How to become a better writer

Writing and wrist watch

A writer is always learning and developing their craft. I recently threw out a tweet asking others how they improved as a writer. I received some great responses. Over the next few blog posts I’ll explore each one of these more in depth, but for now here’s a list. If you’re looking to improve perhaps there’s one you’re not doing yet.

1.Find some editors. 

While every writer should be able to edit, every editor will find something different.

2. Take some short courses.

Several of the people I’ve interviewed on this site have taken writing courses in the past and will do so in the future.
@CiaraBallintyne recommended the guys over at @Saavyauthors

I’ve not taken this course myself but perhaps you want to take a look?

3. Reading

The more you read the better you become at knowing what good writing is like.

4. Create or find a dedicated critique group

It’s true with anything in life, but the more you’re critiqued the more you’ll improve. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.

5.  Meet with  fellow authors

This is different to a critique group in my opinion, but authors can be part of your critique group.

More on all of the above in a future blog, I promise.

In the mean time, are any of these helpful to you?

Try a little writing…

HandWriting

I don’t think we should avoid typing. I do think we should write a little more.

There are many benefits.

  1. Writing activates different parts of the brain.
    Several studies show that writing activates different parts of the brain to merely typing. Here’s one for you to read:
     

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/dec/16/cognitive-benefits-handwriting-decline-typing

    The benefit? If you hand write part of your piece, and type, then your article or novel should become a little more holistic.

  2. Writing allows for a more deliberate process.
    Writing is a little slower for most people, and it takes more care to complete. Sometimes when I type I don’t have time to change the sentence structure mid flow, but when I write in ‘ye olde cursive’ I do.
  3. Writing improves your spelling.
    We automate so much of our lives with computers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but think back to your last text or email. How many words were auto corrected or predicted so that you hardly thought about the spelling and formation of the words you were typing? Hand writing doesn’t make you a perfect speller, but it does provide more time for thinking about word formation and actually making the writer ponder the words he is scrawling. Over time this leads to being a better speller.
  4. Writing is an art.
    There’s a whole discipline based around the way letters are formed, which pens to use, and even considering the color ink and where it is derived from. There’s a pleasure in writing a well formed letter that isn’t quite the same when it’s typed.
  5. Writing leaves more room for emotion.
    There’s a way of expressing emotion through writing that you just can’t do with caps lock and exclamation marks. It can slant more, or loop, perhaps be scratched out furiously or leave behind indents on the paper and parchment. Let’s be honest, there’s something different about scratching a word from paper rather than highlighting and hitting strikethrough. It’s just a little more expressive and intimate as the pen becomes an extension of your hand.

All this is not to say typing is bad. It isn’t. It’s just to say, let’s not rush into forgetting the craft of handwriting too quickly. It has its benefits.

A book should…

Book Spiral

Yesterday I tweeted something simple.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 8.58.41 PM

I think this is a lie.

There, I said it. I didn’t even retweet a lie. I tweeted a lie.

A book should inspire.

That’s it.

No one cares how informative it is unless they are inspired to read it. Or they’re at school and forced to read it.

As for entertaining, the best entertainment, as with the best fantasy, also inspires. If it doesn’t, is it really worth the hours of your life it will take to read it? Watch Netflix instead.

A book should inspire.

A

BOOK

SHOULD

INSPIRE.

 

 

5 Tips for writing YA

Youngman

Writing primarily for young adults means you need to know your audience, and writing for young adults in 2015 is very different to writing for young adults in the year 2000. This is because our culture has developed and evolved in ways that are much more visual and engaging than 15 years ago. Here are 5 steps that specifically apply to the YA audience.

Tip 1 | Pacing

Keep the action moving. In classic fantasy writing the author can take his time producing long drawn out descriptions that continue for pages upon pages. Young adults don’t like this. You will lose them and they will put the book down. This isn’t to say that some won’t conform to this rule, but you’re not writing for some. You’re writing to connect with as many people as possible right?

