25 Tips for Becoming a Writer 

Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

Find more information at the end of this post.

During the years I’ve been writing, I’ve worn an imaginary backpack full of the many tips I’ve received from writers and editors. While I’m writing or publishing, these tips jump out of my backpack onto my shoulders and whisper their wisdom in my ears. Some may sound contradictory, but their truths arise in different situations. I have featured many of these tips in my blog posts over the years. Here’s a list of my favorites. 

General

1. The only way you will ever write the book on your heart is to sit in your chair before your laptop or notebook and write.

Image by Roy from Pixabay

2. Usually, you need to write four completed manuscripts to learn to write. The fifth manuscript usually earns a contract. (from agent Chip MacGregor)

3. If you self-publish, hire a professional editor.

4. If a contest judge, critique partner, or editor has an issue with a sentence or paragraph that surprises you, don’t let it ruffle your feathers. The issue stopped that person from reading your story. See if there’s a way you can make a change that would keep the person reading.

5. Join a critique group whose members can tell you the truth in a way that you can receive it. 

6. Attend virtual or in-person writers conferences.

The Story

Image by 0fjd125gk87 from Pixabay

7. Your first sentence should grab your reader in a way the reader must continue to read your story.

8. Ground the reader at the beginning of every scene: the who, where, and when.

9. Don’t give tedious setting descriptions; show the setting through the characters’ actions.

10. Keep the action linear in a scene so the reader is with the character minute by minute. 

11. In the beginning scene(s), give the reader a glimpse of the protagonist’s ordinary world, which will contrast with the new journey the protagonist will begin.

12. An incident must happen that sends the protagonist out of his or her ordinary world onto a journey.

13. Every scene must have a purpose, and at least one should add conflict, advance a goal, or change a character’s motivation.

14. A story doesn’t need to have a happy ending, but it needs to have a satisfying ending.

15. Every story should have a twist.

Characters

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

16. Readers expect protagonists’ flaws, but they want to root for the protagonist, so beneath the protagonist’s surliness he or she must have inherent goodness.

17. The protagonist should have inner and outer goals and a greatest fear. These should impact the protagonists journey.

18. The reader should be able to distinguish characters by the way they speak, but an action beat (John grabbed his water bottle. “I want you to …”) or speaker attribute (John said) are often necessary to make sure the reader knows who’s talking.

The Writing

19. Beware of using weasel words, e.g., that, just, very, rather, some, immediately, suddenly, sure, and really.

20. Backload your paragraphs with a word that supports the meaning of the paragraph, instead of dull words, such as herhim, could, was.

21. Choose strong verbs and nouns. Keep a thesaurus handy.

22. Chose the right word. Keep a dictionary handy.

23. Show don’t tell.

24. Fix sentences that have impossible simultaneous actions: Reaching behind her for her scarf, she wrapped it around her neck. (How can she tie a scarf around her neck while she’s reaching behind her for said scarf?)

25. Kill your darlings. Just because you love the sentence, paragraph, or scene, doesn’t mean it’s right for your story.

What tips for becoming a writer would you add to my backpack?

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

7 Tips for Using Personal Anecdotes in Your Stories

Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Find more information, after this post.

Readers ask me if I use my personal experiences in my novels. Yes! Here are 7 tips to remember in using your personal anecdotes in your stories.

Don’ts

1. Don’t include a personal anecdote only because it’s one of your darlings. 

You love the anecdote. It’s funny. You tell it at parties, and people love it. But if it doesn’t fit the character or the character’s pursuit, don’t tell it.

Image by Victoria_Watercolor from Pixabay

2. Don’t include a personal anecdote that points to and harms a real person. 

If you can’t change the facts so that no one would recognize a person other than yourself in the anecdote, don’t use it. Or get written permission from the people involved in the anecdote.

For one of my books, I realized that, even though the person the humorous anecdote portrayed was deceased, the person’s family or friends might recognize the person. It drove this point home for me, and I made significant changes. 

3. Don’t use a personal anecdote that so farfetched it’s unbelievable. 

Just because the anecdote really happened doesn’t make it believable to readers. It could turn readers off.

Image by Digital Photo and Design DigiPD.com from Pixabay

Dos (but keep the Don’ts in mind)

4. Do include personal anecdotes that help a character become real. 

  • ones that would actually happen to your character
  • ones that flesh out a character’s personality
  • ones that show a character’s struggle
  • ones that help build a relationship between characters

5. Do include personal anecdotes that create a believable story plot or subplot. 

If an event or series of events that happened to you caused you to learn a lesson, rewrite them to fit your character. You’ll not only have the event(s), but you’ll have your emotions, struggles, and growth to make a moving scene, chapter, or book.

6. Do include personal anecdotes that show how things are or work. 

If the anecdote shows what really goes on in a character’s profession, activity, hobby, sport, interest group, or an event they attend, it will give the reader an authentic picture.

Image by Nico Franz from Pixabay

7. Do Use personal anecdotes that add appropriate humor to a situation.

Much of what happens in our lives is humorous. If you’re writing a light story, you have fodder to make your readers smile or laugh. Even if you write thrillers, mysteries, suspense, or other genres, look for intense, harsh events in your story. After these incidents, readers need something to ease their heart rate. Call on a humorous anecdote to do the job. (If you watch cop shows watch for those humorous moments among the detectives the day after something heinous happens.) 

What tips do you have for using personal anecdotes in your stories?

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. — Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Write the Word Your Character Would Say

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. — Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

More about Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days after today’s post.


Choose words your characters would actually say. Also, check the meaning of words you use. Sometimes it takes an editor to spot these word problems, but if you consider the following aspects of writing dialogue, you’ll more likely choose the right words.

The Word Your Character Would Say

Consider these 4 dialogue aspects.

1. Character’s Upbringing

Anne grew up on a farm with acres of corn and cabbage.

Original: Anne examined the object in her hand. “It’s shaped like a spaceship’s fuselage.” 

Better: Anne examined the object in her hand. “It’s shaped like an ear of corn.” 

Image by Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay

2. Character’s Age and Education

The character is eighteen, just out of high school, and works in a grocery store’s bakery.

Original: “I like the guy. He laughs at my quips.” 

Better: “I like the guy. He laughs at my jokes.”

3. Character’s Job or Profession

The character is an actuary and is talking to a fellow actuary.

Original: “The chance is great that the amount to cover the claims is too low.” 

Better: “The probability is high the claim reserves are insufficient.” 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

4. The Character’s Audience

The character is a professional young woman. She’s speaking to her two elderly aunts who are sitting on the porch shelling peas.

Original: “I like my significant other, but he prefers fewer tactile endearments.” 

Better: “I like my boyfriend, but he never holds my hand or puts his arm around my shoulders.” 

Write the Right Word

1. The Word’s Meaning

Watch out for words that belong to a similar type but have different meanings.

Original: I dislike his attitude and the way he never introduces me to his friends, but enough of my lamenting. 

Better: I dislike his attitude and the way he never introduces me to his friends, but enough of my complaining. 

2. The Correct Name for an Object

Google names of things that might have a generally or professionally accepted name.

Original: Dr. Brown entered the patient’s hospital room and set a chessboard on the roll table. 

Better: Dr. Brown entered the patient’s hospital room and set a chessboard on the overbed table. 

What is an example you’ve noticed in which an author used words the character wouldn’t say or used the wrong word?

Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising the early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly, writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in only 30 days!

—Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

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American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

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