Four writing rules my editors taught me

I learnt a lot with my first novel.

I had various drafts of Drama Queens with Love Scenes assessed before I contacted publishers, and through that process I learnt the first rule I still stick to.

1: Find the right word.

When my manuscript came back from my assessor, she often had a word circled in red and next to it would be the foreboding question, ‘right word?’.

She helped me reconsider my use of language for the better. I’d use Word’s inbuilt thesaurus and go on an epic search for the right word. I still do. And if I don’t find it, I find something better, then search for the synonyms of that word.

Image by Comfreak, courtesy of Pixelbay.

2: End each chapter with a cliff hanger.

After I redrafted my first novel three times with the guidance of my assessor, my editor (the one assigned by the book’s first publisher) had a real issue with the way my chapters were self-contained.

She explained that as much as my reader will enjoy the story, they can easily put it down and not pick it up again. This was great advice. I outline my novels with this in mind.

And let’s face it. We’ve all read good books that took us a while to finish simply because the story wasn’t calling us back.

Image by Lysons-editions, courtesy of Pixabay

3: Show. Don’t tell.

Many years later, I balance this rule with simply telling the story when needed. But when my first editor explained this to me, I spent months looking through my already assessed manuscript for places I could ‘give the feel’ rather than explain.

Our job as authors is to give enough information for the reader to re-imagine our story how they see it. It keeps them engaged. Tell them too much and the words often don’t sink in.

For example, the fan art below shows how I ended up describing a room without using specifics. Every reader ‘gets it’ without me explaining sofa fabric patterns or what type of lamp lights the space.

4: Tell your story as if you’re telling a joke.

My first editor made me think about the way a good joke teller in a pub shares a funny tale. How they give the right information at the right time to hook the people who are listening. Not too much up front. Throw a few breadcrumbs along the way. Hit them with the punch line.

I always know my ending. It has to be strong. And because I know it, I can guide my reader in a way they don’t see it coming.

But you have to keep the reader intrigued or entertained along the way. Make them laugh. Make them cry. They are foremost in your mind as you plot or panster. Don’t just put the scene in because it’s what happened next.

Image by Comfreak courtesy of Pixabay

There was a novella I read with a lovely scene where two characters shared their feelings about a tragedy they both experienced. It was short and to the point, and as a reader, I was expecting to find out more in other scenes.

One of these characters went on a date and it came up in conversation. But that was it. Date finds out about the tragedy. It’s what happened next in the story. But as a reader, there was no pay off. I didn’t find out how the date felt about what happened because the scene ended before the discussion.

In short, there was nothing new for the reader to discover. Nothing to keep me hooked.

I could go on and on with other editorial advice I’ve received.

But these ones have stuck with me the most. One from an assessor and three from my first editor. Sadly, that editor passed before that book was published.

I was blessed with great advice as her parting gift.


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