I’m still learning, but from looking over my previous attempts, reading a lot, both professionally published works as well as amateur, as well as checking writing blogs I’ve come up with some pointers to help make your fiction writing sound more professional. This isn’t an exhaustive list and I’m guilty of doing all of these at one time or another.
1. Simple is best.
Use “said” or nothing at all, especially if it’s a two-person conversation. Your characters should have individual voices so the reader can tell them apart.
Use proper names, avoid identifying a character by their job and/or physical description unless they are actually doing that job at the time or there’s some reason we don’t know their names.
There’s no need to be overdescriptive or wring out a bunch of thesaurus words that clutter the narrative.
2. Think of a cool turn of phrase and use it once. Only.
“I’ve thoroughly reviewed your file, Captain Kinsey,” Manager Seighbahn said, “And a number of interesting, how shall I put this, anomalies have come to light.”
“Really,” Kit forced herself to say in a jolly voice. “Probably just my wacky yet harmless personality shining through.” As a fake laugh brayed out of her, Kit met Elaine’s gaze and they passed a worried look between them.
(I really like that last phrase, “passing a worried look between them” but using it more than once in the same novel will ruin it)
3. Vary sentence lengths, use conjunctions.
4. Be careful of tenses, check dangling participles.
This is my personal writing albatross. I tend to “see” the story in my head as I write, so I horribly overuse the present continuous tense.
Background: Kit usually pilots her spaceship, but here she’s moonlighting as a pizza delivery person using a flying bike.
“I’ll do my best,” Kit signed off and did another loop, making up her very own tribal war cry in the process. After one of the little displays on the console blew up and got chunks of safety glass into the crease of her trousers, she wrestled the bike into a dive, letting the engine cut out and achieving freefall for twenty-three fun filled seconds before every alarm in the cockpit annoyed her into starting the engine again. Leveling off just over a sprig of trees, which headbanged to the wind thrashed up by the passage of the bike, Kit brought the bike into a landing altitude.
“I’ll do my best,” Kit signed off. She did another loop and made up her very own tribal war cry in the process. After one of the little displays on the console blew up and got chunks of safety glass into the crease of her trousers, she wrestled the bike into a dive. She let the engine cut out and achieved freefall for twenty-three fun filled seconds before every alarm in the cockpit annoyed her into starting the engine again. The bike’s trajectory leveled off just over a sprig of trees, which headbanged to the wind thrashed up by its passage. Finally, Kit brought the bike into a landing altitude.
5. Find your “go-to words” and change them up.
This is where having a lot in your writing portfolio can help. Find the words you overuse and either find synonyms or try to do without. For example, we don’t need to know every time a character grins or laughs unless it’s a momentous occasion. This is also where an editor or beta-reader is really helpful for an objective view of the work you’ve most likely read through a hundred times.
6. Nail down your POV character.
Changing POV can be a powerful tool but changing mid-scene can be jarring and confusing. I love reading (and writing) sexual tension and the lack of knowing what the other person is thinking and feeling makes it so much more interesting.
7. Check the meaning and usage of commonly misunderstood words or avoid them altogether. Here are some big offenders:
Defiantly and definitely
Lay and lie
Affect and effect
What are your tips for writing sharp, polished prose? Let me know in the comments!