People often come to me and say, “Hey, Tim, you’re a hugely successful though inexplicably unpublished author; have you got any tips for us lowly writers who’ve yet to achieve your level of uncompromising genius?”
It’s flattering, I know. But, seriously, I empathise. It might sound needlessly self-deprecating, but even I was once a snivelling novice like you.
So, to that end, I’ve compiled some of my favourite writing tips, for those writers who spend most of their time reading writing tips. Learn them… and write your masterpiece!
Fantasy names must be alien
You realise that people in fantasy lands – whether they be in sword & sorcery or science fiction – wouldn’t have traditional Anglican names, right? It just wouldn’t happen. Our names are derived from thousands of years of cultural evolution and rely on social influences from this world.
Just taking an English name and switching two of the letters might be good enough for George RR Martin (the hack!) but it’s not good enough for you! So you can take your Eddards, Petyrs, Robbs and Jaimes, and stuff ‘em up your Khaleesi’s pert little bottom.
What you want are letters that wouldn’t usually be found together and lots of the more rare letters mixed in with peculiar punctuation. We are talking about another world here, people. Here’s some good examples:
Xzoth’rum, Scourge of Bxxqrtl
Pfft, Grand Sqlaaap of Bipp’xop
The Mighty Jåaáøâ
And little Xjaqilar, prince of ∑œ¥πµ
Use your imagination, and have fun! Your readers will be astounded by your creativity and will feel fully immersed in your incredible world.
Don’t name your characters Billy, Willy, Molly or Olly
If you crumble beneath the deluge of writers ordering you to remove all your adverbs, having character names ending in “ly” will seriously hamper your editing search.
Don’t call your characters Giles, James, Dolores or Tess
People don’t even know how to make vegetable’s plural, let alone add a possessive apostrophe to a name ending in S. Is it “Tess’ pedantic friend”? Or “Tess’s pedantic friend”? No matter what you decide (nudge: it’s the latter), someone will disagree with you and assume you’re just a donkey stamping on a keyboard. Avoid the calamity entirely by simply avoiding names with that tail-end S.
Which neatly brings us to:
Do a find/replace of “over” to “more than”
By making this grammatical correction, you’ll be changing the positional comparative to the numerical comparative, which will have your pedantic readers drooling more than your manuscript.
Delete all occurrences of “that”
There is not a sentence cannot be improved by its removal.
Avoid the indefinite article with words beginning with H
You may want to sell your book to Brits; you may want to market your yarn to Yanks. But if you want to be an internationally best-selling author, you’ll need to avoid the use of the word “herb”, whose H sound is pronounced in Britain and falls silent in the States. This would go unnoticed in prose, but for the article, “a” or “an” – Yanks say “an ‘erb”; Brits say “a herb”.
Meanwhile, if you don’t want Cockneys grinding their teeth as they read your work, ‘oping to give you an ‘istory lesson on the origins of the English language, your best bet is to avoid all words beginning with H, altogether.
“Your best bet is to avoid all words beginning with H!”
Use strong verbs and TURBOBOOST them with adverbs
Do you know where the word “adverb” comes from? You take a verb and ADD to it – ADD-VERB – see? Which obviously makes the verb better.
Sure, you could write a story. But why not emphatically inscribe one, amIright? I’d rather read the latter, thank you very much.
Similarly, if you can describe an action with a more specific verb – let’s take “said” for instance – you can then boost its impact with an ADD-verb.
“I write fantasy novels,” said Tim.
“I write fantasy novels,” Tim blurted enthusiastically.
Look how much character description is infused in those two words! In the latter example, Tim sounds like an insufferable douchebag!
Use metaphors to herald action
Sometimes when something key is about to occur in the story, we can let the cleverer readers know by using a fancy metaphor before it happens. It’s kind of like a wink from one smart person to another.
Let’s use MURDER for our example. Your character is about to discover the bloody massacre of their erstwhile spouse, bludgeoned to death in the pantry by a maniac with a meat mallet. Don’t jump straight in! Build up to it, thusly:
Michael finished his cigarette as the sun dipped over the horizon, its last rays bleeding over the sky in rivers of crimson light, gushing over the vista like an open wound, a gruesome reminder of each day’s fragile mortality.
He opened the pantry to find Sandra’s body in a pool of blood!
You see what I did there? If you caught it, you’re as clever as me, and together we can laugh at all the idiots who didn’t.
Despite sounding like a weedy little liar, pathetic fallacy basically means making the weather reflect the scene. This is a tried and tested method of evoking emotion from your readers and comes in two distinct flavours:
Sally emerged from the sexual health clinic with a smile on her face and a piece of paper in her hand with one important word printed among many others: “Clear”. The sun burst from worried-looking clouds as they receded to the horizon, taking her itchy fears with her.
Sally stumbled weeping from the sexual health clinic into a thundering rainstorm, the torrent of water as ubiquitous as her crabs.
Did you spot how the weather neatly reflects the mood of the protagonist in these two opposing situations? Yes, you’re right, it is very clever.
Let’s face it, we’re in this game to make £££, and Alanis Morissette made packets of cash back in the 90s when she invented “irony”. What’s more, she gave droves of examples in her lyrics, so you don’t even have to be inventive – just grab one of these and slip it into your narrative:
- Romance writers: make sure it rains on the wedding day;
- Thriller writers: ensure critical events occur slightly too late, like pardons for recently executed convicts, or lottery wins for people who die hours after winning;
- Horror writers: kill your characters with the one thing they are petrified of, but only after they build up the courage to confront them, like arachnophobics eaten by a swarm of baby spiders, or someone with a fear of flying dying in a catastrophic plane crash;
- Comedy writers: Mild inconveniences are both intrinsically “ironic” and a side-splitting hoot to boot! Examples: Traffic jams when you’re late, no-smoking signs on cigarette breaks, a fly in your wine, or paying for services that you later discover were free! OH GOD MY SIDES…
Exploit a thesaurus
Should your paucity of the English vernacular occlude the erudite fabrication incumbent in the multitudinous machinations forging your magnum opus, take volitional rumination upon the utilisation of a thesaurus. Therein reposes verbiage of the most multifarious variegation, their employment bequeathing your mythos with prodigious perspicaciousness and the auctorial personage responsible with sagacious sapience. Gadzooks! I have implemented no less than five synonyms for “intelligence” herein. Return, thee, to thine alma mater!
Follow the trends
One of the best ways for new authors to sell books is to release something almost identical to more popular titles and make sales by accident. It’s a classic way to get your foot in the door. That’s why there are 651 (at last count) bear-shifter romance novels in this one Goodreads list.
Sure, you might think it would be hard to get spotted in all that ursine filth, but with the right SEO skills, you might come top in a Google search and BAM! Instant single-sale success.
Of course, bear porn is old hat, these days. The trick is to identify the trend and just slightly subvert it to make it fresh. No one’s done zombie bear-shifter romance yet, have they? (They probably have, actually, because it’s TOO GOOD AN IDEA.)
Another top tip: take other people’s ideas and MERGE them! Just look at runaway success Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. Take that idea and roll with it! Here’s some ideas I’ll just rattle off:
- Werewolf dystopia – Brave New World of Werewolves
- Rural mermaid drama – Of Mice And Mermen (alas, already taken)
- Feminist steampunk romance – Jane Eyreship
- Shakespearean vampire drama – Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead (shit! also done)
Mix and match – you’re sure to find success. But be quick! There are droves of creative people out there flooding the world with this stuff like it’s going out of fashion, so jump on the bandwagon soon before the wheels crumple under the weight.
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