Writing tips

Before reading any of the words below this paragraph, I must admit I am by no means an expert on the subject of writing fiction and that this will be based entirely on experience and trial and error.

On the matter of motivation:

I. Writing as a habit to improve.

One of the first things I learned about writing is that forming a habit on the matter is of utmost importance. I find that writing, like a biceps, is a muscle. If you train it daily, it will grow strong and improve quickly. If you train it weekly, it will still grow strong but not nearly as fast as it would when you would train daily. If you only train it whenever you feel like it, it will not grow stronger and you will find little to no improvement in the quality of your art.

To grow as a writer: Write as often and as long as you can.

Roxolid tip: Set a reasonable daily goal which must be reached under every circumstance. If you know you have an upcoming birthday you have to go to, create a buffer for that day.

II. Writing only when “Inspired”.

I found that lack of inspiration is one of the most common excuses writers, including myself, make to not write. If you do not feel like you can create new content for whatever piece of fiction you are writing, revise. If you are staring at a blank screen with no idea where to start, outline your story. If you have no idea where to start with your outline, start typing. Being uninspired does not mean you cannot write and being inspired does not mean everything you create is gold.

To grow as a writer: Know that inspiration is a blessing, not a requirement.

Roxolid tip: Keep track of the parts of your writing which were inspired and the ones which were not. Proceed to compare them and either learn where you can improve or learn that there is little difference between the pair.

Note: Writer’s block is just a creative way of saying you are uninspired. It is not a separate thing and you will not ruin half a forest if you delete something you don’t like. The writers of the olden days had that excuse, we don’t.

III. Writing when you don’t enjoy writing. (Sort of explicit)

Don’t, seriously do not write fiction when you don’t enjoy almost every aspect of the process. It will just piss everyone off and you won’t be happy about it either. That one night when you finish your first ever draft is amazing but it is not worth the weeks, months or even years it takes to get there if you do not enjoy it.  Of course, there are going to be aspects of writing which you hate. I hate outlining and I try to do a minimal amount of it but I love every other aspect and I have a wonderful time doing something I want to get good at.

To grow as a writer: Know that no one will judge you if you go and do something you enjoy. (Most authors are friendly people and they will probably applaud you for it.)

Roxolid tip: Do not let yourself be influenced by the negativity of other people. Everyone knows that googling for diseases means you will die from something rare and the same counts for writing. If you find yourself on the websites which promote the negativity of writing, burn your computer and house.

Note: I do not take responsibility for arson and no, I have no idea why those types of websites are more common than the ones which try to showcase the nice side.

On the matter of writing “rules”:

I. The one which is everywhere.

“Show don’t tell.” The rule which is likely the first one people will throw at you and likely the first one you don’t or didn’t understand. What is showing and what is telling, why is this a thing and when does it apply?

Showing is describing the exact situation as the character experiences it. How the wind caresses their cheeks while they cycle through a storm and how warm it feels when they wet themselves and realize the storm is a tornado.

Telling is telling. Dave wet himself as he realized he cycled through a tornado. Dave was not happy. Dave felt no emotion. Dave was a robot. Damn it, Dave!

Why is this a thing? I am no expert on the matter but as a reader, I would be more drawn to the description of a tornado than to the statement of one.

When does this apply? Whenever you want the reader to be pulled into your scene you show and whenever you want to push them a little, you tell.

But Chris, That is vague! But random reader of this blog, that is the point! There will never be a guide which tells you exactly what to do with your story and I would not know where to start if I had to tell you. It’s your story, not mine.

To grow as a writer: Learn how to use “Show don’t tell” by practicing it. Gather a feeling of when to do each of these in your own way. Like that, you create a unique voice as well as experience.

Roxolid tip: Ask a friend. Some people think they are showing and telling but are only doing one of each. If the friend tells you, you need to improve on it: listen. If your friend tells you exactly what to do: consider setting them on fire as well.

II. The King of adverbs.

You might have seen this part of Stephen King’s quote pop up; “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” It seems like an obvious one; Remove all adverbs. Now let me enlighten you with the full quote:

““I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft “

That to me does not seem like you ought to remove all adverbs. If there is a dandelion on your lawn you are more than welcome to keep it. You just have to make sure you keep an eye on it and make sure you know where it is and what purpose it serves. This can be for alliteration, humour, or an accent on something you don’t quite want to show. As long as you know why you used the adverb and the fact you used the adverb it is absolutely fine.

To grow as a writer: Know when you use adverbs and if you do, use them sparingly.

Roxolid tip: Actually research what an adverb is, what it does and what they look like. If you do, you will have an easier time tracking them down and eliminating the bad dandelions.

III.  Or so he said, grumbled, shouted or asseverated.

Do I use said for dialogue? Do I use words for which the reader needs a dictionary? Which is the way to go?

