Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Handy Hints

Here are a few hints Paula has picked up here and there:

1. If your work makes you feel—cry, laugh, explode—the chances are your reader will feel too.

2. Avoid delusions of literature. Too many fancy words get in the way of what’s going on and will make the action and characters harder to see.

3. You will write a lot of words that you don’t need as you get to know your characters. They can hold up the flow of the story. Cut ruthlessly.

4. Look for the sentences that should be paragraphs and the paragraphs that should be sentences. Look for the places where you’ve waffled on about something which you could deliver in a line, and look at where you’ve delivered something in a line which is worth expanding into a paragraph or scene.

5. When you start a story everything is provisional until you have finished it so don’t over polish your beginning – you may end up having to cut it anyway.

6. It’s better to push on to the end of something than agonise over sentences. The whole thing will need redrafting anyway. (I keep trying to tell myself this, but I still agonise over sentences, even in a first draft!)

7. When you think you have finished a piece, accept that the hard part now starts – turning the raw material into something better.

8. Avoid superfluous dialogue. Dialogue should tell the reader more about the character or move the plot forward. If it doesn’t, cut it.

9. Break up dialogue—you are not writing a movie script. Use actions or movement—but not too much or your readers will get dizzy.

10. Ditch unnecessary tags in dialogue—but don’t have your characters calling each other by name all the time (people don’t in ‘real life’)

And finally, here’s something I saw today on Facebook:

"Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people only learn by error. "
William Faulkner, The Paris Review (1956) much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him."



  1. Love these words of wisdom, Paula! Especially #6.

    1. Agree about #6 - I need to write it in big letters and stick it next to my computer screen!

  2. I need to tattoo your #5 and #6 on my forehead. I polished to death two chapter 1s--and then cut them.

    Also, I can't make myself skip ahead in stories. I have to write linearly, and even then, I go back and make small tweaks that make the next chapter or two work better.

    I've got to learn to do the leave-a-blank method.
    Great post!

    1. Ana, I've lost count of how many times I re-wrote Chapter 1 of Irish Intrigue!
      I sometimes leave a small blank, but I definitely can't write full scenes in advance of the main storyline.

  3. What wise words, Paula. I tend to polish as I write - I call it procrastinating when I'm not sure where I'm going next.

  4. I love these handy hints! The one that sticks with me is the figuring out if a line should be a paragraph or if a paragraph should be a line. This would definitely involve a deep analysis of your own writing.

    1. I think it's also a case of figuring out what is necessary for the story, Debra. When I was doing my huge word-cull for Irish Inheritance, I kept asking myself, 'Is this relevant? Is this necessary?' If not, then I either cut it, or condensed it. It certainly taught me a lot about being more concise!

  5. I've recently cut 25,000 words on the first edit of my book. I had over 100,000 words and knew some serious deleting needed to take place. I feel my book is stronger for it. Some great tips. Thank you.