The Big Mistake Every Beginning Writer Makes

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Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

We’ve all grown up around people who seemed destined to become writers. Everything they did was designed to give off that impression. Whether it was carrying around a journal at all times, to name-dropping all the au courant authors, or giving advice to their peers without ever having published anything, they seemed more interested in acting like writers than in learning the craft.

I doubt whether these types ever made it as writers. Self-indulgence is a cardinal sin in the field, which is why Faulkner advised, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”

In any case, I was never one of those people. I was less interested in becoming “a writer” than in living the lifestyle that being a writer would allow me. Specifically:
• Not having an alarm clock
• Not having to go into an office
• Never having to interact with someone…

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis writing exercise challenges the writer to describe something ten different ways. I chose Andre, a french bulldog whom I watch when his “mommy” and “daddy” are out-of-town. I have grown quite fond of him and he offers wondrous opportunities for description. Now, for my list, I decided to tackle description using the five senses and figurative language, but you can approach your ten ways differently.

  • sight: Andre’s face bore no expression; his jowls dangled, his teeth jutted up due to his under bite.
  • sound: When Andre snoozed in his chair, he gurgled and snorted in his sleeping state.
  • taste: When I lay down on the couch for a nap, Andre would situate himself by my head and lick the salty residual from my shaved skull.
  • touch: I stroked his legs, his back, his stomach and felt the solid muscle beneath his short fur.
  • smell: After a brisk walk, Andre entered the room and the odor of musk from his exertions would fill the air.
  • simile/metaphor: Throughout most of the day, Andre would curl up on the lounge chair and snore like my grandfather used to do when he rested his weary bones in the recliner.
  • hyperbole: The front part of him bulked up so much more broadly than the back part of him that when he walked down the sidewalk, his back paws didn’t reach the ground.
  • personification: Dressed in his tiny parka, complete with a fur-lined hood and cuffs, Andre marched like a tiny man through the snow.
  • onomatopoeia: Andre always slept in bed with me at night and filled the bedroom with snorts, grunts, sniffs and wheezes.
  • chronologically: Andre’s routine varied little: he jumped on top of me in bed if I slept past his morning walk time; he gulped a few morsels of food after the morning constitution; he napped until noon; a short lunch time walk; an afternoon nap; a walk after my supper; gulped a little food of his own for his evening meal; and finally, snuggled up to me as we sat on the couch either reading or watching television.

Here are some examples of it done better than I have:

The W-storyboard: Taking the storyboard one step further

In my last post, I talked about outlining a novel using the storyboard method. A variation I kept coming across was the “W-storyboard” method. It looks like it’s a combination of storyboarding using the Three-Act Structure as a guide. Here is what is looks like visually (from Nina Harrington’s blog article, “Aurelia Rowl on Story Craft”):

The W-Storyboard

These articles break the W-Storyboard down further:

 

For those who think visually: storyboard your novel

I love this idea! Storyboarding is a way to outline your novel. The storyboard concept is borrowed from the animation industry:

“Storyboards are visual organizers primarily used for pre-visualizing animated films or other forms of visual media. They got their start as we know them at Walt Disney Studios back in the 1930s when they were used to tell the story of animated shorts without all of the individual hand-drawn cels being necessary. The practice spread as animation studios popped up, and was adopted into live-action film development in the 1940s. To this day, most shorts and feature films are still storyboarded to get conceptualization down before the film crew gets to work.” Liz Bureman, “Storyboard Your Novel”

The writer can use this method in several different ways:

  • You can storyboard each scene or each chapter.
  • Use a 3 x 5 card or sticky note for each scene/chapter.
  • Write the main action of a scene/chapter on a card, OR . . .
  • Draw the action of the scene/chapter on a card.
  • Post the cards on a wall in the order of the novel.
  • Switch around and add cards as you progress on your novel.

Now, as a graphic designer and illustrator this method is a double-edged sword. If I draw out my scenes, it’s best if I keep it very simple: stick figures, thumbnail sketches, and such. The temptation for people like me would be to get carried away with the visual aspect of this method and never get to the actual writing. If I’m not careful, I would end up doing stuff like this:

storyboard_by_hazerbaba While this is beautifully done, it is counterproductive as far as writing a novel. However, what a great way to plan a graphic novel!

So, why storyboard my novel?

Besides being a fun way to outline a novel, it’s also a great way to pace the action of your novel. It’s also helps the writer focus on the action of the novel and fill in the blanks. The Writer’s Alley blog has a great list of reasons why storyboarding benefits the writer in the article Storyboarding 101.

Here are some other blog articles about storyboarding for writers:

I have actually already used the storyboarding method–with words. It’s always been the best way for me. Perhaps for my next novel, I will storyboard with sketches.

Fiction writing workshop: story structure

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The three-act-structure uses the idea that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. These are simple but effective building blocks for planning your novel.

When planning a novel, the most helpful tool I’ve found is a thousands-year-old recipe called the three-act structure. It’s helped me plan out my novels more effectively than any fiction writing software.

What is the three-act structure?
Greek philosopher, Aristotle, came up with this structure. He said a good story has three acts: a beginning, middle and end. Simple, right?

Act I: In the beginning, otherwise known as the setup, the writer introduces the characters and sets the tone for the story. This is also the time for the writer to tell the reader about the setting, at least for the beginning of the story. In Act I, a situation happens, an inciting incident, kicks off the story. This incident usually hints at the conflict that permeates the entire novel. Act I is roughly the first quarter of your novel and at the end of it is the first plot point. This plot point shows the reader a situation thrusting the main characters away from their normal lives into the conflict that changes their destiny.

Act II: This is the middle part of your novel and it takes up roughly fifty percent of your novel. Act II is where all the main confrontation occurs. Your characters find themselves facing a series of obstacles in which they keep getting deeper and deeper into trouble. They are prevented from reaching their goal. Roughly around the middle of Act II–the middle of the novel–everything changes. Your protagonist’s goals are shattered. Or they realize they can obtain the goal, but at a great cost. It might be a reversal of fortune. Whatever, the middle of the novel is where your protagonist and other characters start to change, really change because of the situation. By the end of Act II is your second plot point: everything is at stake. It’s do or die.

Act III: In the last quarter of your novel, the protagonist fights the battle that wins or loses everything. This scene, be it a literal or figurative battle, is the climax. A surprise or twist can make the ending of your novel a satisfying experience for your reader. The sub-plots involving all your minor characters are also resolved in the third act after the climax. In this resolution part of your story, you may hint at the future of your characters. What possibly happens to them after the last page is read? Here’s the main thing to pay attention to as your plan your novel: how are your characters, especially your protagonist, different than they were from the beginning of the story?

Project
Plot a novel using the three act structure. You probably should have several characters already developed. It also helps if you know how the story is going to end, but you may want to discover that for yourself if you plot from scratch. Write one sentence for each of the main scenes in each act. Use the descriptions of the acts above to guide you.

If you already have a first draft of a novel or have already plotted a novel, try and break it down using the the three act structure. Does it work?

Read more on the three act structure:

Another fiction writing workshop from this blog:

Writing blog roundup: make trouble, right choices, wrong words, when writing, writer’s block

Articles on writing I’ve read lately:

Writing at the cafe

110110_2321I’ve had some of my best writing sessions at a coffee shop, but I’ll be honest: sometimes I just hang out and surf the web. I’m procrastinating. I’m telling myself I’m waiting for inspiration but I confess I’ve gotten no writing done at some so-called writing sessions. Here’s an article that describes it from the viewpoint of a cafe’s employee:

On daily writing routines: or, What to switch on and what to switch off