Writing Tips from Four Famous Authors by B.Y. Rogers

A few minutes ago, not more than twenty, I was checking my Twitter messages and one of the tweets caught my eye. I clicked on it (imagine that!) and it led me to the Facebook page of Reno Pete. I scrolled down the page and noticed a link to a blog called Brain Pickings. I have run across this blog once before but this particular link made me stop so I clicked on it. It brought me to a post concerning writing tips. The blog offered writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut with links to more tips by David Ogilvy, Henry Miller, and John Steinbeck.  I quickly opened the links and copied them into my Evernote file. I then went to bed but my mind was racing and I knew I would not fall to sleep until I read these tips carefully.

I do not know what to make of them. Some are obvious, some I need to think about. In any case, I think each of the tips are valuable to authors who, like me, are still perfecting their craft (are we ever finished?).  So here they are. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. I have not attributed them as I should, but the link to the original blog is above. If you want to know who said what, please click on that link. There is another link to even more writing tips, in the Kurt Vonnegut blog post, but as they are mostly business related and not fiction writing, I did not provide the link here.

My favorite tips are in bold.

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Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.

Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Write the way you talk. Naturally.

Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

Start as close to the end as possible.

Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Work on one thing at a time.

Don’t be nervous. Work Calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand.

Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time.

When you can’t create, you can’t work.

Cement a little every day rather then add new fertilizers.

Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

Don’t be a draught horse! Work with pleasure only.

Discard the Program when you feel like it. But go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

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Beating the Block by Dellani Oakes

Writer’s Block – these ominous words send shivers down the spine of any writer. Insidious, it strikes with no warning, clogging the brain, paralyzing fingers, bringing grown writers to their knees. There are many types of writer’s block, each with its own pernicious characteristics. Below, I have listed those which plague me the most often.

1) Mid-Line Crisis: This is less destructive than its brothers, but still annoying. This is the unfinished sentence, incomplete thought or dialogue left hanging. The tortured …. of the soul. Though frustrating, it is not insurmountable. Usually a little brainstorming, trial and error and copious use of the delete button get me past this tiresome creature.

2) Ex Thesaurus: Also known as “What Word”? This usually runs with mid-line crisis and is fairly easy to circumvent. A visit to Thesaurus.com or a quick flip through the desk copy of Roget’s can pull a writer past this hurdle.

3) Post Climactic Stress: Or “Where Do I Go From Here?” The hero has saved the day, villains vanquished, lovers unite, children dance around May Poles – celebration time! All right, where does the story go now? It’s not over, but it needs to be soon. However, these pesky little loose ends suddenly electrify, screaming “Solve Me!” What to do?

Falling action after the climax isn’t always easy. The one question a writer fails to answer is the one readers will point to and say, “Hey! What about this?” To avoid the lynch mob, sometimes it’s better to eliminate a secondary thread unless it’s absolutely necessary to the plot. Otherwise, it’s a trip to blockage category # 4.

4) The Never Ending Story: As much as we might want our book never to end, it must. Sometimes though, we can’t seem to find a stopping place. The book goes on forever, until we get fed up and stop writing, or force an ending.

I have one book that is 873 double spaced, typed pages. Not only can I not find an end point, I can’t even read all the way through it without getting lost. The problem is too many sub-plots. (Hearken back to Post Climactic Stress.) Everything needs resolution, making the book go on forever. It will require a might re-write or splitting into multiple books.

None of these minor blocks are as frustrating as the fifth category. It really needs no introduction because even the most prolific writers have, at one time or another, suffered from it.

5) The Full Monty: Like its name implies, this is full blown, frontal exposure writer’s block. Insurmountable, uncompromising, frustrating, infuriating, aggravating, annoying, constipating….

There are no words at our disposal formidable enough to fully describe this condition.

Any writer who has never experienced Full Monty Writer’s Block obviously hasn’t written long enough. Suddenly, out of nowhere, completely by surprise it strikes! I equate it with being hit by a Volvo station wagon at 90 mph. Maybe an Escalade?

In any case, WHAM! In the face, hard core, heavy metal writer’s block. There’s no way to avoid it. Once in awhile the Muse takes a coffee break and so must we. As frustrating as they are, embrace these blocks. They force us to leave the security and sanctity of our homes and participate in life for awhile. Use this time to observe others or engage them in conversation. Each encounter gives us a little more grist for our imagination mill.

