first person uses "I" and "me".) Like the first person, you stay from one character's perspective at a time, only revealing the thoughts of the character you are focusing on. You also only reveal details the current character would know. (More on this in a moment.) This creates a more immersive, first-person-like experience for the reader.
One of the main keys to deep POV is keeping the POV consistent. Like I already mentioned, you only want to mention details the character you are currently focusing on would know. Let's try an example, firstly using regular third person that is not implementing deep POV:
Sally walked into the room of unfamiliar faces. The third guy from the left, Mark, who liked to play video games, stood up. "Hello," he said with a smile, offering her a handshake. "My name's Mark. It's nice to meet you."
While there's nothing "wrong" with this paragraph, especially if your reader has already met Mark somewhere else in the story, they might for a split second be confused as to whether or not Sally knows Mark already. After all, if Sally walks into a room of strangers, she's not going to know that the third guy from the left is named Mark and that he likes to play video games. But, if he's wearing a Minecraft shirt, Sally might guess (in this case correctly) that Mark does, in fact, like to play video games. If Mark comes up to Sally and introduces himself as Mark, you would then...well, let's just try it out in the example.
Sally walked into the room of unfamiliar faces. She noticed that the third guy from the left was wearing a green Minecraft shirt that had seen better days. She wondered if video games were his main hobby. Her thoughts were interrupted, however, as the Minecraft-shirted fellow stood up and offered her a handshake. "Hey there," he said with a smile. "I'm Mark. It's nice to meet you."
Did you notice how in this version, everything is clearly from Sally's perspective? It doesn't leave you wondering what she does or doesn't know. It's far more immersive since, even though it's in the third person, you stay inside Sally's head the whole time.
Deep POV may seem scary, but just remember this: pick a character in the scene and keep everything from their perspective. Once you get good at that, you can even practice switching POV's mid-scene. An example just for grins:
Sally walked into the room of unfamiliar faces. Across the room, Mark looked up and noticed the tall brunette that had just walked in. She wore a pleasant smile, and as she pulled out a few things from her briefcase, Mark couldn't help but notice how organized it was. Everything had a specific pocket or place. A far cry from his messy jean pockets. Who knew what he had in there at any given moment. He didn't even know.
Okay, I'm getting a little carried away here, but you get the idea. Now you could switch back to Sally's POV and talk about the Minecraft shirt and the handshake.
5. Character Motivation
I've got to be honest, 9 times out of 10 this is where my own stories de-rail into the "stuck" zone. If you don't clearly define from the beginning what your character's motivation is, and how it is directed challenged by their fear, neither you nor the reader will know what kind of reaction to expect from the character in any circumstance. It's a good habit, and one I'm working on myself, to establish before you write the story what your character's want, fear, and misbelief are, as well as how the three cause conflict with each other. This will create a sense of predictability that, despite what you might expect, will actually heighten the tension because your reader will know when a situation is going to "get to them."
Writing, like any skill, is one that should always be being sharpened and strenghthened. While there are many, many facets to good writing, I hope these tips have given you a little something to practice that, with a little time and dedication, can give you a huge boost in your confidence in your work. ✨