1. The first sentence you write probably shouldn’t be the first sentence of your final draft. Take the time to look for the most compelling sentence that you can for the first line. It may be in your first paragraph or somewhere else in the story. You may have to craft it from scratch after your story or novel is finished. Don’t leave it to chance.
2. Don’t preach. You can tell the story of a corrupt politician and his struggles. But don’t use his story to preach the idea that politicians are corrupt.
3. Don’t bore the reader. Delight and thrill the reader with evocative scenes and compelling characters. Don’t have your character vacuuming or fluffing pillows unless it’s somehow imperative to the plot. If your character is a bored housewife doing dishes, focus on her thoughts and inner conflict or the whiskey that she drinks as she sweeps.
4. Skip the boring parts. This goes along with the above suggestion. That means no hair-washing, breakfast-eating, or other inconsequential details. With this in mind, focus on smooth scene transitions so that the reader can follow along without being confused. Read your favorite books with a close eye on how the writer transitions from one scene to the next.
5. The infamous “Show, don’t tell.” What does that actually mean? Imagine that you are standing in the middle of the scene. What does the setting look like? Smell like? What small details are there that tells more about the story or the characters? Don’t simply say, “It’s a beautiful sunset,” describe the colors that paint the sky. This takes practice.
6. Practice. A musician practices her songs. A painter sketches. An actor rehearses. Writing is no different. Carve out time, preferably each day, to write. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Write a scene with two characters talking. Journal about your day. Write a poem that you’re never going to finish. These are just exercises. They allow you to practice, experiment, and stretch your wings. It’s okay to fail here.
7. Dialogue should be compelling. This should be the type of dialogue that you’d love to overhear in a diner. It should seem natural, but it takes a lot of work to write good dialogue. Listen to other people and write down interesting phrases or slang. People rarely talk in perfectly correct sentences. Don’t’ be afraid to use fragmented sentences or colloquial language. How we speak reveals many things: our education, where we’re from, our social background, what we think of ourselves or others and so forth.
8. Dialogue (yep, we’re still talking dialogue!) should do two things: Reveal character and advance the plot. Yes, it can be done.
9. Cut out the unnecessary parts. You may write 500,000 words or 50,000. Whatever your word count, cut out all the parts that don’t move the plot forward. Sometimes we may want to linger in a particular scene because it is beautiful or peaceful. But as William Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings.”
10. Don’t be afraid of failure. Be afraid of giving up.