Advice is overflowing on the subject of how to write and it's usually from those who have 'made it', secure with an agent, publisher, editor and several books lining the shelves of bookshops, flying out of the door fast enough so that being an author is now the 'day job'. That's not to say they aren't informative and helpful...they most definitely are!
But if you are like me, writing in between paid work (what little there is), family, ironing, cooking, and 'those sheets don't need changing again, do they?' then it's a struggle...especially when the pile of rejections can hardly fit into the drawer. (Insert fixing the roof, changing the oil in the car etc. where applicable)...beware stereotyping!
But if you are also like me, in that words jingle a magical tune and must be pencilled in that notebook beside the bed or fingered on that old dinosaur typewriter that has always been in the family, like some heirloom that no one wants and forces frequent visits to the chiropractor or even typed on an all-singing /dancing word processor or PC that does everything but make the tea, (beware clichés)...some good examples there...then, you might need to hear about what you can do to make the road a little smoother. (Tip: don't ramble or use sentences that are too long!). Ahem.
No lectures, I promise, merely a list of what I've found useful to know /understand and it just might save you as many grey hairs as I've accumulated. So, here we go...
Step One: Do you really want to write? No? Then you might want to skip the rest and go straight to my storefront link to find a good story to read! This may seem like a strange question but you may only think you do! There are all kinds of writing, so I want to make it clear that all my experience is geared towards writing stories /novels. In the right class? Oops, that sounds pompous...only I'm reminded of those old comedy sketches where the tutor talks for hours about 'how to put the widget on the thingy' when it's the wrong 'thingy' and the widget's the wrong way round and the class is waiting for a 'whatsit'...the magic of words knows no bounds!
Well, if you've decided this is for you then read on!
Step Two: Do you read? I feel a lecture coming on...read, read and read! There, that wasn't so bad, was it?
Step Three: Skills! By this I mean language and words. How is your grammar, spelling, vocabulary, sentence structure, paragraph building, imagery...? Tip: the more you read the more you'll write and there are always classes to tell you not to 'put your coat on' but 'put on your coat'.
Step Four: Decisions. Am I, will I, can I but how can I...? Just a few that'll run through your head. Then along comes an idea. These can pop into your head any time, anywhere...remember that notebook? Yes, yes, yes (no, not like in the film though it may feel like it sometimes!)...I am, I will, I can...!
Step Five: Determination. Actually, this is mingled with every step before, during and after your novel is created but thinking of it now will shove you forward. Keep looking at this step now and forever. If you're not determined it won't happen. Depression, anger, frustration and helplessness are just a few of the negative feelings that will be your best friend through the majority of the writing process like a wicked imp on your shoulder...flick it off...go on, NOW!
Step Six: Practice. Write, write and write some more.
Step Seven: Pre-writing. IDEAS! The essential spark for any story. Notes, gathering information, mapping, research...THINKING. Remember the notebook?
Step Eight: Organisation. Write a one sentence summary of your story then expand it for description, story set up, characters...keep expanding with back-stories, research, synopsis, character point of view, scenes, plot...then first draft. A spreadsheet is a good place to organise but it's not rigid and will be constantly updated. If not a spreadsheet then a scrap of toilet paper will do, as long as you have columns and rows that change the clutter into an organised list.
Step Nine: Are you ready for that first draft? Put those ideas into sentences, see them grow. This is where you'll know if things are going to work...if everything connects. You'll have to support /explain all those thoughts that have whizzed around your head at two in the morning...do they seem as good? Have the words changed them? Have they prompted new ideas? Ask yourself: 'Is this what I know?' Does it work?
Step Ten: Are your legs aching with sitting too long? That's the least of it...it's your mind, shoulders, fingers and...um...posterior that are feeling worse. Don't forget to take a break, as staring at that screen is not good for your health and seeing life will give you ideas and changing those sheets might seem like the perfect option (though shopping or having a party will be far more fun).
Step Eleven: Now then...revising your work. Even more thinking here but more about the reader. Is it what they want /expect? Have you supported your ideas /how much? Does the reader know enough to move on with the story? What terms /language have you used? Will it be right for your target audience?
Step XXX: No, I'm not trying to mess with your mind...but this step is part of everything. Things to think about when putting together your story:
- The hook! Your opening lines should be fresh and individual, pulling in readers so they want to know what happens next.
- Use ordinary language.
- Set up your characters /relationships /setting or dramatic event.
- Use them to express themes /message of novel, so they provoke thinking.
- Show the reader rather than bully...angry ranting won't help.
- Oh yes...your characters can lie! This depends on your plot /type of novel and the personality of character.
- See story from character/s point of view...this really helps with reality /development of character /story. I think any story is far better at this level rather than some omnipotent narrator because the reader can relate freely to feelings and thoughts...she felt, she saw, he knew...delve 'into their minds'.
- Create a back-story...especially for the really important characters. It's amazing...I find that as I write my story, the characters take over and even dictate to ME what's going to happen! Spooky! And no, I haven't yet had full conversations with them...well, maybe a little if the story isn't flowing as I'd like...though I haven't yet taken them shopping with me (not like an invisible friend, anyway). That's not to say that I'm not constantly thinking of what to write next, especially if my character has been left in a dilemma or being chased by a hoard of goblins (does anyone know the collective noun for goblins?)
