Ten Easy Steps To Becoming An Effective Writer~In Which The Steps Are Maybe Not So Easy After All

Good morrow, bloggerly chums!

This month, the month of November, has a special significance for many writers. It is a significance that fills one with excitement or dread or both. It can make writers squeal with delight, scream with terror, or weep in utter despair. Or perhaps all three at once.

As many of you no doubt are aware, November is National Novel Writing Month. This means that people all over the place in cabins and skyscrapers and bureau drawers are at this moment scrambling to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Hence the intense weeping.

I myself am quite at ease because I am not participating in NaNoWriMo. Call me a coward, but ’tis too much for my small sponge brain to handle at this time.

Nevertheless, writing is and always will be a major part of my life, and as it is National Novel Writing Month, I thought it would be fitting for me to do a post about how to be an excellent and accomplished writer. I happen to have ten simple guidelines for making that a reality. Those of you who are participating in the maddness of NaNoWriMo should be taking notes on this.

These steps are a fool-proof way to create stellar stories. Obviously I am not exaggerating or oversimplifying anything.

Ahem. Here we go.

1. Use creative imagery

Readers want a story, not a dry account. Imagery helps readers to relate to the action on a more emotional level. Instead of saying, “His heart beat quickly,” spice it up a little bit. Say something like, “His heart felt like a caged bird anxious toΒ  burst out of his ribs.”

None of your readers have ever had a real bird in their chests (hopefully) but it gives a more striking feeling than is given by the plain facts.

2. Be subtle

Don’t be afraid of using subtlety. When you overstate everything, the readers may become insulted. You have to trust that they can figure some things out on their own, instead of treating them like an idiot. Reading should feel more like a discovery and less like getting slapped in the face with information.

What to do: He swiped angrily at his red-rimmed eyes. His sister looked away, biting her lip.

What NOT to do: He swiped angrily at his red-rimmed eyes because he was crying and he didn’t want anyone to see his tears because he didn’t want to be crying. His sister looked away, biting her lip. She looked away because she saw that he was crying and she didn’t want him to know that she knew that he was crying. She was embarrassed for him, because she knew that he didn’t like it when people saw him crying.

I hope you see what I mean.

3. Choose interesting names

Names are important and they can be part of the poetry of your story. Don’t throw them away. Don’t just slap names on everyone like Johnny Johnson, Sarah Smith, and Michael Brown. Unless it is part of the story that your characters have extremely dull names. I would much rather read about someone named Ariadne than someone named Ashley. Just saying.

4. Keep the plot twisty

Don’t bore your readers with predictability. If your readers can tell what will happen on the last page from two hundred pages away, what is there to keep them reading? You have to surprise them. You have to keep them guessing.

5. Give your protagonist flaws

Readers don’t want to read about a cardboard cut-out, and if you want your main character to feel remotely human, he or she has to be flawed. The character has to make mistakes, fail, get angry or scared or be overly controlling- or perhaps all of those things. Nobody is perfect, and perfect characters are not very relatable. Hence, they are not very interesting. It’s just science.

6. Keep the language as simple as possible

Fancy words are all fine and good to a point, but if the coffin is buried in flowers we won’t be able to see that it’s a coffin. (I don’t know where that came from, but hey, it works.)

Sometimes imagery is effective, but often it is extremely distracting. And while words such as “hitherto,” “alas,” and “perchance” are deliciously fun to use, they also can be distracting, and it is often better to use a humbler alternative.

What to do: She felt cold. Her bones were cold. Her eyelids were cold. She thought that if she tried to bend her fingers they might break off like frozen twigs.

What NOT to do: She perceived that she was enduring a great chill to her person. Her bones were as cold as a snow clad mountain in the middle of a prolonged winter. Her eyelids were as cold as the hard ice in the very heart of a glacier that has been frozen for a millennia. She mused that were she to endeavor to bend her appendages they would mayhap break asunder like frozen twigs from a diminutive poplar tree that had sunk under the weight of ice from a hundred winter nights.

Not that the secondary example was not more fun to write, but it works better for humor purposes than serious ones. If you are really wanting to tell us that the girl was cold, just get to the point already.

7. Please tell the story, for crying out loud

Don’t be so subtle that the reader has absolutely no idea what is going on the ENTIRE TIME. It IS your job as the writer to tell us what is going on, after all. Don’t leave us in the dark.

