None of us start out as experts at writing. We all have to start at the beginning and learn and grow as writers, but there are many ways writers can improve their writing skills. Some of them are very simple.
Know the Basics
The basics of fiction writing should not be beyond the comprehension of any writer, even newbies. By basics, I mean things like a good grasp of vocabulary and grammar, a familiarity with the language (i.e. to have some knowledge of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns and so on), and syntax, the ability to provide decent narrative composition.
When these basics are not in place, then learn about them, otherwise the resulting attempt at a blockbusting novel might be a mess. The easiest way to learn about the basics is to read lots of books on grammar and writing.
Observe and Listen
Not many writers give credit to this, or they fail to see how it could possibly improve their abilities, but observation is vital to learning and improving writing skills, because the more you observe, the more experience you store in the memory banks to help you construct better descriptions. For example, if you have a scene that involves rain, have you ever scrutinised it; how it moves, the shapes it makes when it hits a surface, the sound it makes? Ever just watched and listened to it?
If so, then you can translate it into your fiction with better imagery and description. If not, try it.
This applies to anything you observe, be it clouds, storms, people, situations, sounds, nature, working systems/mechanics...anything that you can call upon to help enrich your narrative with that hint of realism that the reader loves.
This is the cornerstone to self-improvement where fiction writing is concerned.
Every writer will tell you that reading is paramount to improving writing skills. Why? Because you get to see how other authors write – their styles, their voice, their narrative constructions and so on. The more you read different authors, the better you will recognise and understand the writing process and what it takes to write effective fiction.
Reading allows us to widen our understanding of fiction writing, it helps us discover new words and meanings, it helps understand how things like flashback or foreshadowing works, it shows us how scenes are constructed and set out etc., but most of all, reading others helps provide writers with inspiration by motivating us to write, to be the best we can be.
It is still one of the best ways to help writers improve, and that’s to simply write. The more you write, the more you learn and understand and the more you improve. It’s that simple and it works.
Practice is what makes us better and more proficient. The more you write, the better you become.
It’s easy for writers to do their own thing and ignore common advice about writing, especially general guidelines that are there to help them, whether it is about writing or whether it’s about submitting to agents or publishers.
If writers don’t pay attention to general rules and guidelines, then the result will be obvious for readers – a badly written, badly constructed story not worth a moment of the reader’s time.
While there are no rules set in stone – other than grammar and syntax – instead there are guidelines, which are in place for a very good reason, so pay attention or ignore them at your cost.
Learn to Edit
Being a writer is the whole deal, you’re in it for the whole nine yards. Not some of it, but all of it. If you write it, then it’s your responsibility to do the hard work and edit, not someone else. It has become so easy now for writers to palm off their novel to an editor who may improve the work, but they don intimately know the work like the writer does.
Learn to edit your work. Not only does it make you appreciate your own writing ability and your limitations – every writer has limitations - but it also improves your skills and knowledge of fiction writing because
Plan what you want to write. You don’t build a house without a plan first. Fiction is no different. Having a plan – be it a plan outlining the plot, a simple line diagram, a mind map or a thoroughly constructed strategy – it helps keeps the writer on the right track, it provides a catalyst to creativity, it prevents writer’s block and it stops the writer wandering off on a tangent.
A simple plan is the fiction writer’s best friend. Those who don’t plan will end up stumbling by the middle of their book; they will face a brick wall and won’t know how to develop the story further. They will drift off or other characters may take over, or the story will get so messy it become unclear whose story it is.
Plan or not to plan? That’s down to the writer, but if you fail to plan on where you are going or what you are doing, then you quickly end up going nowhere.
- Know the basics
- Observe and Listen
- Write, write and write
- Pay attention to guidelines
- Learn to edit
- Plan your work
Next week: Active and Passive Voice