Writing Tips for Dummies
Listen, I know I'm a half-rated author in training. I'm sixteen, what can you expect? But I've read critiques like this, and I decided to make my own, because many tutorials instructed me to give my own advice in order to take it.
This is probably going to be a fairly short tutorial anyways.
Think about how your character speaks. A problem I've actually seen in some young authors' is that they try to sound smart ALL the time--including in their character dialogue. True, some characters such as professors and generally serious people will speak with a certain intelligent ring, but not everyone speaks that way. For example, do you think MOST four year olds use the word concurred? I don't think so. Think about your character, their intellect level, and even how much of it they show through speech, which is a part of characterization. For example, I know people who are very smart who try not to show it through speech because it makes them sound superior. I also know people who aren't as smart that enjoy throwing in vocabularly words to amuse themselves and confused people.
Variety is good, too. All your characters speak slightly different, especially if they have come from different places or upbringings. Someone with Spanish parents might throw in an occasional Latino phrase; someone from New York might speak quickly and jump from topic to topic; someone from the South may do the opposite. Certain slang words vary from place to place and even person to person. Decide which of your characters swear, use slang words, and speak in short sentences. I read a book in which a character only used short, simple phrases like "Mhmm," and "Donneven." These things are an excellent part of characterization and make the story come alive.
Characters may leave off sentences, trail off, go off topic, or interrupt one another. More than one person can speak at once, especially when you're in a group full of teenagers. People may have trouble hearing and repeat phrases that are totally different from what was said. Dialogue isn't always in complete sentences or sentences that make sense. People who have trouble voicing opinions may break, pause, halt sentences, or say something so jumbled that it can't be understood. People who are angry, frustrated, or excited may be so into such emotions that their words are jumbled, especially while laughing or crying.
Listen to how people speak. Pick up little words and phrases others add to their speech. Some people say "Got it;" others say "a bit" as opposed to "a little while;" some people will hum when there is a silence. Even listen to the way people greet each other.
Remember that in a story, things that are understood between characters who are NOT the main character are not always restated. For example, in a story in which your main character meets people, these new people will not immediately launch into a description of their life and problems. They generally only say hi, introduce themselves, and MAYBE give a little information, depending on what type of person they are, introverted or extroverted. Someone else may give a sentence or two about each person, but generally nobody walks up to someone else saying,
"Hello, my name is Clarese James. I'm a sophomore, 15 years old, I weigh 180 pounds and I'm six feet tall. I grew up in Kentucky and moved to Alabama. My father is an alcoholic and my sister died when I was four. Sometimes I'm quiet and withdrawn, but later on you'll get to know me better."
These are things the main character should LEARN through noticing and conversations. If Clarese were really quiet at first, he might only say a simple hi to the main character, and it would be doubtful that he would say all that information. Even the most extroverted people I know start by talking about unimportant things like animals, cheese, or interests, not their life story. That comes later. Remember, think about PEOPLE. Would you say that upon first meeting? I didn't think so.
Movements, Expressions, Body Language
A lot can be said without saying much at all. Sometimes, when a person is angry but witholding their opinion, you can see it in their face. Observe real people around you and try to notice some of the things people do. Apply mannerisms to your characters. Do they drum their fingers when annoyed, or play with their hand when they're bored? Can they never sit still? Or can they hold a pose for hours? Do they frown when they're angry, or can they hold a good poker face? Do they have certain things they do when they are lying? People won't always TELL you they're upset; generally, most people who aren't good friends and in confiding mode WON'T, period. It's something you have to recognize. A generally loud person not saying a word, or a quiet person who seems even further withdrawn. Observe your friends and neighbors when they are happy, excited, upset, angry, or even jealous. All of these are human emotions, and you can show them through body language and expression.
Anger: She crumbled the bag and threw it at the wall. He stormed away. She scowled. They clenched their fists tightly.
Excitement: She was bouncing on the balls of her feet. His whole face lit up. She clapped her hands together and danced around the room. They held onto each other and jumped up and down.
