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LMSYS #3 - 10 Tips for New Writers

Updated: May 4

Write Better Stories with These Tips for New Writers


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New writers are born every day, and sometimes all they need is a little push here and there. For this edition of Let Me Show Ya Somethin’ I wanted to provide a quick list of tips that may spark that little something in a new writer. Here’s a list of ten quick and easy tips that may help set you on the path to writing better stories.


10 Tip for New Writers



 

1. Start with a strong hook


As a fledgling or aspiring writer, mastering the art of crafting a strong hook is essential. The hook is the opening sentence or paragraph of your story, article, or any written work, which serves the critical function of grabbing your reader’s attention and convincing them to keep reading. Given the vast amount of content that bombards readers daily, an effective hook can make the difference between a reader engaging with your work or moving on to something else.


Tips for Creating Effective Hooks

  1. Start with Action: Begin your story or article in the midst of an action to draw readers directly into the narrative.

  2. Pose a Question: Opening with a thought-provoking question can pique curiosity and compel readers to seek answers.

  3. Use Strong Imagery: Descriptive and vivid imagery can captivate a reader’s imagination and emotions from the first line.

  4. Introduce an Interesting Character: A glimpse into a character’s unique trait or situation can intrigue readers enough to learn more about them.

  5. Present a Surprising Fact: Especially in non-fiction writing, starting with an unexpected fact or statistic can grab attention and set the stage for deeper exploration.



 

2. Develop your characters


Character development is a crucial aspect of writing that can make or break your story. Well-developed characters not only engage readers but also drive your narrative forward and give your work emotional depth. For fledgling and aspiring writers, learning how to craft multi-dimensional characters is essential. Here are several key strategies to help you develop compelling characters in your writing.


  • Understand Your Character's Role: Before diving into the specifics of character development, identify each character's role in your story. Are they the protagonist, antagonist, a supportive sidekick, a mentor, or a love interest? Understanding their role will guide their development and ensure their actions and growth are meaningful within the story’s context.


  • Create a Character Profile: Start with creating detailed character profiles. This process involves more than just deciding on physical attributes like age, gender, and appearance. Consider developing things like their background, personality, motivations and goals, and flaws and virtues (strengths and weaknesses).


  • Develop Relationships: Characters do not exist in a vacuum; their relationships with other characters bring out different facets of their personality. These interactions can reveal histories, secrets, and tensions that deepen the reader's understanding of the character. For example, a character might be authoritative in the workplace but submissive and caring at home, showing different sides of their personality.


  • Give Them Arcs: Character arcs represent the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of the story. Not every character needs a dramatic arc, but your main characters should undergo some form of change. This could be learning something new, changing a viewpoint, or adjusting their goals. The arc should be linked to the story’s themes and overall plot.



 

3. Establish a clear setting


Establishing a clear and vivid setting is crucial for engaging readers and immersing them in the world of your story. The setting not only grounds your narrative in a specific time and place but also sets the mood, influences plot developments, and reveals character traits. For fledgling and aspiring writers, creating a well-defined setting can elevate your storytelling, making your narrative feel more realistic and relatable. Here are some strategies to help you craft compelling settings in your writing.


  • Understand the Role of Setting: The first step is to recognize the multifaceted role that setting plays in a story. It's not just about geographical location—setting includes the historical period, the socio-economic environment, the climate, and even the specific room in which a scene takes place. All these elements help to create a backdrop against which your characters act and your plot unfolds.


  • Start with Broad Strokes: Begin by sketching out the broader aspects of your setting like geographical location, time period, and culture/society.


  • Use Sensory Details: To bring your setting to life, incorporate sensory details that engage readers’ senses:

    • Visuals - Describe what your characters see. Include colors, shapes, and sizes to paint a vivid picture.

    • Sounds - What can your characters hear? Is it the bustling noise of a city, the quiet whispers of a small village, or the eerie silence of a deserted landscape?

    • Smells - Often overlooked, the sense of smell can powerfully evoke a place. Does the air carry the scent of food, pollution, nature, or something else?

    • Feel - What textures are present in the environment? Is it the roughness of a stone wall, the softness of grass underfoot, or the chill of a metal handle?

    • Taste - Although not always applicable, taste can be relevant in scenes involving eating or drinking, adding an extra layer to the sensory experience.


