Three Years of Lessons Learned for My Future Works
What did I learn from writing Lord of Columbia?
Let’s just say I rewrote the work three times, edited at least thirty times, and proofread the work countless times. Now, I also applied what I’d learned and wrote my manuscripts for Books Two and Three, and the writing was much smoother. Ditto for the editing and proofreading. Since discovering deep POV, which I’m still a novice in, I rewrote Books Two and Three as well.
But today I want to talk about what I initially learned from writing Lord of Columbia, Northern Knights.
First off, I learned twenty awesome writing tips from Jerry Jenkins before even stepping foot in his Writers’ Guild. Here’s a list:
1. Deleted throat-clearing, which freed my opening scene from backstory, background, and anything that slowed the story down. My first three chapters was full of this and it was the first item I tackled.
2. Choose simple words over complicated ones. I knew this for ages, so it wasn’t a problem for me. However, I see far too many writers try to impress everyone with using big, fancy words. While it might work for a scholarly audience, it won’t work for the general public.
3. Omit needless words. For some strange reason I thought more was better. Wow, was I wrong! More isn’t better. Not in today’s world, anyway, where people have the attention span of a gnat. I did a lot of deleting.
4. Get rid of redundancies. Clapping hands, blinking eyes, nodding the head. Come on, the reader will know this without being told. Not to say I wasn’t doing this; I was.
5. Deleted up and down except when necessary. Yep, another one I didn’t necessarily realize until after I’d come across the Guild.
6. Deleted that except when necessary. Yes, I was thick enough to think I needed that in each sentence to ‘sound professional.’ Lord of Columbia reads much better because I kicked that out.
7. Not over-explained. Readers don’t need to be told someone walked through an opening and sat down on a chair. Instead, something like ‘he walked in and sat down.’ Our minds will know the rest. Again, I thought I had to explain everything to ‘sound professional.’ Are we sensing a pattern?
8. Avoid quotation marks around words used in another context. Trust me, readers will get it, though I still have a hard time taking this bit of advice, using at least single quotes at times. However, I did eliminate the majority.
9. Don’t say what’s not happening. So and so didn’t respond, or so and so didn’t move doesn’t sound right. The reader will know.
10. Using stronger nouns and verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs. My work was flooded with adjectives and adverbs. They said harshly, they ran quickly. The thin man with brown hair and a long face approached. That’s a lot of lazy writing. At the very least, consult an online thesaurus. It’ll do wonders.
11. Avoid hedging verbs. He or she almost ran, turned their head slightly, etc. I did used the Find tool on Word and found a few dozen of these.
12. Don’t say literally if you mean figuratively. It literally killed me is different than saying It killed me. I didn’t have too much trouble with this one, but I did use a few here and there until I axed them.
13. Deleted all the stage direction if it’s not relevant to the story. Again, I thought I had to explain what was going on with every character in every scene. There was a lot more editing to be done here.
14. Maintained single point-of-view per scene. I didn’t even know this existed until last November when I decided to get some writing help. I head-hopped one-hundred times. It was a slow process, but I managed to limit my point-of-view to a single character throughout the entire book.
15. Avoided clichés. Not just words and phrases, but situations. I kept a few in, even now, but it’s fewer than what I had. Situation-wise, I’ve never been a fan of clichés, like waking up to an alarm clock, or to a vivid dream, or describing oneself in the mirror, etc.
16. Showing, not telling. Instead of stating something like ‘It’s cold,’ rather show it’s cold by describing a character’s actions. Again, this one came more naturally for me, so it wasn’t too much of a pain to edit out.
17. Primarily used said instead of other forms of attribution. I’ll be honest, I took this a step further and have eliminated most dialogue tags. I counted the tags in Northern Knights and there are eighty-eight tags total. However, I use said in eighty-three of the eighty-eight, something I didn’t do early on. I used every tag known to man.
18. Included specifics to add a ring of truth. This one was a no-brainer and it came natural to me.
19. Avoided similar character names. What’s funny is I have three characters in Northern Knights with identical names. However, on paper they appear distinctive as one starts with a different letter and another looks so different than the others I found it pointless to change them. But, I did use different letters in first names for every character until I ran out of letters!
20. Avoid specialized typestyles and font sizes. I was using all-caps more than anything else without realizing it doesn’t add power. Instead, it distracts. So, I slashed all of it except italics, but only when a character is speaking.