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By Ferrel D. Moore
I am often asked by writers, what is the one thing that they can do to improve their stories.
Can they make more interesting plots? Did their plots fail because they failed to exploit the character’s strengths and show their weaknesses? Are their plots not intricate enough, should they be more complex and convoluted?
Do the characters fail to evoke from the readers sufficient emotion? Do I have sufficient chemistry between my main characters? Have I made the right number of formulaic secondary characters?
Can I improve my characters by making them more interesting? Can I make characters that are more identifiable? Do their characters lack depth of emotion?
Are my settings strong enough? Do I fail at the art of description?
I have to scratch my heads at such questions, because when I get them, I have the distinct feeling that the people I am answering to will no doubt be failures at the art and craft of writing. They will be self-published failures to boot. They will litter the literary landscape with their self-publishing efforts, which will remain published forever in these days of the mighty Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Google Books, Kobo, and, well the never ending parade of outlets that make so many millions of books available that we scarcely have time to wade through them all.
There are only two things you can do to better your writing—read and write. And you can do without all of those beta-readers, too. They only make you weaker as a writer, not stronger. If you can’t see your own mistakes by simply putting your manuscript in a drawer and coming back to it in six months, chances are you will never make it as a writer. You have to concentrate on the two fundamentals of reading and simply writing.
Lost in the myriad books on character arcs, emotional description and so on, is the fact that simply reading is the single most powerful influence on your writing that you can have. It is, in essence, the power of imitation at first and then, gradually, spreading your wings as a writer. Going your own way with your own ideas. Having those flashes of insight that only years of reading with introspection can yield.
You have to simply write, too. Make all of the mistakes that you can make in your early years, so that you can hone your craft, so your prose will eventually soar above the rest, so that it will shine like the sun with your own brilliance.
You have to throw away all of those writing books—they won’t help you to be a good writer. Read one or two at most, and then get down to the business of making your mistakes. Believe me, the good will winnow them out, polish their words, make their craft sing.
Finally, get a good editor. That will be the capstone of all your efforts, making up for all the beta readers that you ever knew—all the relatives that criticized your manuscripts, all the friends, and all the unknowns of every writing group you’ve ever joined and criticized a manuscript.
Being a good writer takes time, and being a great writer takes a lot of time and effort. You might as well get used to it and embrace it early on, because there is no substitute for it.
Ferrel D. Moore may be reached on Linkedin.
This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.