Tuesday, February 5, 2013

18 THINGS (You Should Know About Writing)

Addensum: Hi ROWers! My check-in is after Jamie's great post

I am so happy to have Jamie Ayres here today with her fabulous self talking about 18 Things...you should know about writing, to coincide with her 18 Things YA book release! And now, here she is:

18 Things

You Should Know About Writing
1.      Agents/Editors say give us the stakes first. The Hunger Games is a great example. *Spoiler Alert* Prim gets picked at the reaping, Katniss takes her place. The author doesn't start at the moment her name gets called. It starts the day of the reaping so we have a few pages to get familiar with Katniss, know what the Hunger Games are, know the odds of her getting picked and how she protected her sister so Prim’s name is only in the drawing once. This makes the moment when Prim’s name gets called even more powerful, in a way it wouldn't have if we didn't know the circumstances leading up to that event.

2.      Create characters that are interesting, though they don’t need to be likable  They should be compelling and inspire the reader to want to read more. The hero/heroine should be identifiable from secondary characters. Secondary characters shouldn’t take over the story.

3.      Know your characters. Do they have any quirks? Words they use too much? Imagine their personalities and spread their voice throughout the whole thing, so it’s really them when they ‘speak.’ Use a plotting table to help you organize your characters and their scenes, here's one in this post!

4.      Dialogue should always serve a purpose. Every quote should move the story along, show character, or share new information. Also, be a conversationalist. Noah Lukeman, author of The First Five Pages, states: “The most common malady is use of dialogue to convey backstory. The solution is to follow this rule: Dialogue should not be used to state things both characters already know, that is, one character should not remind the other character of something. It is an obvious ploy, intended only for the reader.” (page 94) In summary, no dialogue information dumps!

5.      Avoid dialogue tags. Always avoid things like responded, assessed, confirmed, and whatever else there is. He said/she said. Those tags disappear in the prose and make writing flow.

6.      Know the difference between beats and tags. Tags are said, asked, etc  Beats are actions identifying the speaker without needing to use a tag. With tags, you want to keep it simple. Use said most of the time, unless you want to show something in the voice or tone, but even then, use it carefully. Things like smile shouldn't be used as a tag. You can’t smile a word. Actions like smiling, sighing, pacing, are beats. Here’s the difference: “I love you,” she said. TAG. She looked down and sighed. “I love you.” BEAT. When using a beat, there’s no need to use a tag. Pick one.

7.      Avoid impossible simultaneous actions: Closing the door, she hugged him. As written, this is impossible. If she’s closing the door, she can’t hug someone at the same time. In that use, use either “and” or “then.”

8.      SNT (Show, Not Tell). Think of Twilight. We are in Bella’s head, LIVING each moment as she experiences it. The action is ACTIVE, not passive. Many writers make the mistake of telling the story rather than showing it. This happened, then this happened, then this happened. Find all the was/had/have/were and delete them to avoid passive sentences. Ex: He was walking. Change to: He jogged/strolled/paced/ambled.

9.      Each scene needs a beginning, middle, and end. It needs a purpose, it needs to do more than establish tension, and it needs some sort of resolution. It really should end on a hook that makes the reader want to read more. Don’t just blend scenes together with time passing in between, with no clear purpose or impact. Show the character’s journey, their pain, and their triumph. Make them as memorable as can be.

10.  In Techniques of the Selling Writer, writing guru Dwight V. Swain teaches us to spotlight three things: desire, danger, decision. Someone wants to attain or retain something. Something else threatens his chances of doing so. He decides to fight the threat. The thing Character wants, the danger threatening fulfillment of his desires, and the decision he makes, determine what specific readers will enjoy the story. You have to give your reader a reason to worry.

11.  Don’t take on too many things in one novel. If there’s too many storylines and minor storylines, it could cause the main story to not be developed fully. The beauty of fictional novels is you can always have sequels!

12.  Write with all the senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. The Bookshelf Muse is a great resource for this!

13.  Use Adjectives sparingly. Especially avoid redundant modifiers: small puppies, yellow daffodils, cheerful smiles. Instead, choose adjectives that are unique and add comprehension.

14.  Avoid adverbs. Constance Hale notes in her book, Sin and Syntax, “Adverbs are crashers in the syntax house party. More often than not, they should be deleted when they sneak in the back door.”Most over-used adverb intensifiers: absolutely, definitely, particularly, actually, basically, decidedly, quite, very, really, totally, madly, dearly, utterly, absolutely, completely, mainly, usually, too.

15.  Avoid the Preach ‘N’ Teach mentality. People read fiction as an escape, so don’t try to shove a lesson down their throats.

16.  Do a Find on the word ‘that’ in your manuscript and remove any unnecessary usage. Read the sentence without ‘that’ and if it still makes sense, delete ‘that.’’

17.  Don’t head-hop. Stay in one character’s POV (point of view) within a scene. Also, make sure you use only information the narrator can know.

18.  Don’t bog your story down with backstory/flashbacks, which are often frowned upon. The main problem with backstory/flashbacks is there isn't a lot of action. They’re fine for a change of pace, but they shouldn't be the vehicle for the entire novel.

*What about you? Is there anything else I should’ve included in my list of 18 Things? Keep in mind agents/editors get HUNDREDS, yes, hundreds of queries every week. Your work can’t be good. It needs to be flippin’ fantastic to stand out. The competition is fierce, and there is no room for error.

Okay, enough said. Feel free to throw darts at my image now out of frustration (believe me, been there, done that, still not through learning yet).
Hope we can still be friendsJ

~Jamie Ayres 
 Jamie Ayres writes young adult paranormal love stories by night and teaches young adults as a public school teacher by day. She lives in southwest Florida with her husband and two daughters. 18 Things is her debut novel. Visit her website at www.jamieayres.com.
18 Things is available here:
Add 18 Things to your TBR list!

ROW80 check-in:
List of Awesome
Jamie Ayres doing a guest post here!
My youngest turned 14
I've finally cracked the no research thing and have some cool stuff
Well into writing (yes, I know, starting isn't completing) the next big scene that's missing.
Short check-in. Hope everyone is doing Awesome!


  1. Thanks for hosting me, Amy!!! The conference I created it for was canceled, so I'm glad I got to share it somewhere, like youre wonderful blog:-)

    1. Jamie, so happy to have had you do this!

  2. Great stuff! I always try to keep 10 and 12 in mind... I wish more people would pay attention to 7, it bugs me so much when I see it in books :-)

    1. Deniz--I think #7 is something I've been guilty of! Yikes. Will promise to pay more attention. I agree with 10 &12, these two I know I need to work on, my first draft is always woefully lacking in these!

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  4. Great post!! Really excellent. I think I'm guilty of at least two of these--particularly number seven. Wince. ;) Thanks for the reminders on what works and what doesn't!!

    p.s. Sorry about the deleted comment above--I was signed in under my husband's name for some reason.

    1. Tamara, I replied to someone's tweet as my dog! Yes, my dog has an account, this is what happens when your 14 year old is bored! Anyway, I'm so glad I'm not the only #7-er. But, now I feel like I'll pay closer attention to it. S glad you stopped by!

  5. Ooh, 11 is my personal Achilles's heel. I want so much to tell everyone's story (oh, I think that makes 2 another big flaw of mine then)... Well, it's not coincidence that I had a friend call my first full draft War & Peace in space.

    Great list, Jamie. And great that you're getting back into the writing and researching thing, Amy!

    1. War & Peace in Space? Love it. Do your secondary characters ever take over? Mine do. Thanks for stopping by Eden!

  6. Number 8 and 10 are in my opinion the most important ones. Thanks for sharing this list. :)