Five tips if you’re a new writer

pexels-photo-374697I still consider myself a new writer, but I was first published at twelve years old. I won’t tell you how long ago that was, but it was before Ronald Reagan sat in the White House.

Here’s the thing: you’re constantly learning as a writer. You’re learning your craft. You’re learning how to use grammar to make your writing interesting. You’re learning about the publishing industry. Being a writer is an identity constantly in change.

But if I had to pick just five things to tell a new writer, here is what I would list for them:

  • Read all kinds of books-This advice did not originate with me. Everyone who writes says it. Always be reading. Read various authors. Read all the books of just one author. Read everything you can in the genre for which you want to write. Read in all kinds of genres. Read both fiction and nonfiction. If you are like me, you are busy. I actually have to schedule time to read. But just always be reading something.
  • Write every day you possibly can-Even if it’s only for a few minutes, write every day. And that can include planning, outlining, researching, editing, proofreading, or journaling. It could be deciding what you wrote yesterday isn’t that great after all and you need to start over. Have the writer’s mindset and realize every experience you have can be used in your writing. Just place your fingers on the keyboard (or grab the pencil) and write.
  • Try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)-Every November, thousands of people around the world write fifty thousand words in one month. That’s about 1600 words a day. If it sounds daunting, try it and see what happens. It gave me the confidence to realize, “Hey, I can create a long piece of fiction.” Now, of course, what is written for NaNoWriMo is rough. But I have four rough novels I’m finishing thanks to the contest. That’s more than what I had before I tried it.
  • Subscribe to writing blogs and websites-Wow, there are so many out there, but here’s a few of my favorites to get you started:
  • Use software for writers-This is not for everyone, but I would say try the software and return it if not satisfied. First, for outlining and planning, try Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method software. Next, try Scrivener for writing your manuscript. Writer’s kept saying, “Try Scrivener.” I was like, “Sure, sure.” When I finally got around to using it, I was like, “Holy macaroni! Why didn’t I start using this a long time ago!

To use a cliché, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I could say, “Go to YouTube and search for writers with video blogs,” or “A neat idea generator for SF and fantasy writers is Seventh Sanctum.”

I’d like to include more, but one thing I’ve realized is this: I can spend all kinds of time learning Scrivener or reading articles on writing, but the best thing to do to get experience as a writer is to just start writing.


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Twitter:@AndrewMFriday

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Temptations to avoid when writing characters

trapped-1315903I’ve had a great time getting to know the characters in my SF novel. A plethora of minor characters run around in my story, but I have three main ones:

  • Bandonn FarPacer-Technology genius; while growing up, forced to fight a war on his home planet; escaped the war, and wants to be an agent for the Consortium to help disadvantaged cultures. Oh, and  he’s allergic to sex.
  • Durso RascaLion-Lothario; lives day-by-day; doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Has a quick temper, but his best friend, Bandonn, usually keeps him in check.
  • Edom CarpenTrail-Priestess for the Siron;  grew up lonely; rich parents ignored her; after a life of wicked living, she finds fulfillment in the spiritual and helping others.

Okay, that’s just the starting point for these three. They are all from the same home planet, but happen to work on the same luxurious galactic liner, a space ship on which passengers vacation.

I’m going to ignore plot points to avoid spoilers, and instead mention a few things I learned in character development. First, in early drafts, there wasn’t enough conflict between my three main characters.

The temptation was to have their friendships be too perfect.

Yeah, they’re friends, but even the best of friends have ups and downs. So, I threw a few wrenches into their friendships with each other. Bandonn, who’s allergic to sex, resents Durso’s constant womanizing; Durso gets sick of Edom’s proselytizing about the Siron and accuses her of being a rich ‘princess’; Edom finds herself jealous of Bandonn when he gets something she thinks she deserves. There’s more, but you get the idea.

Secondly, using subtext made my characters more interesting. Instead of coming out and naming and emotion, I would hint at it with actions and dialogue.

The temptation was to explain too much because I was afraid the reader wouldn’t ‘get it.’

Readers are smarter than you think. They don’t want to be insulted; they want to be kept on their toes. Instead of saying, “Edom was jealous of Bandonn.” I would show the unspoken emotions beneath the surface:

Bandonn woke up. The infirmary?

He saw Edom standing beside the bed. “Are we back on the ship?”

“Yes. You’re fine.”

He blinked a few times. The memories of what happened on Figuola sharpened. “Are you okay? Durso?”

“We’re fine.”

He saw his weaveglove sitting on the dresser next to the bed. He reached out. “Can you get my …”

She picked up his weaveglove and tossed it onto the top of the bed next to his leg.

He looked at her and tilted his head. “Are  you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Writing characters this way so much more fun.

Thirdly, in my early drafts, I concentrated so much on Bandonn, the main protagonist. He had goals, wants and needs.

The temptation was to not give the other major characters goals, wants and needs.

Durso really lacked any purpose in the story except to be a foil for Bandonn’s problems. After rewriting, Durso gained more specific goals, wants and needs.

So, don’t give in to the temptations. Not only will your characters be more interesting, they will be more interesting to write.

Here are some recent articles on developing characters in your fiction:

Harmon’s Plot Embryo: A Writer’s Tool for both Outlining and Evaluating

I admit it: I just started watching Community. Yes, I know. Better late than never. I kept hearing how great the show was, but never got around to following it. Well, now, thanks to Hulu, I can binge watch while I’m cleaning house or laundry or whatever.

