Five Writing Tips
With a bit of luck these five writing tips will help you start AND FINISH your story
Put writing in your diary
Are you someone who writes, or someone who thinks about being someone who writes? There’s a big difference. Getting down to the business of writing, and sticking at it long enough to finish a piece, is often all that separates two equally talented people, only one of whom can call themselves ‘a writer’. Make an ‘appointment’ with your desk each day, even if it’s only for half an hour. Give your urge to write equal time to watching TV or checking Facebook, for instance. Aim to get just a few words or ideas down – nothing special. Over time they will add up.
Okay – so you’re at your desk. Now stay there for your allocated time! Writer Geraldine Brooks calls it ‘bum glue’ – the discipline to keep at your desk when a dozen distractions (often unhelpfully lumped into the term ‘writer’s block’) are trying to drag you away. Press on when you want to bail. No writer produces a story on one hundred per cent magical inspiration, the thoughts flowing as fast as the writer can type or scribble. It’s only by persevering through the tricky parts (those movies where the actors stagger across desert dunes come to mind) that you’ll end up with a finished product. Write something, anything! You can change it later, but you’ll have something to work with.
Gather intriguing or appealing ideas for storylines, characters etc – notes jotted as ideas occur to you, newspaper clippings, photos of people and places – and keep them together in a box. Sift through them if you’re stuck. Maybe two or three will combine to create a strong storyline, or perhaps a single idea will add the extra dimension your story needs.
After you’ve been collecting ideas for a while, you’ll start to see possibilities in all sorts of things.
Read good writing
Read good-quality writing and look at how the author handles story aspects such as the introduction of characters and background information, physical setting, the type and amount of detail given to make things believable and the setting up of questions for readers to wonder about. Aside from giving you a feel for the mechanics of story writing, it’s likely that some of this effective or elegant language will trickle into your own writing.
Key story elements
Write what feels good and right and interesting to you, and be yourself. However, if your story starts to drag, or you feel that something is missing, consider whether you might change some aspect of these three key story elements:
Characters: Are the main characters interesting and consistent in outlook? From which character’s point of view is the story (mostly) being told? Would another’s viewpoint make things more interesting?
Setting: Is the physical setting (city/bush, grim/pretty, hospital room/grand house etc) adding all that it can to your story? Have you conveyed some sense of setting to your readers, or is it mostly locked away in your head?
- Structure: By structure, I mean the order in which information – be it background or newly arising – is given to the reader and to the characters. Does the reader need all that back-story right now? Should one character know something while another doesn’t? Does the reader need a certain piece of information in order to appreciate what is happening? Or would the story work better if it were withheld for the time being? Basically, would a different order of information intensify interest?
Perfection is the icing, not the cake
Write like a lunatic and don’t worry about who might read it and what they might think – in the first draft, anyway. This is the making of the cake, the throwing in of ingredients. Nothing is more likely to derail your creativity than feeling the need to get everything right first time. You’ll need to be strong. Turn off the spell checker. Turn off the computer for that matter and try writing longhand, crossing out and adding back in again at will and typing it up later. Above all, don’t do fiddly, word-by-word edits on a large scale until you have finished the entire manuscript. Any given paragraph is likely undergo substantial changes over several drafts, or may well be deleted.
Editing is your icing, applied only once your cake is cooked. When your story is in good shape, spend days, weeks, whatever it takes ensuring that it won’t be marred by out-and-out clangers, fuzzy phrasing, confusing structure or general wordiness. Have someone look over it, or read aloud parts you’re unsure of. If it’s short enough read the whole thing aloud. You’ll be amazed/horrified at what’s coughed up. When you’re ready, consult a book like The Australian Writer’s Marketplace (Queensland Writers Centre) for details on potential publishers.
If the cake/icing analogy doesn’t work for you, try thinking of writing and editing as two different hats. How often do you wear two at once? However you look at it, always remember – editing comes LAST!
Copyright Jen Banyard 2012