Stop writing like you’re directing a movie
A common mistake I see is when a writer begins to direct his or her character. Rather than taking me deep into a POV, the writer has chosen to tell me about what the character is doing. Walking across the room. Opening a cabinet. Checking email. While all of that is perhaps necessary to move the plot forward, it doesn’t allow the reader to immerse himself into character. We’re watching but not feeling. We’re missing out on the best part of a novel, seeing the world through the character’s eyes. I don’t care if she’s opening the cabinet unless it means something.
Be less descriptive and more intentional
There is plenty of fun to be had writing description in novels. Depending on your genre, some are more tolerant than others in that department. However, whatever the genre, description needs to be intentional. If it doesn’t matter to your character or the story, leave it out. Every piece of your description should reveal more about your character, your setting, your plot or your theme. Rather than describing the whole garden out back, describe the particular flower your character remembers from childhood. In other words, make your words count.
Tell what’s happening through your character’s eyes, not yours
You can immediately bring your story to a new and better level by examining whether or not you are telling the story through your character’s eyes—the way he or she sees the world. Everyone can look at a sunset. But not everyone sees it the same. The magic of a great story is by revealing the unique way your character looks at the world. Even more interesting is revealing the wrong way your character sees the world. That opens up a great path to allow your character to grow and change. “I hate sunsets. It just means that darkness is coming.” That kind of sentence can be enough for a reader to turn the page to find out more.
Stop telling me what is happening to your character and start showing me
I recently watched a documentary about a serial bomber in New York City. A man who happened to be standing by the bomb was alive but covered in blood and had nails imbedded in him. He was wheeled away to the ambulance, and they began cutting off his jeans to try to address his wounds. He stopped them with a bloodied hand and said, “Please don’t cut those. My mother just gave me these for my birthday.” These are the things that we need to think through as we write. We can “tell” the reader that the character is in shock or show them what shock looks like. Always show. It takes more effort, but the payoff is worth it.
Be willing to sacrifice realism for interesting
Sometimes writers work very hard toward making their stories feel real, and there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but they often forget to make their stories interesting. Always be willing to sacrifice real for interesting. At the end of the day, novels entertain. You may have a great message or a beautiful theme or a memorable setting, but if you don’t entertain, you won’t keep your reader turning the pages. Maybe YOU wouldn’t scream at your husband across the restaurant, but I hope your character would, because that’s a passage I’ll keep turning the pages for!