Are Your Stories Antifragile?

That’s no typo in this post’s title. Antifragility is a thing, and today I’m discussing the concept as it applies to fictional stories.

In his book Antifragile, Things That Gain From Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb asks if there is an antonym of the word “fragile.” If there were such an adjective, he’d say it describes things that become stronger when stressed.

He doesn’t mean words like ‘robust,’ ‘tough,’ or ‘resilient.’ Those words describe things that sustain shocks without damage. He wants to describe things that improve their resistance to stress by being stressed. Lacking a ready word, he coined the term ‘antifragile.’

Can a story be antifragile? To answer that, we should consider the things that impose stresses on stories. These include criticism in negative reviews and mocking satire.

What would it mean for a story to become stronger? If it meant that the story became more widely read, more popular, with increased sales, then an antifragile story would be one that suffers negative reviews or even satire and yet its sales increase.

Are there any such stories? If I recall correctly, Nassim Taleb offered the more popular plays of William Shakespeare as examples. For four centuries, those plays have endured bad reviews and been mocked, but they are performed far more often and in more languages and formats than they were in Shakespeare’s time.

From an author’s point of view, antifragility seems like a wonderful property for a story to have, especially the increasing sales part, right? If you wanted to write an antifragile story, and perhaps lacked the skill of Shakespeare, how would you go about it? Are there tangible attributes of such stories? Is there a checklist to follow?

I hate to disappoint you, but there’s no checklist. Further, the only authors who really understand what it takes to make a story antifragile…well, they’re dead. That’s because stories don’t really demonstrate that property to the greatest extent while the author is alive.

Still, being me, I’ll take a crack at it, because I like a challenge. Here is my proposed checklist for making your stories antifragile:

  1. Create complex and compelling characters. They need to seem real, with strong emotions and motivations, with goals to attain, with difficult inner problems to surmount, and with bedeviling decisions to make.
  2. Appeal to every reader. That may be impossible to achieve in a single story, but in your body of work you should include characters of many types, in diverse settings. Include rich and poor, young and old, introvert and extrovert, city and country, etc.
  3. Explore the eternal truths about the human condition. You know many of these eternal truths—we’re born, we grow up, we have parents, we learn to relate to others and even fall in love, we have disagreements and conflicts with others, we become curious about the nature of our world, we deteriorate with age, and we die. When I say to ‘explore’ these truths, I don’t mean to write a philosophy book. Write a fictional story that entertains, but causes readers to ponder those deeper truths after reading it.
  4. Execute your story with style, flair, and creativity. Yeah, right. Simply do that. This one is hard to implement, but I’ll suggest some thoughts. Look for ways to turn a phrase well. Create a new word that English lacks but needs. Write in a manner that stands out, such that readers could identify your unique voice from a couple of paragraphs chosen randomly from your stories.

Okay, it’s not really a checklist where you mark off each item in turn: done, done, done. It’s more of a guideline with concepts to aim for. Who knows if it’s even accurate? After all, I’m not dead yet (as I write this), so I can’t possibly know.

Still, it’s intriguing to think that one day, readers may consider your stories to be antifragile, and when scholars trace it back, they’ll discover you learned how to do it from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

5 Rules for Writing Humor Right

You may think it’s difficult to write funny stories, but the truth is it’s excruciatingly agonizing. Also, if you endure all that pain and get the humor wrong, readers will laugh at you (and your mismatched clothes and uncombed hair) rather than at your story.

Since humorous writing is so tough to get right, why don’t we forget the whole thing? For one, if we can manage to tell a funny story, readers like it. An amusing tale lifts them from the gloomy tedium of their dreary lives, the poor things. Think of it as a public service, kind of a ‘clown-author saves the world’ idea.

I know, I know. I hear you saying, “But, Steve, I write serious fiction. I don’t need to know how to write humor.” Okay, surf elsewhere if you want. But you really should spice up your “serious fiction” with occasional bursts of frivolity, if only to break up the interminable stretches of seriousity.

