I guess by now you’re beginning to see a pattern in what I have to say about writing - less is more.
These days, more than ever before, writers have to work extremely hard to keep their readers’ attention. The connection between writer and reader is an ever-dwindling golden thread that needs to be treated with care lest it snap.
#TLDR is like a death sentence for a writer, because it’s not the number of words you write, but the way you write that matters. You may think I’m joking but I offer as exhibit A, the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book was the shortest of the series at a mere 79,944 words. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the giant at 257,045. What we can take away from this is that people do like to read. But they like to read things that are written in a certain way.
Doing the ground work
If you are going to tackle anything longer than a few hundred words you will need to do some work before you write. I touched on this pre-writing phase in the first part of this series. To make things easier, I’m going to talk about doing creative writing, instead of trying to give you a broad approach for all writing.
Start with your character
There are almost as many ways to find a character as there are character in the world. But you need to find a character that excites you. If you’re going to write a novel, you’ll be spending a lot of time with this person, so you had better be really invested in them. Remember that no one is all good or all evil. If your want to make your characters believable there needs to be a mix of both qualities in them. Someone can be inherently good, but be forced to make a terrible choice. Everyone has weaknesses, get to know your character’s weaknesses and strengths. Without your character you have no story.
Not all characters are human
Well, duh. If that were the case we wouldn’t have such classics as Black Beauty or Paddington Bear. But there are other, more subtle characters that can be important. Perhaps the character is a house, or a natural area.
Find the conflict
No conflict, no story. Can you imagine reading hundreds of thousands of words about Jill woke up in the morning and brushed her teeth. Then she washed her face. Then she brushed her hair. Then... with nothing happening? Your character has to be faced with a challenge. She has to be changed in some way at the end of the story.
Find the balance between dialogue and narrative
It’s quite easy to become lost in either dialogue or narrative. But readers don’t need to know everything. Lots of he said, she said, can become very boring. Long narratives about what everyone was wearing or what they look like is not needed. You can weave in the details you want your reader to know, instead of presenting them with a whole block of “she had long straight blonde hair and blue eyes with freckles and long fingers with her finger nails painted black. She wore high heeled boots and a black and white fur coat...zzzzzz”
Great strides in literature?
People used to write everything by hand. It made better writers, I feel, because it forced them to really think about what they were going to say. Whereas today we use gadgets and words flow much faster. But some things have made writers lives infinitely better. There’s nothing like name generators to speed up your work.
The other thing which is really useful is a programme that allows you to keep track of your story arc.
In the good old days you could use note cards like to you do with your essays. But these days you can get those which interact with word and make it much easier to juggle scenes and check continuity.
Look to the end
Don’t start without having an ending in mind. If you do, you can easily find yourself swallowed by the plot and not have an plausible means of escape. There’s nothing readers hate more than lame escape hatches like “and then the alarm woke me and I realised it had all been a dream” or “he had an evil twin brother”. But your story does not have to have a definite end. You are well within your rights to leave your readers wondering how it ended.