Okay, some stuff I’ve picked up along the way. Some people will disagree, some people will sigh because they knew it all already, but I’ll throw this out there anyway.
Your “search” or “find” function in whatever word processor you use can be a super asset when trying to improve your writing. First, do a search for the word “very” and get rid of every instance of it. The word “very” is an indicator that your descriptor is too weak. Instead of writing “very hungry” you should be using something like “famished.” You get the picture.
I know there are those that think ALL adverbs are evil, but that’s arbitrary and I don’t believe in rules without exceptions. Except for the “very” thing- of that rule, I am very sure…um, I mean, I’m certain.
Don’t begin a book, story, or even a scene with a line of dialogue. Yes, it has built-in questions for the reader, such as “Who is speaking?” and “To whom is he or she speaking?” Still, don’t do it. It’s not against some set of rules carved into the oak of knowledge or anything; it’s just powerfully uncool. Like openings or endings built around dreams.
Oh right, don’t open with a sequence, get the reader all interested and then reveal that it was all a dream. The reader, if already drawn in, will be disappointed. If not drawn in, will wonder why she should give you a second chance. Further, if you are older than 12 years old and I have to explain why “…and it was all a dream!” is a terrible ending, perhaps you should take up some hobby other than writing.
Exclamation points or marks should not appear in anything you write except within dialogue, and one of the damn things is enough. This!!! is not any louder than this! An exclamation mark is used SPARINGLY to indicate that a character has shouted, if we can’t get it from context. One other thing…don’t combine them with question marks. That looks as stupid as a question mark combined with a period. Don’t you think.?
Employ no cavalry characters. What I mean is you cannot resolve the problem(s) faced by your characters by introducing someone new at the end who solves everything. Deus ex machina and Deus ex historia and stuff like that. Your reader will be trying to solve the problems and predict the outcome, in order to feel smart, but if you finish the puzzle with pieces the reader did not have, that will make the reader feel cheated. Reveal a truth? Yes. Reveal a new character who saves the day? No. No new characters after the first 2/3rds of the story or book.
Mikey K taught me that dialogue that begins with “Yes” or “No” is on the nose and he is right. For example:
John asked, “Are you hungry?”
Mary said, “Yes. I could eat.”
Is stronger when written as:
John asked, “Are you hungry?”
Mary said, “I could eat.”
If you would argue that the original form is how people actually talk, you are confusing transcribing conversations with writing dialogue. They are two different tasks. Also, when attributing dialogue, just use “said” and “asked.” Avoid these sorts of things:
John sighed, “Are you tired?”
Mary growled, “I have a toothache.”
I suppose it would be okay to use “whispered,” but only once.
Watch out with accents. They become tedious in a holy hurry.
Lise said, “Me der, I want go to de ‘ospital in one h-our.”
That’s too much. Try this:
Lise said, “Me there, I want go to the ‘ospital in one hour.”
That’s enough to let the reader know that the speaker has an accent. Maybe one sentence could be really heavily accented, but then afterward you can just drop small reminders into the line.
In general, don’t worry too much about grammar, but understand that it does change the meanings of what you write. Even teachers are now instructing students that the Oxford comma is no longer needed, but it does change the meaning. Compare these two:
I went to Hollywood and met Leonardo DiCaprio, a plumber and a bed-wetter.
I went to Hollywood and met Leonardo DiCaprio, a plumber, and a bed-wetter.
In the former, I met one actor with a sideline job and a nocturnal problem. In the latter, I met three people. Learning this sort of thing in the younger years would be far more important than learning how to write in cursive.
So, don’t get too hung up on grammar. End sentences in prepositions and start them with conjunctions if you like, and understand that grammar conveys a tone and may confuse meaning. But do what you want to.
Next thing, round out your characters. A single dad raising a little girl, we see him brushing her hair in the morning before school, is a nice character. A crack dealer working a dangerous neighborhood, we see him beat the snot out of someone who tried to rob him, is a solid character. However, combine those two, and now you’re cooking.
Last bit is an oldie but a goodie. Even when you’re alone, or maybe especially when you’re alone, proofread your work aloud. You’ll find SO much more that needs fixing that way than doing that work silently.
Okay, that’s enough for now. Go write something.