Regardless of whether it's a short story, screenplay, or a full-length novel, here are five tips to instantly improve the quality of your creative writing project.
1. Nix the passive voice. It's a rule universally acknowledged that the passive voice can easily kill your writing career before it starts. Just look at the difference: "The snow was falling outside, and though it was warm by the fire, we were sitting on the couch freezing." VS "The snow fell outside, and though the fire warmed the room, we sat freezing on the couch." Go through your manuscript and clean up the passive voice - you'll have a much more compelling narrative once finished.
2. Be sure your book/screenplay/short story has a plot. This may seem obvious, but sadly, there are far too many aspiring authors out there with beautifully written manuscripts....about nothing. Not about nothing, they exclaim, but about a woman who struggles with isolation and ends up pondering the value of life. Okay, fine. But think about this: would it be more interesting to read about a woman alone who spends her time thinking, fretting, and staying in, or about a woman alone who, after realizing this existential dilemma, goes out into the woods and stumbles upon....anything - even without it turning into a mystery. Basically, it's interesting to read about people DOING something. On top of that, it's interesting to read about people who find themselves in a high-stakes situation and then DO something to somehow solve (or attempt to solve) the problematic/dangerous/volatile situation in which they find themselves.
3. Compel your readers to keep reading. We all know how easy it is to put down a book these days. Everyone's busy, everyone has ten thousand demands of life prying those pages out of our hands. Think about the books that you have almost physically struggled to put down. What was it about them that made their stories so gripping? When you read your manuscript for the fiftieth time, are you still compelled to keep reading? If you're not - and it's your book - what will keep readers interested?
4. Find the page where your story starts and start it from there. This sounds a bit like amputating the arm of your intellectual property baby, but it's also the only way to save it from certain death in many cases. Most manuscripts start off like a car in winter - they get going, maybe rumble a bit, gradually warm up, and then hit the highway. As a writer entering (or surviving in) an extremely competitive market, you have to have the car going at 60 mph on the first page. An easy way to achieve this is to find the page where your story starts to get really interesting, cut everything before it, and start it from there. You can always find ways to incorporate the previous bits in later, but you need to get your readers in the car and buckled up before you can take them for the journey.
5. Make sure you can answer these questions without any hesitation, in a sentence or less:
- What is the conflict/problem in your story?
- Who is the protagonist? (and antagonist?)
- How does your protagonist react to the problem, and what do they do to try and fix it?
- What does your main character want?
Writing is a journey not to be taken lightly. It's full of monsters, deserts, enormous obstacles, and fatigue. It's also full of great rewards, an overwhelming sense of achievement, and the possibility of eternal glory. Bon voyage and good luck.