Learning from mentors helps us to improve and evolve in our chosen field. I still recall the advice given to me at the start of my writing journey.
To help other writers, I started a feature whereby established authors shared their words of wisdom and top ten writing tips.
It was a huge success and I was delighted to bring the feature back for a second season! You’ll find all the Top 10 Writing Tip articles here.
Meet Rachel Coverdale
Rachel Coverdale was born and bred in the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside in North East England. Raised with copious amounts of animals but without the distraction of a modern TV set, she turned to books and her own imagination for entertainment. Animals were and still are a huge part of her life and inevitably they made their way into her stories. Believing strongly in fresh air, nature and outdoor play to give children a sense of fun and freedom, Rachel uses her books to encourage children to connect with nature and venture into the countryside.
Having taught as an English teacher for many years and now settled happily into the role of school librarian, Rachel ensures all her books are not only creative, imaginative and exciting, but also of great educational benefit. Teaching resources and a scheme of work are available for “The Boy Who Couldn’t”, the sequel of which is due out in 2022.
Rachel’s Top 10 Writing Tips:
- Never, ever worry about your spelling, punctuation and grammar! Okay, okay not never, but certainly not initially. Not when you’re “in the flow”. You’ll just interrupt your thoughts and get stuck. Once you have the bones of your story down, then of course you can go back and fix issues, add in a few interesting adjectives, etcetera, but if you’re in the flow, let it go!
- The word “said” is underused. I know! What a surprise. Your school teacher banned you from the word said and now I’ve said to put it back in. The reason your school teacher asked you to use more varied dialogue tags such as “explained”, “answered”, “asked” or even “muttered”, “groaned”, “screamed” is because for exams you have to show off all your knowledge. The examiners are not looking for a best seller, they’re looking to see if you know what dialogue tags are and how dramatically can you use them. Once you’ve left education behind and you’re writing a novel into which you want the reader to become completely absorbed, you need to be careful not to jar the reader back to reality with an unusual dialogue tag. “Said” is plain and invisible, the reader doesn’t notice it so it’s a good one to use. Even better is to not use any dialogue tag at all, but make sure it is clear who is speaking so you don’t confuse your reader. This doesn’t mean you can never use alternative dialogue tags, just be judicious with your choices.
- Think carefully about your language techniques. Again, in school you had to show off your knowledge by adding additional alliteration and sprinkling techniques through your work like confetti. However, if you don’t want your reader to look up from your novel with a “huh?” expression on their face, you’re going to have to be selective about what you use and how you use it. Make sure it is appropriate to what is happening at the time in the novel. You don’t want to be describing a murder scene then for the sake of an alliteration, write that the body was a very voracious, voluptuous victim. It just sounds daft!
- Imagery is perhaps the most important technique to absorb the reader in your story. Imagery is all five of the senses, but so many writers only focus on sight. If you can also describe what the character can hear, feel, smell and taste, the reader will have the full surround-sound cinematic experience.
- Unless you are writing a comedy, please avoid cliches like the plague. At best it makes the reader think you are a weak reader with no ideas of your own, at worst it makes the reader laugh at you. Your writing career will be as dead as a doornail.
- Tension is something a lot of writers want to build but are at a loss on how to do it. Two of the best language techniques for this are foreshadowing and pathetic fallacy. Foreshadowing can be difficult to get right. It’s just a little hint at what’s to come. In “Of Mice and Men” Lenny accidentally kills a mouse at the beginning of the story, accidentally kills a puppy in the middle of the story and then the reader guesses what’s going to happen to Curley’s wife towards the end of the story. Steinbeck didn’t give it away, he just hinted so the reader couldn’t be sure. They thought perhaps, but hoped against hope they were wrong. A fantastic tension builder. Similarly, it’s no coincidence that nearly every horror movie has torrential rain. It is a tried and tested method so use it, but use it wisely. The day has started off sunny, but then the weather turns and the reader immediately feels unease – we’ve all been trained by years of reading and film watching that something bad is going to happen in heavy rain, thus the tension builds.
- Dynamics. This one is easy to lose track of. You’re so busy building tension that you lead the readers down one long dark tunnel (speaking from experience). Or you’re so busy building the romance that it becomes all squishy and sloppy – nobody wants that! I’m afraid you’re going to have to add some light moments into the dark, and add some dark moments into the light. Play with the readers’ emotions. This avoids repetition and inevitability.
- Read other books in your genre. It astounds me that authors think they can capture a genre if they’re not themselves reading it. By all means read other books as well, I personally like to vary my reading a great deal, but if you want to write cosy romance, read cosy romance. If you want to write children’s action, read children’s action. You will be positively influenced in your writing by what you are reading.
- Take constructive criticism. Oof, this one is hard. And watch out for those who are knocking you for the sake of knocking you. It’s probably best to avoid friends and family and rather join a good local or online group for swapping work and critiquing each other. You have to be careful it isn’t going to be stolen though so this is a rather tricky one. Once you have some people who you trust, listen carefully to their criticisms. Remember they’re critiquing the story, not you personally. If you feel offended, don’t reply straight away. When you feel calmer/stronger, reread your work. You’ll probably see they have a point, but remember, this is only their personal opinion – it is up to you whether you agree and act upon the criticisms or not. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. If you try to, you’ll end up with a loose piece of writing which is lacking direction.
- Finally, professionalism. If you are choosing to self-publish, please do not send your work out into the world without a professional edit and front cover. It is so disappointing and frustrating for the reader and starts you off on the wrong foot straight away. You have just spent months, possibly years creating the best story ever and do you know what will jump out at them? The awkward sentences, the plot holes and the misspellings. After all your hard work, your story deserves a professional finish.
Massive thanks to Rachel for sharing her top tips with us. Connect with her here:
The Boy Who Couldn’t Book Blurb:
The school bully is the only one who can save them.
James’ life has been turned upside down and now the local bully has made him a target. So why would his mother insist he should invite him over? Especially when they’re hiding a secret badger clan at the bottom of the garden.
Now the badgers are under threat from a gang with fighting dogs and the badgers aren’t the only ones in peril.
Danger is approaching and it will make the most unlikely of heroes.
A story about becoming the person you can be, not the person you are expected to be.
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