Being a Better Writer: Micro-Blast #1

This post was originally written and posted November 3rd, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

I’m back! Woo! Man, does it feel good to by typing away at a keyboard this morning!

So, as I was looking over my list of topics this weekend, I came to a realization: A large part of what I had left to do from my list was mostly there because I’d never felt they would make a sufficient topic on their own. And the few topics that hadn’t been left for that reason had been left untouched for their own reasons; namely, that they were better-suited to one-on-one Q&A sessions, truly massive and in-depth writings, or very specific break-downs.

“This is no good,” I thought to myself. How can I manage to tackle all of these small issues in separate posts? They’d be small. To the point. Too abrupt. But I still wanted to cover them.

Which is why today I’m doing the first ever Micro-Blast! Why do separate posts for each one of these small topics or general ideas, when I can do several of them in one, quick, condensed post! This way, I can clean out the last of my old list before moving on to a whole new range of topics. So, without further ado, let us begin with the blasting!

What Kind of Plot Structures Should I Use?

So, this is one of those questions that I mentioned being better for an audience or a one-on-one session. Because there’s a lot about your plot structure that’s up to you. Clearly, you want to contain the classic points everyone learned about in grade school: introduction, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and resolution.

But that’s a really, really broad brush to “paint” with. In truth, there are a multitude of plot structures out there to chose from (three act, four act, five act, no acts). The first thing you should probably consider when sitting down to put together a story is what sort of story it is. What genre is it? What sort of things do you want to focus on with your story? What perspective will be using? Each of these choices will make some plot structures more appealing than others, and help narrow your focus. A comedy, for instance, is typically not going to have “rising action” in the same what that an action film is, but rather a “beat-beat-joke” structure that brings everything together … or maybe not. They’ll be similar, but different, and that’s going to affect the structure of your plot.

If you’re looking for help with this, I have two bits of advice. The first would be to familiarize yourself with various types of plot structures, specifically those types of stories that you want to write. Study and recognize how those stories structure their plots with their major points, and what causes rising action or a resolution. Again, while the concepts may be similar, the execution will be different, and you’ll want to plan accordingly.

The other bit of advice is not to forget the basics. We can go on all day about particular types of plot structures, but that’s getting pretty precise, and usually is something more often done by those who talk a lot about writing … but not as much by those who actually do the writing. Inciting incidents, calamities, setbacks, climax … these aren’t just tried and true methods—they’re core components of every story in one way or another. If you’re worried about a plot structure, don’t feel reluctant to go back to the most basic concepts and line everything up that way. Figure out where your points fit on the classic structure. Don’t worry to much about the nitty-gritty, but rather spend your energy and focus on the core components. Then, as you write, you’ll find yourself gravitating and discovering the specific techniques that work for you and your readers to make your story the best it can be.

What’s the Proper Way to Map a Writing Process?

I’ve had this question a lot, from a large variety of novice writers. A lot of these young writers read various author blogs, go to panels at cons, or even see/hear interviews with their favorite authors and have noticed that there seem to be a lot of different ways to write a book. And each of them wants to know: What’s the proper way? What should I do to map out my story?

The answer is, fortunately—but slightly unhelpfully—whatever works.

Because there’s no set “correct” way to set out to write a book. There’s the way that works for you, and every author is going to have a slightly different take. Some authors sit down and simply start typing, making it all up as they go along. Others meticulously plan out every detail in advance. Others dialogue their book while hiking in the mountains and then transcribe it later (no joke).

Which one works for you? Well, that’s up to you to find out. But I have noticed in my years of writing that most writing authors do tends to follow one of two primary styles, with one of two sub-types beneath it.

The two primary styles are what are known as “planning” and “pantsing,” and each author tends to sit somewhere along a scale between the two end points. Planning is pretty obvious: These are the authors that sit down beforehand and plan everything out. They outline the plot. They write up character files. They draw/develop a map of the world, a history, the governments, the religion, the tech base and who discovered it. These are authors who prepare enough supplemental material for their book that they could probably write a second book just doing a detailed rundown of the world they’ve built. These may be fantasy or sci-fi worlds, but they might not be. You can do a ridiculous amount of planning for even a modern-day work. And research. Lots of research.

The other type is the “pantser,” or discovery writer. Called such because they write “by the seat of their pants,” with no plan or outline, they just go. These are writers who sit down and just start typing. They have no idea who the villain is, or even who the main character is. They just write. And write. And as they write, they pick the pieces and parts that they like and build a story.

Now, a quick subnote before I move on. Planning writers seem to have fewer editing drafts than a discovery writer. A planning writer, by virtue of the design, will often only go through 4-5 drafts, maybe 6-7 at most. A discovery writer, on the other hand, will find themselves (at least, from the discovery authors I’ve spoken with and listened to) doing 10 or more drafts for a single book, as there can be a meandering focus that narrows as the author writes the story into its niche.

Now, all authors tend to fall one way or the other on this scale. I tend to fall far more on the planning side of things, though I’ve learned this by consciously forcing myself to experiment with discovery writing in its more pure forms. Figuring out where your talents and strengths lie will only help you as a writer. Some people are simply discovery writers, willing to do the extra drafts and just discover a story in a bunch of words.  This is where they’ll find enjoyment and their creative spark. Others (like myself) are planners, diving deep into the lore of the world in advance and building complex structures that need to be carefully guided.

Now, I spoke of writing sub-types. The two are linear and non-linear. And both types of writers can do either.

Linear writing, as one would expect, is writing straight from point A to point B. Start to finish. No jumping around, You write a scene when you get to it.

Non-linear writing, on the other hand, is piecemeal. The author jumps around, writing scenes and events out of order and filling in the blanks as they go. The end result is still linear to the reader, but the author may have written the ending first, and then worked backwards. This sounds crazy, but authors of both types do it. Robert Jordan, who was definitely a planner, wrote his series this way, which is why even in the final books (which, due to Jordan’s death, were written by another author) have portions of scenes and even whole chapters written by Jordan though he was long-since dead when the book came out. Discovery authors do this too. One discovery author I heard talked about how he wrote his books backwards—he did the ending first, then went backwards, writing chapter by chapter to reach the beginning.

Which one is for you? That’s for you to decide. Experiment. Try a few things. See what you think, what works.

What’s the Big Deal About Grammar?

Well, it’s what makes a story understandable. I understand that for many young writers grammar is a bit of a sore spot, because grammar is tricky, but having proper grammar can make or break a story. Grammar gets even trickier when you get to varying international standards between nations and whatnot, but here’s the core of it.

Proper, consistent, grammar matters. I say consistent because whatever style of grammar you choose, you must be both correct and constant with that style. If you’re going to use the word “grey” instead of “gray” be consistent about it. If you’re going to follow a style and rule of grammar, do so.

Now, are there instances where grammar rules are meant to be broken? Of course. But before you can use that excuse, buddy, you’ve got to have a pretty good understanding of why. So learn your grammar.

Wait, Break Grammar Rules? You Can Do That?

Yes, actually. In fact, you’d be surprised how often it happens in the novels you read. Usually, the culprit is dialogue, but there are rare cases where material not in dialogue may need to be—for whatever reason—incorrect. Regardless, this is definitely an advanced concept, and one that must be carefully utilized. Why? Well, because there are instances where correct grammar can actually hinder or confuse a reader. And I can speak from personal experience that the better option is to go for the incorrect option that looks correct but isn’t. But in order to make that distinction, you’re going to need two things: Experience and a solid knowledge of the correct form. Make sure you have those first.

But What About Grammar Purists?

To be blunt: They can shove it. People that go around spouting nonsense like “everything MUST conform to the Chicago 15th style manual or it is not a good story!” are usually about as valuable to a writer as a large mole on the side of the nose. In other words, they’re noticeable, but provide no useful service and are generally undesirable. They can sit in their little pretend towers all day looking down at “the rabble,” but in the end, only literati pay them any intention. They devalue a story by basing its worth on the wrong things. And since we’re on the topic …

Critics

Look, here’s the thing to understand about critics. There are two kinds: professional critics, which most self-described critics think they are, and amateur critics, which most of them actually are.

A good critic is useful. But most of the time, critics tend to be amateur and fall into one of three categories. There are those that enjoy tearing down others for their amusement (such as one self-described “reviewer” I found who in over 40 reviews did not have a single nice thing to say), those who consistently berate creators for perceived failings (the ones who will critic something for an error not because it’s an error but because they don’t know enough to know better), and the ones who are actually attempting to be encouraging while still pointing out weak areas.

There’s valid criticism and then there’s criticism that’s best not to dwell on because it won’t help. One of the challenges of being a writer will be figuring out who’s honestly trying to help you … and who’s just being a smug, “I’m smarter than you,” self-aggrandizer.

Any Advice for General Writing of Fanfiction?

—Know your source material backwards and forwards.

—Understand what purpose your work will serve. Is it serious? Goofy? Will it only appeal to a certain bit of the fanbase? A large portion?

—Be prepared for mixed responses. Your story will likely conform and be at odds with any number of personal fans headcanons. There will be feedback based on those personal headcanons.

—Write your story yourself.

—In the same vein, don’t write others stories for them. Or modify your stories to appease someone else’s headcanon.

—Be polite. Yes, there are plenty of anonymous Jackholes out there. Don’t be one. At the same time, be firm in supporting your work. It’s yours.

—Fanfiction is a good place to experiment with ideas and concepts …

—… but only after you’ve become proficient in the basics of writing. You can try new things, but don’t set out to make your first ever written work more complex than Primer.

—Don’t write fanfiction for money or pure attention. Both are nice (and one’s illegal)m sure, but do it because you love the universe you’re writing in.

—Grow thick skin. There will always be at least one person who simply despises your work with a passion, and would rather you die as a writer or a person than keep writing. They’ll find you, regardless of what you do to try and minimize it. So grow some armor.

—Have fun. Seriousness aside, this is fanfiction. You can treat it like serious business, but you can also just do it for kicks.

What Does My Day Writing Look Like?

This one really isn’t much to answer. I get up around eight, work out, have breakfast and a shower, do some morning scripture study, and then settle down at my keyboard. I write from around 10 in the morning to around 7-8 at night, sometimes with a half-hour break for lunch. The daily quota is a minimum of 3000 words, but 4000 is preferred, and anything past that is gravy bonus. Sometimes I’ll be on a roll and hit 5000 by two or three. Other times I’m up until 10 or 11 writing. It’s a slog, sure, but I like it, and the payoff is worth it.

But if you were hoping for glamour, well … I’d be boring to watch. Sorry.


PHEW! All right, that’s it for my first Micro-Blast! I hope you all enjoyed this quick summary of stuff, and now it’s back to writing for me! Oh! And before I forget, to those of you who have enjoyed Dead Silver and One Drink, you can now find both of them at Goodreads in addition to Amazon. The Goodreads advantage is that you can simply click once to leave a rating on either of them, without needing to write a review. If you’ve got a Goodreads account and don’t mind helping out, a quick click can help make the difference in how many new readers decide to pick up my books!

Have a great week, everyone!

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