I have read books that were so vague that I was completely baffled. If you don’t have anything to say, spare us. Please. The world is confusing enough as it is without books that are subtle to the point of meaninglessness.

8. Keep the names simple

Readers want to be able to pronounce the names of their beloved favorite characters. Sometimes we get carried away with making the names interesting and end up with terribly convoluted names that no one can possibly pronounce or remember. Try to keep the names simple, striking, and memorable. None of this Tilvenyanfeligi Morvenkaronsioloieziocex nonsense.

9. Don’t betray your reader’s trust

Plot twists are all fine and grand, until someone breaks the believability.

Readers want to be surprised, but they don’t want the shock to be so out of the blue that it destroys the flavor of the whole story. You can’t turn a sweet, badger-loving, cupcake baking child into a serial killer totally out of nowhere and expect the readers to accept it. You better have a VERY good explanation for something like that. Even then, they might not forgive you. So be careful.

10. Make your protagonist likable

Sure, readers want flawed characters- but they don’t like reading about people that they absolutely CANNOT STAND. Don’t make your protagonist too whiny or too cruel, or no one is going to like reading about them. Readers need someone that they can root for.


Well, there you have it: Ten Easy Steps to Becoming an Effective Writer. Go forth and use this information to write your novels. I am sure that you will not find any of these steps to be contradictory to each other. How hard can crafting a literary masterpiece be?

What kinds of stories are you working on right now? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Do you have any other guidelines to add to my list? I would love to hear all your writing news in the comments!

27 thoughts on “Ten Easy Steps To Becoming An Effective Writer~In Which The Steps Are Maybe Not So Easy After All

  1. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo either! It makes me sad to miss, but alas, I have no time this year. 😦
    Useful steps though. Probably would’ve helped me when I first did NaNoWriMo several years ago XD. I don’t even know what I was thinking when I wrote that draft, sigh.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am working on a middle grade fantasy novel, which every once in a while will have illustrations.

    My 12-year-old protagonist is flawed yet likable. Sparkle is her name: simple yet creative.

    One other tip: in the first draft; just write, don’t think- that is how you even get the book started.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. If I die from laughing too hard I’m holding you responsible

    And seriously, people can get on my case for using too many adverbs or too flowery language or absolute nutcases of characters who would never exist in real life, but THEY CAN’T STOP ME FROM ADDING ALL THOSE THINGS TO MY STORIES >:- D

    (I almost said ‘too’ instead of ‘to’)(Am I even a writer right now *hangs head in shame*)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Btw, these steps were all really good! Even though I’m pretty sure you were joking (you were joking, right? I read this as kind of a parody of writing advice, I didn’t get that wrong, did I? *existential life crisis for three seconds*). The ones about subtlety and creative imagery were the ones that hit home the most for me, because BOY DO I STRUGGLE WITH THOSE THINGS.
      The only one I personally wouldn’t use is the one about complex language–I wouldn’t say the problem is that people use complex language, but that people MISuse it; they don’t really have an ear for the flowery 19th century prose, so the cadence ends up sounding off. (And when I say they, I mean I. I’m talking about myself, okay.) But if you can handle that sort of language, then go right ahead! Sometimes it might even be better for the type of story. I mean I’m…pretty sure you were joking, anyway, but it just got me thinking, because I feel like I may have heard people say things like that before, and I never quite agreed.

      Also, writing advice is hilarious, because if you feverishly search the internet for long enough, eventually ALL THE ADVICE WILL CONTRADICT EACH OTHER. It’s almost like writing a novel is a really hard and complex thing or something. And there is no one way to do it. No. That can’t be it. That’s too frightening, there MUST be a perfect way to write my novel.

