3 Resolutions to Make You a Better Writer

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3 Resolutions to Make You a Better Writer

No matter how much of a curmudgeon you turn into throughout your writing life, once you get published a few times, people want your help. Now, I actually don’t mind helping, but it’s hard to find the time so I’ve had to learn to say no. Still, it happens. Things end up in front of me and I read through them and try to make helpful comments that not only make suggestions for the problems that exist but make them in a way that the writer can watch for the problem in the future and overall become a better writer.

3 Resolutions to Make You a Better WriterThe interesting part of this is that some things pop up over and over and over in the work of newer writers. I rarely end up seeing a new and inventive problem. Let’s look at some of the most common issues and resolve that this year, we’ll rise above them and put ourselves firmly into the camp of experienced writers.

Better Writer Resolution 1: Remember Who’s in Charge

Who is in charge in a kid’s book? Kids. In real life, sure, kids are rarely in charge. They are nagged by parents, teachers, neighbors, bus drivers, and stray adults in grocery stores. Kids tend to lack agency in real life, so writers can make the mistake of creating characters who are too weak to carry a story. This happens a lot.

Time to stop.

Here’s the first step. Tell yourself that among all the amazing things you’re going to do in your story, one thing you’re going to do is to demonstrate that kids can do more than we think they can. They can think. They can make decisions. They can react to plot pressure and take action. They can do things that affect themselves, the world around them, and the problem you’ve set before them.

One way to do this is to create a main character you respect. You. The author. You don’t simply like this character or find them funny or want to save them—you respect them. Because if you don’t respect the character, you’re going to find yourself robbing them of their role as main mover and shaker constantly.

Then think of every adult character in the story as wasabi on sushi. You only need a teeny tiny dab or the wasabi takes over and nothing else has any flavor but wasabi. Sure, you probably need to have some adults. Young children have guardians. School children have teachers. Children on a field trip have adult leaders as well. But those adults must not take the plot out of the hands of the child. They must be allowed to exist in only the tiniest dabs.

Make a list of every character in your story. Then list every action they take in the story. Then list the importance of every action. What does the end result look like? Did the adults horn in on the story too much? Does the end of the story happen almost solely because of adults? Revise to get the young main character driving the plot action and keep them there.

Better Writer Resolution 2: Blend the Dialogue and Action

Have you ever watched a great waiter carrying a ridiculous number of things at once with absolute confidence? I have and it terrifies me. I’m clumsy so I am tempted to carry one thing at a time. Sometimes though, you can’t do that. So, it’s time to learn to multitask—at least in writing.

Because giving information, writing description, writing action, and writing dialogue are all scary for newer writers, it’s tempting to do them one at a time. Many, many early stories begin in one of two ways: (1) a dump of information about the characters and situation to bring the reader up to speed, or (2) a dump of description of the setting or character. Then once that stuff is out of the way, the writer starts the story either by moving the characters around (action) or having characters talk (dialogue.) The story is built in separate layers of these items piled on.

3 Resolutions to Make You a Better Writer CANVA boy diggingUnfortunately, that kind of separating out the bits of the story causes a slower pace and doesn’t usually engage the reader well. You can get away with a tiny, tiny bit of backstory in an opening if it’s told in a funny way. But that’s tricky unless you’re intending to write a humorous story throughout. Instead, a story will grab the reader much quicker if you mix your ingredients up. Open in a scene, letting us know where we are while seeing characters in action as they talk. Keep in mind that readers don’t have to know absolutely everything about the characters, setting, and backstory right at the beginning. Instead, you can slip in information subtly in the dialogue and action.

Consider this:

Joel threw down the shovel and slapped at the dirt on his clothes. “I’m done. I’m absolutely done.”

“No,” Ben insisted. “We can’t stop until we find it.”

Joel waved a grubby hand, drawing attention to the backyard pocked with holes. “How do you intend to explain this to your granddad? A mole convention? A rabies pandemic among the squirrels?”

“Granddad won’t care as long as we find that box. So pick up that shovel and dig. You owe me. You know you do.”

See how we set the scene, include action, and give the tiniest sip of backstory, all with dialogue? That’s the sort of opening that keeps a reader reading to find out more. It’s the kind of mix of ingredients you want and need. And the best way to learn to do it is to study it.

On Amazon, look up all the hot new kid’s books in the grade level you intend to write. Use the “Look Inside” feature to read the first pages of dozens of these books. Copy some of the first pages that grab you best so you can study how they are put together. Color code them with different colors for dialogue, narrative action, setting, description, etc. You may find sometimes the same words are doing double duty, giving both action and description. In the example above, Joel waves a grubby hand, which is both action and description. Do this for at least a dozen books.

After you color code, make a list of everything you learned from the page you copied. Did you learn location? Did you get any description? Did you hear anything? Taste anything? This kind of analysis of published work will help you juggle your own story parts like a pro because you’ll be alert to how that works.

Better Writer Resolution 3: Don’t Be Scared to Do the Unexpected

Some writers complain about not being able to write the characters they want to write. They want to write passive characters, shy characters, or even lazy characters. Not everyone is a hero! And that’s a valid argument. There is nothing inherently wrong with creating a passive or lazy character as long as you shove them into a situation that forces them to overcome through their own choices and actions.

3 Resolutions to Make You a Better Writer CANVA Messy roomThe things good characters need aren’t necessarily obvious. An outgoing, brave, active character can be easy to write, but those aren’t necessarily the things you must have in a character to make a good story. A shy character can be dropped into a social situation and have to deal with it. I tend to be a rather shy person (in one-on-one social situations especially), and I can tell you that shy people are forced to socialize all the time. It’s simply harder for us, and doing hard things is pretty much the definition of plot.

As for passive characters or lazy characters, forcing them into situations that get them moving can not only be done—it can be fun and amusing. For example, imagine a character who desperately doesn’t want to clean their room. But they must or something they don’t want to face will happen. What if the character came up with all kinds of wacky ways to avoid cleaning their room without the consequences. What if they paint a backdrop to hang up inside the room that portrays a perfectly clean room? Only something happens to wreck that plan. So they try simply relocating the mess into the closet or under the bed, but each ends up not working for some amusing reason. Then the person starts dumping all the mess out the window into the bushes. The result of that is the biggest issue of all and someone runs off with the kid’s stuff and he’s forced to give chase all over the neighborhood to get his stuff back. And in the end, the poor lazy kid has had the most active day anyone could imagine!

The key to success in bringing in a potential problem character is in “fixing” the problem through one of the other things you bring to the story. A wildly outrageous character can turn a plot about making a peanut butter and jam sandwich into something absolutely unexpected and delightful. And a strong, compelling plot can push a mild, meek character into actions that person never expected to be capable of. So don’t be scared, be prepared.

Use these three resolutions to take your work to the next level. After all, this is a new year. Let’s resolve to become better writers.


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With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.

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