Writing tips


Writing fiction graphic - pen and paperThere are billions of words out there advising writers on how to get the best from their talents. It's hard to add anything else that's useful and isn't patronising. But working on the assumption that you're new and keen to suck a few eggs, here's my input. I'm dealing primarily with fiction, but there’s also a brief note on feature writing and copywriting.

Read and study carefully. The advice given here will, to a greater or lesser extent, help preclude that demoralising  soul-sinking rejection letter moment.


Write directly

That sounds simple enough, but like a lot of simple things, it can be very hard to do. People tend to unnecessarily embellish their talk, and the embellishment dilutes the impact.

You see this commonly on TV man-in-the-street interviews where someone has witnessed, say, a fire and ends up repeating themselves. There was smoke and flames and ... well, it was awful. Some people ran out screaming and ... and it was terrible. Awful. The smoke. The fire. Awful.

This happens largely because the interviewer has shoved a microphone in the witness's face and is demanding another sound bite, which are hard to deliver on demand.

Instead, use a simple statement, unrepeated. It's stronger.

So what happened?

The building caught fire. Some people came running out. It was hell.

End of story.

Now try this; The man in the black suit with the briefcase walked along the street until he found a gap in the traffic and looked right and left before crossing between the oncoming cars.

There's too much happening in this sentence. Chop it up into manageable chunks. Think of it as a meal. Just how much are you going to fork in at once?

The man crossed the street.

Full stop.

If it's important to mention the man's black suit and briefcase, give those facts a sentence of their own.

The man crossed the street. He was wearing a black suit and carrying a briefcase.

This doesn't mean you can't build longer, more complex and more colourful sentences. It just means that you should always give your reader a chance to chew.

Which takes us to the next point ...



Want to read more?

There are over 25,000 words of writing tips and advice on my website. I've spent months writing these pages, and years refining them. I'm happy to share my professional knowledge with you. But like everyone else, I need to capitalise on my skills and efforts.


For just £1.99 I'll send you my entire MR EDIT'S WRITING ADVICE FOR AUTHORS as a .pdf file. Just follow the link below, or above, and you'll be taken to PayPal. You don't need an account; just a credit card or a debit card.


You'll generally receive my writing guide within an hour. But occasionally technical glitches from PayPal delay this for up to 24 hours.


Either way, you'll receive 25,000 very helpful words that will make you a better writer, will give you fresh insight into your work, and will improve the chances of a literary agent or publisher accepting your manuscript.



Mr Edit YouTube videos


Meanwhile, here are some of my You Tube videos that might be of interest to you. Hope you enjoy them.

You Tube video for writers and authors


Mr Edit. Let's talk about dialogue





You Tube literary agent video help


Mr Edit. Pitching fiction to a literary agent.





You Tube video - how to write fiction


Mr Edit. 5 Minute Fiction Fix.





You Tube video for authors and novelists


Mr Edit. Let's talk about tautology.




Links for writers


Preditors & Editors. Here's where you can check out the credentials of literary agents and publishers. A must for any writer.



Creative Helps. Helpful resource for the creative community. Articles, links and tips.



Nick Daws' Writing Blog. Lots of useful posts on all aspects of writing, both for print and online, plus a guest post for anyone who wants to make a contribution. Check it out.







Creative writing




Special features


Darley Anderson, literary agent

Darley Anderson, top UK literary agent, on books,
publishing and success

Zoë Sharp, thriller writer

Zoë Sharp, creator of the

action-packed Charlie Fox series of books

Jeff Kleinman, literary agent

Jeff Kleinman, New York literary agent, talks shop

Creme de la Crime logo

Crème de la Crime:

An interview with

Lynne Patrick,

publisher and managing editor of a smallerbut


publishing house.

Editing tips

Write in dialogue

Try writing the entire chapter in dialogue only handling it as if it was a script, and then flesh it out with description. It can help focus on the essentials.


Character creation

Base your characters on other established characters from other books, or base them on well-known actors. It can help add personality - but don't overdo it.

Inevitably (or at least ideally) your characters will develop their own traits as the novel progresses. You can even use their real names for the first draft.

