Please welcome guest author Tony Vanderwarker with a post on bringing old drafts back from the dead.
One of the things you accumulate as you age is not just years, but places to stash your stuff. My wife and I have filing cabinets in the garage; stacks of plastic cases in the studio; and boxes of records, bric-a-brac, family photos, and just plain junk in the attic. So no matter how carefully we tuck some treasure away, months or years later it’s inevitable we can’t remember exactly where we put it, and a search can consume hours, sometimes days.
When prompted to start a search for a plastic bag full of floppy discs I’d secreted away years ago, I despaired of finding them. Should I start in my studio? In the garage? Or the attic? And even if I managed to locate them, would my computer be able to read the outmoded discs?
I’m not sure why I bothered to save them in the first place. I only remember stripping the stuff off my computer’s hard drive and transferring it to discs so I’d have room to write more novels. The six books I removed were my first attempts, relics of my first ten years of novel writing, read only by my wife, children, a couple close friends, and the New York literary agents who rejected them. I guess I couldn’t bear the thought of hitting the delete button and vaporizing years of writing. Read more
Please welcome Sylvia Nankivell with a guest post on writing every day.
As writers we often wait for that flash of inspiration before we grab a pen and wrestle with the paper in a flurry of blood, sweat and tears. This flash can come at any time: when waiting for a bus, while drinking your morning coffee, or quite possibly not at all.
All of the master authors of the 20th century tell us that if you want to be a great writer, then you have to learn to write every day. Hemingway would rise after breakfast and sit at his office desk from 9 until 5. He treated it exactly like a day job and of course the results were astounding. I’m not saying you have to don a suit, carry a briefcase and chain yourself to the desk until five o’clock, but a little taste of Hemingway’s method can help. Read more
Please welcome guest author Ellen Brock with a post on writing a captivating first chapter for your novel.
First chapters are important. Really important. If you’re submitting to agents and editors, your first chapter is not only their first impression of your work, but it’s often their only impression.
This is a lot of pressure. If you’re like most writers, this pressure makes you anxious, causing you to second guess yourself, your story, and your ability to write.
Suddenly you’re wondering if you could sneak a sword fight onto the second page or if just one tiny info dump would help explain why your character likes cherries more than apples. But hold your horses. Read more
Please welcome author Carmen Amato with a guest post on using foreign-language words.
“The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words.” – Hippocrates
If your book is set in a non-English speaking location or your characters do not speak English, how are your readers convinced that they are striding through France or Italy? How can readers “hear” the character speak French or Italian? After all, you are writing in English, not in a foreign language.
Don’t let Hippocrates scare you away from using unfamiliar words to create an authentic tone and emphasize a culture or personality. By adding a few words or phrases in a foreign language you can transport your readers wherever you want them to go.
Here are a few tips to get you started: Read more
Please welcome guest author Joshua Danton Boyd with a post on character development in fiction writing.
For writers, characters can be very personal creations. Despite being taken from the ether, we can become attached to them, especially if we’ve been working on their story for years. With all the time and effort put into crafting their fictional lives, it’s understandable that we become overly sympathetic to them. We practically treat them like children. This, unfortunately, can be a one-way road to bland and uninteresting character development and plot lines. Just because you’re happy with your precious hero doesn’t mean your readers will be. Read more
Please welcome guest authors Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett with a post about indie publishing and the many benefits it offers fiction writers.
A number of clients of Evan’s literary agency have begun to self-publish, or indie-publish, as a supplement to traditional publishing. For some of these authors, an activity that was meant as a promotional sideline has turned into the main event, with the indie-published books outselling the traditionally published ones.
These authors have discovered that indie publishing offers a number of advantages over traditional publishing. Here’s our advice for making the most of these advantages. Read more
Please welcome Alex McDonald with a guest post on writing an opening paragraph that grabs readers’ attention.
By the end of this post, you will be a better writer.
Got your attention? Good. This post is all about writing killer opening paragraphs and how doing so can affect a reader’s decision to read on or toss your piece aside. Making a good first impression is paramount. Read more
Please welcome author Ali Luke with five excellent tips for finding the missing pieces of your story.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
Do you invent your story or do you discover it?