In my most humble opinion, one should always apply show don’t tell to dialogue. This means that tags like: “He droned” are unacceptable. When a character speaks you want to have your reader hear the voice of that character in their head and telling won’t do. Describe your character getting irritated or bored with someone’s tone!

Shouted as dialogue tag is also strange to me! What is the use of an exclamation mark if it isn’t for shouting!

I also find it strange how I often see every piece of dialogue decorated with one of these dialogue tags. If you can make it clear who is speaking and how they are doing it without adding a tag, I think you should always do so. It will both drag your reader into a story and will look far less robotic.

Then there is the case of the word said. Some say it ought to be added whenever the speaker changes and some say it is the only acceptable dialogue tag while another group claims that said is dead.  I say said is fine if it isn’t clear who is speaking through the narrative. Otherwise, it’s a useless, invisible word which I think is a cheeky way to add to that holy wordcount.

Also, don’t use complicated words if you can manage. You won’t look intelligent, you will only confuse a reader. A reader who will get frustrated with your book and ritually burn it as if it were heresy.

To grow as a writer: Know which style of dialogue you prefer and which comes most natural to your style and apply it. Don’t try to copy one of the gods and goddesses on top of the literary ladder because you don’t know why they did what they did and what the rules to their dialogue style are. You will fail and look stupid.

Roxolid tip: Read your dialogue and their tags out loud. If it sounds wrong, it is probably wrong.

IV: “!”

“!” is a treacherous piece of punctuation. You know you ought to use it when someone is shouting but you have also seen it used in the narrative of the many novels you have read.

Some authors litter this creature across their pages while others try to refrain from it. What should I do?

I think the rule is simple. Use exclamation marks when your narrator is shouting from the pages.

Some narrators are naturally loud! They will shout often!

Other narrators are musicians and try to impress you with a piece which is sometimes loud and sometimes quiet. Their narration is like the sea’s ebb and flow. Sometimes a wave just bursts from the surface to crash onto the beach!

If you are writing a novel in first person it is especially easy. Would the character who is telling the story shout here? If yes: “!” if no: “.”

In all other cases, it is usually used with sudden loud noises, surprising events and wow moments. Of course, there are other places when the exclamation mark is appropriate but this is where you as the author come in and make a conscious decision to use it.

To grow as a writer: Write three 100 word pieces of fiction in which you actively try to use various styles of the “!”.  It will give you a good feeling of when you think it’s good to use.

Roxolid tip: Know your narrator and know when they would shout something, your exclamation marks will immediately feel more natural and will actually enhance your narrative.

On the matters of friendship and being kind:

I.  On other Authors

Other authors are and always will be a gigantic part of your writing. Not only are most writers the most avid readers out there, but they also provide helpful work of their own. So, while some authors decide that every other writer is the enemy or worse: not worth their time; I encourage you to be different and approach them as what they really are to you. They are your readers, they can be a source of information and motivation and they can be your bestestest friends.

However, this does not mean that writing stops being a business and that you shouldn’t treat them as competition because they are exactly that, at the second they start writing.  Being competitive also doesn’t mean being enemies. To me, it actually means the opposite.

If I happen to engage with an author who I think I can learn from, I challenge myself to figure out what they do better and how I can apply that to my own writing. Authors are everywhere as well. Head to your local coffeehouse, library or Twitter and start mentioning the word writing every other sentence. They might be shy at first but they will surely come crawling out of the woodwork. When they do, just start a conversation with them and show each other some of your writing. You will notice that you are not the only one who has trouble with certain things and they will realize the same. Voilá, you have made a friend.

To grow as writer: Engage with other authors and try to learn from them rather than considering them the vermin they really– Ahem.

Roxolid tip: Please be genuine. Nothing is more irritating than someone who is acting like someone they are not. Be yourself and have fun with it!

II. Beta readers and Beta reading.

Even though these creatures are often editors or authors in disguise, they are one of the last barriers between you and publishing. It might seem obvious, but make sure that you offer to do something in return for them. Someone out of the kindness of their heart just offered to give you 10ish hours of their life (often more, but let’s keep it at that).  The least you can do is express gratitude and have a little chat them.

When you are Beta reading for someone else and think something could do with improving, do not give them exact instructions for the sentence or scene but mention the area of writing the issue belongs to. If you see someone telling everything and forgetting to show, mention that rather than mentioning every scene. Not only will that feel a lot better than seeing an entire book being rewritten in red ink, it will also be more educational for the author. Also, do not forget to mention what parts of their writing you loved; It is far too easy to go on a complaining streak to which the author will see no end.

To grow as a writer: Sow and reap. If you are nice to your betas they will be nice to you and if you are a good beta reader, you might get a good beta reader in return.

Roxolid tip: If an author has a guideline for their betas, stick to it. They probably made that thing for a reason!

 

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(This post will expand with time.)

Say hi to Chris on Twitter!

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