Being a Better Writer: Applying Writing Advice and Feedback

Welcome back readers! Another Monday is upon us, and I’m diving right in today. by picking up a request topic from Topic List X!

So, you’ve done it at last and found a like-minded group of people who’ve come together in a pleasantly pleasing—yet still critical—writing group (more on that topic another time). You’ve met, discussed one another’s work, and as expected, they’ve found some areas you can polish with your work. But then, as you sit down the next day to look over what the group had discussed and the fixes you want to make, you come to a sobering realization.

You have no idea how to actually apply the advice they gave you. You know where the problems lie, sure, and what didn’t work. You’ve even got a few suggestions that they gave you. But as to how to put that advice to work in your writing? Suddenly, you’re drawing a blank.

And to be fair, this isn’t easy. Sands, that’s why the question was asked! Getting feedback on what needs to be fixed and then figuring out how? It’s a challenge, especially if it’s your first time having received such. You might even feel a little overwhelmed!

But first step—and this is key—is not to worry. Feeling overwhelmed is often one of the first reactions when faced with the thought of apply writing advice or sticking it into your story. And once you’re overwhelmed, it’s hard not to focus on that feeling.

So first, let’s break things down, shall we?

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Being a Better Writer: Imitation … or Copying?

This’ll be a short one today, guys. I’m actually still sick, but I really feel bad about missing last week’s post (in truth, my whole week went by in a blur of “ack, bleck, cough cough cough, can’t think, play Sonic Mania/X-Com 2). So you’re getting a post today. Not the one I’d planned (my brain’s not quite functional enough for the more in-depth companion piece to Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling), but a post nonetheless that instead serves as a sort of semi-follow-up piece to this one, instead.

You’ll note the similarity of the titles if you click the link. That’s intentional.

Oh, and really quick: Patreon Supporters, there will still be an August reward. I just … need to stop being sick first.

Okay, so today’s short topic. This was brought on by a post I ran across on a forum the other day that was directed as “advice” for new writers.

It was … poor advice. I’ll give you the quick summary. It postulated that in order to become good, what one should do was find an author whose writing that they wanted to emulate, pick a story or excerpt of theirs that you wanted to emulate, and then just … copy it. Type out the same words, massaged slightly with your characters and the details changed so that it wasn’t outright word-for-word plagiarism. Their reasoning was that this would help you ‘create’ something very much like the author’s you idolized, but still your own.

No.

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Being a Better Writer: Forward, Pioneers

Today is Pioneer Day in the state I live in, a day when everyone celebrates the forward-looking, pioneer spirit of the old west that sent so many explorers forth. And I thought “You know, I can make a Being a Better Writer post out of that.”

Which brings us to the here and now, where I am. Writing this post. About pioneers. Man, that was a short recap. Like the thirty-second backstory of a cartoon. Anyway …

So, pioneers. Don’t worry, this is still a writing post. This is still about sitting down and putting hands to keyboard, pen, whatever, and creating a world of wonderful characters and adventure, tragedy, comedy, or what have you. But what does it have to do with pioneers?

Well, I’m going to take a step back further in history to look at an earlier explorer. Namely, a man who put his name on history for the ages by insisting that India could be reached not by traveling around Africa or over land, but by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean. Now, we know this man as Christopher Columbus, who stumbled across the entirely unexpected Americas and got a lot of credit for discovering them in the modern eras. And yes, I know the vikings and the people that lived there beat him there, but Columbus was the one that put the Americas on the center stage and kicked off … well, just about everything that lead to the shape of the modern world.

Anyway, why do I bring up this story? For one reason, and one reason only: Most everyone considered Columbus insane. They thought the voyage he was attempting was going to be too treacherous. Pop-culture claimed that his detractors thought he would sale off of the edge of the Earth (despite people knowing back then that the Earth wasn’t flat). A lot of people simply thought he would get caught up in a storm and he and all his men die at sea.

Basically, there were a lot of fearful reasons that no one had ever attempted the journey west before. And if they had, they hadn’t made it back, so there was more to those fears.

Of course, we know the result of this story. Columbus secured his funding at last for his trading expedition. And as it turned out, his calculations were wrong. There wasn’t a direct, westward path to India because someone had put a blasted continent in the way (not that they realized this for a while). But soon they did, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. All it took was someone willing to take a chance on sailing west, against the “common current” that ruled the minds of the current climate.