Writing is a process of invention. Chances are, though, that your subconscious is way ahead of you.
As your story begins to come together—through mindmaps and index cards and jottings and drafted scenes and scribbled notes and middle-of-the-night ideas—you might start to feel that you’re not really making it up after all.
You’re finding it. Read more
Please welcome author K.M. Weiland with a guest post on structuring your novel.
Take moment to think of some of the most significant scenes in your favorite stories.
More than likely, the scenes that pop to mind are those in which major events occur: Jane meets Mr. Rochester, the Titanic hits the iceberg, Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan. These are some of the most dramatic scenes in film and literature. They’re scenes that move their respective plots forward by leaps and bounds.
These are called plot points.
As we’ve already noticed, plot points are significant events. They’re game changers within your story. They’re turning points. Read more
Please welcome Sarah Kolb-Williams with a guest post on writing a science-fiction novel.
Writing a science-fiction novel isn’t all rockets and robots—it’s a brainy labor of love, and it takes a good deal of time and attention to detail to get it right. Here’s how to emerge from the process still standing. Read more
Please welcome writing coach and author Dana Leipold, with an article on staying sane as a writer.
When I was in college, I had to write a senior thesis about marketing that had to be 80 pages long, minimum. The most I had written up until then was a 25-page short story about a girl who was obsessed with the color red. I was freaked out. Completely frozen. I couldn’t even write the words, “In this paper, I will…” I fretted over every word and sentence trying to make my thesis compelling.
After losing 40 hours of sleep and much of my mind, I finally made an appointment to see my advisor. I remember running into his office with a pen and paper (this was way back in 1989). I whined and cried about not knowing what to write. He took one look at me and said, “Calm down. Take a breath and put your pen down.”
I did what he said because he was kind of scary. He had these thick glasses that made his eyes look huge, like he was constantly glaring at you, upset that your writing sucked.
He said, “Tell me the main idea you want to get across in your thesis.” I spoke the words with ease, no stress, and without worrying about how to say it. I just said it.
“Write that down,” he said.
Stop Writing and Just Talk
Something bizarre happens when you sit down to write. You think you have to communicate in a certain way that’s different from how you talk. I have no idea why you do this, but don’t worry—you’re not alone. I used to do it too (see story above). If you look at writing as a form of speaking on paper (or on a computer screen), it doesn’t seem as hard.
When you’re toiling over the words and feel like pulling your hair out, stop trying to write and just say what you want to say. I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you’re working in a Starbucks or anything. They might think you’re hearing voices and answering them. But if you’re alone, say what you want to communicate out loud, and then write it down.
To this day, I still use that advice whenever I’m stuck. Many of my clients have also used this advice to start writing. However, to write really well, you have to imagine that you are actually speaking to someone.
Pretend You’re Talking to Your Reader
Imagine you’re talking to a close friend over coffee. Would you say, “Hello friend, how are you doing today?” or would you say, “How’s it going?” When your friend asks you what you’ve been up to lately would you say, “I am engaged in a new business venture of which I am investing my time and money with the hopes of generating sustainable income?” Well, you might if you were my fourth grade teacher. She was a stickler for proper grammar. The funny thing is that lots of people believe you have to write in this academic, know-it-all style to be a good writer.
Even if you’re writing about the history of the electric light bulb, most people will enjoy it more if you use a conversational voice. That means using plain, simple language that everyone understands.
Make It as Clear as Possible
Writing well is all about communicating clearly and simply. There’s no use writing something if no one understands it. Here’s proof:
“When the process of freeing a stuck vehicle that has been stuck results in ruts or holes, the operator will fill the rut or hole created by such activity before removing the vehicle from the immediate area.”
Did you get that? Good, because I didn’t either. I found this example by searching the web for “confusing writing.” It’s a notice from the National Parks Service. I probably wouldn’t know what to do if I read this, so I rewrote it as follows:
“If your vehicle gets stuck and you make a hole while freeing it, please fill the hole before you drive away.”
