It should come as no surprise that we at Girl Friday believe that a developmental edit by a seasoned professional is essential to your success as a writer. That said, there are a few things you can keep in mind as you write and revise that will make an immediate difference. Implement these tips and your writing will instantly sound more confident and polished.
We all know the old adage “Show, don’t tell.” It’s been drilled into us since our elementary school days. It can be harder, however, to resist the temptation to show and tell. But if you’ve told us that “Isabel wiped her clammy hands on her too-short skirt and felt a flush of heat in her cheeks when the teacher asked her to stand up and read aloud on the first day in her new school,” you don’t then need to tell us that “She was nervous about getting up in front of her classmates, whom she’d never met before.” Focus on nailing the details and then trust your reader. A big part of taking your writing to the next level is having the confidence to let the scenes you’ve created stand on their own.
Character is everything! We don’t have to love them, but we do have to care. If your characters are falling flat, you’re going to lose your readers. Make them flawed, quirky, arrogant, confused. But more than anything, make them real. Do this by introducing revealing details, using dialogue, and giving us a bit of voyeuristic insight into their motivations.
Dialogue can be a tricky business. But if you want your writing to shine, it’s essential that you get this right. At one end of the spectrum, you want to avoid making your characters sound stilted or bland or using dialogue for awkward information dumps. At the other, you want to avoid the unnecessary small talk that might happen in real life but that can drag down a snappy back-and-forth—“Hi.” “Good to see you. How’s it going?” “OK. You?” Skip the small talk and make it all about nailing the voice and fleshing out the character. Finally, read it all out loud. More than once.
Beware of metaphors and similes. These tempting little crutches can be your friends. But they can also snag a reader and yank him right out of the thick of the story. “The clouds meandered across the sky like exhaust from an ailing diesel truck” is just distracting. While there are moments when creative license is appropriate, straightforward language is often the best way to go. In this case, “The clouds billowed across the sky” does the trick without slowing the reader down. And if there’s a moment when you can’t help yourself, make sure your selected imagery feels appropriate to the story. Finally, keep an eye out for the dreaded mixed metaphors that can sneak into a manuscript.