#5OnFri: Five Basics That Will Sharpen Your Writing

by Kat Martin
published in Writing

When I started writing, I had no idea how to get a story on paper.  I read book after book and went to classes once a week for a year.

No matter how naturally talented you are, there are always tricks that can make you better.  Here are five quick writing tips that can keep you on track and sharpen your writing as you write your novel.

1.  Start with a hook

Against-the-Sky-cover-(300xMake your first sentence or at least your first paragraph compelling.  Make the reader want to read the book!  In Against the Sky, my newest Romantic Suspense, the first sentence is, “Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes…”

Everyone recognizes these words as part of a funeral service.  The paragraph goes on to explain that the hero, Nick Brodie, and his twelve-year-old neighbor, Jimmy Evans, are standing around the boy’s father’s grave.

With any luck, this will intrigue the reader enough to keep reading.  It’s also important to end the chapter with something that will push the reader into reading more of the book.  In the example above, by the end of the chapter, we are in young Jimmy’s point of view, a kid who has seen his father murdered and is in very big trouble.

Maybe he’d talk to Nick tomorrow, ask for his help.  That would give him a little more time to think, try to work things out in his head.

Tomorrow, he told himself. 

But when he went over to Nick’s the next day, the house was locked up tight.  Nick Brodie was gone.

2.  Enter late and leave early

In the earlier example, we’re starting in the middle of the scene.  We’re not arriving before the funeral starts, then standing around waiting for the service to begin.  We are charging forward.  Remember the reader isn’t interested in “Hi, how are you?”  “I’m fine, how are you?”

At the end of the scene, get out as fast as you can and move forward.

3.  Make sure there is conflict in every scene

This doesn’t necessarily mean violent conflict.  It can be man against nature, man against man, man against himself, anything that makes the reader interested in finding out how the conflict is resolved.

In my example, the conflict in the opening scene of Against the Sky is merely Nick’s battle with himself.  He’s quit his job as a homicide detective.  He doesn’t want to be embroiled in Jimmy Evan’s trouble.  On the other hand, he’s worried about the kid and he wants to help him.  What should he do?

4.  Stay in the active voice whenever possible.

Try not to use the word was too many times.

Here’s the second sentence in my example.  A rumble of thunder in the sullen gray sky blotted the reverend’s next words.  I could have written The sound of thunder could be heard in the distance. The sky was a sullen gray.  That’s passive voice.  It’s important to stay active.

I have to work at doing this.  I often go back and change from passive to active after I write the scene.

5.  Write characters that grow and change.

Writing a character arc, it’s called.  It means your characters learn something or do something that changes them.  Nick Brodie has quit the police force.  He doesn’t want anything to do with violence and murder, but what is he going to do with his future?  What will make him happy?

It’s a problem Nick has to figure out, and in doing so it will change him.

There are a lot of great tips to writing.  The five above I learned from studying very successful authors.  Dean Koontz wrote a wonderful book called How to Write Bestselling Fiction, but it’s out of print and hard to find.

All the authors I’ve studied and read have helped me immeasurably over the years.  I hope their tips will help you, too.

Best of luck with your writing and all good wishes for success.

Warmest, Kat



New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Currently residing in Missoula, Montana with her Western-author husband, L. J. Martin, Kat has written sixty-five Historical and Contemporary Romantic Suspense novels. More than sixteen million copies of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries. Kat is currently at work on her next Romantic Suspense.

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