(part 6–Misc. Writing Tidbits)
51. One of the most important decisions you will make is Point of View (POV). Pick the wrong POV and it can be fixed, but it might take months. Or years. Or, worse, the novel will just feel off-center for eternity.
52. Don’t get hung up on new and inventive dialogue tags. Said, yelled, whispered, etc. can get the job done. Now, of course, it’s okay to use something special when it fits with the scene, but don’t think you have to do something different every time. That can be really distracting.
53. All writers have a tendency to overuse certain phrases or words. Don’t worry about it in the first draft—just write—but eventually you’ll need to be aware of terms that you might be using too frequently.
54. Beware of adverbs. Personally, I don’t think adverbs are as terrible as some writers will say, but I do have to admit that it can get pretty distracting when there are too many words ending in –ly. For example, “He slammed the door angrily.” Really, do you need to say he slammed the door angrily? Isn’t door slamming enough to let the reader know what he’s feeling?
55. “Throw away lines” are lines of the book—especially of dialogue—that don’t really have a purpose except to round out your characters and scenes. They make everything seem more real (see Rule 32). One of the most famous throwaway lines in history was from Star Wars when Obi Wan told Luke that he fought with his father in the Clone Wars. Star Wars fans spent years obsessed with the Clone Wars—it opened up their imaginations to a whole other story.
56. Read back cover copies of the books you like and practice summarizing the central conflict of your own story in that fashion and in that amount of space. This is a great way of understanding what you want your book to accomplish. (It will also probably come in handy when you start looking for literary agents—more on that later.)
57. When plotting first drafts and (especially) for working out the plotting/pacing of second drafts, I use an old screenwriting technique called Storyboarding. Basically, I just write every scene idea on a big Post-It note and stick them on the wall in order. Then I can move the pieces around—like a puzzle—until everything fits.
58. Keep your manuscript in any format that you like when you’re working on it (my friend Jennifer Lynn Barnes will write an entire book single-spaced and then change it when she sends it to her editor.) But when it’s time to submit, fancy fonts and strange margins aren’t going to help—quite the contrary. Times New Roman; 12 point; 1 inch margins has always been good enough for me.
59. Listen to your characters and cherish those moments when they take the wheel and do something that surprises you.
60. Think of your characters as real people. Think of your plots as a true story. Don’t ask yourself “what can I make up next”. Ask “what really happened?”