Upset - everyone shows this differently. Is your character one who will try at any cost to seem happy even while upset? A friend of mine once said that emotions radiate like cheese even if you try to hide them, and the more you know someone, the more obvious it is that they are upset. Some people skip right to anger when something upsets them, especially people who hate to cry. Others have less control and will tear up at the simplest thing. Some try to remain simply calm, while others try to tell jokes and be funny to make themselves or others feel better. Remember that everyone is different, and not all of your characters can be upset in the same way at the same time. Watch people to see how often you notice their negative emotions, you'll be surprised at what you find.
Jealousy is often shown because the person who is jealous will stare DIRECTLY at whoever they are jealous of, until they are caught, at which point they either try to look busy or will even become a little embarrassed. People who are jealous are a mixture of angry and sad, so try to incorporate both emotions into the expression and body language. Rarely will a person admit to being jealous; it's something you have to SHOW. Some people show it more with anger and the intention of jealousy is masked; others might even cry.
One of the biggest flaws to relationships, whether friendly or romantic, that I have seen is when the relationship is thrust upon someone who immediately accepts it and becomes involved in it TOO QUICKLY.
In many or even most books, the main character will meet new people and become involved in something new, so as to allow change. However, most people don't become fast friends. Maybe your character becomes easily friendly with one person but barely knows another; maybe they can talk about random stuff with some friends and only tell their secrets to one person.
Think about relationships that exist before the beginning of the book, such as familial relationships, or long term friendships. Does your main character have any close family, and how does he or she feel about each member featured in the story? DON'T go into a full-fledged page long description of the character's life, and why they hate their mother or miss their father. This is something you save to show with time, actions, conversations, and maybe a little thinking here and there. You don't want your character to think too much in between setting, action, and interaction. If your character does too much thinking and not enough doing, it's like reading someone's mind: interesting for ten minutes until it becomes boring.
Remember not to have your character immediately love someone they just met - big mistake. Love is a complex emotion, and UNLESS you are purposely trying to go for pre-pubescent mistake-making attitude, don't force your characters into love when they don't even know the other person. Think about whether you have been personally in love, and the time or multiple times you have. How long did it take to love this person? It is quicker with some people than others, yes, and infatuation and crushing can definitely preceed love. It's normal for someone to find someone else attractive or interesting after first meeting/first conversation, but love? No. Give it weeks, months, or even years (if the book skips around).
Don't START a book with love, UNLESS you want the character to realize loving this person is a mistake, or for them to break up. Every good book I have read, that is not a sequel, that begins with a main character in love with someone else, will end with them either single or with someone else. This is because your main character is supposed to change. You can start a book with love as long as your character makes mistakes and fixes them by the end; if he or she at least changes, then the story can still be interesting. However, many amateur authors do not do this, and start the book with someone completely and irreversibly in love with another. It is so much MORE interesting to see the story of how two people fall into love than to skip ahead to the happy-go-lucky, we're-on-top-of-the-world phase.
So, in short, time relationships accordingly. ADD HARDSHIPS. Even long-term friends can overcome hardships such as being separated, falling apart, fighting, or simply changing from each other. If every single one of your relationships in the book is smooth sailing, then the book will fail as a whole. The relationships that are new can start off as basically smooth and become rough as mistakes are made, that is okay. But always remember to add conflict, especially in human relations, which make up 95% of the importance in most peoples' lives. (The other five percent being living in general, having food and water and shelter and money.)
Another additional tip: If your character is one of those who steps in and wins the hearts of long-term friends, SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET JEALOUS INEVITABLY. Think of it from your shoes. If you and your best friend were friends for ten years and all of a sudden a new person stepped in and found out secrets even you didn't know, wouldn't you be hurt? Jealous? Upset? Feel cast aside and useless? Exactly! Nobody is HAPPY being replaced, and many will overexaggerate even when they are not being replaced. Friendships are complicated in real life; make them just as real and complex in your novel. The best way to charactize is to think about how you would feel in that situation, and then apply the character's specific personality to that. For example, just because you're the type to confront when jealous doesn't mean the character is. However, the feelings are very much the same.
