This is a narrative of my experiences starting out as a writer, but it isn’t a chronological account. I made this decision because the order in which I did things isn’t the order you should adopt. Due to going it alone, I unfortunately missed out some crucial steps.
In the last post we looked at coming up with an idea for your writing. Now that question has been answered, how do you get on with putting pen to paper? How do you go from 0 to author?
The answer lies in the pages of every work of fiction or non-fiction you have ever read, each TV series or film you watched, and every picture you looked at. You already know what a novel looks like from front to back. Stop there. Do you know it inside out?
Flicking through a story for enjoyment is very different from precision reading. Have you looked at a page from an author’s perspective? This is about analysing and interpreting how the author used words, emotions and prompts to create the story.
It could be something as simple as how to construct dialogue (a lesson I glossed over) or which is the best way to portray a character’s inner thoughts (there are more approaches than you might imagine).
I started off by having a very close look at what I’d already written. How smoothly do the words carry the reader from point A to B? Are there any unnecessary detours? Is the narrator running away with the story, while the protagonist lingers somewhere off stage-left, waiting for their cue to jump back into the action. Are they really present and emotionally engaged, or have we lost the plot (literally)?
Ask yourself, in all honesty, is your writing drier than a stale cracker?
This should give you a list of things to improve about your writing, if you’ve already written something. Take action, write the list down so you don’t forget.
Now it’s time to do some critique of someone else’s writing (phew). Take a look at the last three books you read by different authors. If you’ve already written something: hunt down each item on your list, see how they’re treated by each author, decide which style you prefer for a particular item and work it into your writing. Don’t like any of them? Come up with your own style!
For writers starting from scratch, look out for how each author constructs plot, dialogue, emotion, setting, character depth, etc. Use the same method as above to pick and choose your preferred style of each.
This should have been the second step in my process, but it was only recently (after a year of stumbling around in the dark) that I picked it up. I adopted elements of Karen Miller’s characters’ inner thoughts and plucked out a few tips for dialogue as well. It seems to have made a positive impact on my writing.