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Level-up Your Writing: 5 Essential Tips for Aspiring Authors

Embarking on the journey of writing a book is a thrilling adventure filled with creativity, challenge, and personal growth. Whether you're a first-time author or a seasoned writer, keeping a few key principles in mind can make all the difference between a good story and a great one.

Here are five essential tips to help you craft a compelling narrative that resonates with readers and stands out in a crowded marketplace.

1. Jumpstart Your Story: Cutting Out Throat-Clearing

First impressions are crucial in writing. Throat-clearing is anything that delays the true beginning of your story, like overly descriptive settings, extensive backstory, or prolonged scene setups. Instead, dive right into the action and immerse your readers in the story from the first page.

Introduce your main character into significant trouble as soon as possible. This doesn't mean you need high-octane action immediately, but start in medias res—Latin for "in the midst of things." For example, if you're writing a cozy romance, your heroine might be caught between two suitors. In a thriller, your protagonist could be facing a life-and-death situation. Ensure the stakes are high enough to justify an entire novel. Weave descriptions of weather, characters, and settings into the action to avoid making them feel like separate, throat-clearing elements.

2. Mastering Consistent POV

Consider this example: "John stared at the empty house, feeling a deep sense of loss. He couldn't understand why his parents had left without a word. Across town, his mother was crying, regretting her decision." The point-of-view error here shifts from John’s internal thoughts to his mother's feelings, which breaks the reader’s immersion.

In today’s market, it's essential to maintain a single point-of-view character per scene. This character should have the most at stake in the scene. The POV character acts as our camera, our recorder, and we are privy only to their senses and mind.

To reveal other characters' thoughts or feelings, rely on their actions or dialogue. For instance, instead of narrating the mother’s regret, John might receive a tear-stained letter from her explaining her decision. This way, we stay within John's perspective while learning about his mother's emotions.


3. Embracing Imperfection: Crafting Human Characters

What is your character’s biggest flaw? While your character should be fundamentally likable, a perfect character is hard to relate to. A heart-of-gold character might have a hair-trigger temper, or a professionally sharp character might fear commitment. Flaws humanize characters, making them richer and more captivating.

Flaws are also essential for a satisfying plot. According to mega-bestselling novelist Dean Koontz’s Classic Story Structure, a flawed, human character should:

  • Be plunged into significant trouble as soon as possible.

  • Find that every attempt to escape this trouble only worsens the situation.

  • Face a seemingly hopeless situation.

  • Use all they have learned to succeed against all odds.



4. Crafting Authentic Characters vs. Stereotypes

The late psychologist Abraham Maslow identified universal human needs that must be met for satisfaction and motivation:

  • Physical: Food, water, sleep, shelter, and clothing. Without these, focus on other needs diminishes.

  • Safety: Personal, financial, emotional, and physical security.

  • Social: Love and acceptance from family, friends, and intimate relationships.

  • Self-Esteem: Achieving self-esteem paves the way for greater accomplishments.

  • Self-Actualization: Fulfillment of one's purpose.

Construct your characters with realistic, credible motivations. Internal motivations might include fear, honor, or love, while external motivations could be survival, money, or deadlines. Craft your characters to be relatable and avoid clichés.

5. Why Rigorous Self-Editing is Essential

Distinguish yourself from the competition by rigorously editing your manuscript before submitting it to agents or editors. Though it will still be edited by the publisher, showing that you have done extensive work yourself demonstrates professionalism and dedication.

Here are nine tips for effective self-editing:

  • Develop a thick skin: Listen to feedback from colleagues, critique group members, professionals, and your gut. Trust your instincts and be willing to tweak your work.

  • Choose simplicity: Opt for clear, straightforward language over complex vocabulary and fancy phrases. Prioritize your message.

  • Avoid hedging verbs: Words like "smiled slightly," "almost laughed," or "frowned a bit" weaken your prose.

  • Give the reader credit: Avoid unnecessary details like "They walked through the open door and sat down across from each other in chairs." Instead, write "They walked in and sat across from each other."

  • Avoid telling what’s not happening: There’s no need to write "He didn’t respond" or "She didn’t say anything." If it’s not mentioned, readers will assume it didn’t happen.

  • Avoid clichés: This includes clichéd situations like characters waking to an alarm clock, describing themselves in a mirror, or bumping into future love interests. These have been overdone.

  • Resist the urge to explain (RUE): For example, "Marian was mad. She pounded the table. 'George, you’re going to drive me crazy,' she said, angrily." Here, "angrily" and "pounded the table" are redundant.

  • Avoid the words 'up' and 'down' unless necessary: For instance, "He rigged [up] the device" or "She sat [down] on the couch."

  • Avoid subtle redundancies: Phrases like "She nodded her head in agreement" can be trimmed to "She nodded." The reader will infer the rest.

While these tips can significantly enhance your writing, working with a professional editor can implement these best practices and more with ease. A professional editor ensures that every part of your book is polished to perfection, giving you the best chance of success.

Feel free to contact Atticus Publishing and our team will recommend a professional editor to help make your book the best it can be.

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