Art is part of the human nature and there is no way around it.
Writers, you probably have heard the saying: You can’t write if you don’t read. (there are hundreds of paraphrases) Usually an author or reader tells you this smirking, whilst having a firm grip of a five hundred page monster beneath their arm. Sometimes I wonder if they can be used as some sort of armour. Anyway… the person telling you this have a logical case for interrrupting your thoughts. There are many writers out there who are better than you and you need to learn from them.
What do you have to learn from them? I don’t believe you need to make it your mission to adapt your writing, but rather that you need to read their work critically and make mental notes. However as soon as you approach your story you need to have forgotten about them. Reading will only make you a better writer in the same degree studying art makes you a better painter or photographer. Even though you can be influenced. It is through the trials of errors that we learn and really hone our skills as writers. I would suggest that you read less, but that you do it more critically. If we can pick up good habits subconsciously then surely we can learn some bad ones too. Just take a hard look at life and I dare you to disagree with me. Your subconscious does have faulty filter.
If I still haven’t convinced you, I want to present my logical argument that reading should not be glorified to the point that authors miss the point by neglecting their writing. Take a literate human being and give him some novels to read. He does not have to be an avid reader. He just needs to be fluent in a language. Now tell him to critique the novels. The chances are that his critique will be almost as valid as a critic’s. Why is that? Remember my opening? Art is part of human nature. We know if narrative isn’t working. We know what bores us. We know what excites us. We know what makes a story good. We know these things… not because some great writer told us these things, but rather that we are part of a curious species that wants to be entertained.
So I wholeheartedly disagree that reading a lot makes you a much better author. If you can speak, you can write. (assuming of course that you are literate) I laugh at the fact that authors preach this idea of reading like an obsessed person, yet they fail to tell us to watch more movies or to go see plays. I am not saying you shouldn’t read. No, I am saying that you should write more and read more critically, because there is a little voice inside of you that knows the truth.
Write till you can’t. Read your own work and others’. Criticize it. Do this over and over and over again. Broaden your skills using any method necessary… even if it is only watching TV and reading the occasional book. (critically) I am telling you… art is in our nature.
No one wants to be branded a Jack of all trades, because ever since mankind became dumb we only thought of the ”master of none” tail to the saying. However, this was not always so. In the old days some people did many things and were great at some and good at others. Some were masters at many trades. This used to be positive saying. This is my refutation to the argument that specialists are always better. I am not saying that being a specialist is bad, but if we take writing as a skill with different aspects and different genres many people will call themselves an ”insert genre here” writer.
Now, how can this only apply to the creation of fiction, but not in the observation? Few skills are as writing where there is a great relationship between user (reader) and creator(writer). The statement that a writer needs to keep to a certain genre and get good at it rather than do one and then another is absurd considering we like different tales. Sure, we like some more than others and loathe certain genres, but again this boils down to a thing called taste. No one can convince me that a great writer of any genre can’t attempt to write a novel in another. The only reason many writer’s stick to one or two is because it has worked before and they do really like it. In fact many people will grow to only write in a few genres.
My first novel is horror, but this is not the only type of novel I’ll ever write. I had a story to tell and I did. My second novel is going to be science fiction. I always had a tendency to write science fiction for school. I know I will complete this story. However, it can be guaranteed that my second novel will be written better, because writing is a skill improving in a detached manner from it’s genre. It improves as a whole. The writing of a certain genre does improve, but this can easily be accomplished and this increase in skill is nothing compared to what writing does to a writer as a whole. Your mind does not shift from thriller to drama, but you do apply your skills differently. You may want to focus on atmosphere in the former and maybe more on relationships in the latter. This may also vary. You can’t put a definite genre on your life and neither can you do it to your characters. So stick to what you are good at, but be good at learning so you can stick to what you love… writing.
Let me tell you right now that I hate to classify books in age groups. I do believe that there should be books for young kids to learn about stories, but do not dare to tell me when you are thirteen your mind can’t comprehend good stories or that you do need certain genres to read fiction. Genres should be personality bound and not age bound. Also, I don’t believe we all only like one type of story. Certainly certain types appeal to us, but that’s where it ends. This is my pain with the Young Adult hype. I am not a hater of the genre. However, there are certain things I can’t wrap my mind around. The best novels are those that appeal to all ages.
