We did it before, in a multi-part series (you can download it here). It’s time for some fresh writing tips–mostly from the web. But first, a brief commentary on the oft-heard refrain from coaches and fellow writers:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” –Stephen King
I made a modest goal to read 24 books this year. I have a long ways to go! But here’s the thing–the point is not to copy the style of others but to learn from them what your preferences in reading are and apply them to your own work.
I recently read two books from genres I like–sci-fi and thriller. I will be publishing a sci-fi novel this fall (watch this space for news on that). I may well write a thriller at some point. The first few pages of both of grabbed me, but one soon lost me in details I found unappealing and unnecessary. That’s the way it is–some readers likely found those details worthwhile but I didn’t. My style would match neither, but both had something to offer. That’s the point of reading a lot; learning what you like and what you don’t. Then making use of it in your own writing.
So that’s what I got from just two books. I expect much more from the other books this year’s to be read list.
Here’s one more take on the importance and value of reading:
Reading is dialogue with oneself; it is self-reflection, which cultivates profound humanity. Reading is therefore essential to our development. It expands and enriches the personality like a seed that germinates after a long time and sends forth many blossom-laden branches.
People who can say of a book “this changed my life” truly understand the meaning of happiness. Reading what sparks inner revolution is desperately needed to escape drowning in the rapidly advancing information society. Reading is more than intellectual ornamentation; it is a battle for the establishment of the self, a ceaseless challenge that keeps up young and vigorous. –Daisaku Ikeda
While not directed at writer’s per se, the seriousness of this message is one that you can take to heart in “writing a book that makes a difference.” That’s the title of a book by Philip Gerard. See my review of it here. (In short, it’s a very useful book). Maybe you just want to right popular books that people might read over the summer, for escape rather than profound meaning. That’s OK, but if you have higher aspirations, consider Gerard’s book.
Of course, some people may tell you to “write for the market.” In order words, write what’s trending. But if you don’t like reading it, does that make sense? You will never be as passionate or successful in a genre that’s not among your favorites. Sure, you can learn the formulas–maybe even make a passable side-job income at it. But will you get any pleasure from it? You could work at any 40-50 hour a week job just to earn a paycheck. If you want to be a writer, why not write what you like and what you can do better than someone else? That’s my personal opinion; feel free to differ.
Let’s move on to some helpful tips found on the web from fellow writers and others involved in bringing books to readers. Let’s begin with “Why writing rules (usually) don’t work but guidelines do,” an article by Ruth Harris, a partner in the very helpful blog of writer Anne R. Allen. My take on rules is this: they’re not only useful but essential when it comes to driving on city and country roads. Not so much for writing. Still, before breaking them, you should know what they are and that your reason for breaking them is to make your work more readable and appealing to actual readers (rather than those who make the rules). Here’s what Harris has to say:
Much as we are wary of rules, especially stupid rules, we have learned (the hard way) that certain general writing guidelines apply. Rules (with a few important exceptions) are rigid and come with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. Guidelines, however, have the advantage of being flexible and customizable.
In the linked article on “stupid rules,” you can find such gems as “novels can not contain contractions” and “said is boring—use more energetic tags like exclaimed, growled, etc.” If you haven’t learned yet why these are nonsense, read that article.
As for guidelines, Harris offers links to many posts by both Anne Allen and other talented (and successful) authors on topics like:
Beginnings of a novel—as you have heard here and elsewhere, the first chapter, the first paragraph or even the first sentence needs to grab a prospective reader. If it doesn’t, they won’t keep reading in hope or expectation it will get more compelling. Here’s what she said about the opening:
“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” said Stephen King. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” Plus a list of 50 best first sentences to inspire you.
Pants vs Plot or somewhere in between—you must find and do what works for you. As in much of many other aspects of my life, I take the Goldilocks approach. In this case, not too stringent a plan nor too freewheeling. As noted above, you’ll find links to tips on both camps and the middle. Harris noted:
One size does not fit all.
First drafts—yes, it’s expected they will be crap but without them you have nothing; do NOT try to improve on them while writing them. (That comes later). Harris notes:
That &$%# first draft.
Hemingway said, “All first drafts are s**t.” However, you can’t fix, revise, rewrite, edit something that doesn’t exist.
Choosing a title, etc. There are lots of choices and lots of decisions to make in writing. This is a hard one for me—probably for others as well. Get more help on this and other tasks within the article.
Ever heard of micro-plotting? Me neither. David Farland, a prolific fantasy and sci-fi author explains what it is and why you may want to use it in your writing. Here’s a link to this discussion.
As I plot out a story nowadays, I might add to my plot chart a note that says, “Show Mona in pain” or “Give her a lofty goal” or “Show her gift for talking her way out of a problem.” These little plot points I call “micro-plots,” and I find that in creating sympathy for a character, it isn’t enough to have just one.
So what”s the point? Farland makes no mention of character development as such, but details how essential it is to supply the motivations that affect decisions and responses at critical moments–like the climax of a story. He cites them as another example of “micro-plotting.” Here’s one more passage from the article:
In any conflict, we have a lot of ways that we can respond, but why does your character act the way that he does? What are his motivations? Does it help if the reader knows that your protagonist is a priest? That he’s drunk? That he just robbed a gas station and that he shot the teller?
I’ve not read any of Farland’s books, but I’ve discovered he’s published 50 novels, is an award-winner and bestselling writer. So I will have to do that–and take his tips to heart.
To market your books and connect with readers, you need to be on the web in one way or another. One of the things that helps catch visitor’s attention is a good tagline on your landing page. What’s a tagline and why use it?
Here are three examples from “What’s in Your Tagline” by Judith Briles
Joel’s The Book Designer tagline: Practical advice to help build better books. Everything he does in the publishing field circulates around the word “practical” and “build better books.”
Nick Zelinger of NZ Graphics designs book covers and interiors. His website tagline, Where OUTSTANDING DESIGN meets AFFORDABLE PRICING shouts out that he’s reasonable in his costs and his books look great.
Briles’ tagline on TheBookShepherd.com website is Creating Successful Authors with Practical Publishing Guidance. As an author, who doesn’t want to be successful … and would you as a visitor want practical guidance in the process?
Read more of the article here on what these and other examples have in common and learn how to create or revise your own tagline.