Writing a story takes skill, time, and work ethic. Here are three strategies to apply to your work in progress.
Wait – isn’t this a blog about how to write? So what’s the deal with advising I must write if you aren’t going to tell me how to do so?
We all dream. I dream of winning the Olympics, in figure skating. I take the ice and complete the first five-turn salchow double-lutz back flip camel. Then I stand at the podium and beam through my victory tears as The Star Spangled Banner plays and I’m jeweled with the gold medallion. My friends who read this tumble off their chairs, laughing and hold their bellies as they imagine this fat old body out there on the ice, wearing not much more than a sheath of glitter (painful sight, that), twirling around on skates until my tush meets the ice – for the tenth time in twelve seconds. Yes, I dream of skating, though I can’t. But I write, and so must you.
Everything you write is an opportunity to practice your writing skills. Emails to your faves, reminder notes to your spouse, business reports for the boss, you write all the time. If your computer isn’t open to the rough draft of your latest tome, but is open nonetheless, you might be writing. Write the most dramatic, funniest, pithiest, compelling, mesmerizing sentences you can. Even if you are only telling your no-longer-BFF to pith off. Write and always write well. Better yet, turn the blank page into words, paragraphs, images, characters, plot, into the story that keeps you up at night, making that blinding white page active with black letters. Millions of them. Because if you can’t sleep you might as well write. And if your story doesn’t keep you up at night, how do you expect your reader to be too excited to sleep?
A writer writes.
- Put on your briefs
It’s cold out there. Writing is not about finding the longest way to say something but about finding the most memorable. You’ve done well if your fans walk around quoting you. They savor your story as they repeat it. They also promote it to your next reader. Isn’t that cool?
Remember when you were in fifth grade and your teacher told you to write a story with as many adjectives and adverbs as possible? That was terrible advice from someone who wanted to make certain you learned a vocabulary list. How many of those convoluted sentences do you walk around repeating because of their sustaining emotional impact? You might just as well open a big dictionary, list all the impressive words, and call that your book.
Get briefer. This is a tip for the well advanced story, the one that’s complete and awaiting (more) editing. Length does not equal quality. Edit by excising. Eliminate all the filler words that contribute nothing to your story. Very, good, nice, big, little, pretty, ugly, that, (all the extra “thats” that simply stuff a sentence,) bad, lots, many are among the blah words that say pretty much nothing at all. They lack pungency.
Saying the same thing over and over and over and over is, well, unnecessary. Repetitive sentences and paragraphs bore readers. Trust that your readers are bright, introspective, and have decent memories. They draw conclusions and recall most of what’s important in your story. Remove the chaff and let it blow away. It was garbage no one could swallow anyway. What remains will be powerful and gripping.
Get rid of the words that say nothing of merit, dump the sections you’ve written previously.
- Write from the stage, not the balcony
Put your characters in the thick of the story, not at the beginning of the history of mankind. (Though that could be a great book also.) Get up on stage into the active part of the plot. Don’t sit back in your chair and type sentences distant from the scene. Too far distant from the interesting moments, too far away from the characters to see their warts, and the audience will wonder when they’ll get anything worthwhile. If you haven’t been to Medieval England in the court of the king, close your eyes and imagine it. (Also crucial: research it.) Now tighten your cloak, pick up the sword, and seek the knave who’s stolen your beloved. Walk with your characters, speak through their souls, leap their mountains, weep their tears. Don’t tell us the black knight got his due. Hang the bastard.
You must be in the middle of your own plot to report it believably. If you can’t convince your reader you’re right there, how can you convince them they are? If you can’t draw your reader into an exciting, intriguing, mysterious section they want to know about, why should they bother being stuck with your book? And if they’re not in the thick of your story, they might as well be shopping at the mall. That’s something they can believe in.
Get into the center of your story where it’s interesting. This is where your story must begin even if the motivation began generations past. Trash the boring stuff. If a few background details are truly important, find a way to sneak them into the narrative, conversation, or internal dialogue of your characters.
Start where the action made you shout, where the characters made you cheer.
Now, go write, Wordsmith.
Very good points. I like, “A writer writes.” Not every time you write has to knock it out of the park. Sometimes we just need to flex our writing muscles and exercise our writer’s brain in preparation for the big game.
It’s like practicing any skill – doesn’t happen unless you do it. Then you find after all the practice that you’ve improved. Thanks for reading, Andrew.
Good points. I like ‘put on your briefs’. So much of my editing is cutting out redundancies and wasted words. And ‘write to the stage’–great reminder.
I have the same issue, Jacqui. I overwrite and then need to cull. One great description is sufficient. Two – the reader just left to microwave popcorn. Thanks for the visit.
I am sometimes too brief and I think that’s why my forte is short stories. When I’m writing a novel I find it really hard to puff out situations, but I’m always practicing! Great advice here, Sharon xxx
You are succinct, Dianne, and I admire that skill. I need to get to the point faster.
I don’t have any problems with #1 or #2, although, on occasion, I’ll too brief. However, I wonder if I’m having a giant hassle with #3. Do I stand back from the story without even knowing it? Am I hesitating to let my toes squish in the gooey mud?
Glynis, it’s most difficult for many writers. We get hung up using filters because we don’t trust ourselves to write with strength or our readers to read with intelligence. Replace, “She thought she heard a scary sound,” with, “A creak on the stairs curdled her blood.”
We fill space with boring details instead of showing what is essential. Replace, “Turning to the side, she noticed a very large baseball bat leaning in the dark corner,” with, “She hefted a cudgel and swung it into the darkness.”
Good writing is carefully crafted, not cautious. Writers can be nervous, gathering into the center of the herd. Safe but boring.