Tip 2 | Characters

Young adults don’t always think things through and they will connect with characters that sometimes make rash decisions. At the beginning of the World of Pangea the protagonist Idris makes a rash decision. It’s a typical teenager decision based on naivety and hope. That’s okay. Have you ever stopped to ask a teenager why they did something dumb? You already know the response you will receive don’t you!

Tip 3 | Emotion

Young adults are much more emotionally driven than other audiences. This ties in with the rash decision-making. 50 years ago fact and science drove the decision-making process, today teenagers want to connect emotionally and think emotionally. They will understand a character that does the same.

Tip 4 | Art

This is about the cover art. A new book needs cover art that connects with the YA audience. If you can’t find a good artist then you’re better off sticking to a title only on a plain colored background. Why? Because there are so many visual things out there that a young adult will spot a poor artist a mile away and want nothing to do with it.

Tip 5 | Beta Readers

Make sure some of your beta readers are teenagers. It will be a teenager that reveals to you some of the problems with the novel. Some adults have reviewed my novel and felt like the description was a little week, absolutely no teenager that has read it has given me this feedback. Some adults think that Idris acts without thinking it through, the feedback from teenage readers is that he’s ‘relatable’ and they love ‘connecting with him.’ One more example is an adult reader who told me they felt there was too much action in the novel, while teenagers told me they loved that it never slowed down and went from one thing to another.

Know your audience, the faster the culture of society changes and develops, the wider the gap between teenage perception and adult perception will become.

Creating good pacing.

water-drop-275938_1280

Have you ever read part of a novel and thought to yourself, “It just sounds boring?” If you’re a writer then the chances are you answer this question with a yes. Sometimes the entire story arc struggles. Exciting moments don’t read that exciting, and instead of finishing a chapter wanting to start reading the next, you finish a chapter and wonder if you will ever pick up the book again.

To some, pacing is an intangible that is difficult to spot. You just know it when you see it. This is a lie. Good pacing is made up of carefully crafted sentences, carefully positioned words, and carefully constructed plot.

If you wish to create a long, slow, lazy feeling of someone resting in the beautiful sunlight with their head back while light clouds float in the deep blue sky above, then as a rule you lengthen your sentences and use none threatening words.

Creating tension filled sentences is easier. Keep them short. Sharp. What will happen next? Every word matters. Repetition is your friend. Repetition builds expectation. Repetition instills urgency.

Run. Faster. Just reach the hill. There. The searchlight. Did they see me? No. Keep moving. Careful, careful. Run. Nearly there. Dive, roll, breathe. Made it.

It’s a far cry from sunbathing and relaxation. Tension isn’t easy to keep. Just like watching a scene in a movie, it should be interspersed with moments of rest that are broken suddenly. A reader gets tired of one word sentences and constant movement. They need time to catch up. We all do.

How you start and finish your chapters is crucial. In the middle of an adventure finishing a chapter on a cliff hanger is perfect. It forces the reader to want to know more and turn the page. In this instance it’s the page turning that builds pacing. Things appear to be taking place over a shorter time span as the reading increases in speed.

Finally, provoke questions. When your mind is engaged with something you don’t notice the time. A reader who is asking questions can become immersed in the story, and time in the real world goes by unnoticed. Engage them. The best piece of description is useless if it isn’t engaging. The best planned story is pointless if it isn’t involving.

So get out there and write. Be a wordsmith, but remember your sentence structure, remember to engage and remember to keep them turning the page.

Creating good description in fiction.

soul-623423_1280

Are you trying to immerse your reader in a scene that currently just seems so bland? Here’s a few tips on using description.

Matthew killed Michael.

That’s the basic scene you’re trying to describe. Let me first begin by saying that simple is often best. Having said that, if your novel is filled with three word sentences like this, you don’t have a story, you have a list of facts.  So how do we improve it? We add description but keep it simple and relevant.

The sense of sight.

Most people understand that you need to describe the physical setting. So let’s make some changes to the above sentence.

As the sun set on the horizon, behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew killed Michael. 

This is better, but is it relevant? It certainly evokes a sense of solitude, but you don’t need the word horizon, the sun always set’s on the horizon, so give your readers a little credit.

