1. Start with a strong first sentence
This is crucial. You need to hook the reader right off the bat with a sentence that will catch their attention and leave them asking questions. The first line from One Hundred Years of Solitude is a great example:
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." Brilliant.
Check out some of these for inspiration:
2. Give your main character a tangible goal or desire
This is how you come up with plot:
1) create a character
2) figure out what that character wants
3) put obstacles in his/her way.
Once a reader finds out that a character wants something, they will keep reading to find out if they get it. The more concrete the goal is the better. Don’t have the character want something generic and vague like “love.” Make it tangible. Gatsby wants Daisy, not “love.” Odysseus wants to get home. Macbeth wants to become King of Scotland. Captain Ahab wants to kill Moby Dick. Give your protagonist a similarly concrete goal.
3. Keep the number of characters to a minimum
My writing teacher at Harvard, Bret Johnston, compared characters to heavy stones in a hiker’s backpack. You should only include characters who are absolutely essential to the story. The more you have in the story, the harder you are making it for both you and the reader. Each character has to be properly developed and complex and why devote that space on the page to a character that doesn’t matter to the plot. A good litmus test is to ask yourself with each character these two questions:
1) What is their purpose in the story?
2) What are they adding to it?
Lets say you write about a woman with an opioid addiction who ends up in the hospital after an overdose. Giving her a young daughter raises the stakes and adds an element of tragedy to the story. Giving her two daughters, a son and a dog is unnecessary. Does the story become more moving because she has several children instead of just one? Maybe, but it’s already tragic with just one child. Keep it simple, and take the extraneous characters out.
4. Use simple dialogue tags
Stick to he/she said or asked. Don’t use tags like: exclaimed, screamed, yelled, blustered, bellowed, confessed, cried, demanded, roared, snarled, giggled, howled etc. These are seen as hallmarks of weak and amateurish writing. Your dialogue should be strong enough that words like “bellowed” are not needed. It should be clear from what the character is saying (and the reactions of the other characters) that he is angry and talking loudly.
5. Take out adverbs
You’ve probably heard this one before. Adverbs are also seen as weak writing and lazy writing and can usually be replaced with something better. Go through your stories and remove or replace as many adverbs as possible.