I know the young adult counter arguments. I should say hype rather as that is what bothers me. That this generation wants guidance in an unsure world yadda yadda. I read about their arguments. This is where dimensions come into play. Are your stories so deep that only an ancient Greek philosopher can decipher it and be wrong too or are your stories so shallow that it makes the Twilight romances look good. That was a cheap shot and I’ll admit that. Certain aspects of the famous Hunger Games do not makes sense to me, but that is nitpicking and truth be told I did like the Hunger Games. What I’m getting at is a style of writing that appeals to everyone. This can be found in television too and the genre where this blossoms is animation. Take Up as an example of a film that appeals to all ages. Young children may not get the double meanings or some of the depth, but the character that is a child keeps them hooked. Another important thing to note is that the two main characters are opposite and young and old can relate. If I take literature, the Little Prince is one of my favourite novels ever. It is a small book written by a French guy. On the surface it appeals to children, but from page one you can tell that teenagers won’t even comprehend its depth. This is not a novel for all ages, but I like the way it blurs the lines. Some people argue that that is exactly what young adult fiction has done. That is an absurd statement. Worst of all the hype began after someone had received a lot of success. Pray tell me how many authors do you think started a new young adult novel when someone received international acclaim. I may be wrong, but unless the reason for this is an absolute love for the new authors owns story there is something seriously wrong.
This is not rocket science and I wish all authors were like this (in love with their own stories), but if a hint of greed enters an author’s mind it pollutes the story telling mind.
We all like the idea of change especially if it is for the better, yet our minds create patterns that make us very comfortable. Take work and school for example versus holidays. I love holidays, but everything comes to pass and I need to return to school. The thing is I like school too. Then what is the problem when I need to return and more importantly what has this to do with writing?
The problem is we humans love to get into a rhythm. We don’t mind change but to change has this strange effect on our minds. This applies to writing as well. If I haven’t written in a while then the simple act of placing myself in front of my laptop seem like a drag. I feel like I sometimes let my characters down, but when my fingers start hitting those keys and I gain rhythm again in my writing it does boost my confidence. I get lost in my worlds then everything is fine, until I need to do some things in the real world.
Now, a lot of authors can and will handle this dilemma by simply organizing their time and also by incorporating writing as part of a daily schedule. This is a good idea. Why create a transition when you may as well just be a better manager of time? A manager of the most valuable commodity. Some will argue that they can’t and that they just don’t work like that. I’m one of them. I can write as long as I have something on my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one those people that wait for muse, but I need a readiness. This can only happen for me if I have thought about my next chapter before even thinking of when I am going to write. It may not be a good idea to write if you aren’t feeling inspired unless that writing in itself inspires you. It has worked for me before when I write a bunch of nonsense and somehow that leads to another pattern of thought.
So even as this may pose a small problem or a feeling like blasé . Suck it up and push on. If you are good at organizing your time and satisfied to let your own writing inspire you then do it. If you need inspiration then seek it. When this is done give people a postcard from your land of fiction.
I am referring to uniqueness. I have written so many nauseating clichés I am thankful I didn’t hurl on my keyboard. Even though there are certain character types, if my readers can’t recognize my characters by what they do or what they say then I have failed.
I suggest that you install some characteristics of your characters into those characters and not into others. Make one tell bad jokes ever so often. Make one more spontaneous. It is usually easier for us to install good characteristics, especially if we do our protagonists. I have discussed it a bit. It is important to note the important cracks and flaws that makes your specific characters good characters.
It may be as simple as a gesture, or a cliché of that character. If you use his or her POV you can really use it to your advantage. When taking age in to consideration you must remember what it was to be a child. Often you misunderstood adults’ actions or sayings. As authors we need to embrace differences rather than strive for unity.
One of my characters has this habit of pacing and another one smokes. Another one seldom loses his temper. Some say stupid things and other are wise. Don’t overuse these traits as they will become your own clichés. Rather let your readers be drawn to a character they may think of more as a person with flaws and uniqueness.
