“Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.”
Becoming a talented writer is a hard job. It’s not easy to figure out how to write a plot with the perfect twist, characters so vivid they could walk off the page, dialogue with ironclad believability, all with a voice that captures readers and keeps them coming back for more.
Maybe you have days when you think about all you’ve written and wonder whether it’s all doomed for the rubbish pit. Having days when you question whether writing such drivel is worth it, or whether you should simply throw in the towel now.
Here’s the thing, though: the key to becoming a skilled writer is to write.
Wishing you were better won’t cut it. Neither will waiting until some future time when you hope you will be.
Want to be a good writer? Close Facebook, Twitter, and all those other pesky internet distractions. Shut the door so you can’t hear the TV blaring in the other room, or the clanking of pots and pans. Sit down. Moreover, just write.
I’m on day 75 of 100 while writing my first novel, in first person point of view. I’ve just spent about two and a half hours writing a scene where my private investigator has discovered a dead body and another character who was this woman’s partner has also arrived. So, crying and tears were all over the place.
I have to say as I was writing this scene putting down the dialogue and facial expressions, body movements and emotions, it has affected my own current state. I do feel some of what I’ve just written. I know it’s fiction and I’ve only made it up. But, it’s real to me.
It’s interesting how writing fiction scenes of sadness can affect your own emotions. I’m going to get on to the triumphant ending in about two weeks time so that, I hope, will generate happier internal feelings.
The dramatic question is probably the single most crucial element in an entertaining story. It lies at the heart of suspense.
The dramatic question centres around the protagonist’s central conflict. Here are a few examples of exciting questions:
Is Odysseus ever going to make it home from Troy?
Will Romeo and Juliet get together?
Is the old man, Santiago, ever going to catch another fish again?
Will Michael Corleone save his family?
Is Captain John Yossarian ever going to be able to go home from world war II?
The writer’s job is to pose the dramatic question, to make the reader want to answer “yes” to the problem, and then to create suspense by raising obstacles to the question.
One genuine way to build suspense is to have a false success, where the protagonist thinks they’ve answered the dramatic question, they’ve saved the world, they’ve solved the murder. Let your protagonist revel in their success for a while.
But, then, pull the rug out from under them. It always works…
I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
Deadlines are meant to induce stress. I know none of us wants more stress in our lives (do you?), but most writers I know struggle with two things: discipline and focus. A reasonable deadline helps with both.
A little bit of stress focuses me on completing a task. A definite deadline can keep your bottom in the chair and your fingers on the keys much better than “inspiration,” that fickle muse, ever could.
How do you set valid deadlines, so they don’t just whoosh by as they did for Douglas Adams?
As I have found by completing more of my first draft in a month and a half than the previous year, you fix a penalty for not achieving a word count. I do dislike word counts as they become a target and I am an underwriter, so I usually fall short of any desired word count and add fluff words just to pan things out and use words.
Having put all that into consideration, I would recomend that you set up deadlines and don’t make a self-reminder or self-incrimination act to reprimand yourself for missing it. What you need is someone else to carry out the forfeit. Money is usually the best way to do this. Give someone £100 and have weekly deadlines, say Fridays so that you submit work every Friday and if you miss more than two Fridays they get to keep the £100.
It works fine for myself.
This update is about my progress to my first draft of my first novel in crime fiction. I am on Day 38 of 100 on a course called Write a Book in 100 Days, by The Write Practice.
Here are my observations:
1. The course is $100 more expensive, but if you complete your weekly deadlines of posting the 4,500 words you wrote during that week for 15 weeks, then you will have the money returned. While you reach a total of 65,000 words after 100 days.
I have to say, this type of deadline pressure does help you find the time and actually to meet the word count. Although, you can miss two deadlines of the course and still receive the $100 refund.
2. There are about 140 students on this course, and we are embedded in groups of 10 people. Each week on Fridays I have to submit my chapter. Before the next Friday, I have to read at least three other people’s submissions and critique their work.
This critique of 2000 to 7000 words is not as easy as it sounds. As it is a first draft then spelling, grammar and punctuation is not an issue. Not even ‘Show, don’t tell’ is an issue you can highlight.
I often write at the top of my submission that all I am interested in is how fast it is progressing and what the voice of the narration sounds like to the reader.
I have to congratulate Joe Bunting in creating such a helpful course.
At the end of the day, the characters are the most critical part of your story. They’re the ones with which your readers empathise; they’re the ones your readers will finish the book to follow. Some people have told me to write backstories and investigate every detail of their lifestyle so I can use them in a way that is consistent.
Here’s my simple principle: whatever makes it into the window frame of your story has to either impact your characters somehow or at least impact a role in a way that will grab your reader’s attention.
Build up your new world. Play and have fun. Go crazy with them. Then when it comes to your story, just make sure that the parts are seen through the window frame matter to the characters. It’s not who the characters are at the beginning, it’s what they do within the timeframe of your story. Their actions are what people see of them. A personality whom is merely upset and looks downwards is very different from a character that stands tall and slaps the face of the other actor that said something nasty.
