1. Show, don’t tell.
This gets covered often, but remains a common problem in stories. It sounds like such simple advice to follow, yet can prove challenging. To do this, describe action and things visible or obvious. If a character has an emotional response, show the physical manifestation. Don’t tell us the character is sad or angry. Show the character’s trembling chin or have them hurl something across the room. Readers will understand the emotional context, I promise.
2. Don’t have sheets of words.
This problem often appears in the beginning of a story, particularly in a series. Authors often feel the need to make certain the readers understand everything through expositional text or dialogue. Unless a reader is new to a series, however, you probably don’t need to explain everything each time. You really don’t need to do it with a paragraph one page long. Don’t let overly wordy writing and exposition turn your book into a clunker.
3. Watch for repeating phrases, imagery, etc.
One reason authors shouldn’t be their own editors is they often overlook patterns in their writing. Characters always frown or smile or grin or something. They also always sigh, bite their lip, etc. The authors repeat certain verbs or sentences. First, repetition is always boring. Second, repetition is always boring. Third, repeating things is perpetually boring.
See? Even changing the wording a little bit doesn’t really improve this one. Use an editor to clean up your text and to point things like this out. It’s difficult to see it in our own writing.
4. Clear out the fog of pronouns.
Sorry, who said what?
Pronouns are great little tools, but they can lead to confusion if used improperly. Stormcaller has several male and female characters and if only one of each have a conversation, it’s not too difficult for readers to follow along. However, two women talking or two dudes talking can lose readers if their voices aren’t sufficiently different that they can be told apart. So, while it’s okay to use pronouns, use them sparingly and use names whenever the speaker or perspective changes.
5. Know your tropes.
Tropes and clichés have their place in writing, but if you want to elevate your work, know what you’re writing. Is your busty, feminine, take-charge, kick-ass heroine who never makes a mistake or fails a Mary Sue? Are you guilty of burying your gays? Are you rehashing a terribly tiresome trope or are you aware enough to subvert it? Readers are savvy and know when someone’s sprinkling powdered sugar on some grade A dung and telling them it’s a brownie.
Adjust your writing, adjust your story to reflect your awareness.
These are my thoughts and as much a reminder to myself as a guide for others. All writers can improve. Hope this gives you something to think about as you look at your writing (or hopefully have someone else look at it).