Creating a clear and engaging setting is not just about where and when your story takes place but how you bring that environment to life. Effective settings make your stories memorable and help readers to fully immerse themselves in the worlds you create.




 

4. Create tension and conflict


Creating tension and conflict is essential to crafting compelling narratives that captivate readers. Tension keeps readers engaged, pushing them to turn the page to find out what happens next, while conflict, whether internal or external, drives the plot and deepens character development. For fledgling and aspiring writers, learning to effectively weave tension and conflict into your stories is a critical skill. Here are some strategies to help you master this aspect of writing.


Understanding Tension and Conflict

Before diving into the methods, it's important to distinguish between tension and conflict:


  • Conflict involves a clash between opposing forces, and can be external (between characters, or between a character and society) or internal (within a character).


  • Tension is the sense of heightened anticipation for what will happen next, whether it’s fear, excitement, or curiosity.


Create Dilemmas and Moral Quandaries

Placing characters in difficult dilemmas or moral quandaries adds layers of tension and conflict, forcing them to make tough decisions. This not only builds suspense but also deepens character development, as readers see what choices characters make under pressure.


Use Dialogue Effectively

Dialogue can be a powerful tool for creating tension and revealing conflict:


  • Subtext: What characters don’t say can be just as important as their words. Use subtext to create layers of meaning and tension.


  • Conflict Through Conversation: Let characters’ conflicting goals and personalities shine through their dialogue. Arguments, miscommunications, and even seemingly mundane exchanges can reveal deeper tensions.


Incorporating tension and conflict in your writing is crucial for engaging readers and driving your narrative forward. By understanding the different types of conflicts, using structure to your advantage, developing multi-dimensional characters, and utilizing dialogue effectively, you can create stories that resonate deeply with your audience and leave them eagerly turning pages. Remember, at the heart of every great story is conflict—it's what makes narratives vibrant and ultimately fulfilling.




 

5. Show, don't tell


"Show, don't tell" is one of the most vital pieces of advice for writers, especially those just starting out. This technique encourages you to convey your story through actions, words, or thoughts of the characters rather than through direct exposition by the narrator. This approach can make your writing more vivid, immersive, and engaging. Here’s how to effectively implement "show, don't tell" in your writing.


Understand the Difference

First, understand what it means to "show" versus "tell":


  • Telling is explaining. It gives the reader information directly, telling them what to think or how to feel about a character or situation.


  • Showing involves illustrating a scene or a character’s emotions through details, actions, dialogues, or sensory descriptions, letting the reader draw their own conclusions.


Use Sensory Details


Once again, this one pops up. But that's because one of the easiest ways to show rather than tell is to incorporate sensory details into your writing. Describe what the characters see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. This not only paints a vivid picture of the scene but also helps the reader to feel present in the moment. For example, instead of telling the reader "The kitchen was messy," show them: "Dirty dishes piled high in the sink, leftover food dried on plates, and a sticky juice spill on the counter."


Employ Dialogue

Dialogue naturally shows rather than tells. Through conversations, you can reveal a lot about your characters’ personalities, their relationships, and their thoughts without explicitly stating them. For instance, instead of telling the reader that a character is angry, you can show it through sharp, staccato dialogue:

  • "Fine!" she snapped, slamming her cup down so hard tea splashed over the rim.


Focus on Actions and Behaviors

Actions speak louder than words. You've heard that before, right? Well, it also applies to storytelling. Show what a character is feeling or thinking by describing their actions or behaviors. This is particularly useful for conveying emotions. Instead of saying "John was nervous," you could write, "John’s hands trembled as he fumbled to button his shirt, his breath quick and shallow."


Utilize Character Thoughts

Internal monologue can be a powerful tool to show a character’s inner conflicts, fears, hopes, or motivations without explicitly stating them. Let the reader hear what the character is thinking in response to events or other characters. For example, instead of saying "Lisa felt betrayed," use her thoughts to show it:

  • 'How could he do this to me?' Lisa thought, feeling a sharp sting in her chest as she watched him laugh across the room.


Be Specific

Generalizations tend to tell, while specifics show. Replace vague descriptions with specific details that give the reader a clear and compelling picture. Instead of writing "It was a warm day," show the effects of the warmth:

  • "The midday sun beat down on the cracked pavement, heat mirages wavering in the air while people fanned themselves with whatever was handy."


