I ran across a question from someone online the other day. He just completed his first novel, feels it needs some help, and is confused by all the conflicting suggestions from readers for whose opinions he asked. Knowing there'd be no lack of suggestions from respondents who don't have a clue as to what they're talking about, I set about setting him straight.
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Well, first off, ignore the advice given by the Queen of Wrong. It's absolutely absurd. You have already received plenty of grammar, punctuation, and spelling suggestions. Considering that only five percent of all readers are proficient in their understanding of grammar and even fewer of punctuation and spelling, chances are you'll get a ton of bad advice. Should you take it? What do you think? I'm afraid Queenie missed the mark again.
In truth, you can't possibly know which advice to take and which to reject without knowing what makes for good writing, which is why you're having trouble distinguishing between the two. The solution is not to envision the story in your head like a movie and then write an outline. That might help you address one part of your problem (story development), but it does nothing to address the second part of your problem, which is the mechanics of writing.
So, how do you learn your craft well enough to distinguish between good and bad writing? The most obvious answer is to enroll in some highly ranked writing and English courses. Then, in two or three years, you should be qualified to tackle your problem.
Two or three years?
Okay, there's a down-and-dirty solution, and that's called learning on your own. For help with writing mechanics, pick up a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and check those areas where you have questions—pronoun/verb agreement, verb tenses, punctuation, etc. Add to that book Fowler's Modern English Usage for its concise explanation of what words to use when and under which circumstances, along with William Zinser's On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. Don't let the title of that one fool you. It has a ton of invaluable information for writers in all areas, including novelists who want to learn to write better.
Those three books should be the foundation of all writer's libraries, by the way. That's at a bare minimum. If there's anything you want to know about writing, the answer will be in one or more of those tomes. You can order them online, find them at your local library, or search for used copies at a fraction of the cost of new ones.
Another book I'll recommend is a complete writing course in an easy read-through format. It includes sections on mechanics, structure, editing, and the secrets of writing. It's called About Writing Right, and it's searchable in eBook format. I'll send you a complimentary copy (you can't beat that) if you contact me on my Website and let me know what format you'd prefer—PDF, ePub, etc.
Hopefully, after learning some of the things all writers should know about writing, you won't need to ask others for help with your novel; you'll know what to do all by yourself. And how to do it.
In the meantime, be wary of respondents to your question who shoot from the lip. Often, no matter how well-intended they may be, they're usually flat-out wrong.
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new ebook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at substack.Com.