Tips for Authors


1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
This sounds easy, but in practice is incredibly difficult. Phrases such as:
toe the line,
ride roughshod over,
stand shoulder to shoulder with,
play into the hands of,
an axe to grind,
Achilles’ heel,
swan song, hotbed
come to mind quickly and feel comforting and melodic.

For this exact reason they must be avoided. Common phrases have become so comfortable that they create no emotional response. Take the time to invent fresh, powerful images.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Long words don’t make you sound intelligent unless used skilfully. In the wrong situation they’ll have the opposite effect, making you sound pretentious and arrogant. They’re also less likely to be understood and more awkward to read.
When Hemingway was criticized by Faulkner for his limited word choice he replied: ‘Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.’

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree (Ezra Pound). Accordingly, any words that don’t contribute meaning to a passage dilute its power. Less is always better. Always.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
This one is frequently broken, probably because many people don’t know the difference between active and passive verbs. I didn’t myself until a few months ago. Here is an example that makes it easy to understand:
The man was bitten by the dog. (passive)
The dog bit the man. (active).
The active is better because it’s shorter and more forceful.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.

That is solid advice from Orwell. Animal Farm proves he followed his own rules.

You have a character in your head. You feel compelled to write about that character. The writer’s skill lies in presenting the character in words so powerful that they become real in the reader’s head. You have to present characters who are compelling, who keep the reader glued to the page, oblivious of other demands.

Consider characters who have appealed to you. Rhett Butler, Holden Caulfield, Blanche Dubois, Jane Eyre, John Yossarian, Emma Woodhouse. Don’t try to emulate those writers but certainly examine how the authors pull the trick, and present a rounded figure.

Ask yourself what, if anything, each one has in common. Is it ambition? A deep secret, perhaps? A weakness that causes trouble for others? A certain way of talking? Dialogue is an important way of conveying character.

Read your favourite novels again and concentrate on how the writer builds a character, especially someone central to the action. And when you come to write, be prepared to be surprised. You will put much of yourself in. And why not? You are the person you understand best.

And allow for organic growth. As characters develop, they have a strange way of going their own way, saying what they want to say, no matter how you try to control them. Let them off the leash. Strong characters will push your narrative along.
Enjoy your writing.

‘Call me Ishmael.’
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.
The opening words of two famous novels. Both different.

There is no best way of starting off your story. Whatever leads the busy reader to the second and third sentences does the trick. The opening words are the hook.

A good hook is to go straight into a piece of action. Like movie makers do. Bang, bang, wallop! The credits will wait. Get right into the action and add the backstory later. We recommend this if you are writing action books such as thrillers.

But if you can add a piece of dialogue, that will strengthen the hook.
‘Look out, Jim!’ Alison cried. (That book is yet to be written.)

There are many calls on a reader’s time and it’s essential that you always remember the hook. So if you are thinking of submitting to us at Emma Stern Publishing – and you’ll be made welcome if you do, even if we decide not to publish - remember to hook us too. In fact, once you have completed a novel, it’s a good thing to look again at the first page and see how it might be improved. Editors are readers too.