Updated: Dec 31, 2019
I am not going to give you writing tips on grammar. I, for one, still suck at grammar. If I put a comma in one spot, Grammarly tells me to move it. And forget about the correct time to use a semi-colon. Not going to happen.
But I can give you a few writing tips that will help you improve your writing skills.
Watch your POV. (For this post I am referring to switching from one character's head to another) Sometimes known as head-hopping.
Romance writers are notorious for this and for doing it well. But you have to remember, in that genre, the story revolves around two people. The relationship is the most important aspect of the story. The story usually bounces from one head to another and often in the same scene. In a romance, this is absolutely acceptable. However, these writers know HOW TO DO IT so that the reader does not become confused.
So, how can you avoid this trap of head-hopping?
1. NEVER have dialogue from two or more characters in ONE paragraph. This will most assuredly confuse your reader.
An example of this:
Joe looked at Damien. "You hungry?" he asked. "Yeah, I could eat something," Damien shrugged. "Where you want to go?" "I don't care. Let's go to Waffle House." "Perfect," Joe said. They drove to the restaurant. Damien fiddled with the radio. "I love this song." "It sucks," Joe scoffed. "No it doesn't." "You have shitty taste in music."
OMG, don't do this. Always, separate a new person's dialogue on a new paragraph. Each of these, should have been on their own paragraph.
Joe looked at Damien. "You hungry?" he asked.
"Yeah, I could eat something,"
"Where you want to go?"
Damien shrugged. "I don't care. Let's go to Waffle House."
"Perfect," Joe said.
They drove to the restaurant.
Damien fiddled with the radio. "I love this song."
"It sucks." Joe scoffed.
"No it doesn't."
"You have shitty taste in music."
Even though I don't have a dialogue tag on every line, There is enough so that the reader is not confused. I have seen writers combine three or four people in a conversation in one paragraph. If you do this, your reader's head will explode.
2. At the very least, and only if you know how to do this, separate the character's thoughts and movements with a new paragraph. I do this. Not that I'm an expert, but I have never had complaints about a reader being confused. If I use a paragraph to go from one character's head to another, I use action, emotion, and dialogue to indicate the shift. I also repeat something from the previous character, either an action or prop. This is known as a baton pass.
Example of this:
Stephanie rolled on her side, gazing at her lover with longing. She saw the ocean in his deep, sea blue eyes. She reached out to touch his sun-kissed skin. Her fingers tingled as she caressed his arm.
Colton's pulse raced as her fingers left a trail of heat across his skin. His body trembled with each lick of her lips. Her bubble gum tongue beckoned him to kiss her. The blood rushed his to his groin, the throbbing sensation keeping time with the beating of his heart.
3. The next way to indicate a shift in POV, WHILE IN THE SAME SCENE, is to use *** or some other non-intrusive symbol between two paragraphs. This immediately tells the reader something is different. It may be a time shift or a place shift or a different person's head. However, if you have a lot of these in one chapter, consider breaking the chapter up.
Here is an example of using *** within a chapter or scene.
The corners of his mouth twitched as his trip down memory lane was interrupted. He heard the begging from the far side of the room. He stared at the girl he held captive. He’d chosen this one because she resembled HER, but she didn’t live up to his expectations. None did anymore. He wondered if he would ever find another like HER. The one thing all these girls had in common, they all begged—eventually. He turned away and finished the preparations.
The thin mattress offered Becca little comfort. Leather straps bound her ankles and wrists to the bed. The slow melodic tune he whistled bounced off the cold concrete walls and pierced her eardrums like a hundred tiny pinpricks. Becca flinched at the sound of the chain hitting the floor as he hooked it to a ring in the ceiling. She closed her eyes. The man didn’t care about her pleas. He had no plans to let her go.
4. New chapter. That is the best way to indicate a change in POV.
What is a dialogue tag? It is a 'said' or 'asked' like 'he said' or 'he asked' placed after a character speaks, to indicate who is talking. Now these are meant to be invisible. I bet you are sitting there saying what about 'he mumbled' or 'she cackled'? Those are also dialogue tags, but they are not invisible. Meaning your brain doesn't just skip over them. Now your brain will take notice. And if you do this all the time, then your reader will notice, and it will become annoying.
Instead of saying something like 'he whispered', have your character lean into the other person and speak. Thus SHOWING THE READER he is whispering.
Damien leaned into Joe, cupping his hand over his mouth. "I think she is hiding something."
Joe tilted his head towards his chest, hiding his chuckle.
"I think she is hiding something," Damien whispered.
Joe tilted his head towards his chest, hiding his chuckle.
Showing vs. Telling
I'm sure you have heard this before. What exactly is showing vs. telling? (Besides the above example?) Have you ever read a story and you felt like you were watching a movie, or you felt as though you were eavesdropping on a real conversation? That is showing. If you can immerse your reader in the story, make them feel, smell, see, hear, and taste what they are reading, you are showing your reader your story.
On the flip side, if you are leading your reader by the nose through the story, you are telling them the story.....
Here is an example. This is the opening chapter of my book Innocence Taken.
He straddled her chest—for leverage. His hands tingled as his fingers curled tight. He had to apply just the right amount of pressure. Her jerky movements increased as he squeezed her neck. The girl’s chest hardened under his weight, holding on to the last bit of air in her lungs. The beautiful smoky brown color of her eyes faded, replaced with a dull gray cloud that crept from one side to the other. A gleeful smile tugged at his mouth when red dots popped on the sclera. Her bladder released, announcing the end. His fingers uncurled from her neck, and a heavy sigh escaped his lips. He stared down at her as the stillness and quiet of the room engulfed him.
Let's rewrite this as if I was telling instead of showing:
Straddling her, he squeezed her neck. He watched as the girl tried to breathe, holding onto the last bit of air in her lungs. She struggled against him. He felt his mouth turn upward causing him great excitement as he watched the life slowly drain from her.
Hopefully I did this right, dang it was hard too. The most significant difference in telling is you don't give very much in the way of description. When you tell, your scene may get the point across, but in a boring way. I told you he watched the life drain out her in the second example. Where in the first, I showed you by what her eyes did, her chest hardening, her bladder released....you get the drift.
You don't want to go overboard either in telling or showing. My goodness, don't be Owl from Winnie the Poo. But you want to immerse your reader in the moment. The caveat is knowing when to tell. There will be times when that is necessary. In those moments, use only what you need for that scene. Don't do an information dump.
These are my three top writing tips for helping you create your best work. By no means are these the only writing tips. For reference, you can read:
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression (Second Edition) by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman.
Google Head-hopping and you will have tons to read on this subject.
I hope this helps. If you have something you need answers to, just ask. If I don't know the answer, I will help find it.
I write crime fiction horror, thriller, and paranormal novels. My time in the Coast Guard and my degree in Forensic Chemistry helps me create fantastic stories.
If I'm not writing, I am binge watching Netflix and probably drinking whiskey.