A friend of mine has decided to start writing his first novel. Tonight, he emailed me some ideas (which were fantastic) and I wrote him back with a few tips I’d learned over the years about writing. I have to admit…when I finished, I thought the tips were so good, I wanted to share them with all my aspiring writer friends. So, if you’re currently a writer or seriously thinking about trying your hand at it, I hope some of these tips will come in handy for you:
If your writing experience is like mine, you’ll find that researching and “world building” (or plotting as some call it) are probably the two most fun things about writing. One of the reasons I haven’t written the Kringle Chronicles yet is because I’m still researching stories, legends, regions, history, etc. and taking those things and creating a complex, but real, world in which to set the characters. Even if your story is set in our world, there is still a need to “world build” in that you’ve got to have a mentally tangible place to immerse your characters in so that the reader, too, will be immersed.
But let me throw out some more advice to you:
1. Sooner or later, you’ll have to say enough with the research and start writing. I’ve known some writers (myself included) who start using research and plotting as an excuse to not get on with the story. There’s a simple reason for that. Fear. When we begin building our story, it grows so real, so wonderful in our minds that we begin to secretly fear (we’re often not even aware of this fear) that it can’t possible be as good on paper as it is in our heads. My advice, when the time is right, force yourself to put away the research and plotting and start writing the story you concoct in your mind.
2. Outlining…there are a few schools of thought on this. Some say every writer should use an outline. That way, the story is clear and tight with minimal plot holes. It will prevent a need for a lot of rewritings and drafts. Others say not to use an outline at all. They say let the creative juices just flow and see where the story takes you. You’ll have to do a lot of drafts that way, but the story will be more organic and real. As with many things, I fall directly in the center. There have been stories that I’ve outlined to a “T” and get so bogged down in it that when a character wants to veer “off script”, it becomes very difficult to do because it will throw everything else off course. Then, I have written without any sort of outline at all and quickly run head first into a brick wall because I have no idea where the story is supposed to go. It’s like standing at a crossroads with all the signs tossed on the ground. Without a clear cut finish line, there’s no way to get your characters from Point A to Point B. So, I say, when you start writing your book…make sure you have a vague broad scale outline in mind.
3. What is the major conflict? Is this conflict “big” enough to the character? Remember, the conflict needs to be something bigger than the protagonist. If the hero can easily overcome, there’s no tension. So, make sure you know what your major conflict is (I’ve had this problem with Sirens’ Song actually…my conflict wasn’t clearly defined in my head and it caused me problems). You don’t necessarily need to know how the hero overcomes the conflict…ideas will present themselves as you write. But you have to have the conflict to start the book (and it can’t be a general idea…you need to make it very specific). Also, what obstacles will you throw in the path of your hero as he deals with the conflict? Readers love a story with a roller coaster of obstacles (by the way, I’m not talking action-adventure obstacles….any kind of fiction has roller coaster obstacles (whether a sci-fi story or a romance)).
4. Strengths and Weaknesses. Make sure every character in your story has both positive and negative traits. There’s no such thing as a perfect hero. And there’s no villain that believes himself to be “evil”. Make sure that there is something to good and bad about every major character in your story. It doesn’t have to be much. For my book Primal Thirst, Jack is a cool hero with a good head on his shoulders, but he’s impulsive. He sometimes says things he would wish he didn’t. He does things that in hindsight are just plain stupid. But he gets the job done. Krenkin, on the other hand, truly thought he was doing something great with his scientific research. He wasn’t trying to destroy or take over the world. He was simply trying to create the perfect species. His intentions were good. His actions were bad. Does this make sense?