For those still reading this, I’m about to reveal my five simple rules for writing humor. Well, they’re not that simple, and aren’t actually rules, but at least they do total up to five. To develop them, I scoured the Internet (and it needed a good scouring). Then I spent literally lots of minutes searching for good advice on writing humor. I found that good advice from Brian A. Klems, Joe Bunting, Annie Binns, and Joe Bunting again. While blindfolded, I then chose only the choicest rules, right up until I got tired. After five. Here they are:

1. Maintain the elephant of surprise. Take common sayings or clichés and tie them in knots. Go in directions the reader doesn’t expect.

B. Dare to ask why pants come in pairs. Start with the ordinary, the mundane, the familiar, and the everyday, then find some weird aspect about it all. Look at it from a bizarre angle. Drive your reader to that vantage and invite her to look, too. (Note, “Hey, Babe, let me drive you to my bizarre-angled vantage to look at my weird aspect” is not a recommended pick-up line. Ever. It’s a metaphor.)

III. It’s still legal to discriminate against words. Choose words carefully. Unearth a thesaurus and examine its guts. Select specific words, not general ones. Seek words that sound humorous when juxtaposed. (I think the word ‘juxtaposed’ is kinda funny all by itself.)

Four. It’s a story, not a routine. When a comedian performs a stand-up routine, he feels free to change topics several times. You can’t do that. Your story must hang together as an integral whole, not consist of disconnected jokes. I blogged once about how some movies do that well and some do it poorly.

7. No, sorry—5. Wait for it… Structure your sentences so the last words have the most impact. Ideally, the joke is in the very last word. Develop a comedic sense of timing so that you’re not rushing to get to that ending punch. Let your sentences roll along, lulling the reader, and then swing your sledgehammer. (Metaphor again.)

If you study those five rules carefully, I can guarantee that…well, that you’ve studied them carefully. You’re going to need a lot of practice to actually write funny stories, and so will—

Poseidon’s Scribe

13 Ways You’re Writing Wrongly

Inspired by K. M. Weiland’s wonderful post, “How Not to Be a Writer: 15 Signs You’re Doing It Wrong,” I decided to make my own list.

My list differs from hers, since it’s borne of my own experiences. Moreover, I’m sure there are plenty of unlisted items I’m still getting wrong, that hinder me from greater success.

Arranged in rough order of the writing process, here are a baker’s dozen ways you’re writing wrongly:

  1. You’re not actually fitting one word up against another. In other words, you’re not writing any fiction. Maybe you’re easily distracted, doing too much research, talking about being a writer while not writing, or just intimidated by the prospect. Doesn’t matter. If you’re not writing, you’re never going to be a writer.
  1. You bought your limousine and mansion before the advance arrived. Let’s set some realistic expectations here. Most likely, you’re going to labor in obscurity for a while, probably years. First time best-sellers are very rare. Heck, best-selling authors themselves are rare. Only a tiny percentage of writers support themselves with their writing.
  1. You’re copying someone else’s style. After all, (you’re thinking), if it’s working for James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, etc., then it should work for you. Inconvenient fact—readers already have a Patterson, Rowling, Roberts, Grisham, etc. Create your own style.
  1. You’re sure the rules don’t apply to you. I’m talking about those pesky rules of English and the rules of literature, stuff like spelling, grammar, and story structure. All those rules are for mere plebeians, not you, right? Actually, you’re really supposed to know them. As for always following each rule to the letter, see item 5 on my list.
  1. You obsess about following the rules. You’re now a walking dictionary and could qualify to teach English at Harvard. You chiseled the rules onto granite tablets and now pray before the tablets twice daily. Why are your stories not selling? There’s an overarching rule you forgot—you’re supposed to write stories people want to read. If some rule of writing is keeping you from telling a great story, break the rule. Just don’t go too far (see item 4).
  1. You quit before “The End.” Around the world, desk drawers and computer file directories bulge with half-finished stories. If you would be a writer, you must finish your stories.
  1. Your epidermis is on the thin side. In other words, you don’t take criticism well. The most mundane comment from someone in your critique group or from an editor will either set you off in a bout of inconsolable sobbing or high-minded ranting at the imbeciles that surround you. Get a grip. They’re not attacking your personal character; they’re trying to help you improve your story.
  1. You inhabit a world that’s just too slow to recognize the wonder that is you. How frustrating that must be, to cast your gaze at the mortals about you and see them not bowing before the genius in their midst. Well, genius, here’s a word you might look up: patience. Recognition, if it’s to come at all, will come in time.
  1. You revise edit reword amend change adjust vary redraft alter rephrase modify wordsmith rewrite your story endlessly. Sure, that story will be perfect once you work on it a bit more, just add this and delete that, change the POV character, throw in some better verbs and adjectives. It seems like it’s never quite right. True, it never will be perfect, but it could be good enough.
  1. You defy Submission Guidelines. What’s with all these editors, anyway? Each one has a particular format for story submissions, and each format is different. That’s too much trouble for a great writer like you. Your story is so superb the editor will overlook how you flouted a few guidelines, right? Nope, wrong again. Obey those guidelines.
  1. You never click ‘Submit’ or ‘Send.’ That’s because if you do, some editor might actually see your precious story, might read it, and might not like it. Better to keep your story safe with you, in your home, where nobody can ever criticize it. Uh…no. Show your baby to the world. It will be okay.
  1. Rejections are reasons to revise edit reword…rewrite your story. An editor has rejected your story, perhaps even explained why. To you, that’s a sign you must rewrite it before it can be good enough to submit elsewhere. No. Go ahead and submit it elsewhere immediately. (However, if an editor rejects your story but says she’ll accept it if you revise it in a particular way—ah, that’s the sign that you should rewrite and submit it to her again.)
  1. You’re relaxing after submitting a story. There, you just sent your story on its way. Now you can kick back and wait for the acceptance, the contract with the six-figure advance, the launch party, the book tour, and the TV interviews. Sorry, no. You’re supposed to be a writer. Start writing your next story already.