Consider the Emotional Impact

Think about how you want the reader to feel in a particular scene and use showing techniques to evoke these emotions. Showing allows readers to experience the story through actions and senses, which can be much more emotionally impactful than simply being told how to feel.


Use Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and similes can be effective tools in showing. They allow you to describe one thing in terms of another, providing a vivid picture and sometimes an emotional undertone. For example, saying "Guilt gnawed at him like a hungry rat" is more evocative than simply stating "He felt guilty."


Practice and Analyze

Implementing "show, don't tell" takes practice. Spend time rewriting passages from your work to change telling into showing. Additionally, read books with an eye for how accomplished authors use this technique. Notice how they reveal information subtly through scenes, description, and dialogue, and think about how you can apply similar strategies in your writing.


"Show, don't tell" can transform your writing from simple narrative to a rich, immersive experience. By focusing on sensory details, dialogue, character actions, and specific imagery, you can pull readers into your world and let them live your stories alongside your characters. Remember, showing allows readers to draw their own conclusions, deepening their engagement and emotional investment in your story.




 

6. Use effective pacing


Pace yourself! Effective pacing is a crucial element in writing that helps manage the speed and rhythm at which a story unfolds. Good pacing keeps readers engaged from start to finish, ensuring that they stay interested without becoming overwhelmed or bored. For fledgling and aspiring writers, understanding how to control pacing can greatly enhance the readability and impact of your narratives. Here are some essential tips on how to effectively use pacing in your writing.


Understand Pacing

Pacing refers to how fast or slow events in your story unfold. It's about the timing of your plot points, the development of your characters, and the release of information. Effective pacing involves balancing action with reflection and dialogue, creating a rhythm that matches the mood and stakes of the story.


Vary Sentence Structure

One of the simplest ways to control pacing is through the length and structure of your sentences. Short, choppy sentences can speed up the pace, making scenes feel urgent and dynamic. Longer, more complex sentences slow down the action, allowing for reflection, description, and the buildup of tension. By varying sentence length and structure, you can create a natural ebb and flow that enhances the overall storytelling.


Control Paragraph Length

Like sentences, the length of paragraphs can influence the pace. Short paragraphs can convey quick action and rapid shifts in focus, while longer paragraphs can slow down the pace, offering more detailed observations and introspections. Using a mix of both can help maintain a balance, keeping the reader engaged without exhausting them.


Use Dialogue Wisely

Dialogue can be a powerful tool to adjust pacing. Rapid-fire exchanges can accelerate the pace, heightening tension and excitement. Conversely, slower, more deliberate dialogue can create a reflective mood or build suspense. Pay attention to how your characters’ conversations speed up or slow down the flow of your story.


Manage Action Scenes

Action scenes naturally quicken the pace and raise the stakes. To make these moments effective, focus on clarity and immediacy. Use active voice (the subject of a sentence does whatever the action of the sentence is) and vivid verbs, and avoid overloading these scenes with too much description or unnecessary details. Let the action unfold quickly to keep readers on the edge of their seats.


Incorporate Reflection and Description

Slowing down the pace is just as important as speeding it up. Use moments of reflection or detailed descriptions to give readers time to digest the events of your story, understand the emotions of your characters, and build anticipation for what’s coming next. These slower passages are crucial for deepening character development and enhancing thematic resonance.


Balance Subplots and Main Plots

The interplay between subplots and the main plot can also affect pacing. While subplots add depth and richness to the narrative, it’s important to balance them so they don’t overshadow the main storyline or disrupt the flow. Ensure that each subplot is integrated smoothly and contributes to the forward motion of the overall plot.


Plan Chapter Breaks and Cliffhangers

Effective use of chapter breaks and cliffhangers can significantly influence pacing. Ending a chapter on a cliffhanger can propel the narrative forward, encouraging readers to start the next chapter immediately. Plan these breaks thoughtfully to maintain momentum, especially after a particularly slow or introspective section.


Adjust Pacing to Match Story Developments

Be mindful of how the pacing corresponds with key points in your story. Major events, revelations, or turning points might require a quickened pace to reflect their impact, while moments of decision or change may benefit from a slower, more nuanced approach.


Practice and Feedback

Experiment with different pacing strategies and see what works best for your style and story. Seek feedback from beta readers or writing groups to understand how others perceive the pacing of your narrative. Use their insights to fine-tune the rhythm and flow of your writing.