It can boil down to almost anything. A character’s walk, talk, mannerisms and POV (thinking of descriptions and perceptions)
It is how you can be certain that your characters will be remembered by readers.
So, are your characters, characters?
An overconfident man will fail, but try and succeed sometimes. A man constrained by fear will wither away. I bet some Chinese dude said this once. Fine, I made it up.
A fearful writer will often not complete a novel. What are the readers going to say? How are they going to react? While I am writing my novel this question seldom comes to me… seldom I said for it does sometimes and when it does I feel my Writy senses going weak. I feel constrained by an invisible power getting a hold. So I remind myself that I have a novel. This is mine and even if you aren’t going to read it some day. I am, and boy what a story.
Faults entering all reputation. FEAR, it causes more mistakes than it helps. Rather write like a mad person and edit later. Editors aren’t constrained and if you edit you can do it with a warm cup of Joe and a smile, whilst knowing what you wrote was done. You gained something which fear would not allow you to have.
Ask any newbie driver like me how I feel on the road when I drive better. Some will tell me I felt brave because I did well, but I tend to place the chicken first… before the egg (ironic isn’t it cause you know… chicken) The result of confidence is action and we writers know that sound. The sound of the keys. The endless typing to please and to entertain. If you are going to experience fear you better be writing horror and your story will have to dictate this. The truth is that we are all scared sometimes, but also that we must know how much it limits our capabilities. You will never know your full potential, ever, but you will know more about it if you gain confidence.
How does one gain confidence? Write often and I mean daily. Try to write like you are the best, because I know I am not… when I am writing I am. It gives an author wings. Come on people, we authors, who can create fictive universes can’t control fear? Tell me something that isn’t fiction.
I wonder how you are going to react to this post… Not.
You, yeah you. The writer, the reader or blogger. I dare you to disagree with me. Come on. I dare you to tell me that a certain viral word among writers does not display the plague that haunts us. Procrastination… it sounds so fancy yet so demoralizing.
Why are authors among the top procrastinators out there? We are supposed to be the ones that love are work so much that it should keep us from interacting with the real world. We should not avoid it. If we avoid it, it is a sign that we don’t like our work and I can tell you that most authors do.
I have my school work and you probably have a day job. How should we make time? Simple: set time aside.
“Thanks a lot… you are a genius.”
You do know you are currently reading my blog. Instead of wasting time reading what a random kid has to say about writing go and beat the clock. Should I have said that? If you are still there, here is another tip.
Prioritize, most of the time I see authors complaining on twitter. That is ironic, because not only are they tweeting and Googling too much that they forget the ticking clock, but they are complaining. Suck it up and write. If you want to know why I started writing so early this may be the greatest reason.
I probably have more time than you. I said probably, taking in to account the average age of a blog reader and so forth. I know a lightning bolt may strike me at any moment. I have a long writing career ahead of me and I don’t plan to waste too much time.
If you fall in love with your own work it really helps. I am starting to neglect my TV too often, but I’ll be okay. You know you have a good balance when your wife or family wants you to make time with them and stop writing. If you handle your writing like another job or maybe your only job, it helps. The fun thing is that you have the privilege to love this job.
The clock is ticking dear writer… are you?
Last time I discussed the hook. Now we head on.
The Line (aka the body)
What makes a line stronger than another? What makes it possible for the fisherman and fish to keep in contact? Why do some lines snap and let the fish get away and others don’t?
Readers will often complain about a boring plot or character.The truth is that the line is complicated. A line has to be strong. So what does it take to keep hold of a captive readership? Honestly honesty and creativity and technique. Assuming you have hooked the reader, you need to start to reel them in. Start by making conflict clear and build on that. The tension levels should vary and sometimes descriptions should be given.
Now this calls for balance. I am not going to tell you what that balance should be nor should I as I believe that each author knows their shortcomings. See, conflict is like the good fight a fisherman puts up with the fish. Giving them slack sometimes and then reeling them in.
