This has been the first full week back at work after the summer holidays and so I wanted to check in with everyone. The weather has been rather hot for Autumn but I can definitely see a change in pace. This season is always busiest for me and I have to find time to squeeze in some quality writing and editing.
After sending back my first edit of my forthcoming YA book entitled ‘Being Watched,’ it seems like a good time to recommend a book.
Ten Things About Writing
During lockdown last year, Joanne Harris put together a really helpful guide for writers. ‘Ten Things About Writing’ has collections of top ten tips for going through different parts of the writing process. From developing characters to editing the first draft, this book is inspiring and easy to access.
You may already know that Joanne is one of my favourite authors whose books I have been reading for over twenty years. Her insights into the writing process are brilliant!
She has, for example, a chapter of ten aspects of what she calls ‘Detailing’ which outlines how to write about pain, the weather and scents, amongst other things. She also talks about food, which is one of her recurring themes in her French books, such as Chocolat.
If you want some useful tips on how to write and like to see the process broken down into manageable steps, look no further. This wise and fascinating book is just for you.
Below is an affiliate link to this book. My feelings about this book are entirely my own but if you buy the book using this link I will get a small kickback, at no extra charge to yourself.
The process of planning a story, be it short or long, is fairly irregular. Every author does it slightly differently. We learn in school that stories tend to have a particular arc and this is often referred to as a ‘story mountain’. Even so, not everybody uses that strategy. Some people don’t plan what they write at all and fly by the seat of their pants. This blog post is going to suggest ways that you can get into planning a story without having to sketch out every plot point.
Have a hook
Just like any chart-breaking pop song, a story always needs a good, strong hook. If a reader has nothing to hook onto then the writing process is going to be problematic and the overall narrative will fall apart. A hook is something which will thread through the entire story, providing a motivation to get to the end. It will also usually provide the main characters with a mission.
Decide upon the viewpoint
Who is really telling this story? Do you want to write as if you are watching the story from above, gliding from scene to scene, describing the atmosphere and taking a helicopter view? The third person can be a useful tool but often writers choose to get much closer to their characters and write in the ‘close third person’ mode. This enables them to still describe everything, but with a particular character’s thoughts and feelings in mind. This may alternate in each chapter and is a device often used by Liane Moriarty in books like ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’.
Do you want the main characters telling the story? If so, then try and write in the first person. Some writers tell a whole story through one person’s eyes and others write each chapter from the viewpoint of a different character. They then return to the characters in future chapters, as the story unfolds. I used this approach in my debut book, ‘The Fathers, The Sons and The Anxious Ghost’. See blog post: https://jamieadstories.blog/2021/06/12/writing-my-first-book/
Maintain The Pace
Even if you don’t exactly know the ending of your story, it can be quite important to have an idea of when that point will come. Otherwise you may find yourself going off on all sorts of tangents and never knowing when the middle is passed and if you are anywhere near the story ending or otherwise. Pace yourself and make sure you know how long you are going to set the scene before you introduce the problem, challenge or mission.
Remove any obstacles
When you begin to write, no matter whether you have planned or not, you will always come across elements that just get in the way of the main storyline. This can happen when you get sidetracked or if a secondary character becomes too involved in a plot point. Editing as you go along or changing your original story plan can be vital further down the path. Overhanging branches of clutter can detract from you focussing the reader on that brilliant ‘hook’.
The one thing I have learned which has really helped me, as someone who doesn’t like to plan a story in its entirety, is to keep a track of all of the characters and make sure you have their basic profiles jotted down. I often find that after a few chapters I forget a character’s relationship with a secondary character or a small detail about them. This oversight can distract a reader if not maintained. Like a continuity director for a movie, you need to keep a sharp eye on your details. This way characters do not become unrecognisable later on in the narrative.
Make sure that when you have finished editing a text you reflect upon the planning techniques that you used. If something felt good for you then use it again. If you find that you really do prefer to write out a story map then that’s fine also. Get rid of the methods that caused you grief.
I hope that this article was useful in providing some prompts for story writing. If you liked this post then perhaps consider following my blog.
The writing process is fraught with many challenges and can be very time consuming, but for most of us it is a labour of love. Whether writing blog posts, short stories or non-fiction, the hardest part is usually the editing. Trying to finalise a piece and make it presentable enough to share with an audience can be very stressful so I thought I would share with you some tips that I have learned as a fledgling writer, teacher and blogger.
When you have finished an initial draft of something, always give yourself some space from the project before attempting that very first proper edit. For a blog post, leave it an hour before returning to it. When writing a story, try to give it a few days or even a week and then you should be able to look at it again with fresh eyes. After this the editing can begin.
Read it aloud
Find a quiet space and read out loud what you’ve written so far. I always find that my fluency improves so much after I have heard myself read my work aloud. You definitely quickly discover where something sounds repetitive or incoherent. If it doesn’t sound right, it probably won’t read right either.
Check your pronouns
It sounds like a small thing but it really is important to make sure that you have used a selection of pronouns rather than just repeat ‘they’ and ‘he’ or ‘she’ over and over again.
Along with this, check that every sentence has a different starter. A long list of sentences beginning with ‘She’ can soon bore a reader and cause them to give up altogether. Careful editing of this can make all the difference.
Read it to a trusted friend
This sounds pretty obvious but it’s not always something that people feel comfortable doing. Asking someone else to listen to your story or article can be very handy. They can tell you whether it flows or not and let you know their favourite parts. Once you know the best bits you can think about expanding these elements. This may even result in you cutting other parts out that didn’t seem to resonate as well.
Be prepared to rearrange
At times, it may be useful to reorder the paragraphs within your text. Usually, having read it to yourself and showed it to a friend, you will have new ideas about the sequence. This may not be the case with a story so much but could apply to blogs. Even writing out these points, I have changed the order as I reviewed my content.
Ask some questions
When you get to the stage of editing your work have these questions in mind: 1) Does your story or blog have a clear message? 2) Does it make sense on its own? 3) Are you able to summarise the story in a single sentence? If you can say yes to these questions then you probably have something ready to publish.
Let it go
There will come a time when you will have to let your project loose. Having followed the above steps, your short story or blog should be in a good position to fly. Be prepared to show the world and leave it to simmer for a while before thinking about it again. Then promote it with all of your energy and enjoy responding to readers’ comments. Comments, after all, make writing all the more worthwhile.
If you enjoyed this post, perhaps consider following my blog for more of the same type of content.
Here is a post that I recently wrote about short story writing: