LESSONS I’m Learning… on my Journey to becoming an author.
While it’s easy to be witty, easy to amuse and even amaze your friends and family with short spurts of original writing, a novel is a horse of a different color, and it doesn’t take long to realize you’re “not in Kansas any more.” No yellow brick road or wonderful wizard behind a curtain is going to provide you with the heart, the mind and the courage this process is going to take. It’s work. Amazingly difficult at times, but filled with joyful growth if you persevere. It will require adjustment of your self image and development of a “thick skin.”
I’ve shared the first lessons of my journey in the “Writing the Book” category of this blog, and may include a few of them here. My intent with this page is to summarize and share the resources and lessons I am learning along my way as they happen, rather than trying to categorize them. My plan is to add to this with the newest discovery, lesson or resource entered at the top of the list.
If you have discovered things and resources on your own journey, I would love to hear about them. Sharing what we learn is important!
LESSONS I’m learning on my Journey to becoming an author.
Last updated 1/18/16
16. Develop a Timeline for your Story. A spreadsheet, or sticky notes/3×5 cards can be used to see the character interactions, story development, plot line and twists, and help you see the “bigger picture” of the story you are writing as it will unfold for the reader. Simple and powerful tool to keep your writing on track and coherent! Read Post added 1/18/16
15. Show don’t Tell and other writing rules come from the “real world.” Realistic, relatable fiction writers know that. These “rules” help to build a more human world for the reader. Instead of fighting them or feeling being bound by them, respect and understand them. They are there for a reason. Read Post added 1/17/16
14. Plotter or Pantser? Or a Bit of Both? I suspect plotters spend more time on the front end, and probably less in re-writes and revisions. And pantsers do more editing and rewriting at the end. But whichever way a story is approached – plotter, pantser, or a bit of both, you still wind up needing to attend to all the elements of a good novel Read post added 6/5/15
13. Reading other debut novels while writing my first book is very helpful. Read post being added 5/16/15
12. Minor characters in a story can provide opportunities to develop plot and add depth to main characters. Richness, intrigue and interest can be woven into the story by letting the minor characters provide foreshadowing, backstory, and show different aspects of the setting and main players. Having interesting, well developed and believable minor characters makes for a better novel overall. Read post being added 5/5/15
11. Using a fiction writing software program helps me concentrate more on my writing, keep track of characters and their relationships, locations, and provides me with an easy way to insure my novel’s structure is on target. Along with other helpful writing tools, it speeds along a first draft, with places to store and retrieve thoughts and ideas, and make changes to the text easily as I go. Read post being added 4/28/15
10. Make sure you’re telling a story, not just knitting words and scenes together. Storytelling is what makes a connection with your readers. Imagination, a clever turn of phrase and thought provoking ideas can make for interesting prose, but don’t skip over checking to see if you have actually told a story. Doing this will help, particularly if critiques have mentioned (in similar remarks) your work is “confusing, ambling, and not at all compelling.” Read post being added 4/21/15
9. Sometimes you’ve got to take a step or so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth, or change that will make your story “pop.” Some indictors you may have to move your beginning point back: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little or no change in your MC (main character) — lack of conflict or growth; by the end of the book you still haven’t told the whole story. Read post added 1/29/15
8. World Building isn’t just a SciFi writers thing. In order to have depth, and have your characters truly speak for themselves — you must know what makes up their world. Scenes and settings should be a reflection of their world. Where did they come from culturally? What were their parental and familial influences? Genetic hereditary? Geographical, spiritual, historical, political influences? How did their specific background mold them into the unique individual they have become? Add to this their present situation and circumstances, what they look like– their habits, pursuits and activities, likes and dislikes,–and you will know them deeply. Once you have built “their world,” they can spring to life and speak for themselves. Read post added 1/25/15
7. It’s not only okay, it’s a good idea to put aside my novel while I’m learning a new concept. But only if I keep writing during that time. Lessons must be applied as I learn about them. Writing flash fiction, short stories, or just writing ideas and notes for my main project, not only helps me absorb and better understand ideas I am learning, but also builds excitement for getting back to my novel. Read post added 1/14/15
6. Let my characters speak. I have learned that narrative fiction uses a different skill-set than expository writing. Everything I write comes from my thoughts, feelings, beliefs and I need to develop my voice. But the characters in my story must have their own voices, and it needs to match their personality, situation, and lifestyle. I have to know them in depth, and make sure they come alive with conflict and have a stake – something to win or lose. If my story’s dialog is dry and lifeless, there’s a good chance I am putting words in their mouths, and not letting my characters speak. Read post added 1/10/15
5. The time to develop a log line (elevator pitch, one-line) is BEFORE you begin writing your story. It can assist in building your outline, and developing your characters and ideas. A log line can’t be successfully written until you have thought your story all the way through. Then write your story. … from “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder Read post added 1/5/15
4. Find a group of other writers to discuss, review and critique your work. If you have a writer’s group close to where you live (I don’t) – go meet with them regularly. If you don’t, online help is available. I discovered the “Critique Circle” through a comment here on WordPress. Good, solid, constructive critiques and sharing of technique happens in this environment. The “cost” of these groups is typically giving critiques to other writers. It’s writers helping writers and sharing what they have learned. I was very surprised that reviewing and giving help to others is one of the best ways to grow in your own writing and self editing!
3. First drafts are meant to suck. Go ahead and finish them, even if your chapter/writing is flat or just plain bad. This is you getting your story out, you’ll work with later to polish it and make it shine. Nothing springs forth fully edited and complete. That’s what revisions and drafts #2 – #9999 are for.
2. Study fiction writing from successful authors. I have found these resources here on WordPress and other Blogs, browsing through amazon.com, Goodreads. Start following and forming a community- of other authors on Twitter. Look at the “creds” of those supplying lessons. I am wary of those wanting to “sell” me lessons, many of the truly great authors have written books generously sharing the craft, and many blog freely.
1. Read a lot and constantly. You’ve got to have a rich background and love of reading: the classics, and particularly in the genre you want to write.