I'm trying lots of things to improve my writing and this is just one of them, but omigosh what an eye-opener. Grab a couple of your favourite author's books (I did this with Maisey Yates' The Inherited Bride and Nicola Marsh's Deserted Island Dreamy Ex) and type out their first chapter. Just into a blank document. Yes it takes a while but, trust me, the results are worth it.
What I learned:
- Punctuating dialogue - I used to be okay at this but somehow I lost the knack. I found that nothing can drive home the principles of punctuation like copying someone who already mastered it. It was a lightbulb moment for sure;
- How long is a chapter (approximately) - I used the old method of approximately X words to a line, Y lines to a page, Z number of pages to a chapter and then applied that to my documents but I was way out. Now I have a better idea and can rewrite accordingly;
- How often adverbs are used and where - extremely valuable lesson. While you can pick them out when you do a multiple reading of a chapter (See my post The Perfect First Chapter) it's something else when you're typing it out and really seeing how you can write without using them in every single sentence.
- Dialogue tags - I'm addicted to the "he screamed, she whispered quietly, he roared fearfully" type of writing and so I have to constantly remind myself that writing can be done and done really well without all that guff. A really great lesson in showing and not telling by copying;
- Breaking some rules - after I finished typing out the first chapter I ran it through spellcheck which of course comes up with passive sentences and fragments of a sentence etc and I could see that sometimes it is okay to break some of the rules as long as it's done well. You can't write an entire book in fragments but you can write some of your heroines thoughts in fragments - because that's how we think sometimes; not in grammatically correct, BBC English.
N.B. Please remember that these chapters are covered by copyright.