Ok - so you've all read my first four tips for learning to write fiction, haven't you? If you haven't, please feel free to pretend you have for now and then go and read it after you're done with this one. I won't mind.
As a recap, I'm not posting these tips while pretending to be a fiction writer of note. These tips are just useful pointers that I've discovered on my route to, hopefully, becoming a proper fiction writer; helpful little nudges that have got me starting to feel like I'm writing with purpose (although, admittedly, sometimes that purpose is merely avoiding housework).
I'm about to start looking in depth at specific aspects of fiction writing, such as character and plot development, dialogue that really zings and how to set a scene convincingly. I'll write blog posts about them as I learn but for the moment I'd like to share some more general tips with you.
1) READ. THEN READ SOME MORE.
Obvious, really, but if you want to get really good at writing you need to read everything you can, particularly if you want to focus on a specific genre. I used to worry that reading too much work from writers I admire would influence me too much, that I'd end up simply writing bad copies of already existing stories but I know now that it doesn't work like that.
I've found that, although I'm naturally drawn to writing in a certain tone which is reminiscent of some of my favourite authors, I'm certainly not stealing their plot lines, characters or anything else. I'm merely picking up some good practices in terms of style and pace.
2) DELETE MOST OF WHAT YOU WRITE
I used to write as I often speak: rambling sentences with far too many adverbs. Waffling, if I'm being honest. Then I started to read more about the art of deleting; 'less is more' and all that. I realised that shorter sentences, with carefully chosen descriptive words, can be far more effective and deliver a greater impact.
I've already edited this post several times and made it around three times shorter. I found it hard, at first, to eliminate heartfelt words from the page - it felt almost self-defeating at times when I'd struggled to put them there in the first place - but now I delightedly delete unnecessary language. Trying to say more with less is definitely making me a more focused writer.
William Zinsser was an American writer and editor who is infinitely quoteable on many areas of the writing process but this is one of his thoughts that I try hard to adhere to:
This one below is a longer version of what amounts to the same thing. He was actually talking about writing non-fiction but I think it definitely applies to fiction as well:
3) Practice writing in different voices
I recently began writing a short story from the point of view of a nine year old boy. I passed it to a close friend for her to cast a fresh eye over; she is always supportive of my writing but can be relied upon to be constructively critical. When we met to discuss my story she told me that while she had enjoyed the plot and thought that my descriptive passages worked well she couldn't really believe in the main character as he had my voice!
I hadn't even considered this before: even though I was proud of the dialogue and the words I had chosen to express his thoughts, on re-reading it was definitely the kind of language that I would use, not a nine year old. Of course he hadn't come across as a convincing character!
I then spent some time trying to think about the ways that speech differs in children. I have a six year old son so I started to listen really carefully when he spoke, both to adults and to other children and used this to help me rewrite the story. I made sure that each spoken word or thought that came from the boy was in a child's voice, rather than mine. It made such a difference and added a much needed note of realism to the entire story.
It's now something that I try and do regularly - often when I use my writing prompts. I write a passage of dialogue in somebody else's voice and I try and pick varied characters: old, young, male, female and from all walks of life. This is a skill that might take me a lifetime to master but is vital if you want people to believe in your characters.
4) Don't throw anything away
Yes, I know I told you just now to delete most of what you write and I stand by that. Delete lots and then go back and delete again. But don't throw it away!
I'm obviously not talking about the odd comma, typo or erroneous word but if you're drastically changing a sentence, paragraph, page or chapter then, however much you might think you won't use it again, file them away somewhere safe. If you work with pen and paper then keep a folder filled with those discarded pages that you ripped out and are currently making you cringe that you ever wrote anything so AWFUL. If you use a laptop then open a document called 'Spare Text' (you can call it anything you want really, I'm not dictating) and do a 'Copy & Paste' job in there.
You'll find, later down the line, that a lot of the stuff that you'd written off as being terrible could actually work in a new piece of writing - or a fresh eye over it might be able to tweak a word here and there and discover you're actually now a literary genius. That bit hasn't happened to me yet but you never know.
So there you go: four more helpful tips to get you going on your fiction writing journey; I hope you've found them useful. If you've got any great hints for becoming a better fiction writer that you can share then I'd love to hear them!
Next week is Part Three of my Freelancer's Guide to Getting Out of the House - Ashtead Park Garden Centre!