1. TimWesson
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    TimWesson Member

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    New fiction writer; advice greatly appreciated

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TimWesson, Sep 1, 2008.

    I'm a Tabula Rasa when it comes to writing fiction; at least, it feels that way. I haven't written any short stories since my early teens, but I've always enjoyed writing, even in essay form. My studies have generally locked me out of fiction since time doesn't permit me to diverge from reading textbooks, manuals and research articles. That's not to say I don't read the occasional novel, but I haven't been exceeding three a year for a while now.

    To cut to the chase, I can't seem to get the scenes in my head down in writing; they exist only as pages of ideas. Most of these arise from being a regular lucid dreamer, so keeping a form of "dream diary" suits me well.

    My question is: what is the best way, in your opinion, of developing the skills necessary in creative writing? By this I'm thinking of techniques such as those to create suspense, ways of building tension and how to draw readers in from the offset. Reading as much as I can would be an obvious answer, but perhaps knowing more about these techniques so that I can pick them out in context would help me. Would it?

    Also, I've tried writing a few short scenes, but struggle to describe the physical actions and environments in any sophisticated way. Should I keep trying, and continue to frustrate myself, or focus more on short exercises as I encounter new skills with my reading? E.g. practice dialogue separate from action.
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    First, it is generally true that good writers are also good readers.

    When you read a novel, don't read it simply for entertainment, but pay attention to how the author did things that you struggle with. How did they describe a scene, for example. I say this because writing fiction and nonfiction or essays, don't draw on all of the same skill sets.

    Telling a story is different from writing a persuasive essay. It requires a different approach, different techniques. Reading well written, with an eye toward how it all comes together, will help identify those techniques.

    Also, realize that the first scene you write won't be perfect. If, for example, you write a novel, Chapter 1 to the end, you will learn as you go, and the latter chapters will probably be better written than the early ones. That is perfectly okay! You will have to revise/edit more than once before a novel is ready to submit.

    I am sure others will chime in with additional advice, but I hope this helps a bit.

    Good luck and hang in there!

    Terry
     
  3. BellLily
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    BellLily New Member

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    Honestly, the best I can tell you is to read and to practice. But, besides that, you can go and narrate things. Like, when you're watching a movie, try to describe what they did. That'll sometimes help. Another way would be to write with somebody more experienced. It'll be a way to teach you like reading, in a way, and you'll get straight practice. The only problem then is you can pick up their bad habits.

    But overall, I'd just narrate things. Like look up pictures and write out what it looks like. Then put it away for a day, and come back. Edit it with the picture in front of you. Then come back again later without the picture and go over it one more time. Of course, you can have other people read it over too, to see what it looks like to them. Or find a prompt and just write to it, if you don't feel up to writing out a full novel yet. Its not a short story, but it gets you into characterization.
     
  4. Kylie
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    Kylie Contributing Member

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    Read!!! Write!!! Get others' opinions!!! I think those are the only real ways to improve. I recommend that you start reading - look for things you can learn from it, write - the more you do it, the better you'll get at it, get others' opinions (on your strengths and weakenesses) - post it on this site, have your friends/family tell you what they think, etc.
    Sometimes, I get stuck and don't know how to convey to the reader what I want to convey. I usually grab a book and start reading, looking for ways the author conveyed it and learning from him/her.
    Also, there are some books and resources that can help you learn some of the stuff. I think there may be some that are recommended on this site.
     
  5. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    The only REALLY useful things I've ever learned about how to write came from reading other people's books, and paying attention in English class (to learn grammar and spelling).

    You've come up with your own suggestions on how to potentially try to strengthen your writing skills; the thing is you have to put them into action. Nobody can tell you if they'll work or not. Find an interesting-looking book and focus on the specifics that you claim to be having trouble with--see how the writer creates suspense, draws you in, describes physical actions, etc. Then, pick up another book and do the same. And then another. If you don't know how to do it yourself, and don't think that you can figure it out from writing it on your own, then you'll have to study how others have done it. And that means reading more than what you're currently reading. More fiction books, if you want to write fiction.

    If you think practicing short exercises on the different aspects of fiction writing--action versus dialogue, for example--will help you, then try it. You can't know until you do. Though eventually, you're going to have to combine the different techniques to create a whole.

    You can also try watching some TV shows that are heavy on suspense and action, and try to describe how they achieve these things.

    You say you keep a dream journal; that's a good place to start for ideas. Picture yourself in your own book or movie and then try to write it.

    I guess what I'm getting at is, the only way you can really learn is by trying and trying again. And yes, it'll be frustrating at times.
     
  6. TimWesson
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    TimWesson Member

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    Thank you all for replying. It goes without saying that I'll be reading more fiction from here on, but now I'll make sure to concentrate on how the author actually conveys the story. I've always been one to avoid analysing films and books I use for entertainment; perhaps I should drop that disposition.

    On BellLily's suggestions of narrating pictures and writing to prompts, I've taken them on board and think they're great ways of practicing. I'm actually working off of a street puppeteer prompt at the moment, a la "Being John Malkovich", and attempting to narrate paintings; thanks.

