Lessons While Editing My Novel

With so many writing conventions and diverging schools of thought, it’s impossible for a single human being to learn it all (except for Yeezus, of course). However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to keep improving our craft. Giving up is for poets and the French (bonus tip: don’t make fun of poets or the French on your blog).

So, in the spirit of not giving up, here’s another list of writing-related lessons I’ve conjured up while drinking an ill-advised mix of Mountain Dew and Stella Artois (mostly lessons that were re-learned and reinforced):

1. Unnecessary scene changes to your readers is as tea to Phoebe Buffay (Hint: “Tea gives Phoebe the trots.”).

Maybe you actually want your book to make people rush to the toilet, but for those of you who don’t, you should carefully assess the number of settings you push your characters through in a single chapter.

Essentially, you have to consider whether a change in setting is necessary. Do you absolutely need the change in ambiance? Are you trying to jump through different settings to expose the reader to the different places you created during your manic world-building episode? Can you get the same plot advances, character development, and evoke the same emotions by having everything occur in the same place? If you answered yes to that last question, make it occur in the same place. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and word counts shuffling your characters between locations.

Continue reading

Advertisements

10 Tips for Better Writing!

Advice Dog Writing Tip

After being inspired by a guy who thinks lists of writing tips suck, I decided to create a list of writing tips. Yeah, this post started out as a joke and then it kind of got away from me. 

Enjoy!

1. Learn to spell.

If you can’t spell, your writing’s probably going to suck. Buy a dictionary, chump.

Of course, certain words may be spelled differently depending on the region you’re in. Fun Fact #2 (there is no #1): Some years ago, certain folks decided to deviate from French-influenced phonetics and started to omit the “u” from certain words (e.g., going from “colour” to “color”). It stuck in the United States.

2. Use the hashtag #AmWriting as much as frickin’ possible.

Not only will this seem annoying and pretentious, it will also help you connect with fellow writers with whom you can develop alongside and form a network of support.

Originally, I did think the hashtag was a bit on the lame side. It reminded me of the Family Guy joke poking fun at writers who conspicuously write in public for validation. However, I’ve seen others who have used the hashtag to form a good network of earnest writer-friends and, to be quite honest, I’m jealous.

3. Read more novels and watch more movies.

That way you can rip them off and pretend you thought of it first.

Alternatively, you can learn to improve your craft from observing how successful authors set the pacing for their scenes and overall plot, or how they develop tension and make use of white space. You could also take notes of mistakes of other authors—if they didn’t spend enough time to develop a character’s motives and personalities before expecting the reader to care, or if there’s too much fancy prose in a segment which makes it difficult to keep a fast pace. Maybe you can at least pick up a new vocabulary word.

Oh, and if you’re familiar with other work in your genres, you can also avoid accidentally writing something that’s already been done. Those aren’t so easy to sell.

4. Get critiqued.

A good cry can be nice, sometimes.

Receiving feedback on your writing is an important part of improving your writing chops. However, the key to taking criticism is staying patient and logical. You shouldn’t quickly dismiss advice you don’t like, but you also shouldn’t assume that because one person hates something that everyone else feels the same. Get several opinions and see where they overlap; logically assess whether certain things are problems, and whether certain parts of your writing are truly awesome (at least to the majority of your target audience).

5. Critique others.

Making other people cry can be rather satisfying. Also, there are other, more concrete benefits.

Giving critique helps you learn to take critique: You learn that, as a critic, it’s easy to find the bad bits in another person’s work while forgetting to point out the good ones. As such, when someone gives you your own manuscript marked up in red, you’ll understand he or she may have actually liked more of your work than the quantity of red might indicate.

On top of that, when you see mistakes others make, you might just realize you’re making the same ones.

Continue reading

Symbolism in Novels . . . Sort of Accidental

Double Rainbow What Does This MeanA while ago, I came across across an article on Mental Floss (fairly old news now) about how a teenage Bruce McAllister sent letters to famous authors in 1963 to ask whether they consciously (or subconsciously) placed symbolism into their writing and other related questions. The answers varied a bit, some are pretty funny on their own and others are hilarious given the contrast between the authors’ responses. Then, there’s also some useful information.

Back in my K12 years, I had thoughts similar to McAllister’s about symbolism in my reading assignments at school. One recurring thought I had was, “This is horse crap” (well, not those exact words). It wasn’t that I thought authors never intended certain symbols, or that they never created symbols by accident. I assumed that happened quite often. However, I remember my teacher(s) trying to sell me very vague and unlikely symbols (I also recall pulling symbols out of my ass and my teacher(s) agreeing with me about it). So, like McAllister, I wondered about whether these authors intended all the symbols that academics draw from their work.

