Amateur writers have a tendency to use more words than needed to convey their story.
For example, you might read:
It was a bright blue morning, and the splinters of sunlight pierced the solitary cloud that floated above the old, Victorian house. There was a buzz of crickets filling the air, birds chirping melodiously, and an old Ford truck sputtering along the highway in the distance. Hannah flung open the creaky wood screen door and stepped out into the freshness of the field. She had a busy day planned, however this one moment of peace filled her with joy.
The first thing to ask is whether any of this, overly descriptive, narrative is relevant to the story?
Does the setting matter before the story itself? Usually the answer is no.
Part of the joy of reading is that the reader fleshes out many areas of the story. How a character looks, beyond the basics conveyed by the author should be up to the reader – it’s more important that the character’s personality, history, or relevant past information is presented, as opposed to what color shirt he/she was wearing. Unless that is relevant, of course.
In the example above, Hannah goes to the store and gets held-up at gunpoint. Taken as a hostage, she overhears the criminals’ plans. They want to blow up the courthouse to destroy the ringleader’s past criminal history.
Ok. Stupid story. And also a long-winded start. There is no relevance to the setting within the context of the action of the story. A new writer needs to grab the reader and keep them turning pages. The only way to do this is by starting your novel at a critical point, keeping the unnecessary exposition to a minimum.
Hannah Malone left her rural farmhouse, not realizing that within a matter of hours a gun would be pointed at her face, as she was dragged into a waiting van. How could she have known; random acts of violence occur all the time – there was no predicting it. It was only when the cold steel of the gun pressed into her cheek, and the masked man, who had grabbed her arm, was yelling at her to move, that she realized her life might end.
Which of the two story starts grabbed you?
Get to the point! No one wants to wait.
Readers want to know what is going on and they want it NOW! Only you, as the writer, will not just give them the information; you will meter it out in controlled doses, furthering the rest of the information that the reader needs to know.
This is the difference between amateur writing and a writer growing with their words. Being a writer is not about rich descriptive passages. A writer is the creator, controller and actors of their work, usually sitting alone with pen or computer, often talking to themselves, spitting lines of dialog and cringing or laughing, depending how it felt.
The writer will stop at a line, decide against it and delete it, or else refine it, twist it, change vocabulary to affect the impact of the line.
An excellent way to refine your skill as a writer, especially when writing the start of a novel, is to study the first pages of many other novels.
Here is an excellent example.
Here is a snippet of the first page of popular author, Mike Wells’ Lust, Money & Murder, Book 1. You will note that he is thrifty with his descriptions, offering just enough to give the reader an image to flesh out, while focusing on the action in the scene.
I’m sure that you want to know what happens next.
You can read the entire chapter HERE.
Be sure to visit Mike’s website HERE where you can download the entire book for free.
A polished writer offers a tasty read. Each line points to the next. Each word carefully measured in its importance to the plot.
The skills you need come from writing, as well as studying the writing of others. Seeing how another writer frames his/her story, can teach you techniques that will help you to develop your own style.
Let me know other ways you learned to refine your work.
My thanks to Mike Wells for allowing me to use his book as an example.
Watch for an interview with him on this site.
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