Tag: writing tips

July 16, 2017

 

What would Lord of the Rings be without Mordor or the Shire? Harry Potter without Hogwarts? Wall Street without NYC? The Originals without New Orleans? Friday Night Lights without Texas? Ocean’s Eleven without Vegas?

 

I’ll stop.

 

Point is, these settings are iconic. In some cases, even more so than the characters that traverse them.

 

There are hundreds of world-building questionnaires online, but the absolute best thing you can do to learn how to create unique and iconic settings is travel. (Me, recommending traveling? Shocking!)

 

And although travel unfortunately doesn’t allow you to actually live at Hogwarts (though you can try your best in Orlando!), it does let you experience some of the most extraordinary places the real world has to offer.

 

 

Dedicated research can tell you a lot about a city, but culture begs to be felt and experienced. Google Maps can show you the street view of a location, Yelp can show you the menus of the city’s best restaurant, and Instagram can show you the pictures the locals take. But that’s all they can do: show. TV, books, and the internet can’t help you taste the food, can’t let you smell the air, touch the water or the grass, or talk with the people. They don’t allow you to form your own opinions or make your own judgments through experience.

 

So, then, what shapes culture? Food, music, weather, religious and political views, racial and sexual diversity, history, architecture, language and dialect, customs, wealth disparity, fashion, urban vs. rural, work and industry, leisure and entertainment, sports, arts, lifestyle. On and on and on it can go.

 

 

But you don’t have to travel far and away. Just the next state over, the next city, the next town, down the road. If none of that works, look at where you live. Pretend it’s your first time ever seeing the architecture and the landscape. The first time you tried a local restaurant or coffee shop. The language spoken and their accents. Is it busy or quiet, quaint or hustling? Do the people smile, are they in a hurry, do they keep their heads down? What would you tell someone visiting for the first time, in order to truly experience where you live? What makes your home special? What do you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel? What’s something you’d have to live there to know, that a day-trip alone can’t explain?

 

It’s easy to become blind to the places we live, to take for granted its specialness, its beauty (and, sometimes, its ugliness). Travel allows us to escape this pitfall. To write unbiased and honestly and to create.

 

 

Mark Twain once said there were only four unique cities in the U.S.: Boston, New Orleans, San Antonio, and San Francisco. While I think travel anywhere positively influences writing, and while some may debate Twain’s four cities, there’s a reason some places are more iconic than others. (Re: Hogwarts. Also, please, send me my letter, JKR, I don’t mind that it’s fourteen years late.)

 

While part of world-building focuses on realism, creating a city just like your own doesn’t necessarily make it iconic.

 

Here, too, travel helps.

 

It helps you distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary. Between the things worth noticing and the items worth stopping for. To quote Mark Hertsgaard: “Travel is like knowledge. The more you see, the more you know you haven’t seen.”

 

And that allows imaginations to run wild.

 

So go forth and travel and explore, and create worlds all your own.

January 9, 2017

 

It’s on to Draft #2.5 for me! Time for revisions, revisions, and more revisions. I’m certain I’m not the first, and I definitely won’t be the last, to tell you how important revising and editing your drafts are.

 

For the longest time though, moving past the first draft was the hardest part for me. I could write first draft after first draft (NaNoWriMo had trained me well), but would never revisit the story after I’d typed “The End.” And if the goal is to be published one day, you cannot stop after “The End.” There is so much more work to do!

 

Part of that work, once you feel comfortable, is to ask for feedback. And that’s what I want to share with y’all today. Below is the note I sent my first reader, detailed what they can expect, where I’d like them to focus, and any expectations I have regarding a review. (Don’t forget to profusely thank your friends for willingly reading a draft not in its best version! And if they’re also writers, volunteer to do the same for them when they’re ready!)

 


 

Note to Start

This is a first draft, which means you will find:

    • Typos
    • Rhythm/flow issues
    • Tense changes
    • Other grammar problems

I don’t want you focusing on these things, though! (At least, not right now…!)

If you’re like me, and it’s just TOO MUCH to not correct something, just mark through it! I’ll read over all of your notes and can figure it out.

The reason I encourage not focusing attention on grammatical errors is because this is the easiest change to make! I need your help on the BIG things. Which leads me to…

 