    In reply to TWErvin2: I try to be a perfectionist in all my work, but I've realised that for the first drafts at least, I should drive through and avoid constantly doubling back on myself, otherwise I may never finish anything! As you say, by the time I return to the beginning perhaps I'll have a better way of expressing the scene, and if not, I can always revisit at a later date . . . Oh, and on a separate note, I found your article on dialogue very useful; thanks for posting the link in one of the other threads.

    All four of you have posted great suggestions; I really appreciate it.
     
  7. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    I've got the same issue with trying to perfect my writing. I generally have to have other people look over it or I butcher it to pieces trying to refine it when it is already good.

    Anyways, my only advice is to read and get into the habit of writing on a daily basis, if you schedule permits.
     
  8. ParanormalWriter
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    ParanormalWriter Contributing Member

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    I'm going to echo what's already been said. Read up a storm. I feel its the best and most fun way of developing your writing skills. You think you're only reading a story, but all the while your brain is actually unconciously soaking up examples of good prose, so that when you sit down in front of your keyboard the words come more naturally to you.
     
  9. Gone Wishing
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    Gone Wishing Contributing Member

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    I might also suggest simply 'brainstorming' your ideas. I do this often, as a way to keep up the habit of writing and to get my ideas on to paper (or screen) where I can look at them more objectively. The ideas don't necessairly have to be cohesive - when I brainstorm, I'm not looking for a piece that will just require an edit etc - structure and flow comes much later, when I have had a look at which ideas intrigue/inspire me the most.
     
  10. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Listen to the old Nike commercials. Just get it done. It doesn't have to be sophisticated. When you start, it should be rough and is probably going to be disjointed. JUst give yourself permission to write badly. Everything can be fixed later.
     
  11. Fatalism
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    Fatalism Member

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    The best way is to read and write, daily if you can. I recommend you keep on trying some different plot scenes, same plot if you want but different wording. Try out many, and overlook them. Which one looks the best? Which one has that great emphasis to make us FEEL the suspense? If you're really struggling, post it in the plot sub-forum! You can get help from that section. Ask for feedback! We have a whole forum section just for getting help and improving! (improving as in learning from others, what to do etc., real reviews are from the Review Room) FEEDBACK - one of the most important things a writer needs for their story. Feedback is delicate and precious. EVERY writer needs it! Because the reader can express to you what you're lacking, what they feel. And if they don't feel what you want them to feel, or if they think you're lacking something. Try again.

    I have never had plot problems, but feedback is the way of writing.
    Good luck, and keep trying. Use those adjectives! Those adverbs, that great emphasis!

    Remember! We have a helping board up for a section! Help, learn and improve!
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the obvious and only real answer is by 'READing'... reading constantly, the best works by the best writers of what it is you want to write, as well as the work of the best writers of all time in all genres/mediums, so you can get a sense of all that is possible...

    i don't think so... but then i'm not a believer in 'how-to's for writers, other than that required for screenwriting, due to format idiosyncracies... my point is that there's no easy fix... no quick way to learn how to write well... reading about what this one or that one says is important technique-wise will end up just confusing you more than helping you learn anything that you could get much more easily and quickly by simply reading a lot of the best stuff in your preferred genre...

    i'd advise doing both, but drop the being frustrated bit... as you do the latter, the former should improve and get easier to do... if you want some one-on-one help with your 'lessons'/exercises, just drop me a line, as this is what i do for writers all day, every day...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Tim I believe you are correct. Knowing the techniques used by professional first will help you spot them being used when you read. It is much harder to learn these techniques by years of observation and practice. It is like trying to teach your self how to work on cars, with out ever taking a class first. Sure if you practice enough, ruin enough cars, trial and error, eventually you would become a mechanic. But you could save so much time and frustration by having a mechanic teach you first.

    There are a lot of well written books out there teaching how to write fiction. You could take a creative writing course as well. Some books I enjoyed are:

    Stephen Kings: On Writing
    Between the Lines: Jessica Morrell
    How to Write a Damn Good Novel, I and II: James N. Frey

    Also, you should be able to find Dean Koontz book on how to write. He offers a lot of good advice on how to write for different genres, and what publishers are looking for in each genre.

    Most best-selling authors had taking courses or a course in creative writing before they wrote they first best seller. Even Stephen King who believes that you are either born a writer, or you're not. I am not saying I disagree with him either. I believe also you are either born a painter, or you're not. But taking courses, or reading books to learn the techniques, will make you a better painter, and it will save you time, frustration, and trial and error.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i wouldn't go by king, since he's not a good writer, just tells gory stories people like to read...

    but koontz is indisputedly a master wordsmith and one of my favorite novelists, so i'd put more stock in his advice than any of the others mentioned...
     
  15. Futurist
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    Futurist Member

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    My advice is to keep your writing as simple as you can. Don't go at it with the attitude that you are creating great literature. Write as if you are talking to the reader, not trying to impress him. Use simple words rather than impressive ones, e.g., "use" not "utilize". I always ask myself when I get stuck with a sentence, "What are you trying to say?" This clears my mind to write what I mean. Imagine the scene in your mind and ask "Would someone really behave like this or say that?" Or "How would so-and-so react to this situation?"
    You obviously have an excellent mastery of the basics—grammar and the mechanics of writing—which many NY Times bestselling writers lack. One of the best ways to learn, as you mentioned, is to read fiction, the work of good writers, not NYT BSWs, although I consider John Grisham a good writer.
     

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