Where the hell do you think you're going, said Al (Pacino).

What's it to you? said Harvey (Keitel).

Later, Al can become Sid, and Harvey can become whoever. But borrowing faces and personality types can give you a start with character development.

It doesn't work for everyone. But then, nothing works for everyone.


Story development

Try sketching the whole story in 3 sentences.

A soldier goes to war.

The soldier's best friend is captured by the enemy. The soldier and best friend return home.

Then you can fill in the blanks. How was the friend captured? And why? And how was he rescued? This can help with plotting. You know the beginning, the middle and the end. Develop from there. Build forward, and build backward, and flesh out the middle.


Dictate your story

Stand at a window or lie in the bath and record your story into a Dictaphone. This doesn't work for everyone either, especially if you hate the sound of your own voice, but it might unleash a little unexpected creativity.
Try it.


Clear writing

Be definite with your subject. Avoid saying, It was a large house. Say instead, The house was large. Avoid saying, It was a hot afternoon. Better to say, The afternoon was hot. I make this mistake constantly. You have to watch your own bad habits

"It" is often too vague. "It" lacks depth. Conversely, sometimes "it" is exactly what you want depending on the context. Either way, do a global search with your word processor. It might surprise you.


The story pay off

Give your reader the
pay-off he or she wants.
If you're writing crime, leave all the clues lying around where your reader can see them, but don't make them too obvious. If you're writing a thriller, draw some blood early on (and get the body count up). If you're writing romance, put some sex in there somewhere. In fact, sex can go everywhere.

Yes, it means writing to a formula. So be subtle. Be different. Be imaginative.

But Darling, I've never made love on a flagpole.

Me neither. Just don't look down.


Character development

Don't explain in chapter one everything about your characters. Pepper the novel with details that slowly reveal their personalities. Think about the people you know in your private life and ask how much you knew about them when you first met. Did they present you with a CV or a biography and tell you not to proceed beyond this point without reading every word? Or did your knowledge of them develop gradually.


Characters need goals

Give every character a clear goal. John wants money. Julia wants fame. Fred wants out of his relationship. Helen wants to get into it. If a character is simply toting a machine gun and being gratuitously nasty, he's underdeveloped. That might be all that character deserves, given the scope of your book. But if you can humanise him or her in some way, so much the better.

The two soldiers, both wearing SS insignias, levelled their machine guns. For the Fatherland there was nothing they would not do.

It's not much, perhaps. But it suggests that these two soldiers have their own clear goals.


Likeable villains

Make your villains likeable in some respect. Yes, he murdered 60 people before breakfast, but he's kind to pensioners. No one is all bad. And no one is all good. By the same token, your hero just saved 60 people before breakfast, but he's unkind to his grandmother and is short tempered. Wherever possible, show the extremes of your character's personality.
No one loves Mr Perfect. And no one loves Mr All Bad either.


Write every day

Write every day and keep moving on your story. Even if you put in a single word, write something. The trick is to keep the book on the boil, even if it's on a low flame.


Surprise your reader

Avoid the obvious. Think of your story as a roller-coaster ride that moves rapidly up and down, left and right. And while you're at it, take the train right off the track occasionally.

You wouldn't hit a woman would you?

No, he said, reaching for the chainsaw.


Silence and pauses

Use silence and timed pauses in dialogue.

Well are you going to marry me? he said.

She met his gaze and slowly looked away. There was blossom on the trees. She could hear children playing.

Well are you?

No, she said.



Cliché list; some words and phrases you ought to be careful about using.



Ballpark figure.


It's not rocket science.


To be honest.

Thinking outside the box.

Moving the goalposts.

In actual fact.

The mind boggles.

Blue sky thinking.


Between a rock and a hard place.

Back in the day.

Paradigm shift.

Cutting edge.

Make no mistake.

Bring it on.

Palpable excitement.

No doubt in my mind.

Don't go there.


There are thousands more. Just watch for them, and try and find a creative alternative, or keep it simple.



For advice on how to submit your book/novel to a literary agent or publisher read the quick submission tips on my Choosing a literary agent page.





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