Tips for newbies.

Tips for beginners/self-publishers.

1. Don’t leave a double space between each paragraph. It screams “AMATEUR!”. It might look good when you’re writing an email, or posting in a blog, or some other venue on-line but it doesn’t work in print. A double space between paragraphs is a literary device to denote a shift in time (a reasonable period, not two minutes later), or a change in point of view; that’s all.

2. Please don’t leap from head to head within the same few paragraphs. Pick one person to tell the story and then remember that they have no idea what the other person is thinking or feeling. You, the author, can show the reader the other character’s response by what they say or what they do. If it’s necessary to sometimes tell the story from another character’s point of view, give them their own chapter, or at least create some space (with a double space between the paragraphs) so that the reader understands the narrator has changed.

3. Please don’t begin your story with a prologue in which a non-essential character dies. Especially don’t write it in first person. (How can they be telling the story if they’re dead?) If the death of this person affects your main character in some way, simply bring that out in the body of the text. She/he can have flashbacks to that awful/tragic/satisfying day, or other characters can refer to it… There are a number of ways you can do it without resorting to a prologue. These ‘before-the-first-chapter’ chapters work well for setting the scene for a crime story, or mystery, or historical something-or-other, but the content is usually essential to the main plot. Eg; The prologue is a murder scene, that then leads us into the life and work of a detective/reporter/potential future victim. It has more purpose than just telling us the main character’s first boyfriend died a few years ago.

3. Have someone with reasonable credentials edit your work. I don’t mean your best friend/aunty/Sunday School teacher. I mean either someone who is an actual editor, or someone with proven competence in the English language. You need someone who will give an un-biased response to your work; who isn’t afraid to point out where the story fails, as well as where it works well; who can spot typos, spelling and grammar mistakes and make the appropriate corrections; someone who can help shape your work into something worthwhile. Be prepared to pay them because, believe me, it’s a lot of work!

4. Don’t say, “Oh I don’t need to go to that trouble. I’m just writing a little story for my grandchildren.” First of all, don’t your grandchildren deserve the best? Secondly, don’t you want them to actually read it? You’re competing for their attention with a world full of wonderful, fascinating, well-written, beautifully presented books. They might smile and thank you, because they love you, but there’s no guarantee they’ll actually read it if it looks amateurish and old-fashioned.

5. If you are writing in first or second person, please don’t have your main character die at the end. Again, if they’re dead, how can they tell the story? The only way you can do it is if you write it in third person and it is obvious to the reader that the narrator is someone other than the hero/heroine of the story. EG, Mr Lockwood in the novel, Wuthering Heights, tells the tragic story of Heathcliffe and Cathy by writing it in his diary.

6. If your story is important enough to put into print, then it’s important enough to be written and presented well.

9 Comments

  1. Paula Vince
    Aug 13, 2011

    Ooooh, I think I flirted with disaster in the prologue of one of my books, “A Design of Gold” then (fellow drowning in the prologue). The irony is that it never used to begin that way, but I had some editing advice to give the excitement factor of the start a major boost. None of my other books begin this way. 🙂

    • Wendy Noble
      Aug 15, 2011

      As I said, often crime/mystery books begin with a prologue, but the idea is to introduce the murderer to the reader – not the victim. If the protagonist also features in some way in the prologue then it would be okay. Eg the protagonist could be with the victim when he/she disappears…or be waiting for them to come home, or arrive for a date… Tell the scene from the protagonist’s viewpoint. Or have a third party – Eg a policeman, or a friend who was with the victim when he/she drowned – relate the scene to the protagonist. There are ways around it, so that the excitement is there at the start. The main no-no is to tell the scene from the point of view of the victim.

  2. Ken Rolph
    Aug 13, 2011

    Trevor,

    I read Marrying Ameera on my Kindle. It was no different to the paperback in our library. There are plenty of well produced ebooks around. Self publishing can be good or bad in any medium.

    • Wendy Noble
      Aug 15, 2011

      Ken, I singled out self-publishers for two reasons: 1. That’s often the way a new writer starts out and 2. Many self-publishers don’t undergo an editing process. Of course everything I said also applies for people who intend to submit to publishers – hence the title. One of my friends uses a kindle and swears by it. However, the books she reads on kindle have already been published in print (eg Marrying Ameera) and have therefore been through the hands of an editor of some description.

      • Ken Rolph
        Aug 19, 2011

        I was mainly reacting to Trevor’s thought that ereaders automatically means self publishers. Reading on a Kindle can be a “delight”. At present I’m reading about Jeeves and Wooster. That’s a delight in any medium.

        • Wendy Noble
          Aug 20, 2011

          Ken, I think Trevor was thinking more along the lines of people taking the opportunity to self-publish via the medium of e-books. His concern, like mine, is the absence of editorial input; especially since the internet has made it possible for anyone and everyone to get their jottings out into the world. I don’t believe he meant to imply that every e-book is self-published. As for Jeeves and Wooster – I discovered them when I was a young girl raiding my father’s bookshelves. I agree: they are always a sheer delight. 🙂

  3. Lauri
    Aug 12, 2011

    Good advice Wendy. What about third person omniscient? How is it different from normal third person?

    • Wendy Noble
      Aug 13, 2011

      Third person limited is telling the story from one person’s point of view but in the third person; ie “he” instead of “I”. You use this form when writing a synopsis. “John looked at the burnt remains of his house and wondered how he’d tell Amy, who was still recuperating in hospital.” In third person limited John is the narrator, but he is still unable to know what Amy is thinking/feeling. With third person Omniscient it is as if God is the narrator. He sees all and knows all. It used to be a very popular form in previous centuries but these days it’s mainly found (occasionally) in Sci-fi/fantasy. The problem is it can leave the reader slightly detached from the characters. The reader feels as though they are floating above the scene – “watching from above” – rather than being immersed in the story. It feels less “real”. Sites such as Writers’ Digest.com would explain it far better than me, but I hope this helps.

  4. Trevor Hampel
    Aug 11, 2011

    Well said, Wendy.

    While publishing online is certainly the big current trend, I find the standard of editing on web sites and blogs is woeful – not yours or mine I hasten to add.

    I haven’t had the “delight” of reading an ebook yet, but I suspect many self published books will show the same disregard for our beautiful language. I wouldn’t mind having someone in the family give me an iPad2 for Father’s Day (as in the Apple promo I received via email this morning) so I could test out my theory.

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