1. Illandrius
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    Illandrius Member

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    Writing Concerns

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Illandrius, Jul 20, 2016.

    Hello everyone,

    I am not sure if this has been brought up before or not. I have noticed a problem that I may have. I had a great idea for a book, so I thought, I can do that...why not?! So here I am with a world created and characters created and I sit down to begin writing and nothing.

    I have the ideas. I am struggling with the beginning of the book. Not only that, what I have written is very elementary. How does someone like me that has a really good idea get to the point where they can write it and it sound like it is well written.

    The question I have is how do you get better at writing. This is my first attempt at writing a book.
     
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Just one suggestion because others are sure to come: Be willing to treat the first few pages of what you write as a throw-away, as warm up, as getting into the groove, so to speak. Maybe you just throw that bit away or maybe it folds into the story later on. Be willing not to expect it to be golden from the first paragraph.
     
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  3. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    .

    The million dollar question. There's probably about a million answers to it also.
    You could take a creative writing class, or just read some of the thousands upon thousands of online articles about the subject.
    Some people suggest starting out by writing short stories or flash fiction to learn some of the basics of story-telling.
    You can also pick up a bunch of novels written by authors you admire & study what they do & how they do it.

    Then there's also the option of doing what I did, although I wouldn't recommend it, write your entire story any damn well you please & then show it to people who can point out the problems. I kinda did the whole process ass-backwards. First I wrote my WIP & now I'm trying to learn all the grammar stuff, proper story-telling techniques, words to avoid, etc. I think at this point my editing time has surpassed my original writing time.
     
  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The actual writing is your best cure for becoming better. Don't worry too much just finish a first draft.

    Here's some tips I like to follow - Include the five senses - it helps the reader relate to the characters. Keep your descriptions to a minimum - a tough one but it works - and make your scenes justify their place in the story ( that will keep your word count down ). This will make it easier to tweak and edit when your done. It's always easier to add to a scene than take away from it.
    Don't look for perfection just look for something good that you can work with in following drafts.
     
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  5. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    1. Don't consider your first draft to be the final draft.
    2. Read about various approaches to writing (Dwight V. Swain is a good place to start; see my sig).
    3. Assume that you're not going to let anyone read what you write (this removes the pressure to be perfect).
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Just out of interest, why do you think Dwight Swain is a good place to start? I read his book. He was a pulp hack writer who used other pulp hack writers to teach eager students to be pulp hack writers. Fine, I guess, if that's your ambition, but I found his Techniques of the Selling Writer to be a deeply depressing book.
     
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  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't start with writing a book--I'd start with writing that allows you to try different things, ideas, styles, etc., without that constant awareness that This Is A Book And I Might Break It. I'd write at least a couple of hundred thousand words, preferably half a million, before returning to the book.

    My first thought is a blog.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm curious to read it; I keep not getting around to it. But I don't inherently disapprove of pulp, any more than I inherently disapprove of food that gets its flavor from tons of bacon and salt and butter and garlic. There are subtler flavors and higher levels of mastery, but if it tastes good, I feel that it's not all bad.

    Of course, if Swain advocates fiction that's the equivalent of food that gets its flavor from tons of Bacon Bits and butter-flavored popcorn topping and garlic powder...then, yeah, bad.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    There's an old saying that the first million words you write are practice. I found that to be a serious underestimate, but your experience may be different. As others have suggestion, start writing what you want to write. Think of it as writing a story you want to read. If you tire of it, or run out of ideas, or suddenly come up with something different, then go ahead and put it aside. No harm done. When you read something you like, go back and read it again, this time looking at how the author did things - develop characters, create tension, drive the story, layer in subplots. What did (s)he do to create a book that you liked? Then see if you can incorporate some of those techniques in your own writing.

    Good luck.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't read any of Swain's own fiction, but I've reviewed the titles in his bibliography. These include such important works (I can't resist the sarcasm - sorry) as Bring Back My Brain!, Stay Out of Space!, and Henry Horn's X-Ray Eye Glasses. I don't find titles like these attractive or inspiring. When it comes to "how-to" books, I think I'll stick with John Gardner. ;)
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It sounds to me as if you have a good idea of what you want to write.

    I'd say forget about starting at the beginning, which is obviously giving you a bit of trouble. Sometimes that blank page can be terrifying, and working out a beginning is actually very hard for many writers.

    I'd say the most satisfying way to start is to STRONGLY envision a scene from your story. Your favourite scene. The one you most enjoy imagining.

    Doesn't matter where it comes in the story. Just make sure you see it and hear it clearly in your head. Just write that one scene. No intros, no backstory. Just that one scene.

    Don't worry about hitching it to any other scene yet. Just write what you see happening in this scene, try to figure out what you want THIS SCENE to accomplish. How do you want your reader to feel when they read this scene as part of your story? Is this the climax to a love affair? The start of one? Is it a crucial scene between a mother and daughter where the daughter finally understands why the mother has been so standoffish for so many years? The scene where the main character finally decides he's had enough, and has to do something about 'it?'