Avoid those pitfalls and you’ll be on your way to becoming a published writer. Best wishes in all your writing efforts, from—

            Poseidon’s Scribe

What Do Editors Want, Anyway?

Most beginning writers, especially those who’ve suffered a few rejections, wonder about the answer to this post’s subject question. What do editors want?What Editors Want

I can’t pretend to speak for all editors. I’ve not reached the point where all my stories get accepted. I’ve never worked as an editor myself.

However, a few years ago, one editor* gave me his answer to that question, and it’s a good one. He wrote, “I’m a stickler for a story having not only a clear protagonist, antagonist, and plot, but a resolution of the plot (in which the protagonist participates) and a change in the protagonist on some level. I like stories that, as Twain once said, ‘accomplish something and arrive somewhere.’ Most accomplish nothing and arrive nowhere. It’s dreadful to read through an otherwise good story and have it end without ending.”

Let’s accept that as a working proposition and break it down.

  1. Clear protagonist. The reader shouldn’t have to wonder who the main character is. I believe the editor chose the word ‘protagonist’ rather than ‘hero’ since the main character need not be particularly heroic.
  2. Clear antagonist. Stories must have conflict. There must be some entity against whom the protagonist struggles. The antagonist need not be a person; it could be nature or the environment. Once again, once finished with the story, any reader should be able to name the antagonist.
  3. Clear plot. By this, I believe the editor was saying the story must portray events in a logical order. The events must relate to the conflict and follow each other with a clear cause-and-effect relationship. Some events will escalate tension and others will relieve it. Overall, there needs to be a gradual buildup of tension until the resolution.
  4. Plot resolution in which the protagonist participates. The resolution is that part of the plot where the conflict is resolved (the bad guy is defeated, the two people fall in love, the protagonist overcomes a character flaw, etc.). It’s important that the protagonist take action to bring about this resolution and not be some bystanding witness to the action. Note: the word ‘resolved’ does not imply happily or favorably. Resolution of the conflict could be accomplished by the protagonist’s death or other defeat.
  5. Protagonist changes on some level. If your protagonist is the same person at the end of the story as she was at the beginning, the reader will wonder what the point of the story was. The clause ‘on some level’ refers to the fact that conflicts are generally classed as external (bad-guy antagonist or unforgiving environment) or internal (character flaw, irrational fear, grief, unreasonable guilt, psychological problem, etc.). Many stories impose both internal and external conflicts on the protagonist. For internal conflicts, the change should be an overcoming of the condition, or at least hope of such problem solving. For external conflicts, the protagonist’s change is generally a maturation of some kind.
  6. Story accomplishes something. This is part of the Twain quote, and is a restating of points 4 and 5. The plot and conflicts must resolve and the protagonist must change. A great way for a story to accomplish something is if it says something useful about the human condition.
  7. Story arrives somewhere. By this, I take Twain to mean that the story must end at an appropriate point, not before the conflict resolution, and not too long afterward.

