Award-Winning Author’s Top 3 Tips to Improve Your Writing

Open book with flowers, photo of Phantom's Mask by Sara A. Noe


When I started writing my first novella in eight grade and my first full-length fantasy novel in high school, I had no idea that I’d someday be an award-winning published author. It’s been a long and incredibly fulfilling journey, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

I meet a lot of aspiring authors when I do events, and I get tons of questions about writing and publishing. Originally, this blog started as a personal resume website back in 2016. It was a place for me to share my unpublished writing, art, and photography.

Since publishing my first novel two years later, this website has evolved into a resource where I share tips and information about writing, publishing, marketing, etc.

In this article, I’m here to share some advice about how to improve your writing. These tips are simple in theory but might take a little time to master. Once you do, though, your writing will never be the same!

Here are my top three tips for writers who want to improve their craft:

1. Add Sensory Details

These little details can separate amateur writing from superb prose.

When I hear readers discuss their favorite books and say things like, “I felt like I was right there with the characters” or “it completely sucked me into the world,” they’re almost always talking about sensory details, even if they don’t realize it.

Many writers have at least a basic grasp on visual descriptions. But a common pitfall for new writers is focusing exclusively on describing what everything looks like. The truth is, we don’t experience our environment using only our eyes.

A scene can be greatly enhanced simply by adding more sensory details. What does the character smell? Hear? Feel? Is the wind blowing? Is the smell of food making them hungry? Are they touching things—a smooth metal railing, a warm windowsill, a soft blanket, rough tree bark? What do they taste when they’re eating? Is the food salty? Sweet? Spicy? Cold? Stale? Is the texture crunchy when they take a bite?

Examine your scenes and look for opportunities to upgrade your writing with other sensory details beyond visual descriptions. Once you start looking for places to expand upon these details, you might be surprised by how many opportunities you’ll find. This simple tip can add a LOT of depth to your writing.

2. Keep Dialogue Casual

One of the biggest red flags I see when reading work from new writers is overly formal dialogue. The usual culprit? Failing to utilize contractions.

Writing dialogue is not the same as writing an academic essay.

When you speak, are you more likely to say, “I don’t understand” or “I do not understand”? The first one flows naturally off the tongue. The second one feels a bit robotic when you read it aloud, doesn’t it? Using contractions is one of the easiest first steps to making your dialogue more casual and realistic.

Pay attention to how people around you speak. Pay attention to how you speak. People don’t use grammatically perfect sentences. They often answer with a phrase rather than a complete sentence. They also use interjections such as um, uh, er, well, etc. Not to mention trailing off without finishing… And then switching to a new thought or rephrasing their idea if they were struggling to find the right words.

People are also prone to interrupting each other. Don’t be afraid to let that happen in your writing. My characters are constantly cutting each other off and engaging in quick back-and-forth dialogue that isn’t always completed.

I’m incredibly fortunate to say that writing dialogue is something that came naturally to me, but if you find yourself struggling with it, I’d recommend going to a public place such as a coffee shop or a park where you can sit and listen to the conversations around you. Take notes if you need to… but don’t be creepy! Try to notice the speech patterns and imagine your characters partaking in the conversation.

It also helps to read your writing aloud. When you read your dialogue, does it sound forced? Would you talk like that in a normal conversation?

3. Mix Speech + Action

Dialogue is an important part of writing, but when it drags on and on, it can get… tedious. Even if the information is important.

When you’re talking to someone, are you both holding perfectly still? Probably not. If you pay attention to people, you’ll notice that they’re constantly in motion. Tapping their fingers on the table, looking out the window, glancing at their phone, scratching their nose, fiddling with a bracelet, bouncing their foot, picking at a hangnail, sipping on a drink, etc.

Mentioning these little motions is an excellent way to help break up dialogue. It feels natural and realistic, not to mention it gives the brain a short reprieve from the constant quotes and “s/he said” speech tags.

Remember that you need to start a new paragraph every time a new speaker talks. However, if one speaker has a lot to say, it’s a good idea to break that paragraph up into smaller ones since readers are prone to losing focus if your paragraphs are too long.

Personally, I don’t love breaking a paragraph in the middle of a quote. It’s technically correct as far as English grammar goes, but I find it disruptive. Adding action helps me create a natural break. Maybe the character pauses to take a sip of water before continuing, or they shake their head and heave a deep sigh before dropping bad news. That action break is an excellent opportunity to divide a long paragraph without cutting a quote in half.

For example, below is a short scene from my latest novel Blood of the Enemy, which is the third novel in the Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series.

