How to Study Fiction Writing and Survive in One PieceIt’s not as bad as it’s been made out to be, and it isn’t as bad as sitting through professorial pontifications and then having to take a test.
The simple bottom line:
Get a stack of books and videos, then throw out what doesn’t work for you.and:
You have to test everything you read. For yourself. On your own writing.I know a great deal about researching, as I’ve been doing this for years myself. Researching in all sorts of different fields. Recently, I’ve been studying fiction writing as I’d wrapped up the other studies.
This article is to tell you the quick routes to effective research.
Surviving Your Old Bad HabitsThe best bottom line is to apply J. B. Jone’s “If You Can Count to Four…”:
- Figure out what you want.
- Pretend you already have it.
- Say “yes” or “no” to feedback.
- Keep your eyes and ears open for the inspiration coming “out of the blue.”
Just as a shorthand:
- Set yourself a goal. Decided and envision the exact details of that. Write it down on a card to carry with you. And you can also get a notebook and cut out images from magazines and paste them in it along with your description.
- Envision you already have it (as in Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich”, Claude M. Bristol’s “Magic of Believing” and Earl Nightingale’s “Strangest Secret” – there’s some more great references for you.) Review that card or notebook several times every day, at least first thing after waking and last thing at night before going to sleep.
- Deal with feedback you’ll get from people when you tell them about it. It’s probably best to keep your descriptions of your writing very general. Their feedback won’t necessarily help you. Accept ( say “yes”) to positive suggestions and ideas that come your way. Let go (say, “no, thank you”) to non-positive or unsupportive suggestions, comments, and critiques. (Like bellybuttons, every one has a free opinion.)
- Trust your subconscious to bring you want you want most. Look for coincidences that give you hints what you should do next. Act on these, as you can, preferably immediately.
Most authors quit because they can’t get their old mental habits out of their way. The above four steps help you with those.
Surviving Tons of Really Bad AdviceWe touched on it above.
But you are going to be studying writing for the rest of this existence. Because you want to constantly improve. That’s in order to help your readers have a better experience and buy more of your books. That in turn improves your author income.
An ideal would be to pile up a stack of books and videos about the subject.
- Now, take out anything in those stacks that have Grammar in the subject or the title.
- Next, take out anything written by a professor or someone in a university.
- Next to remove are anything with scammy titles like Internet Marketers use, such as ‘how much money you can make’ or ‘how easy it is to ____ in just __ steps.’
- Some of the better books in this area are written by professional authors who have been publishing bestsellers for decades. (Writer’s Digest has a nice series of these.)
- Throw out anything about how to publish books or how to write proposals. That’s another study you’ll need to do, or already have.
The main caveats are to stay away from anyone who says there is only one way to do things, or quote authorities or “scientific” studies saying how their advice works.
There Are No Hard And Fast Rules to Fiction WritingThere is only really what you love to read, what you love to write, and what your readers love to buy from you. If your fiction writing fits in all these categories, then you should be able to make income from it.
What works is what you test for yourself. If it helps you write better and faster, then it’s useful. Keep it. Note it down somewhere if you need to. Get it internalized so you don’t have to. Make it second-nature.
And that means you are going to have to let go of most of your English classes and training. As I said above, Grammar has nothing to do with writing and you should leave it alone. Even Strunk. His book is good for non-fiction writing. But not fiction.
Pick up some Patterson fiction or any other consistently bestselling thriller author and look over their sentences. They aren’t always. But you can find some arcane Grammar rules which explain them. (A one word sentence can be called an “expressed thought” FWIW.) You’ll take months sleuthing these rules out that you could have spent simply writing.
The best advice I’ve ever seen or heard is to write like you talk. Read your stuff out loud and correct it if you stumble over phrases or run out of breath before you get to the end of an overlong sentence (like this one.)
ProWritingAid.com is a great tool you can use to edit your sentences. They can help you find “sticky” sentences and get rid of pesky adverbs. Also, if you start out with the same word many times.
Learning by ReadingThen set up another stack of books, with the authors you really like to read. Also include DVD’s of movies and TV shows you’ve loved to watch. (Ideally, you’d get books they were based on as well.)
This second pile is where most of your real learning will take place.
You have to develop the habit of prolific reading and prolific writing. Every. Single. Day.
You set up some time for reading (like instead of watching TV.) And you set up some time for writing.
Maybe with your day job and your commutes, you aren’t left with much time after you fix your meals and help the kids with their homework. One author with three small kids would write in 30 minute sprints, whenever he could get the time. Another housewife wrote when the kids left for school and until they came back. Another author got up and went to work an hour early to get his writing done before the day started. Yet another had daily commutes on the train, and so took his laptop and headphones so he could write both ways.