Within this sub-genre of crime fiction is the cosy mystery. As a reader, the cosy mystery invites the crime and detective to solve an infamous crime but leaves out the blood and guts, bad language and sex. It supplies a happy ending. So a cosy mystery crime novel may be thought of as ‘Light Crime.’ However, has no lesser climax that the others in this genre. This sub-genre was made popular by Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and the murderer’s town of Midsomer. It is often set in middle-class small towns.
A new and upcoming crime writer, like myself, could convincingly write a cosy mystery, without too much prior knowledge of forensics, pathology or any other science.
To write a thoroughly convincing novel, you would have to look carefully at the puzzle that the detective must solve. If it is too apparent, then the reader will be tired easily. However, if it is too far-fetched and absurd, then the reader will make a not never to read any more of your work.
Things that are at stake must be important. This might be a character’s life or living, a long-held dream or something else, but it cannot be immaterial. Moreover, over the course of the novel, the stakes must go up rather than stay the same or decrease. For example, a crime novel might begin with a police detective being given a murder case. Over the course of the story, your detective’s job could start to rest on determining this single crime, and the detective’s matrimony might begin to suffer. The stakes become higher than the initial motives for solving the crime.
Another example of raising stakes: an amateur detective starts out interested in solving a crime. Over time, the protagonist’s loved ones might become potential targets of the antagonist. This format of raising stakes was used successfully by the writers of TV’s crime thriller series ‘Dexter’. Suddenly the protagonist’s action has much higher stakes.
Understanding with the Reader
You can only build suspense if the reader trusts you to play fair. Build the reader’s trust by fulfilling any promises that you make throughout the book. This means you must follow through on any significant set-ups. This might feel tricky in the context of red herrings, but red herrings are not so much intended to trick as to mislead the readers. In other words, red herrings must always have an alternate explanation so that the reader does not feel cheated and remains within the suspension of disbelief.
If you spend a lot of time on some detail so that it seems like it is going to be significant and then you abandon it, your reader will undoubtedly feel frustrated. On the other hand, if you show your reader early on that your set-ups pay off, then you can build suspense with longer and more complex set-ups with story arcs across the entire novel and sustain your reader’s interest throughout your book.
When you write a sentence, it can either be written in the passive voice or the active voice.
* The active voice describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. For example, ‘Brian replaced the flat tyre’.
* The passive voice describes a sentence where the subject is acted upon by the verb. For instance, ‘The flat tyre was replaced by Brian’.
In most cases, writing sentences in a passive voice is discouraged because it can obscure the subject of the sentence, and mislead the reader. It also regularly creates a wordy and clumsy sentence construction.
Defining Passive Voice
Every sentence contains, at a minimum, a subject and an action. The subject is the person or thing the sentence is about, and the action is what the subject is doing.
When the sentence is in the active voice, the subject is doing the action, and the subject typically arises before the action in the sentence. For example:
* I run. I is the subject. Run is the action. The subject doing the action appears before the action, so it is clear to the reader who is doing what.
When a sentence is in a passive voice, the subject is being acted upon by the verb, and the subject usually appears after the action. In an example:
* Running is something I do. Here, the action is Running, and the subject is I. The sentence is in a passive voice because the person doing the action (I) is not introduced until after the action.
Sometimes sentences also contain objects – or the thing being acted upon. This can make it more difficult to define whether the sentence is in a passive voice. For example, here is a sentence in an active voice:
* Philip hits the ball. ‘Philip’ is the subject. ‘Hits’ is the action. So the ‘ball’ is the object.
That same sentence in passive voice reads:
* The ball is hit by Philip.
* The ball is the object – which is not the subject of the sentence because the ball is not doing the action. Therefore, it should be after the subject (Philip)
Tips to Recognise the Passive Voice
Often a sentence in passive voice does not inevitably sound “incorrect” or wordy. However, it is still proper to write in active voice when possible.
To recognise that a sentence is in a passive voice, watch out for these keywords:
* Has been
* Have been
* Will be
I’ve often woken up, checked email, bought books on Amazon, phoned the Gas and Electricity company about my bill, organised meetings, and arranged everything else but write 500-1000 words wasn’t on my list.
If I’m lucky, I’ll hold an hour left to write just a little.
So, I tried looking at myself in the mirror and telling myself, ‘Don’t be lazy, just work harder’.
Self-talk is kind, here’s the stark, painful truth:
When I put writing last, it’s unlikely to happen at all.
It has taken me a year to comprehend that when I’m writing a book, it’s the most critical thing I need to do every day (apart from looking after myself).
It’s my job to reduce interruptions and distractions like the internet and put writing first.
Before some email.
Before the social media sites.
Before the news.
And sometimes before a breakfast meal.
When was the last time you set writing first?