Where to Focus

  • Plotting
    • Do you like the plot? Do some scenes need more explaining? Do some scenes not make any sense? Do you just plain not like a scene (as a reader)? Do the subplots fit in the main plot, and add to it?
  • Pacing
    • Not to be confused with rhythm/flow of each individual sentence
    • This is a bigger view. Does the pacing make sense within the chapter? Across a series of chapters? Not enough ramp-up to big events? Too much ramp-up and then the actual event happens too quickly? That kind of thing!
  • Character Development
    • This goes for main characters to supporting/minor characters
      • Believability?
        • Could there actually be someone like this? If not, is it at least amusing/add to the story?
      • Likability?
        • This is especially important for main characters! They need to be rooted for or, at least, something felt for them. Most important (to me) is that they’re not annoying.
      • Consistency?
        • Does this decision make sense for this character?
      • Growth?
        • Do the characters seem like they’ve grown over the course of the story?
      • Dimensionality?
        • This is a first draft, so I know there will be plenty of issues with this, especially in more minor characters!
  • Story Arcs
    • Main plots and subplots
      • Are there enough subplots? Do the subplots make sense within the story? Could you have guessed how the story was going from the beginning?
  • Major Inconsistencies
    • Were major or minor plot points abandoned? Did one character say something only to contradict it, without explanation, later? Does something just NOT MAKE SENSE?
  • Additions/Deletions
    • Do you see a place for the story to expand? Were you curious about something that wasn’t in the first draft, but you think should be? Were there scenes that could have been longer? Conversely, were there scenes that didn’t move the plot forward or seemed unimportant?
  • YOUR OPINION/OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS
    • Does the writing style come through? (Since I’m writing from first person, can you tell that the Main Character has a clear VOICE)?
    • What do you think of the work as a whole, after finishing? Were all of your questions answered? Was everything tied together well enough? Since I imagine this as a sequel, would you be okay with the ending enough even though you have to wait a year for the next one (or does it seem like it could “stand alone” for a period of time)?
    • Is this story marketable? Who do you think will read this/who would you recommend this to?

Comment Frequency

Feel free to take notes whenever or wherever you want, but my expectations are just a few notes at the end of each chapter and then maybe a written page-length at the end of the story to summarize your feelings and answer the questions above. They can be real quick jots and I’ll follow-up, if needed.

 

Finally,…

You da best!! Thank you so, so much for agreeing to read my “zero/first” draft! I value your opinion and really appreciate you taking the time to look over this. I hope it’s the first of many! <3

 


 

Okay, there you have it! This gives your reader plenty to focus on, and a much better idea of what kind of feedback you’re hoping to receive than “just read it and tell me what you think, mmkay?” Good luck to everyone working on their first/second/third/millionth draft! We’ve got this!

 

What has been the hardest part for you? Hitting “The End”? Revising? Draft #10? Querying? Let me know!

December 26, 2016

 

Inspired by a book on my December TBR, I decided to write a list of all the reasons I have ever not finished a book. (If you watch my videos on YouTube, you’ll find out which book soon enough. Confession: I only made it to Chapter 5.)

 

As a writer, it’s important to look for these issues in my own stories, but even more important is to remember that one person’s DNF (Did Not Finish) is another’s favorite book ever. Take these 16 Reasons Why I Have DNF’d A Book with a grain of salt, but hopefully a much larger grain of amusement:

 

1) The language is stunted or too flowery and I can’t jive with it. (Also, this isn’t a vocab test. I don’t need a GRE word every sentence.)

 

2) I don’t root for the Main Character.

 

3) I actively dislike the Main Character.

 

4) I want the Antagonist to kill the Main Character and plant their head on a spike, parading them around town, ending the story and thus my misery.

 

5) Actually the Antagonist kind of sucks too. Weak, empty threats, and I don’t believe their reasoning? Pass. Hard pass.

 

6) The characters have really weird names for no earthly reason and I haven’t figured out how to pronounce them and each page is a struggle for me not to rename them to Bob or Job or Clob or Whatever-Their-First-Initial-Is-Ob.

 

7) Why is this one guy the best that ever was? Has he trained? No? He was just born this way? He’s never practiced his power a day in his life but is somehow the absolutely best warrior in all the land? Stop.

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October 7, 2016

 

PRO: You’re writing a story with your best friend.

CON: You’re writing a story with your best friend.

 

It’s hard, man. (But can be so, so worth it.)

big-ben

Story time! My best friend and I met years ago, while we were studying abroad. We got lost together in London and bonded over our early love of Meg Cabot, author extraordinaire, while we unsuccessfully navigated the Tube. (We accidentally happened upon Big Ben, which is an amazing feat seeing how huge it is (above), and had a great conversation with a police officer on the best place to get a pint.) We became friends after I was already pretty involved in our local NaNoWriMo group and had created the writing organization at our university, but she joined in both once we were back home!

 

Fast forward four years, and it just seemed natural to write a book together. We like to read the same genres, more or less. (I tend to lean more into sci-fi and she leans more into contemporary, but otherwise the same.) I’m not even sure how the conversation came about, but soon enough we were sitting down at our favorite bubble tea haunt and plotting a New Adult novel! (The picture below is actually from our first brainstorming session! The terrible penmanship is mine…)

Brainstorming

As of a few weeks ago, we officially finished our first draft! We’ve even received feedback from our lovely first reader (check out his blog here)!

 

While the overall experience has been nothing short of UH-MAZING, there are still some arguments against (and for, I’ll talk about those, too) co-writing a story with your best friend, such as…

 

CON: As with co-writing anything, agreeing on direction/character motivations/subplots/etc. can be a challenge. This is harder with your friend, whom you likely haven’t worked as closely with as you will when writing a novel, and whom you may be completely disagreeing on a number of things with for the first time.

SOLUTION: Both writers need to practice give-and-take. If your friend staunchly opposes one character trait for your MC, and you only kinda don’t care, go ahead and go with what your friend wants. And vice versa! As your plotting, make a list of these things and check at the end, so that one friend isn’t being steam-rolled in the decision-making choices.

Another good solution is, depending on the story, splitting the characters each person writes and is responsible for. If you can agree on the plot, then each person has their respective characters to do with what they please (within reason).

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