Save your editor some time, and save yourself another bout of rejection-grief. Check if your story meets all of the above criteria before submitting it. If it doesn’t, it’s not ready.

Of course, even if your story does meet these criteria, that’s no guarantee of acceptance. Who can pretend to know what all editors want? Certainly not—

Poseidon’s Scribe

* Note: the editor who wrote that is David M. Fitzpatrick, of Epic Saga Publishing. He accepted one of my stories for an upcoming Epic Saga anthology. David has gone into more detail about what he looks for in submissions; see this wonderful blog post here, which includes some great writing exercises, too.

8 Rules for Writing The End

Writing the ending of your story can be as difficult as coming up with its opening lines. After all, the ending is the part that will (or should) linger in your readers’ minds. It’s important to craft an ending that satisfies, intrigues, and leaves readers hungry for your next book.

The EndWhat should you do to create a memorable and striking ending? Here are 8 rules to follow, distilled from great posts you should also read by Dee White, James V. Smith, Jr., Brian Klems, Crista Rucker, Joanna Penn, and the folks at Creative Writing Now and WikiHow:

 

  1. Resolve the story’s main conflict(s). Even if the external conflict isn’t fully resolved, the protagonist’s internal conflict should demonstrate growth in that character.
  2. Ensure the final events result from the protagonist’s actions and decisions. For better or worse, the hero must bring about the ending, not stand by and watch it happen. Do not allow a Deus Ex Machina.
  3. Strive for an ending that’s inevitable, yet unexpected. I’ve always found Beethoven’s music to be like that. “Yeah,” you’re asking, “but how do I do that?” Take the expected ending and give it a twist; that’s how to give readers something they don’t expect. The way to make that ending inevitable is to go back and drop foreshadowing hints into the story. If these hints are subtle, then your ending can be both inevitable and unexpected.
  4. Allow only a brief resolution after the story’s climax. The end should be a rapid relaxation of tension as I depicted here.
  5. The end should refer to story’s theme, but not be preachy like a morality play.
  6. If you’re unsure how to end your tale, write several draft endings and either choose the best one, or combine elements from two or more of the best. You may end up with as many drafts of the ending as you wrote for the beginning hook.
  7. You needn’t fully wrap up all the story’s loose ends (except those pertaining to the protagonist and the main internal conflict), but they should be addressed or hinted at.
  8. The end should reflect back to beginning, but in a spiral manner, not a circular one. By that I mean that things can never be as they were in the beginning of the story; too much has changed. By referring back to the beginning, that will emphasize this change to the reader.

Adherence to these rules should help you end your stories in a manner satisfying to your readers. At last, riding off into the sunset on his amazing rocket-powered pen, goes—

Poseidon’s Scribe

13 Rules for Writing Fight Scenes

Conflict is central to fiction. Not all conflict is violent, of course, but at some point, one of your stories might require a fight scene. Therefore, even if it’s distasteful to you, it’s best if you learn how to write such scenes.

Fight ScenesViolent interactions can take many forms beyond individual combat. These include war, rape, terror, shooting sprees, etc. This post focuses on fights between two characters, but many of my suggestions apply to other situations.

People use a variety of weapons when fighting, including bare hands and feet, clubs, knives, swords, guns, any object available in the environment, and a wide array of science fiction or fantasy weapons. Again, most of the guidelines for fight scenes are general, and applicable to any weapon type.