      Also, am I the only person in the world doing Nano and NOT stressing about it? I’m ridiculously behind, but just…I don’t care. I’m getting some writing done, and I’ll finish my novel later if I have to. I don’t HAVE to finish it in a month.
      (Sorry for writing a monster comment, by the way)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! Yeah, it’s half a parody, and yet… also serious to some extent? Most of the advice is technically real, but I wrote it in a mocking way. Honestly I wrote the thing and I’m not even sure.
        I see your point there. People do tend to misuse complex language, and I guess that is what I really meant. I really don’t like books where the story is totally streamlined and all of the words are as simple as possible. But I also don’t like books that use impressive words simply for the sake of being impressive. (I am guilty of doing this myself.) That’s why all the writing advice is contradictory. Everything needs to be an illusive balance of awesomeness.
        When it comes down to it, you’re right, there isn’t one way to do it. But using all of the tools to different extents will get you somewhere eventually. Hopefully.
        That is a good place to be in, I think. NaNo isn’t worth losing your mental health over. Just write what you can and don’t panic. So well done for not stressing out.
        Fear not, I love long comments. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Well, I am sure that dying of laughter isn’t the worst way to go. πŸ˜‰
      Oh, I relate, my friend. It is very enjoyable to include all sorts of flowery language. Sometimes I try to hold myself back, and at other times, I just let it all out. It can be brilliant in the right circumstances.
      (Grammar struggles are real.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is wonderful advice! Thank you for this. It has helped me to point out some flaws in my writing I should fix and see what I need to work on! Morvenkaronsioloieziocex πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚
    (I copied and pasted this, I would never try to type it out)
    How would you pronounce this?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent tips! 😊 I find myself agreeing with all of them…but it is a great deal harder to actually put such things into practice. 😬

    “She mused that were she to endeavor to bend her appendages they would mayhap break asunder like frozen twigs from a diminutive poplar tree that had sunk under the weight of ice from a hundred winter nights.” I think this was my favorite paragraph. πŸ˜‚

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello!! I can’t help being a little effusive because I haven’t seen you (yes, I know that’s not literally accurate, but that’s what it feels like) in weeks.
    Anyways, onto the actual comment.
    Haha, I am very impressed by your complication version. It’s superb. And I really like your analogy of the flowers and the coffin. How the perfectly placed not-so-common word is beautiful, but a thousand of them in a row is ugly and terrifying.
    I agree with you on the subtlety point, but it did make me think of how a book I recently read was completely straightforward about some things, and it was heartbreaking that way too. The lines I can think of were ones showing that the character’s reaction was abnormal from their usual personality. Those can be especially heartbreaking I think. What is your opinion?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello! It is good to “see” you again. πŸ˜‰
      Thank you, it was quite fun to write. And I like the flowers/coffin analogy too! Even though I was quite surprised by it. I didn’t realize I was coming up with it until it happened.
      Subtlety is SO tricky because there ARE times when it is impactful to be straightforward. It is difficult to know when those times are. And part of it is really just a style preference as well. Some books are written in a really straightforward way, and it’s not necessarily bad, but they might not impact one person like they impact another person. And the same thing can happen with subtle books. This writing thing is terribly complicated. It’s fascinating though.
      The thing I like about subtlety, when it’s done correctly, is that it can make something SO CLEAR by NOT saying it. I love it when that happens. It makes it very clear somehow, and yet it doesn’t SAY it, and you almost feel like you are discovering it, even though the author totally put it there. Like…they write one sentence but because of everything that has happened before, that one sentence implies so much more than what’s on the page. Or something like that. I geek out about subtlety. But then again, I complain about books that are TOO subtle. So, you know. It’s tricky. I guess some books stray from being subtle to just being vague, which isn’t really the same thing. I don’t know. I am just rambling now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do that when I’m writing too. Sometimes thoughts just come together while I’m typing, and it’s like, whoa thanks for doing that.
        One not subtle line that tends to just crack me is when in a moment of love, the writer writes clearly about how a character is reacting or acting differently than what they normally do. But this also breaks me when it’s so subtle too! I’m thinking of Howl’s Moving Castle for this one. Ugh, it’s making me smile so hard just thinking about it. I didn’t catch this until maybe my third time reading it? Somewhere in the beginning, Calcifer (I think) mentions sideways about how when Howl meets the one he truly loves and stops being such a player, he won’t dress up like crazy when meeting with them. And then at the end he doesn’t with Sophie! AGH. You can’t see me, but I’m smiling so hard.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, it’s so weird how sometimes it’s the straightforward approach that just gets me and sometimes it’s the subtle approach. I guess humans are just finicky.
        Howl’s Moving Castle is so good. It makes me smile too.

        Liked by 1 person

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