Mastering pacing is a skill that develops over time and with practice. By understanding how to effectively use different elements of narrative, such as sentence structure, paragraph length, dialogue, and action scenes, you can control the rhythm of your story to enhance emotional impact and keep your readers hooked from beginning to end. Remember, good pacing is key to maintaining reader engagement and ensuring that your story delivers its full emotional and thematic power.




 

7. Develop a clear plot


Developing a clear and compelling plot is essential for any successful narrative. A well-structured plot ensures that your story progresses smoothly, holds the reader's attention, and delivers a satisfying conclusion. For fledgling and aspiring writers, mastering the art of plot development is key to crafting stories that resonate with readers. Here are some practical steps and considerations to help you develop a clear plot in your writing.


Understand Plot Basics

A plot is essentially the sequence of events that make up your story. It’s built around a central conflict that drives the narrative forward. The classic plot structure, often referred to as the "dramatic arc," includes five basic elements:


  1. Exposition: Introducing the setting, characters, and basic situation.

  2. Rising Action: A series of conflicts and challenges that lead to the climax.

  3. Climax: The most intense point of the story, where the main conflict reaches its peak.

  4. Falling Action: Events that follow the climax and begin to resolve the conflict.

  5. Resolution: The conclusion of the story, where all loose ends are tied up.


Identify Your Central Conflict

At the heart of every plot is a conflict or problem that the protagonist must confront and strive to resolve. This conflict can be external (such as a battle against a villain or a natural disaster) or internal (such as a character grappling with their own fears or desires). Clearly defining your story’s central conflict is crucial as it will drive all aspects of your plot.


Create a Plot Outline

Sketching a plot outline before you start writing can help you organize your thoughts and ensure your story has a logical progression. You don't need a detailed blueprint, but having a clear roadmap of your major plot points will keep your narrative focused and coherent. Start with the basic structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) and fill in the key events that will move your story from one point to the next.


Develop Compelling Characters

Characters are the driving force behind the plot. Developing well-rounded characters with clear motivations, strengths, and weaknesses can help propel the plot forward and make your story more engaging. Think about how each character’s desires and fears interact with the central conflict. This interaction should influence their decisions and actions throughout the story.


Use Subplots Wisely

Subplots are secondary sequences of events that complement the main plot. They can enrich the story by adding depth and complexity to characters and themes. However, make sure your subplots are relevant to the main plot and contribute to its resolution. They should intertwine with the main storyline and help to advance it, rather than diverting attention away from it.


Keep the Pace Appropriate

Pacing is how fast or slow events in your plot unfold. It plays a crucial role in maintaining reader interest and building suspense. Adjust the pace according to the needs of your story—faster in sections with high tension and slower during more introspective or complex scenes. Balance is key; too much action can exhaust readers, while too little can bore them.


Build Towards a Climax

Every scene and chapter should build toward the climax, where the tension and conflict reach their highest point. The climax should be a natural and inevitable result of the events that precede it, providing a satisfying payoff to your readers. Make sure it tests your characters to their limits and ultimately reveals their growth or failure.


Resolve Conflicts Satisfactorily

After the climax, your story should move into the falling action and resolution, where conflicts are resolved, and the story comes to a close. This doesn’t always mean a happy ending, but it should provide a clear outcome and address the major themes of your story. Ensure that the resolution stems naturally from the events and actions of your characters, avoiding deus ex machina endings that feel forced or unearned.


Revise for Coherence and Impact

After drafting your story, revise it to enhance clarity and impact. Look for plot holes, inconsistencies, or any elements that might confuse the reader. Make sure every part of your plot contributes to the overall story and that your narrative remains engaging throughout.


Crafting a clear and effective plot involves careful planning, character development, and attention to pacing and structure. By following these steps, you can create a narrative that captivates readers, holds their interest from beginning to end, and leaves them feeling satisfied by the journey they’ve undertaken with your characters. Remember, a well-developed plot is the backbone of any great story.




 

8. Edit and revise


Editing and revising your writing are crucial steps in the writing process that transform your initial drafts into polished, compelling pieces ready for publication. For fledgling and aspiring writers, learning to effectively edit and revise can be daunting, yet mastering these skills is essential for improving your craft and achieving success.


Understand the Difference Between Editing and Revising

Revising involves looking at your writing on a large scale to make changes to the story, structure, character development, and pacing. It’s about seeing the work as a whole and making sure it flows logically and effectively.