For the following list of fight scene rules, I drew from, and combined, ideas from the following people’s blogs: Joanna Penn, Angela BourassaAmber Argyle, and the contributors to Wikihow. They’re all great sources of information, and I recommend you read each one. Now, here’s my list:

  1. If possible, observe a real fight. Note offensive and defensive movements, tempo, exploitation of speed vs. strength, etc.
  2. Study fictional fight scenes written by great writers. Pay attention to details selected, sentence structure, word choices, and techniques used to heighten tension.
  3. Ensure your scene is relevant to, and advances, your plot.
  4. Consider using the fight to reveal or further develop the characters’ personalities, and maybe the story’s theme. SwordintheStonePosterMy favorite example of this is the “wizard’s duel” in the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone. During their fight, Merlin and Madam Mim are each turning themselves into various animals. Madam Mim’s animals emphasize power and strength; Merlin’s emphasize cunning and intelligence. The superiority of brain over brawn is the lesson Merlin has been trying to teach young Arthur, and is the major theme of the movie.
  5. Ensure you’ve established that both characters have appropriate motivation. Why is each one fighting? What does he or she hope to gain by winning? That helps the reader care about the outcome.
  6. Break up the lunges, punches, slices, gunshots, etc.—the mechanics and logistics of the fight—with short dialogue or description to keep from boring the reader. When using dialogue, skip the ‘said.’
  7. Don’t overdo the description of the fight itself; trust the reader’s imagination to fill in such details.
  8. Use short sentences, with few adjectives or adverbs.
  9. Weave in all five senses in the fight, to put the reader there.
  10. Show the Point of View character’s thoughts and emotions as the fight goes on. This is as important as the description of the fight itself.
  11. Ensure your word choices and detail selections are appropriate to the genre and your intended audience. A fight in a military thriller must be accurate, believable, and authentic. A fight in a romantic adventure should focus on the POV character’s feelings.
  12. Don’t forget about the aftermath of the fight, how much the POV character hurts, his or her feelings about the opponent, thoughts about whether the fight was worth it, etc.
  13. In subsequent drafts, cut to the minimum.

It’s my hope these rules will help you write effective and compelling fight scenes in your stories.

Not to brag, but your characters couldn’t last one round with characters written by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

February 14, 2016Permalink

Dumped in the Middle of the Road

You’re reading along down the story highway, racing through action scenes, taking the dialogue curves at a good clip, the wind of the story’s world in your hair. All of a sudden, a truck up ahead upends its load and a pile of text pours onto the pavement, right in your path.

You’ve been stalled by an infodump.

Infodump

You come to a stop to decide what to do. You could plow right through it at slow speed, but you hate that. You could drive around, avoiding it entirely, but some of that text might be necessary to understand the story. If you’re in an angry mood, you could forget the whole book and move on.

An Infodump is one of the Turkey City Lexicon terms. It refers to a passage of text used to explain things and give background information to the reader. It can be one paragraph, or go on for several pages. It’s most common in science fiction and fantasy, where the story’s world is unlike our own, and you need to immerse the reader in it.

From a writer’s perspective, it seems so necessary to convey that information. The reader needs to understand certain things so later events in the story make sense. Many of the great writers of the past used infodumps; Herman Melville spent whole chapters that way, and it hasn’t hurt his sales. Oh, perhaps the writer could think of clever ways to work the information into the story, but who has time for that?

Better make time, you Twenty-First Century Writer, because readers these days don’t want to slow down and plow through your dump.

Here are some techniques:

  1. Delete it. What does that info add to your story, anyway? Do readers really need to know it? Are you dumping that load to help reads understand, or to show off your research or add credibility? If you can delete it, do so. If you can delete most of it, do that, and use other techniques to convey the rest.
  1. Work it into dialogue. Readers speed through your characters’ dialogue pretty fast, so inserting some of your infodump into their speech is one way to avoid slowing readers down. Caution: there’s danger here. You must not swerve into the As You Know, Bob lane. Make sure the dialogue is realistic as well as explanatory.
  1. Work it into the action. By ‘action’ I don’t necessarily mean fight scenes or car chases, but any passages where characters are doing things, moving about, or actively interacting with their environment or each other. It’s characterized by action verbs. It can be interspersed with dialogue, and often serves as a ‘dialogue tag,’ letting the reader know which character is speaking.
  1. Make it entertaining. If you can turn those smelly tons of interfering text into pure, golden fun, readers will actually enjoy the interruption. By ‘entertaining,’ I don’t necessarily mean funny, but humor is a great way to accomplish this, if you can pull it off. This method calls for considerable creativity and skill.
  1. Make it short. As a last resort, keep the infodump, but reduce its length. Readers may forgive a short, explanatory passage here and there.

