After writing seven or so full-length books/manuscripts, multiple short stories, and speaking with fellow authors, I've come up what I believe is a definitive list of things I wish I knew when I first started writing…

  1. Show, don't tell: I know we've all heard this a million times, but here is a better explanation of what this means; Avoid exposition if it can be written about actively. Don't describe how the 'so and so' people do this because of x,y,z, or how this specific 'character' is intelligent because of 'this.' Write the character actively making intelligent decisions or have 'so and so' people doing said thing, and let readers make their own assumptions. Not everything has to be explained.

  2. Avoid Exposition: This kind of ties into show don't tell, but in a different context. First off, exposition in itself is not a 'bad' thing. It can be used to fill in gaps, and explain specific events, but it should never be relied on. Why? It slows down pacing, can have detrimental effects on the plot, and can take away from the reader's engagement. It is far better to give information piecemeal in the relevant context of the plot rather than dumping it all once. If you find yourself using a lot of exposition, check to make sure your not filling in plot holes or padding.

  3. Write an outline, even if you don't use it: Why would I recommend writing an outline? Well, it can firmly establish plot points and ideas, give you an idea of where to start and end the manuscript, and help keep you on track to finish your novel. Even if you write the outline, and never use it, it can give you an idea of where you are in the story. As a matter of fact, I don't recommend sticking strictly to a outline even if you are 100% in love with every part of it. As you write a novel or manuscript, you may reach a point where you feel as though the character or situation would happen differently than what you originally planned. That's OK. Let that organically lead you to the next part of the story. Tie it back into your original planned ending, or make a new one. Just keep your goalposts in mind.

  4. Progress, Progress, Progress: Don't stop writing. You see that grammatical error that you have to fix, the sentence that reads weird, that word that doesn't fit, that odd characterization. Don't worry. Progress first, fix later. Get your whole story down on paper (or screen), and then sweat the details. Don't go back too far and reread chapters, because you'll began to fall into this trap. The temptation to fix things will began to put you in a near inescapable doldrums, that will find you stuck on the same 3-4 chapters for the next few months. Don't worry; Progress.

  5. Sweat the characters before you write your first word: Do you know what your protagonist likes to eat? How she combs her hair? What kinda of toothbrush he prefers? What would he do if he was in a liquor store being robbed? What would she do if she found out her best friend had been cheating with her boyfriend? If he had suddenly been asked to sing a duet in front of a crowd? Would he or wouldn't he? You may ask yourself how any of these questions would affect the plot, but your missing the point. The more detailed you make your characters, the easier it will be to write and finish your manuscript. Plain and simple. I find that a scene, plot point or chapter will almost magically write itself if your character's 'characterization' is strong enough. You'll know what she'll say or he'll say before you even start writing dialogue, how they'll react to a given situation, or even what they are thinking during an event. The more detailed you make your characters, the more real and relatable they will be to the reader.

  6. Take your time: I was so excited that the first time I finished a manuscript that I proofread it in less than a week, and sent it off to family and friends. This was a horrible, horrible mistake. Do not do this. After you finish your manuscript, take a break. It could be a couple weeks, a few months or even a year. Create a proof copy if you want. Then read your book in it's entirety. The first thing you'll probably want to do is throw it in a dumpster fire as you read it. It's horrible. You'll see plot holes you could drive a truck through, glaring grammar issues, and plot contrivances that you never imagined could be so terrible. You probably hate it, and now you feel like giving up. Don't. Now you get to slowly massage all the lumps, wrinkles and warts that fill your novel into beautiful and smooth passages. It will take time. It will take patience, but in the end you will have something that you can truly be proud of, for the most part. And for those of you who love your rough draft, you need serious clinical help. I'm joking of course, but find someone who you feel can judge your manuscript objectively (preferably an editor), and prepare to take some scathing and demoralizing criticism. If they have little to nothing bad to say, find someone else. If that person has nothing bad to say, congratulations on writing something decent, and the rest of us will hate you for it.

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There are many, many more things I could exposit upon, but if you learn nothing else, learn this: Just write and let the story do the rest.

Source: reddit post


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