Community_title

Lately, though, I’ve been hearing about this “Plot Embryo” for writers developed by Dan Harmon, creator of Community. There are many ways to plot a novel. This Plot Embryo simplifies the process more than any other method I’ve seen.

Not only is it a way to outline a novel, but–if the writer has already written a draft or two of it–it’s an excellent tool for evaluating what has already been written.

Screen shot 2011-09-26 at 8.37.30 AM

Writer Rachael Stephen talks about Harmon’s Plot Embryo in her writing YouTube series. She breaks it down several different ways and also talks about the source material for the Plot Embryo.

Here are some more resources to learn about the Plot Embryo:

I plan to use the Plot Embryo up against my novel in progress to see how it fares.

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.

Reading Roundup for 2016

Here are most of the books I’ve read during 2016:

Classics

Contemporary Fiction

Drama

Graphic Novels

Rereads (these are all pretty much also Science Fiction & Fantasy)

Science Fiction & Fantasy Series

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Spiritual

Writing Instruction

Art Appreciation

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.

I just discovered this neat website for fantasy writers

mythic-header2I came across this online community for writers of fantasy called Mythic Scribes.

Here’s how they describe themselves:

“Mythic Scribes is a community of fantasy writers who are passionate about storytelling.  We provide a platform for new and aspiring authors, as well as a meeting place for writers and fans of the genre.

By sharing both the joys and the struggles of writing, we offer inspiration and support to one another.”

https://mythicscribes.com/

What are the most important scenes in a novel?

theatre-1459597To overcome feeling overwhelmed by finishing your novel, a writer might want to keep these writing principles in mind:

  • She doesn’t have to write chronologically.
  • She can write her most important scenes first and then fill in the blanks.

Now, if she has planned your novel with some kind of outline, then these principles become even easier.

So the question is, what are the most important scenes in a novel?

This doesn’t mean some scenes are less necessary than others. In the final draft, all the scenes should be necessary and move the story along. A post from C.S. Lakin’s blog called The First Ten Scenes You Need to Plot for your Novel offers a list of scenes on which the writer should focus.

I concentrated on finishing these scenes and now I am writing the final draft of the “in-between” stuff. If you get stuck in your writing, jump ahead work on the The Midpoint scene. This is the scene, roughly 50% of the way through your story, where the character asks whether or not she wants to continue. She questions who she is. She decides to go on, or maybe decides to take a different tactic. Then write backwards from that scene, or write forwards.

Here is what the writer should remember: if she gets stuck writing the novel chronologically, she can jump around and write one of the scenes listed in Lakin’s article.

There’s no rule against doing that.

Checklist for writing a scene

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

clapper-board-1420048I didn’t realize until I was a young adult that some scenes in a movie didn’t make it into the final cut. Today we have DVDs where we can see the parts of the movie the director cut and left on the editing room floor.

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I  am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

If a scene doesn’t fit the criteria, slash. It’s gone.

I don’t actually trash the scene, I just put it in a folder called “unused material.”
  • Is it a scene or sequel?
    A scene has a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. A scene that is a sequel has reaction, dilemma, and a decision. Both are okay, but it’s good to know which is which. Read Randy Ingermanson’s article Writing the Perfect Scene for more details.
  • What is the conflict?
    If no conflict exists in the scene, either find a way to rewrite it into the story or cut it.
  • What is the purpose of this scene?
    A scene can have several purposes: introduce a character, build suspense, establish a mood, create a resolution, and on and on. If you can’t figure out the purpose of the scene, cut it.
  • Do you have a consistent point-of-view? Would the scene be improved by changing the point-of-view?
    I wrote some scenes from the viewpoint of my antagonist. However, I felt they were to “on-the-nose” so to speak. No subtext. So I rewrote the scenes from the viewpoint of another character in the same scene, and I felt the story became more effective. Why? Because it created suspense and mystery for my antagonist.
  • Are you using sub-text in the action and dialogue of the characters? Are you avoiding on-the-nose writing?
    Instead of telling what the characters are doing and saying, pay attention to what they’re NOT doing and saying. They may say one thing, but really mean another. It’s what is going on beneath the surface. Here’s a great article about using subtext.
  • Does your character do something surprising?
    Keep your readers on their toes by surprising them with your character’s reactions. In each scene, the character should do something unexpected.
  • What emotion is the character feeling at the beginning of the scene? Does he or she have a conflicting or contrasting emotion by the end of the scene?
    If the character is laughing and playing around at the beginning of the scene, is she pissed off at the end of the scene? May sure your characters express a range of feelings and moods throughout the scene.
  • Does your character have expectations at the beginning of the scene that contrast with  what happens during the scene?
    If your character is expecting to win a competition at the beginning of scene, show him or her losing. Or something else unexpected. Or maybe the character expects to lose and ends up winning by cheating or something else. Surprise the reader.
  • Are the characters only talking in this scene? If so, does it move the story along?
    Your scene may only be a conversation, but it better move the story along.
  • Does your scene have a beginning, middle and end? Does it seem like a mini-novel?
    If you consider them a mini-story, then you’re more likely to write stronger scenes. C.S. Lakin talks about scene structure in her article.

I have a file in my Scrivener document called “Tool Box.” It has several lists to use for keeping my novel in check. One of those tools is a Scene Checklist. I review a scene using all of the above criteria. I hope you find it helpful.