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew killed Michael.

This is much better. It evokes a sense of solitude without using needless words. The sentence is less clunky, more simple and more fluid by this simple change. A good many writers finish there. There are, however, 5 senses. Sight is just one of them.

The sense of sound.

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew heard the keen cry of Michael’s dying breath. He had killed him. 

Better. Yes? Now you wonder, what did that cry do to Matthew? Well, that’s not relevant for now, but later in the book you can reference this as a turning point for the character with some simple tricks.

Matthew awoke with the cry of Michael still ringing in his ears.

The action had an unintended effect on the character.

Back to description!

The sense of touch.

Touch is a very evocative sense. Think about an artist painting, or sex. What about typing or the little acts we take for granted such as buttoning up a shirt. All rely on touch. Touch will make a very satisfying addition to this quickly evolving scene.

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew heard the keen cry of Michael’s dying breath. He felt the man’s body shudder as he pulled the knife roughly back out of him.  He was dead.

The sense of smell.

Smell is under rated. Think about the effect of perfume, or that scent that appears after the first rain fall of the summer. What about those times you walk in the house, and someones cooking? Are there pleasant memories summoned to your mind because of it? So let’s add some smell to this scene.

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew heard the keen cry of Michael’s dying breath. He felt the man’s body shudder as he pulled the knife roughly back out of him. He smelled the scent of blood. He had killed him. 

The sense of taste.

I think most people instinctively understand the power of taste. We all have a favourite food or drink. Still, I’m surprised by how many struggle to put it into their writing. What can taste add to this scene?

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew heard the keen cry of Michael’s dying breath. He felt the man’s body shudder as he pulled the knife roughly back out of him. He smelled the scent of blood. He tasted the pungent metallic aroma of death. What had he done? 

I even added a twist at the end.

In Summary.

Not everything you write needs a four line descriptive piece. Just remember, you are telling a story. You do need to involve the reader in the emotions and decision making of that scene and the characters. Description needs to be balanced against the pace of the novel. You will notice, that the sentences became shorter the longer that description went on. This adds to pacing. We’ll talk more about pacing in another blog.

What was my hope in the other paragraph? It was to help you identify with Matthew’s loneliness, the horror of his act, and the instant regret of his conscience. Did I succeed? You decide.

Creating a good character

Characters_Green_Idris

Have you ever wondered if your protagonist is strong enough? Flawed enough? Relatable enough? What about the supporting cast? Creating strong characters for your novel are a crucial part of its success.

In creating Idris I had to make him personable, likable and flawed. Much of the novel is told from his first person perspective and readers don’t like to be stuck in the head of someone obnoxious or someone aloof. From the first page they needed to know what type of boy he is. His voice needed to be strong, but he still needed to be a boy.

I crafted a back story. What kind of people is he a part of? What are some adventures he undertook as a child? How does he interact with his family? What are his likes and dislikes? The novel that people read, is not where the story begins. The story begins when he was born, it’s just that most people aren’t interested in that. You, as the author, need to be interested in the whole life of your protagonist. If you’re not, no one will be interested in the part you’re trying to pen!

You can read about many of the supporting characters from my novel “The World of Pangea: Path of the Warrior” over at the World Of Pangea’s website. 

Just for you though, here’s a taste of Idris.

Idris

Idris is a young man of the Silures Demetae tribe who, by the end of the book, is a trained and skilled warrior. He strives to always honor his tribe’s traditions and has strong convictions about honor and duty. The Silures are a migratory tribal society that regards the world around them with respect. He is a natural leader, and is loved because of his selfless actions and sacrifice. His affection for those dear to him is clear, especially in the way he loves his sister, Mari. He does tend to be impulsive and overestimate himself, as is shown when he tries to take down the huge Behemoth alone.

Quote From Idris

“When I was young, perhaps three summers old,” said Idris, “I remember looking up at Noiro’s stars, as my father and mother pointed out his belt. We talked about his oath to protect his people. Even then I thought, that’s what I want to do. I want to protect people.”