This post originally appeared on www.ianthealy.com.
When I was a rookie writer, there was some good advice that I never got, and I want to share it with you in case you are a rookie writer. Perhaps it will help you to develop your skills faster than I developed mine! Some of these may seem like hard lessons, but like my editor likes to say, “Nobody ever became a better writer by having sunshine blown up their ass.”
1. Passive voice: You use way too much passive voice, which is a common affliction of all writers early on. I myself was a terrible offender. One of the things that helped me improve my writing the most was learning what passive voice is and how to change it to active. I will write a blog post about it, but the long and short of it is that if you are using state-of-being verbs (I AM writing, we ARE arguing, he IS running, she WAS shooting, they WERE fighting, etc.), you are using passive voice. Compare those with (I write, we argue, he runs, she shot, they fought). State of being verbs are passive. Use active verbs wherever possible (and there will be times when you can’t).
2. Adverbs: limit their use. They are telling instead of showing. Instead of “He said nastily,” show us what that looks like. “He said, twisting his face into a wrinkled knot of hate.”
3. Dialogue tags: “said” and “asked” are your two best friends. You don’t need others. People tend to skip over dialogue tags anyway, unless they’re odd, at which point it takes the reader out of the flow of the story. You don’t even need dialogue tags if there is action going on, or if the dialogue is a conversation between two people. You can use an action tag instead of a dialogue tag. “He said as he pulled the trigger” could be made more active by saying “He pulled the trigger.” We already know he’s the one speaking and the dialogue tag becomes unnecessary.
4. Headhopping: You’re allowed one point-of-view per section. Period. If we’re in good guy’s head and bad guy’s head at the same time, one of them has got to go.
5: Infodumps. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and we writers tend to have a lot of knowledge about diverse subjects. Sometimes we get caught up in that knowledge and we want to show it off. If you get into a lot of detail about little things like make and model of guns, for example, that can detract from the overall experience. Trust your readers. 99% of people reading a book wouldn’t know a .38 special from a 9mm pistol or a NATO 7.62 from a .308. They know “pistol” and “rifle.” They probably know the difference between a semiautomatic handgun and a revolver, and that’s really all they need to have a frame of reference for a gun battle. Keep your technical details to a minimum and your readers won’t get bogged down in them.
Hope this helps!