Continue reading

Rules of Writing Fiction – Dual Protagonists, Prologues and Whatnot

Not Quite Verboten

Basic fiction writing advice warns against prologues, dream sequences, flashbacks, adverbs, and dual/multiple protagonists. Over time, these conventions have come to be treated by many as absolute rules, or at least spoken of as if they were absolute rules.

This past weekend at the Southern California Writers’ Conference, some of these “mistakes” made appearances in the writing of attendees. After a bit of discourse, many of us came to the same conclusion: these devices are warned against because of the difficulty in handling them, but with the right amount of talent and hard work, a writer can defy these conventions without shooting herself in the foot.

A quick Google search would lead you to very similar conclusions, which makes it even more peculiar how often people seem to forget these rules aren’t set in stone.

More so than any other writer or SCWC attendee, Oz Monroe acted as a voice of reason in regards to these “rules,” reminding us (on several occasions) that you can break just about any writing convention so long as you do it well (quite a caveat, but still).

Dual (Multiple) Protagonists

June and Day of Legend

Marie Lu’s Legend is considered by many to feature dual protagonists, though for certain reasons Day can easily be construed as an antagonist (e.g., for ease of pitching the novel).

Baseline convention: stick to one primary protagonist. Other major characters must be limited to the role of an antagonist or supporting character. Why can’t we have two (or more) primary protagonists? As I see it, there are two big reasons: (1) the difficulty in fleshing out all protagonists fully while maintaining a compelling narration; and (2) the difficulty in pitching a story with multiple protagonists.

Continue reading

Rape as a Plot Point

While critiquing a manuscript, I told the writer that I felt uneasy about the multiple rapes that occur in his story (though they all occur “off camera”). I told him that if he’s going to include rape in his novel, he should probably elaborate a bit on the social and psychological ramifications rather than just use rape to drive the plot forward. Not long after that discussion, that same writer told me I probably wouldn’t like a certain movie simply because there’s a rape scene (he totally ignored the fact that my advice indicated that there may be exceptions to having rape in a narrative). Naturally, I then started Googling the issue and decided to write this post to tell that writer (and others) to be careful when writing about rape in fiction (it’s been said so many times by so many people, you’d think it’d be a given, but evidently it’s not).

Coincidentally, there’s an ongoing pseudo-movement of journalists, writers and other folks responding to the trend of using rape as plot in television, primarily in reaction to Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Scandal, and House of Cards (disclaimer: of these series, I’ve seen only season one of House of Cards). These opinions overlap greatly and I think they reflect and reinforce my prior viewpoint on rape as a plot point.

Lazy Plot Device

Rape is too often a lazy plot device and it’s getting to be a cliche.

In her article, “Hey TV: Stop Raping Women,” Karen Valby notes that “it seems whenever a female character needs a juicy arc or humanizing touch, writers fall back on the easy, awful crime of rape,” despite the fact that “there are countless plot-generating life obstacles that don’t involve sexual assault.” Also see “Can We Stop Using Rape as a Plot Device” by Clementine Ford (noting “[s]exual violence has become the go-to plot device for writers looking to give their female characters substance despite having no apparent understanding or interest in the rounder complexities of women as equal participants”); and “‘Downton Abbey’ And the Problem of Rape as a Plot Point” by Lauren Duca (finding that “the [rape] scene [in Downton Abbey] functioned as an unsympathetically lazy plot point”). Continue reading

Chapter-One-Writing Advice I Wish I’d Read Earlier

Challenge AcceptedI finished six drafts of my novel before I realized that its opening doesn’t do its job as well as it should: it doesn’t immediately draw the reader in. It took me until earlier today (while discussing the matter with another writer) to realize that since I intend my novel to be commercial, it needs to hit the reader over the head with a hook as quickly as possible.

With that in mind, I went online and searched for tips on writing a black hole of a first chapter to suck people in. I wound up reading Chuck Wendig’s advice on his blog (warning: Wendig is awesomely foul-mouthed [I’m providing a “clean” translation of his advice below, in response to Ms. Hawkins’ comment]). I’ll be keeping his 25 suggestions in mind as I re-work the beginning of my manuscript.

I’m waiting for some beta readers to give me feed back, anyway; might as well beat the crap out of my first 15 pages ’til it’s awesome.

[UPDATE!] Here’s Wendig’s advice compressed and translated into nice-guy language for educational purposes (some of his advice may be lost in translation due to my failure to interpret or articulate, so please check out Wendig’s post if you don’t mind the cursing):

Continue reading