Why I am I telling you this and what does it have to do with writing? Well, let’s look at one other success story first. Have you seen Stranger Things?

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Being a Better Writer: Ending Type Variety and Planning Ahead

I apologize for the lateness of this post. Despite not having work at my part-time due to a knee injury yesterday, this post ended up so long (my longest yet) that it wasn’t done in time to post.

Man, it feels like I’ve been writing about endings a lot lately, at least to me personally. Maybe that’s just because that topic sticks in my mind fairly vividly. Or maybe I’ve been covering endings too much lately and you’d all rather here me talk about something else. In which case, let me know in the comments! After all, there is Topic List X coming (currently I’m on IX)!

Right, no beating around the bush today. I want to dive right in. Let’s talk ending types.

Okay, some of you might be scratching your heads at this one. After all, an ending is an ending, right? I’ve talked about endings before. What more could I have to say?

Well, as it turns out, a bit. Because as I’ve said before in another post, endings are a bit like a keystone: Everything moves toward them. Every story has to have one. Or, again as I’ve said before, the whole thing falls apart.

But there is something I’ve not talked about with regards to these endings yet: What type of ending you want to have. Or, to put it another way, the various ways you can close your story based on what you expect to make of it at a later date.

Yes, today we will be talking about sequels. And lack of sequels, though neither of those is the total topic. No, we’re still going to be talking endings. Just the different kinds of endings your story can have to make those work or not work.

Or perhaps “endings” isn’t the best way to put it. After all, many people tend to use terms like “the ending scene” or the like to talk about a climatic battle, rather than the actual ending. So perhaps I should say “conclusion,” or maybe “resolution,” and frame our discussion in terms of that. Or maybe even “approach.”

Why? Because again, as I’ve said before, everything in your story points toward the ending. The conclusion. So the type of conclusion you want your story to have? Well, it’s better if you know going in so that you can adjust the rest of your story to fit. Know which one you’re going to want to pull out of your writer’s toolbox to frame the rest of the story. Just like keystones can be in varying shapes and sizes, so can endings.

A minor note here: What I’ll be talking about today is somewhat flexible. More than one story has been written with one type of conclusion in mind only to deliver another, and while yes, this does affect how the story is received … it’s not the end of the world. It’s a bit like having … oh, a keystone that isn’t cut quite right but still does its job when slotted into place. It might not fit perfectly, and the top might be a little uneven … but it still does its job. However, much like a paving stone that is raised or lowered slightly above or below that of its fellows, it still may feel odd to the pedestrian, and the discrepancy will likely be noted. If you’d like an example of this, think of any movie or book that in the last moments made a sudden sweep into sequel territory. Makes you stumble a bit, doesn’t it? Even if it doesn’t necessarily not make the rest of the story worth it.

Point being, today’s topic is very much a question of making everything line up right. If you happen to swap ending “types” at the last minute, well, your story isn’t going to come apart. Not in this context, anyway. But if you know beforehand what you want, you can lay the groundwork of the story much more carefully so that everything lines up nice and neat at the end.

Got it? We’re talking about types of conclusions you can make your story work toward. Types of endings, in other words, you’ll see in various media, and when and how to make them work, or what you’d need to do to pull that off.

So, preamble done, let’s start with the most basic type of ending.

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Being a Better Writer: Order of Operations

Hello again, readers, and welcome to yet another Being a Better Writer post with an ominous, math-based title!

I know, I know. Forty percent of you clicked away after reading that sentence. Another fifty percent didn’t make it past seeing the title. And the twenty percent that are left? They know what’s wrong with that last statement.

Actually, if you’re quick on the uptake, you might have realized that there’s more than one error in that last paragraph. The first most probably spotted, but the second …? Well, it has to do with our title, which means that this is as good a point as any to dive right in and get into things.

So, let’s go ahead and start then. Except … unlike normal, I actually want to start today with a bit of a hands-on moment. A writing prompt, if you will. You may have noticed that there’s a scenic picture below. See it? You might need to hit the jump. Anyway, it’s a picture of the Kennecott Copper Mine ghost town in Alaska. This particular picture was shared to Reddit, IIRC, so hopefully it’s all right to use it here. I didn’t take it, is what I’m saying, and the goal here is to use it for educational purposes. You can click on it to see it in all its glory (which I recommend).

