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.