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Resources from the Community: Tips From Three Writers

Three tips from recent posts on writing from Patti Moed, Kristen Lamb, and Stephen Carver.

Image by Fonna Seidu (CC BY-SA 2.0)

November is a busy month of blogging and writing, especially for participants in challenges like NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo. To get you excited for next month, here are bits of advice from three bloggers on WordPress.com:

Fill your creative well

In “The First and Most Crucial Step to Owning NaNoWriMo,” Kristen Lamb offers pre-writing advice for people embarking on a novel — but it’s handy for writers of any style or genre:

Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping.

Kristen spent two-and-a-half years researching for her last book on social media, which she says might not have looked like “work” to some. But it definitely was:

I was filling my mental reservoir. When my hands met the keyboard, I wrote almost 90,000 words in six weeks that needed minimal revision.

Whether your project is nonfiction or fiction, you need to prepare to write: to research, read, and allow your ideas and thoughts to steep. How do you expect to write your steampunk romance set on Mars if you don’t know anything about steampunk culture, romance novels, or Mars?

Check out more of Kristen’s advice on NaNoWriMo.

Write simply

In “Curing the First Draft Blues,” Patti Moed at Pilot Fish dissects intentionally terrible opening sentences that were submitted to a contest, and from the exercise shows the type of writing to avoid. Here’s an example she pulls from a Nordic adventure tale:

As the foeman’s axe descended, Ragnar Thorvaldsson thought — quickly, but with uncannily prescient anachronism — that his paltry contribution to this raid would not be recorded in the great sagas, or even a minor tale, but at best he might be remembered centuries hence only as “third oarsman” in the Boys’ Own Book of Viking Adventure Stories.

Ummm, what? Avoid “vaulted prose,” says Patti, which is bulky, unnatural, and impersonal. Write clean and simple prose. There’s no need to impress your reader with lofty language:

The words you choose should be based on their visual and emotional impact, not the number of syllables.

Patti offers more tips on writing, from plot mistakes to avoid to creating compelling fictional worlds.

Use dialogue with care

In “Top Ten Writing Mistakes Editors See Every Day,” editor Stephen Carver at Blot the Skrip touches on various storytelling elements, from pacing to characters to dialogue. On the latter, he writes:

Good dialogue is a function of good character creation. If you put the hours in on your character biography then, eventually, they will start to talk to you. It can take a while to tune in, a bit like channelling a spirit, and you’ll have to redraft some dialogue scenes many times to get them right, but the individual voices will come with practice and patience.

Stephen then goes on to describe the signs of bad dialogue:

  • Your characters sound the same — or all sound like you.
  • Unnecessary lines in your scenes don’t advance your plot at all.
  • You rely too much on cinematic storytelling — you’ve written a screenplay, rather than narrative prose.

Interested in reading more? Read Stephen’s thoughts on nine other mistakes writers make.

Do you follow writers who publish great tips on the craft of writing? Share your favorites.

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  1. Dialogue, whether character driven or the voice of the writer’s narrative, is the most crucial line of communication between the writer and his or her reader. It’s a direct link that builds trust and, in the case of fiction, convinces the reader to suspend their disbelief and go along willingly for the ride. Even as a humor columnist, dialogue is how I build trust with readers so that when I blow things out of proportion, they trust me to give them a happy landing. Except for that one woman who broke her leg…

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      1. No, I am a total heathen. Unless it’s a nice Sangria, I only quaff the delicious, sugary white wines. Bring me Moscato over Cabernet any day. (Oh, and I had to Google what are some standard types of red wine to write that. I wanted to write Muscatel, but unfortunately that is an equal opportunity wine. It comes in both red and white. It was nicely alliterative, but wasn’t a very accurate choice.)

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  2. As an aspiring science fiction novelist, I’m grateful to see this list. I feel like there are so many people who think that writing is simply a matter of putting together a story and watching your grammar/spelling, and indeed, I used to be one of those people. As I got more experience and researched proper writing techniques, however, I wised up. My writing skills have improved vastly since I first became interested in writing stories at the age of nine.

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  3. After writing for years, this is what l I have to say about it: Every word and each detail should either move the plot forward or be vitally connected to the story. 🙂
    P.S. Love your article

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  4. I’m more of a scriptwriter than a novel writer but I guess these two really forms of literary works overlap. Care must be taken, however, to preserve one’s own style. What if we wrote a bit like Barbara Cartland and less like Sidney Sheldon? I say, embrace your individuality, embrace who you are.

    Cheri’s post is a nice reminder for all writers.

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  5. Interesting tips. I don’t write fiction but I still find these very useful. I agree completely about “delusions of literature”. I read so many blogs that lose themselves in flowery language to the extent that you can’t see the author behind them. I recently took part in the “Writing Process Tour”. I’m no writing expert, but taking the time to look at my own writing process was a very useful exercise. If anyone would like a look it’s available here:
    http://myfoododyssey.com/2014/10/20/a-bit-about-writing/

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