Set the time and do the writing. Brande has some great ideas down this line in her book.
Only read what you love. If the book you are reading is difficult and you want to set it down, go ahead and do just that. The books that take you right to the end and you want more by that author and about that character – those are the ones you want to study.
Brande says to read that great book once, then take notes about what stood out for you about it, and then go back through the book looking for how that author made that happen.
Look over the sentences, the word choice, the length of paragraphs, the length of chapters, all that sort of stuff. This is where you’ll build your vocabulary and get ideas.
You can also dissect each chapter for openings, major incidents, and endings. Do that for a whole book and you’ll get some ideas about how to plot. You’ll learn more by dissection than you will by reading books about plotting theory. Because the examples you read (or even watch as movies) and enjoy are the ones you want to study and learn from. They are doing something right for you.
The One Key Idea – Test This For Yourself
“Does what I just read help me write better or faster?”That’s the key point.
In general, I am a bit leery of advice coming from people who sell services to authors. Freelance editors and proofreaders who are pushing their own books and services aren’t as trustworthy as an ebook you can get for under 10 bucks and delete if it doesn’t work.
I’ve bought more than one course which I didn’t open again after I got through it, even though I downloaded all their videos so I would watch them any time I wanted. And I just reviewed all these again recently, and noticed that fact. The investment I made didn’t really pay off as much as I wanted.
To be sure, I did usually get major ideas from some of them. Those ideas were not from the courses, but from testing their concepts against the real world and finding something more major or basic.
Until recently, I didn’t get any courses in creative writing. I’d only gotten courses in how to publish. Most of the over-hyped books are not about writing, but getting yourself to write. The worst one I read about said nothing in it about how to write better fiction, but how they would hold your hand for 90 days to ensure you did end up writing and publishing that book. (For a small, today-only discount of $2,000.00!)
That’s just nuts-and-bolts.
The truly sad point is that you can get all the core data from these “guru’s” just out of their free ebooks, free webinars and introductory videos. (And you only have to watch webinars about half-way through, as the rest is a sales pitch.) Taking their courses just spread the same data out over hours and hours.
One huge course said two things of value: Amazon was a search engine, and you had to publish every 30 days to keep your books visible. Funny enough, a free intro course by this same person told where he got the ideas from – and gave he name of that other author’s book. (Looking up that other author’s blog gave me another source of good data.)
Again, these courses are all about how-to’s.
Right now, I’ve gone through many of DWSmith’s courses which actually take up how to write better. And I’m reaching the end of what he can teach me. The rest is now coming from a stack of books I’ve piled up to study.
We all teach ourselves best by doing. Learn an idea, then write a bunch of stories that test that idea.
By the end of those stories, you’ll find that you are either writing faster or better, or both – or not.
If you want to improve your openings, write a few dozen books and concentrate on those. I’m going to improve my cliff-hangers by studying serials (and Louis L’Amour books) and then writing a dozen or more stories until I get this down pat.
Test everything. Starting with what I’m telling you right now.
Some Ideas to Test For Yourself
- Write short fiction and short stories to start with.
- Learn to make these add up into longer works, as a series that can be a collection.
- That means you need to study short fiction and short stories from the top bestselling writers.
- Write faster than you can publish. Then publish for pre-order sales, all scheduled months ahead.
- Publish weekly, not weakly.
The worst advice I’ve heard of will keep a writer slogging away at their first novel for years. Years.
If you can write 2K or better words per day (what Stephen King recommended in his “On Writing”) then you can have a short story out in a couple of days. A 20K novella out in 10 days. A 60K novel out in a month. Of course, you’ll have to add time in to self-edit, line-edit (see prowritingaid.com), and proof. Plus time getting the cover and description as part of publishing. If you can write 1K per hour, then you have the maybe another 10 hours in that day where you can edit and proof and publish.
With short fiction and short stories, this is possible. And by doing this, you can test both your writing abilities and the genre/category you are targeting.
Note: none of these four steps tell you how to write better. They only give you the structure so you can test data on how to improve your writing simply, easily, quickly.
Having income from your books, or at least publishing to Wattpad or Medium for free, will give you feedback you need in terms of whether people like and want more of your book. Readers are the ultimate test of your ability as an author.
- Set up your piles of books and material to study.
- Start testing by writing and publishing.
- Above all, enjoy yourself thoroughly. If it isn’t fun, why are you doing it?
from The Great Fiction Writing Challenge – Living Sensical http://ift.tt/2BEnVNP