Alright, let’s talk about craft stuff and beginner writers. I’ll admit, I don’t discuss it much because I think I’ve still got a lot to learn, but there are a few things I want to discuss.
Perhaps the biggest – starting level
One of the major assumptions people make when recommending improvements for writers is that they are at least decent writers with a basic grasp of English.
That’s not always true. Learning the basics of good grammar and spelling and understanding the mechanics of the language is not always a given, for a variety of reasons. We’re an international community so English might not be their first language. They might just not had good schooling, they might be missing or misunderstanding some basic areas of grammar.
Fixing that, and the basics of grammar, punctuation, etc is a necessity. You need to go back and start taking classes (look at online classes, tutors, etc.) and spend time studying that. You will find it VERY hard to learn to write well (which, often, includes breaking the rules of ‘proper’ English) without learning the fundamental rules.
Recommendations for Improvement
If your grammar & spelling is decent->good, then you can start seriously working on your storytelling skills. Obviously, your homework assignments or what not could potentially include writing short stories, etc; but most classes aren’t focused on storytelling.
You need to write a lot – I like short stories to start because it helps engrain how to build complete plots – but you should also work on finishing novels and the like.
Practicing With Intent
One of the biggest suggestions is practicing with intent. That means paying attention to what you are doing when you are doing it. Writing just for fun, without paying attention to grammar or pacing or what not can help (if you then edit your work afterwards and watch for mistakes); but without that editing and review process, without watching what you are doing, the improvement process is slow.
When practicing, try to figure out what part of writing you are practicing – prose, plot, pacing, voice, dialogue, endings, scene transitions, tension, theme, mood, information flow, setting, senses & immersion, characterisation, etc.
On Craft Books
Read craft books but make sure to get advice of which craft books to read from successful publishing authors. Read the details of the people who write those books. Many are written by academics who can’t sell books or have written maybe 3-4 actual novels. The people you want ot listen to are the bestsellers or working professionals because of their track record (e.g. read Save the Cat, the guy who wrote it has written hundreds of successful screenplays). Learning the variety of ways to plot and the ways plots build will help you understand how to create that yourself.
I’d say the same thing about writing circles but I never joined one, so I have nothing much to discuss there.
Some of my favorites so far:
– Save the Cat
– Fantasy Fiction Formula
– Goal Motivation Conflict
– Stages of a Fiction Writer
– Craft in the Real World
Don’t feel bad about using tropes early on. They’re there for a reason, but try to challenge the tropes. It’ll help you grow and make your work interesting. Still, there’s nothing wrong with playing a trope straight on. There’s an audience (note – I’m talking about readers, NOT jaded writers or editors).
On Finishing & Plots
Finish writing books – you won’t learn how to finish a book without actually doing so. There’s nothing wrong with starting and stopping constantly while learning the basics, but at a certain point, you need to learn how to end books / series / etc. And the only way to learn that is to finish the novel. Shorts & novels and novelettes and serials, all have different pacing, so make sure to practise to get better.
Finishing a series is the same, same with learning to pace the series. That’s trickier obviously, and I can’t discuss that one much; but it’s worth looking at how bigger authors manage that.
Keep writing and reading. The common saying is the first million or so words are your apprentice stage. After the first few hundred thousand, you will likely look back and stare at what you’ve written initially and realise how bad it is and the problems in that work (if you are spending the time trying to get better).
Be Careful of Advice
Be careful about the kind of advice you get, especially from novice writers. While many new writers can help with fixing your grammar and point out glaring issues, they can also be very heavy handed.
Better to have people tell you ‘this is where I stopped, this is how I felt about this passage, this did not seem believable’ than to have them direct edit your work unless you trust them. New copy editors are similar, in that they have issues with splitting what is ‘right’ or ‘what they like’ with what is the author’s voice.
At a certain point, you might want to start publishing professionally. Read through Heinlein’s Rules. Take it to heart. And start reading about the publishing industry WELL BEFORE you begin publishing seriously. There’s a LOT to learn about publishing as a business.
On Final Words
Disregard all of what I’ve said if you aren’t having fun. Just write and post on Royal road. Read the occasional article on how to get better. Practise writing just by writing. If you are reading and occasionally analysing the works you read to see how they are doing it better, you’ll improve. And you’ll improve at a much faster rate than someone who starts it all, and then stops and gives up for years because they stopped having fun writing because they had to meet ‘rules’ that no one else cares about.
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