    If you can get that one scene to come to life, then you're on your way. Write the next scene, or go back and write the scene that led up to it. Or skip ahead (or back) and write the next scene that comes to you in full technicolor. If you get several of these scenes down to where you've got the situations pretty much nailed, then you can start stringing them together so they make a complete story.

    Whatever you do, concentrate on getting what's in your head down, any way you can. Expand it, make it play out in real time. Don't be in a big rush to tell us what's happening in your scene. Instead, pull us into the scene. Make us live there for a wee while.

    Most importantly. Do NOT tell other people what you're doing, so they start nagging you about how long before it's finished, etc. Don't allow any niggling doubts about what other people might think about your writing. Tell yourself that NOBODY is EVER going to see it, if it doesn't please you first. This is your private project. Write strictly for yourself at this point.

    (Or ...you can think of a real person—somebody who likes you a lot and who will love your story—and imagine you're telling the story to them. They'll provide your audience, but it's a risk-free trick because they won't ACTUALLY see it unless you show it to them after it's done. That's a little trick that works very well for me, and got me over lots of writing humps. It helps to focus your storytelling voice.)

    Don't worry about editing to perfection at this stage. Just get it written and move on.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2016
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  12. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    You get better at writing by doing more of it. It takes time to reach the level of writing we want to be capable of. You will write things you love and things you hate. Then you will probably rewrite both. A writer once told me that if she hadn't written her book the wrong way first, she never would have gotten it the right way. And her book is really great (the one that got published). Anyway, she believes we write exactly what we are supposed to write while we are writing. It's all part of our growth as writers. Whether it is publishable or not, there's no way to tell without a finished product. Try trusting yourself. Write a bad beginning if you have to. By the end of the novel, you will be a better writer and might want to take another stab it. Also, READ!!! Reading a lot is the best advantage you can give yourself. Readers write better. It just seems to work that way.
     
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  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    How odd.

    I found it to be the singularly most uplifting book on writing I've ever read. In fact, I've read it three times, studied it, took copious notes, picked it apart, and highlighted the crap out of it. There's a lot of useful information in there that I draw on every single time I sit down to write.
    After reading dozens of books on writing (and don't ask me how many; I lost count somewhere between 50 and 60 and that was only a few years into my quest) his is the only one that talks about the moment-to-moment mechanics of writing a scene. He's also the only one that talks about:
    • how to get from the disastrous climax of one scene to the goal-making decision for the next,
    • when and why to compress time,
    • what to do with story fragments that are neither scene (action) nor sequel (decision making), and
    • how to do exposition without putting your reader to sleep.
    Some may have been born with all this knowledge, but I wasn't. I spent a lot of time studying how to effectively tell stories and Swain was the only one to cover this stuff.

    Did you actually get past the first chapter? Most people don't because it's about basic grammar and they assume the rest is just more of the same.

    I once had a conversation via email with Sandra Brown who said she also learned from Swain.

    And there's an old saying: You teach best what you most need to learn. I guess Mr. Swain was the living embodiment of this old saw. I tried reading some of his stuff and you're right; he wasn't very good.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum is Stephen King. King is a great writer, but a terrible teacher (his books on writing, while they may inspire you and stir your blood to write, don't actually tell you anything useful about process).

    Which proves another old saw: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. (Which, if you think about it, also applies to Swain.)

    And you'll also note that I said Swain is a place to start, not a place to finish. Swain talks very little about story structure. He talks about peaks and valleys, but not plot points. For overall story structure I recommend Blake Snyder's Save the Cat!

    And if you wanna know about whether to write in first person or third (or [shudder] second) past tense, present or what-have-you, I recommend Orson Scott Card's Character & Viewpoint. (Although what he writes about character creation doesn't work for me, so I don't recommend it.)
     
  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    A caveat to all the "you get better by doing it" and "you need to put in x number of words/hours whatever" posts...

    It's not enough to just sit down and plonk away, doing the same thing over and over. You need to consciously think about what you're doing, strive for improvement, read your own work critically, seek feedback from others, etc. etc. It has to be "conscious practice".

    Think of three kids trying to learn to shoot a three-pointer. The first one just tosses the ball at the net, over and over, exactly the same way each time. This kid isn't learning anything. The second kid gets creative and uses a bunch of different techniques - overhand, underhand, using her feet, backward, whatever - but never stops to think about what she's doing, figure out what seems most likely to work, etc. The third kid is focused. She watches other players, mimics their posture as she develops her own, takes her time and thinks through each move, refines, develops - learns. I don't care if the first kid threw the ball five times more than the third or if the second kid spent way more time on the court. The third kid is the one I want on my team.
     
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  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely. That's why I suggested comparing one's own writing with published works.
     
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  16. BWriter
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    BWriter Member

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    How do you get better at writing - read and write. I don't think there is any thing any one can say to turn you into a great writer overnight. Like any thing worth doing it takes hard work and practise
     
  17. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Did you jump into the text of the story from the get-go?

    Some people like myself have to do a lot of outlining before we can get to the narrative itself: what's going to happen chapter-by-chapter, how do we transition from one chapter to the next... JRR Tolkien spent 20 years on this before he wrote any actual scenes
     
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