Another big problem in amateur novels is when you give not enough or too much background.
In books in which the backstory is a secret not to be revealed right away, you may PURPOSEFULLY be ambiguous and make the reader ask, "Why does he or she feel this way?"
Reveal a few details from the beginning, but once again remember not to have the character think too much. Thinking is important, and your character will have PLENTY of time for it later when they are facing their biggest hardship in the novel, or when they are alone and contemplating their next actions. Let the information slip into the story in the right context. Have the character be annoyed by a family member when this person arrives, so you can SEE why they are annoyed. Have them be pleased by a friend when this friend does something nice for them. This will make the characters more relatable, as the reader won't just hear blog-version explanations: they will see it, and feel it as well.
Never start a story with, "Hi, my name is..." followed by a long-winded description. Remember that stories in first person are in the person's thoughts, and people don't sit there and THINK about their entire past and upbringing as well as INTRODUCING themselves to... themself! As well, with third person, you must try to be connected to the main character while showing things the character may not see. Even in third person, you would try to stray away from long paragraphs and pages full of back-story. Back-story in stories as in life will affect us, either greatly or minutely, but it isn't constantly explained why or how. If your character is afraid of heights, you don't have to tell the story of when they were five and fell off a building to show this. Yes, this can be information you CAN add, especially in conversations that relate to this. However, an entire story for the person life and reasons for action is not necessary, and bores the reader.
Suspense keeps the story flowing. Don't give your novel so much suspense, especially at the end if there is a sequel, that the reader is fed up. Not EVERY chapter must end with suspense. Some can, and some will. Some suspense will be greater than others. Chapters that do not end with suspense should end with a feeling that both makes the readers FEEL the end of the chapter and also want more chapters to follow up. Nothing should be completely wrapped up until the very last chapter or epilogue if there is one; don't let the story wrap up completely a few chapters ahead of time or the last few will be boring and pointless.
Also, try to begin a chapter or even the beginning of the book with action, conversation, or something LEADING to either of these. If your life was a book, nobody would read the whole thing, unless it was a stalker or someone obsessed. Why? Because you're boring? No; because PARTS of your life are boring. Nobody wants to hear about mundane things like waking up, getting dressed, exactly what you wore, how your hair fell that morning, brushing teeth, going to bed, or even MOST dreams. Only add dream sequence when it is important to the plot, and either reveals something to the reader or to the character. Yes, some dreams are weird and interesting, but remember, your book has a POINT. It's meant to be interesting, sure, but with a general direction in mind. Never start a chapter with waking up, unless it is quick and the character does something soon, or something happens. Never describe what they do when they wake up:
EXAMPLE: "I woke up and checked my drawers for the right clothes. I'm a girl, so of course my clothes are tight and cute. I put on two different colored socks, a knee-length skirt, and an orange blouse with pink flowers on it. My shoes were gray and black. I brushed my blonde-red hair thoroughly and glared at my reflection in the mirror. My face had a pimple smack dab in the middle of my forehead...." blah blah blah.
See, that was so boring I couldn't even keep writing the example. SOME of that stuff, the important ones or even just the character's view of important, can be portrayed in simple sentences, broken up by action or interaction. Such as fighting your sister for the bathroom and getting even more annoyed because you discover a pimple. No need to make it so boring and mundane. People read books to get away from life, not to relive it in the most torturous way possible.
Similarly, try not to end too many chapters with someone going to sleep, unless the scene honestly ends at night. Try not to create a whole chapter that explains 'a normal day in the life of so and so character.' Nobody cares about your normal days. Start your novel WHERE THE STORY STARTS. The story doesn't start necessarily on the first day of school or a new job; it can, but it won't always. Start the story in a way that pulls readers in. You don't have to start with suspense or drama, but try and think about whether the first chapter is where it all really begins. If not, skip ahead. It's okay to decide your first chapter isn't good enough.
----- that is all for my writing tips. Maybe a part two? Only if anyone likes this