#1 Learn to recognize a really great idea.
Most writers have lots of good ideas. Workable ideas. Ideas that seem interesting and full of promise. But most writers have very few GREAT ideas. Showstoppers. Strokes of pure genius.
Learning to recognize the difference between a good idea that is probably publishable and a great idea that could launch a bestselling career is a pretty neat skill to have.
So start training yourself to rate ideas, plot points, twists, and all the ways that plot conveys story.
Try using a 10 point scale, where 10 is HOLY COW, and 5 is what you see in most published books.
Shoot for a 10.
Now do the same when you build your characters.
#2 Learn to wow 2 people on every page.
You and your reader. You haven’t hit wow until you are amazed at what you wrote… and so is your reader.
#3 Write to devastate your characters (and your reader).
Don’t be neutral. Don’t be small. Don’t pull your punches. Don’t relegate trauma to off-stage.
Show us the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical blood of your story, right on the page.
Let us know that this story matters. Not just in this sentence or paragraph, but in the nuclear fallout of every scene after that.
#4 Don’t do the work for the reader.
One of the greatest joys as a reader is…
- piecing together the subtext of what your characters are scheming,
- following the threads of meaning to the awful truth,
- understanding (or speculating about) the repercussions of ever single action, every word spoken, and
- drawing awful conclusions about what is to come.
There is tendency for writers to rob readers of this joy by spelling out every motivation, every piece of backstory, every conflict, every thought as if the character has spent years in therapy and now understands “the universe” with startling clarity and clinical detachment.
Stop that. It sucks the fun out of reading.
It’s annoying to have everything explained in a sanitized “sound bite” before we, the readers, even know we need it.
#5 Build to a staggering conclusion; deliver even more.
Don’t let yourself off easy. Build a powerful ending, and then blow the doors off that.
Readers have already seen al the powerful endings. Whatever it is that you’re writing, your reader has read a hundred or so books just like that.
Do more. Pull it off like no one has done before. Reach into the guts of your story and rip out all the meaning and power you can. And then take it all the way home.