Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Analyze This: Writing Tips

It's Lisa here, with some writing tips I'd like to share with you. After writing for so many years, I sometimes find it difficult to be just a reader. Instead of enjoying a story line, I often have to stop myself from analyzing the story. But while this might make reading harder, it has also helped me learn what works and what doesn't work. (At least in my opinion.)

I recently took some time to write down tips that I've learned from reading novels, from writing books, and from editor comments on my own novels. This is something I use as a checklist for my own writing.

1. Anchor your story with a strong sense of setting.
2. Show, don’t tell!
3. Ensure that a clear goal is laid out for the protagonist so the reader knows the goal right away.
4. The main goal will carry a reader through a book. Smaller goals along the way will carry us to that big finish.
5. In Christian fiction, show the spiritual place of the hero/heroine. (Don’t assume the reader knows!)
6. Danger weaved into the story must have a connection to the main plot. (Don’t throw danger at your characters just to get your reader to turn the page)
7. Both the hero and the heroine need strong stakes in the situation.
8. Watch for characters and plot threads that disappear halfway in the book.
9. Avoid one-dimensional and clichéd characters.
10. Avoid predictable plots.
11. Avoid too many sentence fragments.
12. Avoid excessive conjunctions at the beginning of sentences.
13. Watch for characters talking themselves out of romantic feelings just for the sake of prolonging the romance thread.
14. In dialogue, use contractions to make it read more naturally.
15. Get rid of clichéd movements: pinch the bridge of his nose, rubbed his temples, shoved a lock of hair, combed his fingers…
16. Watch for repetitive words.
17. Avoid “on the nose” or forced dialogue.
18. Avoid skimming the surface of a characters’ belief as well as heavy preaching.
19. Ensure you don’t describe your characters’ spiritual lives only by what they do. (their church, music, books, etc.)
20. For suspense, keep the heart-pounding action and danger going throughout the story.
21. If you use POV changes, ensure each one continues to build the tension.
22. Details are important.
23. Deal with moral conflicts without preaching, and avoid looking at the subject as only black and white.
24. End the story when the end goal is achieved after the final climax.

What tips would you add to this list? I'd love to hear from you!

Lisa Harris is an award-winning author of twenty novels and novellas. She lives with her husband and their three children in Mozambique, Africa, where they work as missionaries. When she’s not busy writing or home schooling, she loves traveling, cooking different ethnic foods, and going on game drives through the African bush.

Her novel, Blood Ransom, was recently nominated for a Christy Award. To learn more about her books, you can visit her website here.


  1. Great tips, Lisa! Thanks for posting. :-)

  2. This is the type of great, comprehensive list that we can see is put together through experience. Definitely worth referring to often just to remind us to keep on track. Thanks :)

  3. A tip that I have to remind myself to do: Write down your timeline. I will forget what month it is or how many weeks have passed. However, if I start from the beginning and write it down in a notebook I can keep the time line and the seasons accurate.

  4. Lol Colleen. I once found I'd written three Fridays into one week. Actually, in real life, more Fridays would be a bonus. :-)

  5. A timeline is a great tip, Colleen. I would add to check facts and details and not assume that they are/were more or less like what you are familiar with. For example, students at Oxford or Cambridge in the Middle Ages were not 18- to 22-year olds.

  6. Oh yes. A timeline is critical to keep for your story line. If you're interested in one way to do this, I have an example on my website under writer tips using an excel sheet. I use this will all my stories, especially in suspense when the timeline is fast paced and sometimes over lapping with several POVs.

    Any other ideas?

  7. I sure could use an extra day this week, Alice! :-)

  8. Super, Lisa! I'm working on book #37 and I still found it a helpful reminder to read through the list. We never outgrow our need for reminders.

  9. I use an editing checklist, too, and the time line is an element in writing that I have to keep a close watch on. I've now developed a calendar for each story so that I can keep up with what happens when.