The reel is a very important tool. For me the reel is my subtle revelations and relationships between characters. If they don’t work my readers won’t bother going further. When I say subtle revelations… this is personal. This is my technique. I do not bombard the reader with details. I slip them in. I give the readers chance to appreciate the fight. Because unlike regular fish in the writer world… the fish really want it. So when the action and dialogue are too much I give them time to relax and enjoy my fictive world. I give details. Like I said before… these fish are smart.
They know what they are fighting. They are headed towards a certain end. The line should keep them interested in the end. “But they don’t know the end.”
And neither should they, but you should give them an idea of what the journey holds. It is in these details that the fish should start to think what is going to happen next. Foreshadowing of course. Sorry, I can’t put this in a metaphor. Unless you have seen a crazy fisherman jumping up and down…
”I’m gonna eat you with butter and bread.”
Foreshadowing has to be subtle. If not, the line snaps immediately and the fish will tell his school not to bite that enticing hook.
On originality. It is not that important. Creativity is. You should show the reader what makes your line better. Throw in an unexpected twist. At the end if the line there will be air and the journey will continue.
For now… keep on fishing and biting.
Guess what I am thinking about… I’ll put it in a limerick
I once saw a man that got his pants in a knot…
he was a writer that started to plot
He plotted away and
got his way
his love for pantsing… he forgot
Of course. An authors blog would not be complete with at least one discussion of plotters and pantsers. The plotters are the people who outline. They create characters and arcs and the story on paper. Without having to put a word into their novel. Pantsers sit down and write.They are free spirited and sometimes too much. Creativity gets a boost. They are renowned for being the ones that will more often than not hit the dreaded BLOCK.
(it does look more intimidating with capital letters) The other valid criticism is that the pantsers have more editing to be done. I guess someone should tell that to Lee Child. He is a famous pantser that has claimed to have not edited one of his novels. I suppose he had not meant spelling as that is mandatory.
I have a saying about outlining and pantsing
We all a plot. You may plot on white and I will plot in grey… matter.
So, you got me. I am a pantser. How couldn’t I be? I know it is a subjective matter, but it works for me. I sit down and write. Have I had bumps? Yes, very seldom though. I have not met the BLOCK yet. I don’t think I will. My stories are mere destinations and climatic points. I won’t say I do not outline. I am just good at keeping my ideas safe in my mind. I think about my story daily. So, in a sense it is outlining, but even that is not my secret for keeping my first novel alive without a block. My story started on an impulse. I was inspired by TV and video games. Not even a novel.(gasp) I just knew the ending from very early on. It is something I worked on for almost a year only in my mind.(the ending) I have never written it down. I have never changed it. The ending is my destination and the body… that is my road trip. It is my journey and I love every second of it.
I am not saying that outliners are better or worse. It is just something I don’t want to do. When I write it is like a movie playing in my mind. Outliners are the ones that have the fanciest GPS in their car. Telling them exactly how the trip is going to work, but many of them also do a little pantsing. It is only natural. Of course you get your extremists that won’t agree with me. What I do know is that both types of writers will face the same challenges. If you are an outliner… I highly recommend reading KM Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. She is hands down the best teacher out there I know and to top it off… a great author.
The name outline can mislead you. It is not the outside that is important, but the main thread. Get a good idea of where the novel is heading. It will be good if you start by thinking of possible endings. Also keep themes in mind. Thus, keep in line. This goes for both types of writers.
Outliners can get caught up in their ways and that can limit the potential of a great story. My brother is a pantser who told me that he is turning. I respect that… from a distance. Doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are. You should weigh up the odds and don’t forget your passion. If either pantsing or outlining is causing trouble in your writing. Stop and search for balance.
Pssst, pantsers, I did not plot this post.
I am a fiction writer. So why on earth do I dabble in the poetic arts. Because it’s fun? Yes, but also because all writers can beneifit from this art. Let me explain.
And such… in a few lines?
A compact story people often interpret
their own way.
A thought. But where’s the… you know
Your ideas…now that’s the stash
Rhymes and rythm to remember
It should be an authors dream
Poetry is a legitimate tool
I explained why…
don’t be a fool.
An author can be a poet too.