Balanced showing and telling
The saying ‘show, don’t tell’ is widely used as a piece of writing advice and for good reason. Of course no writing advice is correct in absolutely all circumstances, it’s just about not swamping readers with information that already understand.
There is an art to flowing writing that informs your reader of what your world looks like. the beginning point is realising whether a dialogue scene or description is best suited at that particular point in your narrative. Explain the vivid world without overloading the passage with unnecessary dialogue and then rely on dialogue interplay to reveal more about the characters and their motivation. In modern writing, audiences usually prefer a brisker pace and switching between action and description fluidly is important.
When you’re worried that you’re telling too much and showing too little, ask: Is this information crucial to the story? Does it illuminate anything important about my characters and their world? If the answer is ‘no’ to both these questions, it’s not that you’re showing or telling too much but that the passage is irrelevant to your story. So cut it. And don’t be too precious about removing unnecessary exposition, if the passage reads slowly to you, that will doubly be the case for other readers.
Are there enough active verbs? Instead of using adverbs, use verbs that carry descriptive power. Instead of ‘she stared bewilderedly’ say ‘she gaped’, for example. Sometimes you are too close to your own writing to know whether you’re striking the right balance.
Complex characters that grow
Writing a good book also requires skilled characterization. Some genres do allow characters that resemble cardboard cutouts. In a typical James Bond story, a bond girl is always a bond girl. A suave assassin is always the typical suave assassin. More interesting installments in Ian Fleming’s franchise have been those where the hero displays a surprising vulnerability or the ‘bond girl’ is more than a sex symbol. The story doesn’t only peddle worn out tropes.
To make your characters diverse and well-developed, do at least some of the following: Give your characters flaws: Nobody’s perfect. Your hero might be brave in some circumstances but irrationally fearful in others. Sketch brief backstories for each important character: Real people have histories. They have upbringings, triumphs, disappointments, aspirations.
Create contrasts between characters: Characters who all talk the same, look the same or think the same are dull. Find interesting differences. Give your characters identifying attributes: Think of someone important in your life: Do they have odd sayings that nobody else uses? A distinct way of pronouncing a certain word? How do they walk and carry themselves? Give each character a signature detail or two.
Grow your characters: How do your characters change as the events of your novel unfold? A major event such as the discovery of a hidden superpower or a death in the family creates cause-and-effect ripples.
Subtext and character dialogue
Dialogue is undoubtedly the element in common within all best-loved books of all time have in common? Excellent dialogue. Writing a good book demands that even incidental dialogue serves the story. So what does script-worthy dialogue do? It: Tells the reader something about your characters and their relationships; Adds to tension and conflict; Furthers the plot by letting the reader piece together a larger picture.
This second point is the ‘subtext’ of dialogue – the reasons, feelings, suspicions (and so forth) underlying characters’ conversations. Thinking about detail such as this and incorporating it in your dialogue sometimes will add depth and dimension. Why does a character not look another in the eyes while telling them an extremely important fact? What does the combination of speech, gesture, posture, movement tell your reader?
Narrative that has a smooth arc
One of the most common features of ‘bad’ writing is that the story makes no overarching sense. Maybe the heroine’s actions completely contradict her psychological description and backstory. Or else there are sequences of scenes that don’t seem to contribute cohesively to the whole.
To ensure your novel has strong inner logic make sure that the bulk of your story answers the central questions you set up: The narrative purpose of a scene (why the author is sharing this event) should make sense when examined alongside the whole arc of the story.
Make sure your characters’ actions make sense: In the greatest novels, characters’ actions are a mix of inevitable (according to their motivations and personal histories) and surprising. If characters act completely against the personalities and backstories you create, they may seem inconsistent and confusing.
Establishing stakes and tension
Whatever you want to call it – rising action and falling action or build-up and climax – tension and release keeps readers invested in the outcome of your novel. Because balancing action and tension release is key: Create a suitable amount of conflict and suspense for your genre: Your reader will naturally expect a greater amount of tension and suspense if your novel is a classic thriller.
Have mini-resolutions along the way: It could work to have your story just keep building to a single epic showdown between protagonist and antagonist. But you can create variety and interest by having mini-conflicts and resolutions on the way to the central conflict resolving.
Combine different types of tension: Your story might pit your protagonist(s) against other characters, the environment, or an internal struggle. Alternatively, tension might arise more out of plot uncertainty rather than direct hostility.