I struggle with infodumps in my fiction, but it’s important to eliminate them where possible. Dump trucks are fine in real life, but when they drop their load in the middle of your story’s road, it really ticks off your readers. Not good.

Doing my part to beautify the nation’s literary highways and byways, I’m—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Before You Write that Scene

What are the things you should be thinking about before you write a scene in your story? Pantzers and Plotters will approach this question differently in the first draft, but in subsequent drafts, the questions will be the same.

Whether your work is a novel or short story, it is a sequence of scenes. A novel’s chapter can have one or more scenes, as can a ‘part’ or ‘section’ of a short story.

I’ll look at two approaches today, and you can combine them or pick the one you like. When I researched the topic, I found an approach used by Larry Brooks and a different one used by Dr. Randy Ingermanson. I’ve mentioned Ingermanson before in connection with his snowflake method of writing.

Larry Brooks’ View

My picture of Larry Brooks’ method shows the story as a sequence of scenes. If written well, each scene serves an important purpose in the story. If written poorly, a scene can seem out of joint, or even seem like a side-trip out of the story.

Scene Structure -BrooksI’ve drawn a single scene as a system with inputs and outputs, but Brooks hammers home the importance of having a mission for the scene, a mission that advances the plot somehow. The scene’s mission must also support the overall strategy for the story.

He discusses ways to choose the point to start the scene—the cut-in point. He suggests you think about sub-text to put in the scene, those unstated inferences that show the reader a character’s true thoughts, or make some metaphorical thematic point. Brooks says that all scenes should develop or reveal characters, but that should never be the sole point of the scene.

In Brooks’ view, a writer must align every scene with one of the four parts of a story. These parts are the Set-Up, the Responder, (where the protagonist is responding to the First Plot Point), the Warrior (where the protagonist grapples with the main conflict), and the Resolution.

Lastly, the scene has to end in a way that urges the reader on.

Randy Ingermanson’s View

Randy Ingermanson takes a more structural and prescriptive approach. He encourages writers to view scenes at a Large Scale and a Small Scale. In discussing the large scale view, he uses terminology from Dwight Swain and suggests that all scenes are either scenes or sequels. (I prefer to use the terms tension and relaxation.) These alternate in sequence, to allow the reader to catch a breath between points of high drama or action.

Scene Structure - IngermansonThe tension (scene) scenes each include a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. The relaxation (sequel) scenes each include a reaction, a dilemma, and a decision. That sets the write up for the next tension scene.

Turning to the small scale, Ingermanson says good writers construct each scene from a series of MRUs – Motivation-Reaction Units. The motivation is some external happening sensed by the point-of-view character. The reaction is the internal emotions or thoughts experienced by the POV character as a result.

Final Thoughts

I’ve condensed the thoughts of both Brooks and Ingermanson, and I encourage you to read each of their full posts. There is much to learn from both views, and they are not contradictory, so it’s possible to do both.

If you consider their approaches before and during your first drafts of any scene, and during the rewriting and editing of subsequent drafts, I’m betting your stories will be more focused, more readable, and more enjoyable.

Time to split this scene and return to the other never-ending duties of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

In 1989, author Stephen Covey came out with his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I’m a sucker for self-improvement books and found Covey’s book inspiring and practical. At the risk of insulting the late Stephen Covey, I’ll dare to suggest seven habits of highly effective fiction writers.

The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_PeopleCovey presented his seven habits in a logical order, with a nice, organic structure. His phrased his habits—aimed at helping people live better lives—as brief directives, but took about a chapter to explain each one. They included such things as “Be proactive,” “Begin with the end in mind,” and others.