Blood of the Enemy cover and fantasy maps by Sara A. Noe

In this scene, Madison and Wes are having a conversation, but they’re both preoccupied. Wes’s attention is focused outside, and Madison is making a sandwich while she’s talking. Not only is their conversation broken by physical actions, but it’s also interrupted by unrelated questions, such as Madison asking where the plates are as she hunts for various items in the kitchen.

All of this helps the scene to flow naturally instead of a comparably boring “he said, she said” exchange with two characters standing completely motionless in a room.

Wes was so close to the window that his nose was pressed against the glass. “There, on the porch step. Do you see it?”

Madison’s focus shifted to the foreground. On the porch step, a fluffy white cat was sprawled in the sunshine, dozing contentedly.

“The cat?”

“Yeah.” Wes’s breath fogged the window for a moment before the glass cleared again. “Does it look suspicious to you?”

“What?” Madison studied it for a few seconds. Except for a lazy tail flick, it didn’t move. “Um, no. Why?”

He finally leaned away from the window, although his intense stare didn’t leave the furry interloper napping on his step. “The thing about Amínytes is, they have a telltale marking. Their right front foot—paw, wing, whatever—is always white. Which makes it easy to identify certain species—I mean, you don’t usually see foxes or squirrels with a white paw—but cats and dogs are harder to spot.”

“Oh,” Madison said, finally grasping his bizarre reaction. “You think that’s Kit?”

“I don’t know. It hasn’t moved in twenty minutes.”

Madison turned away and started opening cupboards. “Well, Kit probably has better things to do than sleep all day in your backyard, so I’m going to take a wild guess that it isn’t her. And you’re going to drive yourself insane if you’re suspicious of every single cat with a white paw in Phantom Heights. Where are your plates?”

“Left of the sink. But, even if it’s not Kit, it might be spying on me.”

Madison set a plate on the counter and muttered, “Then why don’t you go ask it what it wants?”

Wes shot her a cold look from the corner of his eye. “You’re not taking this seriously, are you?”

“Of course not. You’re being ridiculous and paranoid. Peanut butter?”


She nodded in acknowledgment and rounded the island, pausing at the fridge to hunt for a jar of preserves before continuing to the pantry. “Hey, Wes?” Madison asked as she skimmed the shelves. “How long does it usually take to recover from a burnout?” She finally spotted the jar and returned to the counter. “Wes?”

Taking a closer look at the dialogue, you’ll notice that these characters are definitely not using formal grammar and complete sentences. Wes’s first line in this excerpt is, “There, on the porch step.” When talking about Amínytes, he interrupts his own train of thought twice, as marked by em dashes. He and Madison also communicate with one-word questions and answers. (Peanut butter? Pantry.)

Meanwhile, Madison is in a nearly constant state of motion during the exchange. She’s opening cupboards, walking around the kitchen, setting a plate on the counter, searching for ingredients, etc. When Wes directs her to the pantry, she doesn’t answer aloud; she nods in acknowledgment. Body language becomes part of her dialogue.

Although the sensory details are subtle, they’re still present. You can almost feel the warmth of sunshine on the porch step where the cat is dozing, and the moisture of Wes’s breath on the glass, and the sound of Madison setting a plate down. Writers can capture sensory details without having to say, “Wes felt” or “Madison heard” every time. As your writing becomes more and more descriptive, you’ll start to naturally weave in sensory details without even noticing.

It’s taken over a decade of writing for me to reach this point, and there’s still so much to learn. Writing is one of those trades where you’ll be a lifelong student. Every writer has a unique voice, but we grow by studying each other and paying attention to different styles until we eventually pull all of these pieces together and develop our own voice.

Of course, there are many, many more tips to becoming a great writer. Hopefully, these three introductory lessons were valuable. I know these tips have helped me in my career!

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I'm an award-winning fantasy author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. My poetry, short fiction, and memoir works have been featured in various anthologies and journals since 2005, and several of my poems are available in the Indiana Poetry Archives. The first three novels in my Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series have received awards from Literary Titan.

After some time working as a freelance writer, I was shocked by how many website articles are actually written by paid "ghost writers" but published under the byline of a different author. It was a jolt seeing my articles presented as if they were written by a high-profile CEO or an industry expert with decades of experience. I'll be honest; it felt slimy and dishonest. I had none of the credentials readers assumed the author of the article actually had. Ghost writing is a perfectly legal, astonishingly common practice, and now, AI has entered the playing field to further muddy the waters. It's hard to trust who (or what) actually wrote the content you'll read online these days.

That's not the case here at On The Cobblestone Road. I do not and never will pay a ghost writer, then slap my name on their work as if I'd written it. This website is 100% authentic. No outsourcing. No ghost writing. No AI-generated content. It's just me... as it should be.

If you would like to support my work, check out the Support The Creator page for more information. Thank you for finding my website! 🖤