What’s In A Character by Karen Vaughan

Developing a character people will love or love to hate~
My character Laura in my series can be said to have “balls” but she has a tender side towards people who become important to her and will kick the butt of any bad-ass who gets in the way.  Laura had an average childhood as a tomboy in her family much to her mothers chagrin.  There is tension between mother and daughter as Mrs. Hamilton hated her singularity after her divorce and the fact that she lives in a less than upstanding neighborhood.   Laura doesn’t take much guff from mom but shows up for dinner on Sundays.
Laura’s first marriage was less than stellar. Even though she married her high-school sweetheart, Lou the wheels fell off after a miscarriage and then she found out he was gay when he advertised this publically.
This is all backstory but it gives a character a three-dimensional look and the reader will have empathy and are more apt to root for the protagonist in matters of the heart and ass-kicking.
Give your characters either good or bad a sense of humor. The wise crackers make great protagonists or villains and breaks tension in a suspenseful situation.
I have given some of my villains some redeemable qualities as well so they’re not totally hateful. But when they’re bad; they’re very bad and it works.
TINY TODD CRAWFORD IN DEAD ON ARRIVAL was a little person embroiled in criminal activity but had a soft spot for Laura. Unfortunately taking her and the decoy cop hostage was not a great way to win her heart.
LEENA DUBOIS-BROWN/JULIE WRIGHT IN OVER HER DEAD BODY –is the daughter of a wealthy gangster and is used to getting what she wants and that includes knocking off the competition to her elderly husbands heart and bank account.
KILLER T. FORD MY UP AND COMING DAYTONA DEAD is a egomaniacal NASCAR racer with a bad case of road rage—fellow racers call him a whining prima Dona but don’t piss him off.
DAVE MEECHAM IS A LESSER VILLAIN THE SAME BOOK AS FORD—He unlike Ford has a few redeeming qualities which are revealed in a huge epiphany thus making him a not-so bad ass.
Every character needs a straight man—Laura’s is her fiancé Gerry or the homicide detective Gibbons –they ground Laura when she gets herself in a pickle. They are the ones she feeds off and turns to when things get tense.

When a Character Won’t Do What You Want by Dellani Oakes

My husband thinks I’m crazy. This is nothing new. We’ve been married almost 31 years and he’s been sure most of that time that I’m out of my mind. That’s okay. I accept that. Ever since I started writing full time, he’s become more convinced that I’m even crazier than he previously thought. I can’t imagine what makes him think this, but I suspect it’s conversations like this.

“He’s doing it again.”

“Who’s doing what again? Is one of the boys misbehaving? I’ll jerk a knot in his tail.”

“No, it’s not the boys. It’s Manuel.”

“Who’s Manuel? The kid next door?”

“No, that’s not Manuel! You know, Manuel! In my book!”

“Manuel. In your book.” He’s starting to give me that look and take a step or two away.

“Yes, you know. He’s not behaving again.”

“Ookay…” He takes another step or two back. “What’s he doing?” He puts a piece of large furniture between me and him.

“He won’t be bad!”

He takes a dubious sip of coffee, moving another step away. “Ookay…. Are you sure you’re alright? You’re starting to look a little wild eyed.”

“I’m fine! Pay attention! He won’t be bad! I’ve tried to make him the villain and he simply refuses to misbehave! I’m going to have to make him the hero! He’s messing it all up. Oh, and Gabriella? She won’t fall in love with anyone else. I’ve given her two other choices and she wants him. What am I going to do?”

“I dunno. Let her?”

“What? Are you out of your mind? That messes it all up! I’ll have to write a totally different book now. I don’t get it. They just won’t behave like they’re supposed to.”

“Honey, they’re characters.”

“So? I know that!”

“Darling,” he says in a very calm and soothing voice. “You made them up.”

“SO??? They won’t behave! I should just kill them all off and start over! I am so frustrated!”

By this time I’m looking for things to throw and he’s beating a hasty retreat to his garage sanctum for a couple of cigarettes and a cup of coffee. It’s cold out there, but it’s safe. He stays there until he thinks the manic phase has ended and comes back in, keeping a very low profile as he skulks to his computer.

I swear, I’m not crazy. It does happen, characters take over and won’t cooperate. They will refuse to go the direction I want if I take them down a road they wouldn’t follow. The second I try to do something with them that’s out of character, they stop dead in their tracks, the story grinds to a halt and nothing moves until I go back through and correct it. I can’t tell you the countless numbers of times this has happened. With my NaNoWriMo novel this year, I’ve had to cut over 11,000 words because I kept getting off track. I’m still not sure I like where it’s going, but the characters seem more comfortable, so I guess I’m stuck with it.