- Be wary of making your characters exactly like you! You won't be able to resist throwing in some ingredients and of course you must use your experiences (it makes things real) but how about 'the secret you'? Those wishes that languish in your heart...every time you've thought, 'If only I could do that? Look like that? Be that?' You know exactly what I mean, don't deny it! And don't forget those odd people next door or the woman you saw in the supermarket with the bright green hair... Use it all! Everything you see, touch, hear, taste and feel, and make the characters use all their senses, most especially those feelings and thoughts that make humans 'tick' /interesting.
- Think about time, place...this is where your imagination can reach into the brightest, darkest, furthest, deepest...you understand. I particularly love writing fantasies because it allows my imagination absolute free reign...delicious! Though be careful to research when appropriate. The Internet has a wealth of knowledge though it's best to double check, it's not always reliable. And though I love perusing a 'real' book in the library, it's not always possible...and they can only carry so much information. Think about practical things too, like logistics. I cheat with my fantasy stories and use 'time' as an excuse as to why my characters are able to do so much /get to places quickly...oops, giving away secrets!
- Paint pictures...the magic of words has no limits.
- Don't forget that the setting is linked to your characters.
- Again, use the senses (sensual imagery)...thought I'd slip in a technical term. Not that I know all of it...I'm always researching, trying to find out if something is a this or that. The English language can be complicated and I certainly don't know the name /correct usage for everything.
- Create these right and you'll have readers glued to your books into the wee small hours! When you're reading a book, what do you feel? Are you in the character's shoes, so to speak? Are you in love? Running for your life, scared witless? Or feeling the warm breeze as you talk to the Gatekeeper of Puzzle Woods in that magical world spread before you? (Now, I wonder where that can be?)
- I try to set up what the character wants then make (it) struggle to have it...and don't necessarily let (it) win...I'm quite horrible sometimes. But just think how your reader will turn the page to want to know! Don't forget the reactions, dilemmas /worry and choices (and make them good /respected decisions with an element of risk, maybe, but with a chance of success). You see, they've turned a few more pages.
- I don't know if I have the perfect recipe but I really believe that switching between what the 'character sees /hears' and so on and 'how the character reacts'...works!
- Tip: feeling, reflex, action! Oh and keep it in time order. If you had an animal chasing you up a tree, how would you feel, what would you do first...second...see what I mean? (Another glimpse into one of my books, maybe?)
- Keep with this 'recipe' as long as you can though don't drag it out or stop too soon (you'll figure it out in the end). Writing each 'section' as a separate paragraph I've found works for best effect.
- Oh, I've just had a thought...feel free to grin smugly if I haven't followed my own advice. I'm generous like that.
- I love this! I use characters to push the story and explain things that would otherwise be awkward and difficult. It's such fun...especially when writing for children. Their conversations can be so incredibly funny and entertaining.
- It shows the way a character is feeling /thinking.
- It moves along the story.
- It's a great way to discuss central themes without that lecture feel.
- It must seem like real speech...say it aloud, you'll know if it works.
- Much depends on the kind of book...genre, if you want to be snobby. Some need more than others. With fantasies, I plot character movements to correspond with the quest...don't you just love that word?
- I map out areas so I have a 'feel' for the place, it shows me the whereabouts of my characters and if the logistics are working. I chart thoughts, feelings, movements and note down everything that I feel might work /not work /have to make work etc. I think the plot should evolve through the characters.
- Scenes break up the plot and each chapter has varying amounts.
- This is the first real test of your determination...keep going! Write everyday if you can or you might lose momentum. Being a writer involves sacrifice and commitment...sorry but it had to be said. Surely that was more of a gentle nudge than a lecture?
Step Twelve: Revise some more...I'm nagging now, sorry. Though don't get bogged down with details, they're important but just because you spent a hundred hours researching how a cow is milked doesn't mean that your reader wants to know each and every...you're intelligent enough to know exactly what I mean. (Beware of flattery if a writer is trying to promote interest in their work!)
Most of the time, my writing 'just feels right' and I have no idea why. There are many techniques...short sentences for a faster pace, for example. One thing you could try...how would you describe love (sweet knot, sugary jangle, perfumed tangle) or fear (foetid breath, frozen scream, twisted ice)? Now that has you thinking!
Metaphors are useful (he's a pig!) and the odd simile (he had a face like the back end of a camel!) Sorry to any animals reading this (keep that imagination in overdrive) and none were hurt during the making of this website. Try using different words for different settings, moods, characters etc.
And there's always the 'prickle test'. Words are like music, which affect everyone differently but if, when reading your story, you feel that familiar tingling in your head...you know the one when you play your favourite piece of music?...you've done something right.
Note: I never stick to rules!
Step Thirteen: Lucky for you...enjoy it!
Words are like jewelled stars in a midnight sky, when magically strung in the right order, they can make dreams come true.
I'll help if I can!
Just how many of you want to write?
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