What’s the best thing you can do to improve your writing?

Improve your fiction tenfold with these key strategies from pro authors.

Improve your writing
Top authors offer tips to improve your writing. Photo by Pavel K/Shutterstock

The next steps

You’ve selected the No. 1 thing you need to work on from the five suggestions above, and you’ve prioritized it. What happens now? What’s the next step in your writing journey once you’ve mastered the pros’ previous recommendations?

1. Have characters express yearning through well-written dialogue.

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According to Johns, if there’s an important runner-up to character yearning, it must be well-handled dialogue. But, as she points out, make no mistake: good dialogue is tough to write.

“It has to feel like real life but not actually mimic real life,” she says. “Real-life dialogue is often inane, full of pauses and stammers, and oftentimes the person is actually saying very little. Good fictional dialogue needs to be dense, full of conflict and personality and subtext, and hint that the character is saying more than they really are. I’m enormously humbled by writers who are good at writing dialogue.”

2. Take revision seriously.

As McHugh said, both halves of the writing process are crucial, but it’s essential to perform delayed revision and treat the processes as two separate entities: draft, then edit. One before the other, but revision is critical. 

“Revision is the other greatest tool in the writer’s kit,” agrees Rader-Day. “If I had to tell a story like Dickens, for the daily news, I don’t think I would be a writer. I rely on revision heavily, even though my first drafts are (if I may say so) very clean. But I learn a lot when I ‘finish’ that last chapter, and I get to use that new awareness of the story in subsequent drafts.”

3. Nail down your characters’ beats.

When you get into your characters’ heads, Tracey says, be sure to get the “beats” down too.

What’s a beat? “For actors, those are the moments, the pauses, where shifts in tactics occur. I tried to cajole. Didn’t work. Now I’ll try to admonish.”

For fiction writers, says Tracey, “beats are the quick interiors or brief bits of sensory information that enhance the moment, creating suspense or tension by suspending the forward flow of dialogue. Hemingway was a master at this.”

4. Remember that a good plot is nothing without memorable characters.

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Besides an outlined plot, Wisniewski says creating compelling characters is another key step: “Of course, developing likable characters who ‘play out’ your outlined plot is a significant skill no writer should take lightly – because, of course, a plot without likable characters does not a great story make.”