As crazy as this might sound, you have to keep in mind that characters that are well developed do take on a personality. As a writer, you get a feel for where they will or won’t go, what they will accept and what they would refuse to do. Like real people, they have their stubborn moments, but usually only when the writer tries to push them in the wrong direction. The example conversation is based on a real one I had (more than once) with my husband about my novel, Indian Summer.

Manuel, the hero, was intended to be the villain, driving Gabriella into the arms of Sailfish. Well, he refused to give her up. Instead, he changed his wicked ways and became the man she would love and marry. Did I intend that? Not a lick of it. Would Gabriella accept another man? No. She wanted Manuel. Once I accepted this and let them go their own way, the story grew and I moved on to compensate.

A writer has to stay flexible. The minute you get too rigid, the story is going in the toilet. Keep it fluid, malleable. Don’t get so locked into what you want that you can’t see the big picture. Maybe your instincts as a writer are what is guiding those rebellious characters. Part of you sees that the direction is wrong and tries to correct it. Whatever is the case, try to look at the character rebellion in a positive light. Look at the story from an objective point of view – and don’t throw things at your spouse, it really isn’t his (her) fault.

The Plot Thickens by Karen Vaughan

Stories are either character driven or plot driven. Some writers will argue that there can be a bit of both.

This is good when there are rich characters and a good plot to carry them. My plots are usually quirky and most people who have read my books will know they are humorous but we have covered that already.

I have had plots where victims have been dropped on living room floors, face down in a bowl of cereal after being beaten over the head and in Daytona dead a car is the weapon of choice.

A good plot can be picked from either the headlines or ones imagination. I haven’t pulled one out of the headlines yet as most of them have been done by others or it’s just a subject I won’t touch with a ten foot pole.

I prefer to write things using people in my life as models or some experience I have had. I also take requests. For example my gay character Lou (Laura’s ex) had the same name as a friend’s ex-husband. At the time of her impending divorce she requested that I kill her hubby in a book but I didn’t want to have a second Lou so I just knocked off the gay man.  I revisited the premise of using a car as an instrument of death since Stephen Kings Christine. The time had come for the plot to be revisited.

I love revenge plots where some ones karmic mac truck is set to kick butt and justice is served but in DEAD COMIC STANDING some very funny people die before the killer gets what is coming to him.

So the next time you are looking for a good plot for a story think outside the box.

Contrast In Writing by Prudence Hayes

Being that I am a newbie in the writing world, I am still in the process of finding my own style; the way that I write to differ myself from everyone else and solidify myself as an individual. I have not perfected this yet, but I am slowly finding my way.

But along the way of finding who I am as a writer, I am finding out more and more about myself personally. A major aspect about me that I have found out is that I like contrast. It rings true in a lot of things in my life, but it is very apparent in my writing.

In my writings, I tend to jump from something that is emotionally traumatic making the reader sad or miserable and then jump to something funny in the next page or so making the reader laugh or crack a smile. Or, at least that is what I hope I do…

I don’t believe I do it on purpose, though; it is just how it forms in my head and leaks out onto paper, probably because the saying, “write what you know” is true. I write a lot about emotions and mental issues. I am an internally emotional person and have dealt with a lot of things with the help of humor. So, it is only natural for me to form stories in my head that way.

I hope I keep this aspect with me along the way of finding my true style because I think it keeps it interesting and natural.
From tears to giggles, anger to happiness, grief to euphoria; it’s the contrast that I find appealing.

Good Writing Is In The Eye Of The Beholder by Prudence Hayes

I will not deny that I don’t handle criticism well, especially in my writing.  Outwardly, I say ‘okay’, but inward there are flames galore and my heart is twisted in knots.  I have a few reviews on Amazon for my book and most are great. There is one, though, that has been chasing me ever since it was posted.  It’s like someone holding a chalkboard in their hands and following me throughout the day dragging their long nails across it.  I try and push it far back in my mind, but it has the strength to pop up and show its appearance at the most inopportune times.  Typically, it’s when I’m writing, which I then, throw my pen across the room and a downward spiral is kick started, during which I tell myself that I suck. Then, I have to talk myself off a ledge and push that bad review to the way back again.  I know; I’m a mess.

During my crisis negotiations with myself, I constantly say that good writing is in the eye of the beholder.  Just because this one person doesn’t like my writing doesn’t mean that it is horrible, it just means he doesn’t like my style.  There have been plenty of books that have been between my hands and I have had to place them right back on the shelf because I couldn’t get through them. We all have different ways in writing. If I wrote like you, I wouldn’t be me and my books would be yours not mine. 

