1. Know your characters. Once you decide on the story your want to write, spend time getting to know your characters. Not just the color of their eyes, or the type of dress they wear – but how they think. How they would react to any given situation. Think of people you know, pick out various characteristics and ascribe them to the characters. Let your characters have flaws; it makes them all the more lovable.
2. After you’ve written a scene with a fair amount of dialogue, read it aloud. If the dialogue doesn’t sound authentic to your ear, it won’t be authentic to the reader either. If you stumble over passages, consider rewriting them. Most times the stumbling is because you have too many words hooked together. When speaking to one another real life people seldom use the King’s English. They speak in fragments, and use contractions. If your dialogue sounds lumpy, try paring it down. Sometimes less really is more.
3. Be original. Follow your heart. If you love romance then write about it. Don’t think because mysteries are the hot ticket today you need to write a mystery. If you are not true to what you love, you’ll be mediocre at best. Why would you want to write a mediocre mystery when the most powerful romance ever written is banging against your brain and begging to be let loose.
4. Do the research. Whether you are writing about another time and place or a food that is poisonous, research it first. Sure you’ll spend some valuable time bouncing from site to site and maybe what you learn will be of no consequence, but chances are you’ll come away smarter, more knowledgeable and more confident than you might otherwise be.
5. Get a great editor. Not your Aunt Mary, or a friend who enjoys your stories. A real editor, one who will view your work with a critical eye and tell you where the flaws are. You may have to give up a few luxuries to be able to afford her/him. Maybe even brown bag it for months so you can set that lunch money aside to pay the editor. It’s worth it. If you go it alone and hit the publish button before your novel is ready, readers will be quick to point out the mistakes – poor punctuation, too many typos, too much redundancy.
6. And here is my bonus tip…read, read, read. Read in your genre and read in others. In reading you will hone your writing skills more than you ever dreamed possible. By reading you learn what works and what doesn’t. When you finish a book think back on what you enjoyed most and what was a turn off. Chances are the things you felt are the same things others felt and once you garner that knowledge, you are well on your way to becoming a successful novelist.
Passing Through Perfect by Bette Lee Crosby is out on 15 January.