Don’t be afraid of the tough topics. –
If it fits your story, or helps it along, don’t be afraid of them. After all things like abuse, torture, drugs, alcohol, gangs, murder etc happen in real life and you want your story to be realistic. Just make sure you’re sympathetic and don’t alienate your readers. I read a review of a book I looked forward to reading, only to find that the author had made her main male character threaten to rape her main female character only for the female character to think it was ‘sweet’ and ‘romantic’ that he wanted her so badly. Rape is not sweet or romantic and your readers will crucify you for saying so. Remember: you don’t know your reader. You don’t know what they’ve been through and if you touch on a subject they know about firsthand, and you are not sympathetic or understanding, then you will lose them as a reader. It doesn’t matter how good your storyline is, if you’re judgemental or make silly mistakes like the one above, then you are going to lose readers. After reading the review, which agreed with me that rape is nothing to speak lightly about, I decided not to read the book at all. And the reviewer said she was going to tell everyone she knew not to read it too. That’s a lot of people now not going to read that book because it’s insulting.
Don’t take advantage –
If you want to include a storyline, or topic into your story but you don’t fully understand it, don’t use it! Never go into something half hearted and then end up in a mess. Just because you know people want to read about this topic, or think they should, doesn’t mean you should take advantage of that interest. If you don’t do it well, they will criticise you. If you do it fabulously, but your facts are wrong, it ruins the story. Some people will understand but not everyone will. It is vitally important that you always do your research! I don’t know how many files I have on my computer about random things that I mention only in passing in a story. But it’s research. You do the research as best as you can first, then you can pick and choose what you want to include. If you’re unsure of your source or if you make it sound right, get someone else to read it, who doesn’t know the topic either. Then get someone who does know it to confirm it. You want to make sure you’re not clinical, but you get the point across. The non-expert will tell you if it makes sense to the average reader; the expert will tell you if you’re right.
Don’t tie yourself in knots! –
Be careful when you’re plotting your story that you don’t overlap, or repeat events in different places. You may think it sounds like a stupid thing to do, but when you plan out a story, you tend to copy and paste paragraphs and then read it start to finish to see if it flows better at the beginning, middle or end of the story. You will move things about at some point, so be careful you don’t leave repeats lying around. And if you cut a chapter/paragraph from an undeveloped story, make sure to file that undeveloped story elsewhere, so that you don’t try turn it into a novel someday and end up with the exact same scene in two different books. Believe me, it’s easy enough to do. I’ve done it. Then you get to editing and you realise you’ve got three pages that are exactly the same as a different book and you don’t know what you’re going to replace them with. Be very careful!
Wait until you are finished –
If you decide to change a character’s name at any point, please make sure you do it after the book is finished. It doesn’t have to have been edited yet, but it is far easier to replace the name in one file than four. That is where mistakes happen.
Always use ‘Match Case’ –
When using word processor, don’t get fooled by the replace option. Make sure you spell the name correctly, e.g. Peter, with a capital letter and then tick both ‘match case’ and ‘find whole words only’. I don’t know how many times I’ve replaced a Jack with another name, e.g. Peter and ended up with Peteret instead of jacket. This makes editing a whole lot more difficult if you forget this tiny thing.
Be informed –
Before you replace any name, go through your whole document and write out every name you have already mentioned. Please include names only mentioned once. I’ve made the mistake of renaming Jack as Peter, when I’ve always got a minor character Peter mentioned once or twice near the beginning. Then you end up getting completely confused because the original Peter is nothing like the Jack you’ve now made Peter.
Inevitable mistakes –
When you come to edit it, and you have replaced Jack anyone with another name, make sure it makes sense. I made the mistake a while ago of replacing Jack with Denny and ended up with my characters drinking a Denny Daniels. I was confused for a whole half second before I realised that I’d replaced a Jack I hadn’t meant to.
No such thing as total document replace –
Most importantly, do not believe that when you do a whole document replace, it will replace every mention of the name you are changing. It will not. Some of them will slip through the cracks, either because of an ’s after the name or simply because word processor is choosing to be difficult. Always make the change two or three times, to make sure. Then, afterwards, do a search for the original name.