There will be a day when a professional editor will read my books and they will probably have a field day.   I will try and take the constructive criticism in stride, even though I will be fuming inside.  I will take all the editing help that is thrown my way, commas and punctuation are a pain in my a**, but what I refuse to do is eliminate myself from my writing.  I don’t want to disappear in words that aren’t really mine and I don’t want those words to come out the way that they weren’t intended to by me. 

To some, it may be overly wordy and extensively adjective-infused writing and to others it is poetic and beautiful.

To some, it may be stark and bland and to others it is concise and to the point.  It all depends on the beholder of the book.  To each his own, I say to that bad reviewer.

How I Found My Writer’s Voice – by Dante Craddock

Every writer has to find their voice in order to put the words down on the page.  Otherwise those words are just a jumble running around inside of the authors head, slowly driving them insane.  I know this for a fact because I was one of those individuals with ideas in my head that I wanted to share with the world, but when I tried to put them down on paper they seem to come out as pathetic and flat.  I never seemed to be able to express myself the way I wanted to. 
Then I discovered a company called the Teaching Company.  And before you go chalking this off as a shameless advertisement for the company,  I will tell you that I have no connection to them other than buying some of their products.  The Teaching company specializes in recording college professors’ lectures on DVD and audio.  Then selling them to the general public at a fraction of the cost of actually attending those schools.  Of course you say that you don’t get the college credit for taking the courses, but what does that matter if you are doing it for personal betterment like I did.
The course I watched was Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft.  I was amazed by what I learned.  I discovered the true power of the sentence,  how to give incredible detail without it sounding like some boring list of facts, and how to bring about suspense with relative ease. Below are two examples of the first paragraph from Chapter One of A Love Beyond Time to illustrate the change brought about by understanding the power of the sentence.  The first is the original version I wrote years ago while struggling to find my voice as a writer.
The deck swayed and bucked beneath my feet in the cramped corner of the hold.  It smells of damp wood and a musty rotten odor that I can’t quite place but pervades everything in the ship’s hold.  The crates are piled high around me with only a narrow aisle leading from my little nook that has been my prison since they dragged me aboard.  These were the quarters I had been put in, if you could even call them that; they seemed to be more of an after thought.
The second is the completed form found in the now published A Love Beyond Time.
The wooden deck shifts beneath his feet, the planks creaking and popping, being twisted by the swaying and bucking of the ship, as it rides the crests and troughs of each successive wave, those waves crashing with ever increasing frequency.  He stands, in the small cramped cubby hole, leaning against the beam, struggling with each wave to stay standing, the coarse wood of the weathered beam digging into his hands.  A square iron lantern, his only source of light, with the hatches above secured against the growing storm, the crisscrossing bars holding the glass in place, a heavy opaque glass, its iron ring hanging from the hook embedded into one of the ship’s heavy timbers, feeble shines in the darkness.  With each successive wave the lantern swings to and fro, casting its light on an ever-changing scene in the darkened hold, revealing his surroundings to be glimpsed ever so briefly, swinging forward shining on the narrow crate lined aisle leading to the ladder for the deck above, its rungs hidden in the pitch black beyond the lights reach, the wooden crates variously sized and shaped, flowing off into the impenetrable gloom, bending back to the right exposing the ships hull, through the gaps in the high piled canvas bags, stuffed to the bursting point, under their rope netting, the wooden planks seeming to shudder with the colliding of each wave, arcing forward to the left unmasking from the shadows looming stacks of barrels, heavy ropes securing the stacks to the deck, the barrels shifting within their embrace with each heave and roll of the deck, hooking back around into the nook exposing him under its light once again.
The changes that I made are quite obvious, like how I changed the perspective from first person to third.  And how the first example lacks detail.  It is flat on the page with no life of its own, which leads to the most striking difference, the level of detail.  I found that using cumulative syntax I could expand the sentences and make them tell a story of their own.  The story it tells is what the man’s surroundings are, but not in a static list of descriptions.  I use the lantern’s motion to do the act of revealing.  That sentence has a hundred and fifty-eight words in it, but it flows well.  You’re probably thinking that is a long sentence, but you would be wrong.  I have actually written longer sentences and so have many other authors. The length of the sentence is not what really matters, its what you are trying to say with it.  I struggled with the saying part, but now it’s like a whole new world has been revealed to me.
In the end I believe the money I spent was well worth it.  I honestly don’t think I would have ever finished A Love Beyond Time without it.  And the best part is that if I ever need to review something, all I have to do is pop the disc in my DVD player and watch it.
By Dante Craddock