This makes much more sense. Most people don’t talk like the original sentence. Well, people who don’t get out much might talk like that, but no one will understand them. Use simple words. Don’t try to sound smart or profound when you write because you’ll just end up confusing people. It’s better to write like you talk so your unique voice and style can blossom.
About the Author: Dana Leipold is an author and writing coach. She began her writing career as a copywriter for corporate America for years. In 2011 she wrote and published Stupid Poetry: The Ultimate Collection of Sublime and Ridiculous Poems. It was an accident that made people laugh so she kept writing. People asked how she published a book herself and that’s how she became a writing coach. Her newest book, The Power of Writing Well: Write Well, Change the World, will be available on Amazon September 2013. You can visit her website at: www.danaleipold.com.
Please welcome guest writer Sam Russell with a post about writing fiction based on fact.
Let’s dispel a myth: you don’t have to write what you know. Yet at the same time, you need to know what you write. Fiction is neither real nor unreal but a world existing between places of factual certainty and the avenues of an author’s imagination.
The first thing you need to know about writing fiction, whatever the genre, is that you must get your facts right. Those titbits of information lend fiction its authenticity, so it’s essential that you do them justice. A reader will only believe a lie for as long as it holds some truth, and those truths have to be accurate.
But how do you do it? How do you take the everyday and draw a new existence from it? How do you write fiction based on facts?
You need two tools at your command before you begin: experience (personal, professional, or both) and the ability to research.
Armed with these, you can then pick any number of methods from the following list to make your fiction come alive in a reader’s hands.
- Become aware of the world around you. Stop right now and keep still. What do you hear, see, smell, and feel? What do you taste? Take note of what jumps out at you. This will help you build believable scenery to act as a backdrop for your story.
- Eavesdrop. Every writer does it, so don’t feel bad.
- Watch people. Writers do that too, so you are once again released from guilt.
- Watch yourself. Indulge in your own private senses and thoughts. Why not build a character based on your own personal traits or the person you’d like to be?
- Keep observational records of the above. These can be kept in physical notebooks, on scraps of paper or sticky notes, in digital files – wherever. Just write them down.
- Become obsessed with something you know nothing about. If your character loves drinking posh tea, learn all you can about tea. Your character would have that knowledge so you need to know it too!
- Read as much as you can on everything that interests you and also some subjects that bore you.
- While reading, whether it be fiction or non-fiction (especially non-fiction), take the occasional note about something that catches your interest. Research further and find out how much is true – you’ll soon find that a lot of fiction is based on factual evidence.
- When conducting research, use books more than the Internet, but don’t be frightened to get a leg-up from Wikipedia first. It’s a great place to start but a terrible and limited place to remain.
- Gather facts, information, and experiences and link them together into a loose version of the story you want to write.
- Fictionalize the personal stuff, encoding and encrypting it until only you know the secrets held within. This means making the experience universal – that is, relatable for everyone, and removing any actual names, places, and sensitive details.
- Be specific. If you’re going to write about a spider’s blood, write about how it’s not red like mammal blood because of the presence of haemocyanin, which, when oxidised, turns blue. It’s these small but true facts that, when littered through your fiction, make the reader sit up and think, this is real.
- Don’t let facts and research get in the way of the story. They are not the story. They are conduits of information that give the story realism, lungs that breathe life on the page. You’re writing fiction, so it’s okay to have the odd non-factual detail if it makes the story flow better.
Every writer has a different way of using personal experiences and research to their advantage. Sometimes, it seems like there’s no right or wrong way to do it. But there is a wrong way and that’s being dishonest in your writing, with your reader, and yourself. It’s changing the name Hannah to Anna. Frankly, it is being lazy with the material you have at your disposal.
With so much out there and in yourself, you need not fear being dull. The most ordinary fact, that bumblebees fly, can be made extraordinary if you observe their flight and learn more about it.
Look around and tell me: what real-life event or fact can you take and write into fiction? Share in the comments.
About the Author: Sam Russell is the genuine fictitious article and knows his way around turning reality into fiction and fiction into reality. He writes short stories, is working on his first novel, and blogs for the GKBC Writer Academy.