The author’s handy-dandy checklist to becoming a New York Times Bestseller

When it comes to writing a book, there’s an overwhelming amount of advice floating around out there in the cyber world. And it’s tough to recall every last tid-bit of it as you’re going the through daunting task of not only trying to translate your thoughts to paper, but also trying to be an exceptional story teller and fairly decent editor, for added measure. But worry not! I’ve gone through the arduous task of gathering the best and most commonly shared morsels of advice out there and compiled my own checklist. And I’m sharing it with you today!

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General tips

  • Use the five senses in your writing: taste, hear, see, smell, touch

  • Don’t head hop (only one point of view per scene)

  • Use better nouns and verbs (see here)

  • Don’t go into too much detail to describe nouns

  • Cut the stuff you wouldn’t want to read or sentences that slow down the story

  • Use active voice; limit passive

  • Vary the lengths of your sentences

  • Eliminate excessive prepositions

  • Avoid nominalizations

  • Make sure voice is consistent throughout

  • Don’t use adjectives excessively in concentration

  • Vary the way you start your sentences

  • Vary the way you structure your sentences

  • Use different words—don’t use the same ones over and over again and especially not in the same or consecutive sentences (see )

  • Make every word count; remove unnecessary ones and consolidate several with one when possible.

  • Get into a scene as late as possible and get out as quickly as possible

  • Make sure comparisons are appropriate for the story, setting and character. For a murder mystery, you might say his memory was as sharp as a knife instead of it was as sharp as the heel on a Jimmy Choo.

  • Make sure you’re writing in one tense throughout—unless otherwise warranted (1st, 2nd, 3rd)

  • Remove and replace stuffy words

  • If it sounds like writing, rewrite it

  • Pace your story appropriately (fighting scenes should be fast, emotional scenes slow)

  • Action should precede dialogue. Ex: She slammed the door shut. “I can’t believe you did that,” she said.

  • Remain in POV by remember to limit what your character knows (only an omnipresent/omniscient narrator would know everything)

  • Remove filler (information that is unnecessary)

  • Keep backstory to a minimum

  • Keep chapters short

  • Eliminate clichés

  • Use metaphors, alliteration and similes to liven up your writing

Building characters

  • Don’t let things come easily for your characters—let them work hard toward their goal and fill your novel with plenty of hurdles.

  • Make characters 3-D

  • Give your character a goal

  • Give your characters strengths and flaws

  • Give your antagonist a reason for being the negative character

  • Give your antagonist positive traits

Creating dialogue

  • Show, don’t tell (see here)

  • Make sure it’s clear who is talking

  • Conversation should develop the story forward or achieve a purpose

  • Conversation should reveal information about the character

  • The characters speak in a unique fashion, using vocabulary appropriate to them

  • Use “said” as often as possible for dialogue tags

  • Don’t bog down the dialogue with unnecessary nose-to-nose responses

  • Remove a single word here or there to make dialogue seem more natural to the way we speak

  • Limit the use of subordinating clauses

  • Don’t write long monologues–it’s not the natural way people speak

  • Allow your characters to speak in tangents

  • Use action beats instead of dialogue tags when possible

Words to cut

  • That

  • Very

  • Had

  • To be verbs (see here for more precise nouns and verbs)

  • Stuffy words

  • Thing

  • In order to

  • Start to

  • “I feel,” “s/he felt” or any other variation of someone feeling something. Just state what they felt! (Ex: I felt my shoulders tense, say: My shoulders tensed)

  • Really

  • Currently

  • There is

  • There are

  • Limit words ending in -ing


  • Limit adverbs

  • Start a new sentence for every thought and a new paragraph for every time you switch to a topic or a character changes dialogue.

  • Read your writing out loud

  • Check for misplaced/dangling modifiers

  • Make sure pronouns agree with antecedents

  • Make sure subjects and verbs agree

  • Limit your exclamation points

  • Put periods inside quotations

  • Avoid too many commas

This is will remain a living, breathing checklist on my site, meaning it will continue to evolve as I learn more tips and create articles to help you better understand each point. Oh, and I’m sure there are some important points that I’ve missed out on here, so please do me a HUGE favor and leave a comment below if you feel I’ve forgotten something! Your input will benefit so many others.

Until next time, rock your writing!

Xoxo- Salina

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