1. Explain everything
You want to make sure your readers don’t miss anything. But don’t tell them. Part of the fun of reading is figuring out what’s going on. Give your readers clues about how someone is feeling or what they are planning, don’t give it to them on a plate. There’s great satisfaction for the reader in getting to a key point in a book and saying to yourself, ‘I knew he was going to do that!’
2. Fill in the background
Too much information will slow down your story and turn readers off. If there’s some stuff that readers really need to know in order to understand a character or a scene, find a way to work it in earlier or drop it in here and there. DO NOT do an information dump.
3. Liven up your dialogue tags
It seems very dull to use he said, she said all the time, but using more descriptive words is very old fashioned. Sometimes you have to describe how words are spoken, but it’s much more powerful if it’s rare. Find ways of using words in the dialogue itself or have a character pace about or tap a foot to help the reader figure out how they’re speaking.
4. Make the villain really evil
Most people have many sides to their character. To write them as wholly bad (or good) is like a Victorian melodrama. Your villain (or antagonist to use the correct term) may feel justified in their behaviour, may have a loving family life, despite being against the hero of the story. The hero too (or heroine) will have some bad habits or wrong ideas that cause problems for themselves or others. Your characters will be more realistic if they are multi-faceted.
5. Write just the main story
Think of your own life: when you have a crisis, the rest of your life doesn’t stop. You still have to go to work, feed the kids, deal with friends and neighbours. Your characters and your story will be more rounded and real if there are other things going on at the same time as the main plot. The first draft of my book Intruders was only about the search for a new alien race, and it was much too short to be a novel. Then I realised that I had 17 people crowded onto a small spaceship and they all got on fine! The conflicts between them make for a much better, more interesting story – and a more realistic one.
6. Try to do all this at the same time as writing the story
Writing comes in two distinct phases: inspiration and perspiration, or art and craft. I wrote about this last week. Get hold of your inspiration and just get it all down. You can work on it afterwards.