In a similar manner, my suggested habits have a rough order to them, but are not as neatly structured as Covey’s. My habits do not parallel Covey’s, but they do consist of brief directive statements which require some explanation. Here they are:

  1. Listen to your inner storyteller. First and most important, you’re a writer because you have story to tell, because you can’t imagine not writing. Keep that inner spark always burning; it will sustain you through the difficult times.
  2. Form the discipline of writing. Sometimes your inner storyteller doesn’t yell loud enough, and the rest of life’s obligations close in. If you’re to be a writer, you still need to write, write, write. There is no substitute for time spent with butt in chair and fingers on keyboard.
  3. Get help with the craft. Seek all kinds of help. Study English again. Develop your vocabulary. Read about writing. Read the classics. Attend writing classes and conferences. Join a critique group.
  4. Follow your muse. As you write more, you’ll think of characters, plots, and settings during odd, idle moments when you’re not writing. That’s your unconscious, creative voice—your muse—talking. Pay attention. Though she may lead you to unimagined and uncomfortable places, she might help you develop your unique writing voice.
  5. Submit your best. Don’t rely on editors to see the genius of your story through all the spelling, grammatical, and plot errors. Do a thorough job of self-editing, thinking critically, viewing your manuscript as a reader and English teacher might. Submit only when you can honestly say it’s your best product and you’re proud of it.
  6. Be a professional. Present yourself to the world as if you’re already a successful author. Establish an author website. Don’t get so angry at editors, reviewers, blog commenters, or readers that you descend into flame wars, emotional outbursts, or other unprofessional conduct.
  7. Actively seek improvement. This may sound like number 3 above, but that earlier habit is about the initial learning of fiction writing; this one is about continual development, honing, and advancement of your craft. It means to cycle through all the habits as you go, improving known weak areas, always working to ensure your next story is better than all the previous ones.

Long-time followers of my blog will recall my post proposing 15 writing virtues. The seven habits I’m advocating today are another approach. It’s easier to remember 7 things than 15 anyway, right? There are many paths to self-improvement, and you’re free to find your own. For now, it’s back to growing and improving for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 7, 2014Permalink

Too Much to Remember

Looking back over my 200 blog posts, I see I’ve presented a lot of rules about writing. The question might be occurring to you beginning writers—how am I supposed to remember all that? And you’re thinking, if I have to keep all those rules in mind, it all seems too hard. I’ll never be a writer.

Remember RulesYes, you can be a writer, most likely. If there’s a story in you that you feel passionate about, then your knowledge of all my previous ‘rules’ is secondary. Conversely, even if you’ve memorized all the rules I’ve presented, there’s little hope for you if you aren’t driven to write by something powerful inside.

I recommend, therefore, that you use that powerful drive, sustain your strong passion for the idea, and write the first draft without regard to any rule. Forget all I’ve said about using active sentence structure, showing and not telling, not overdoing dialect, etc.

Then, in your second and subsequent drafts you can edit to make sure you’re following the ‘rules.’ Write them down if you have trouble remembering them. That list of rules can be your ‘editing list’ which will help you recall what you’re checking for as you edit.

If you find your critique group, or editors, or reviewers, pointing out a certain common defect in your stories, you can add that defect to the editing list and make a point of correcting that problem in subsequent stories.

Over time you may find a funny thing begin to happen. You’ll break fewer rules in your first drafts. You’ll be able to remember more of them as you write. Or maybe not remember them consciously, but somehow know them as you madly scribble that first draft.

It’s the same phenomenon that occurred when you learned to ride a bicycle, drive a car, or play a musical instrument. The task that seemed so complicated and daunting at first, that skill you thought you couldn’t master because there was so much to remember, somehow became easier. Things you once had to concentrate on became things you do without thinking.

Recently I heard an experienced author at a writer’s conference say she could no longer turn off her inner editor while writing a first draft. She does subsequent drafts, but there are fewer things to correct than there were with her first books. If that ends up happening to you, perhaps the final step will be to give up subsequent drafts entirely, and let the first draft be the final one. Isaac Asimov claimed he didn’t edit or write second drafts. Perhaps you’ll achieve that level of skill.

Remember, you don’t have to keep all the rules in mind during the first draft. When writing that one, don’t think about rules at all; just write. Now, if I could only recall how I’m supposed to end these blog posts…so much to remember. Oh, yeah, I just sign it—

Poseidon’s Scribe