Editing, on the other hand, is more about correcting the mechanics of your writing, such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax. It’s a finer, more detailed process that focuses on polishing your text.


Focus first on revising major elements of your manuscript:


  • Structure: Ensure that your story is well-organized and that scenes or chapters are ordered in a way that makes sense and enhances the narrative flow.


  • Plot: Look for any plot holes, inconsistencies, or areas where the story drags or feels rushed.


  • Characters: Make sure your characters are fully developed and their actions and motivations are consistent and believable throughout the story.


  • Voice and Tone: Check that the voice and tone are consistent and appropriate for your audience and genre.


Dive into scene work and examine each scene or chapter individually. Check it for effective purpose, conflict and tension, and dialogue. Then dive into line edits, checking for things like clarity and style, word choice, and grammar/punctuation. Polish with proofreading and feedback from those that can look it over for you. Fresh eyes can catch issues you might have overlooked and provide valuable feedback on how your writing resonates with readers.

Effective editing and revising are about more than just fixing mistakes; they involve thoughtful reconsideration of your work’s structure, content, and style. For new writers, developing these skills can be a challenge, but they are essential for turning your rough drafts into polished, compelling stories that are ready to captivate readers. Remember, every great piece of writing has gone through rigorous edits and revisions—it’s a vital part of the creative process.




 

9. Read widely


Exposure to diverse literature within your genre helps you understand effective storytelling techniques. Analyze how successful authors structure plots, develop characters, and evoke emotions. Take note of narrative styles, dialogue techniques, and descriptive strategies that resonate with you. Reading widely expands your storytelling toolkit and inspires creativity in your own writing.


In essence, reading widely opens up a world of possibilities and learning opportunities for new writers. It exposes you to the richness of language, the depth of character, and the intricacies of plot that you can then embody in your own writing. For anyone serious about improving their craft, a diverse reading list is as important as a regular writing routine. As Stephen King famously said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." Embrace reading as a fundamental part of your journey to becoming a better writer.



 

10. Write regularly


Consistent practice is key to improving as a writer. Set aside dedicated time for writing on a regular basis, even if it's just a few minutes each day. Establishing a writing routine builds discipline and strengthens your writing skills over time. Don't wait for inspiration to strike—showing up to write regularly cultivates creativity and allows you to explore ideas and refine your craft progressively. Here are several elements that regular writing can elevate.


  • It builds writing discipline - Consistency helps you overcome procrastination and keeps your writing skills sharp, as regular practice keeps the mechanics of writing—grammar, punctuation, style—front and center in your mind.


  • It enhances creativity - The more often you write, the more you push the boundaries of your imagination. Regular practice encourages you to explore new ideas, experiment with different styles and genres, and take creative risks that can lead to breakthroughs in your work.


  • It helps develop your voice - One of the most important aspects of writing is finding and developing your unique voice. This isn’t something that can be forced in a few sessions; it evolves naturally from a lot of writing over time. Regular writing allows you to explore what themes, subjects, and expressions truly resonate with you and your audience, helping you refine your voice into something distinctive and compelling.


  • It will help you gain confidence as a writer - Each piece of writing, whether it's a blog post, a short story, or just a journal entry, builds your confidence not only in your technical skills but also in your ability to communicate ideas and emotions effectively. Confidence is crucial when facing the inevitable challenges and rejections that come with writing.


  • It accelerates the learning process - Every writing endeavor provides an opportunity to try something new and learn from the outcome, whether it's narrative structure, character development, or effective dialogue. Regular practice means more opportunities to learn, make mistakes, and, ultimately, to learn from those mistakes.


Regular writing practice is invaluable. It builds discipline, fosters creativity, refines your voice, and strengthens your problem-solving skills. For any aspiring writer, committing to a regular writing schedule is one of the most effective ways to improve your craft. So set a schedule, stick to it, and watch how your writing transforms.




 

In summary, crafting a compelling story involves several key elements and strategies that new writers can implement to enhance their storytelling skills. Now you should be on the path to writing your magnum opus! Okay, maybe not, but these ARE some useful quick tips for any of you fledgling writers that may be doing research on the mechanics and process.


I hope this helps somebody, somewhere. Go write something cool!


You can check out some of my work over on my shop, where I've got digital comics. You can also sign up to my email list and get a free digital comic for your trouble.


Anyway, 'til next time!

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