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Being a Better Writer: Getting in the Zone

Welcome back, all, to another Monday! I’ve got to type fast with this post, as I’ve got another shift at my part-time today. This time, it’s in the afternoon rather than the morning, however, so as long as I keep my fingers moving, you’re getting a Monday post! Really quick, however, before I get started: some quick news updates!

Jungle is currently sitting at about 190,000 words (check the “Current Projects” page) and is over 50% done! The only part that saddens me about this is how long it has taken me—now I fully see the effect of working part time and trying to write a book: I just don’t have the same amount of time. I’ve been cutting back personal time, however, and gotten my monthly goals back on a somewhat reduced track … but it still sucks, because I’d really like to finish up Jungle and get started on the editing for Shadow of an Empire so that I can get that out by the end of the year. Granted, I could just stop writing massive epics … but what’s the fun in that?

Discord Day Care, meanwhile, is almost ready to go up. I’m going through the last stages of Beta right now, giving it the final polishing touches. That just leaves me with a cover to find, and to get it all uploaded and ready to post. The publishing schedule for the story, I have decided, will follow the timeline of the story itself. Each chapter will be published as it occurs in the story, in real-time. The only thing that won’t match up will be the dates. I debated back and forth about the best way to do this, but concluded that for Day Care, a publishing schedule like this one should work best. So be excited, it’s almost here at last!

Just a bit more, I promise, then we’ll dive into this week’s topic. First, last month’s Patreon supporter post was a pretty in-depth look back on the origins of my first book, One Drink. It’s something I’ve meant to do for a while now, and yes, for those of you supporting me on Patreon, you can expect in-depth retrospectives on each of my other works to make their way to you as time moves on. Those of you who are not Patreon supporters, it’s only a $1-pledge to become one, and you’ll get access to some behind-the-scenes stuff and previews. Plus, you get the satisfaction that your dollar helps support content like Being a Better Writer!

Now, last, I swear, and then we’ll be on topic: The Rolling Sale. No defined date on this one yet. I’m still working out some details. But the general idea is that it will be a month-long or so event, starting with One Drink and stretching up to Colony. The general idea will be that the first title in the chain will go on sale, alongside an announcement of tiers for the next sale. The more copies go out, the deeper the discount on the next book in the chain. Ditto for when the sale shifts to that title. Kind of a “the more people take advantage of this, the better it gets for everyone” angle.

Right, that’s all the news. Now on to today’s topic: getting in the zone.

So I’m fairly certain that some of you may be scratching your head over this title … and that’s partially my fault. After all, there are a lot of “zones” authors tend to get into when writing. There’s getting in the character’s heads. There’s getting into the world so it feels like we’re living and breathing it. And there’s even just hitting our stride and typing out endless chains of smooth sentences that come together to build the perfect paragraph. Technically, there are a lot of zones in writing.

But today, I’ve going to talk about the most general ones. This is, actually, a requested topic from a reader who wanted a bit of advice on this matter. I don’t recall their exact, word-for-word question, but it went a little something like this: When you sit down in the morning and get ready to write, how do you get yourself into the mindset to write? How do you clear your head? How do you pull yourself away from the rest of the world and immerse yourself in whatever fantastical world you’re putting together?

And … the truth is, this time, that there’s actually a magic bullet.

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Things Moving and in Context

So this last weekend I came to a conclusion. I’d spent the week writing, as usual, working on the first draft of Jungle (you know, that sequel to that Colony book everyone keeps talking about), but between being sick and low on sleep (said sickness really, really wanted me to sleep), something just wasn’t clicking. Something about the chapter I was working on, even when I finished it, felt off.

I spent my Saturday thinking about it. Running things over in my mind. Thinking about what critical plot elements the chapter introduced, how it did so, what the characters did when interacting, etc. And finally, I reached an important conclusion: The chapter wasn’t working because it was dragging. It was a slog. And it had to go.

Said chapter is now marked for deletion and rewrite. Actually, rewrite isn’t even the right term. Summation is more accurate. Because, I realized as I was thinking about it, everything that happens in that chapter could also be told in a different chapter in half the time, at a later point in the story, when there is, to put it plainly, more going on.

The chapter I’d written was dragging. It wasn’t keeping the story moving.

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