Emerging writers, who want to improve, will ask for feedback. Where do they go in the time of covid-19? Writing groups on social media. Why is this a bad thing? Because trolls aren’t living under bridges anymore, they’re online. Not only trolls, but a lot of ‘experts’ who parrot what they learned without real understanding of story craft. Professional writers with several award-winning works under their belt don’t belong to amateur writing groups on Facebook doling out free feedback to emerging writers.
If not social media, whereshould I go?
In an ideal world, emerging writers could meet a mix of professional writers, editors, agents, and other knowledgeable emerging writers at a workshop, get a feel for their knowledge and style in a critique group, and make connections there. Unfortunately, we live in a world that going to these workshops is expensive, and if you’re reading this in 2020, there’s also a certain pandemic going around cancelling all the writers’ conferences, IRL classes, and workshops.
A few tips when searching for feedback online:
Seek a virtual workshop with a mix of pros and emerging writers. Fortunately, there are many free classes online where you can get the similar quality instruction and peer reviews. In any creative writing class or workshop, you have at least one pro monitoring feedback and can tell you if it is bunk or not.
Don’t post a tiny excerpt on a social media group and expect quality feedback. The internet, even writing groups, has ‘experts’ who simply like to criticize without any actual knowledge or skill of their own.
Do vet who is giving your critiques by taking a look at their writing. The proof is in the prose pudding. If they’re a good writer, they’re at least knowledgeable of craft.
Find partners who write, or at least read, your genre. I am not a poet. I could not give feedback on poetry. I would not ask a poet to critique my urban fantasy. Unless, they were a poet, who also read and wrote urban fantasy.
Know what feedback to ask for. Before you’ve even picked up a pen, keyboard, or what have you to write, learn craft. Read books and articles on writing. Therefore, you will be armed with what you need to know about grammar, style, plot, tension, pace, character arcs, world building, etc. so you’ll be able to detect the difference between opinion and sound structural, craft knowledge.
Trust your gut. If your only source is an online group because for whatever reason you cannot virtually attend a workshop or a free online writing class, then indeed, ask for help in online writing groups. But, please, get to know those writers and their works first. Observe their behavior within the group before accepting their advice. It will save you a lot of time and ill advice.
The short answer is there’s no one way to write a book. The variance of style and plot depend on genre and then there are those who subvert those plots intentionally. That’s what happens when you have a bunch of creative thinkers making up stories.
I’m not going to get into the structure of a novel. There are hundreds of books out there that will tell you what to write at what point. I’m going to tell you the basics of story.
Create a relatable protagonist, someone with hopes and dreams, family and friends (or future friends if you’re writing a story about the friendless gaining friends).
This person starts out with a wrong perception about something, usually ideological thematically, but in relation to something personal to the character.
For example: Let’s say Julie is a teenager who has been deeply hurt in the past by someone, so she’s a loner. Everything about Julie, the way she dresses, her hair, her lifestyle, and attitude, has to say, “I’m not friendly.”
The plot is a series of events that drives the character to make choices, each choice will have a consequence until the protagonist has an aha moment and see things differently. You’ll begin with a problem that challenges Julie’s belief she doesn’t need friends. She’ll keep her unfriendly ways, and that will create more problems for Julie.
If you haven’t caught on, in this case, Julie is her own antagonist. But, to make things interesting, come up with Worse Julie. That will be your antagonist. Not only will Worse Julie make life difficult for Julie, but everyone else around Julie. Give this person redeeming qualities and make them not a loser, so that Julie can’t seem immediately why they’re so terrible.
Along the way, give Julie helpers along the way. Julie sees their value in the moment, so lets these helpers in. She’s happier and doesn’t know why. Things go more smoothly with these helpers.
Suddenly Julie is surrounded by people, people who can hurt her. She freaks out. She pushes everyone away and faces the challenge and the Worse Julie alone.
At this point in the plot, the protagonist must fail Big Time. In some plot books, it’s got to be a physical or metaphorical death of some sorts. For less drama, it just has to be a devastating blow to Julie because she pushed people away instead of being vulnerable and allowing her helpers to be her friends.
Voila! Aha moment. Julie sees that she needs friends and has had them all along.
In the end, the protagonist’s perspective has changed. They are different inside and out.
This is an oversimplification, but I hope it clicks where more technical explanations of plot structure have failed.
For whatever reason, time, money, living situation, etc. not everyone can go to school and get a masters in creative writing. Does this mean you have to give up on your dream to become a writer?Absolutely not. What it does mean is that you must dedicate time and effort, and have to be a little more resourceful.
Step One: Get your hands on books on writing from the library. There are a myriad of books out there on how to write. Find out what books a university is using. Go to your favorite author’s website or blog and find out what books they recommend. Read as many as you can and take notes. Do the exercises. Also, find books that tailor specifically to the genre you write. Your writing will improve significantly.
Step Two: Writers read. Much of learning to write is learning story craft. While you’re reading books on writing, consume as many books as you can while analyzing the craft aspect you learned from those writing books. Watch movies and television, they are different mediums, but you’ll start to see how story is crafted. Take notes where the writer succeeded and failed to get craft right. Ask yourself if it was intentional. Ask yourself how you would write it differently. These books don’t have to be new. Who better to learn from than books written by your favorite authors?
Step Three: Subscribe to Youtube channels that cover the craft of writing. There is so many free lectures out there about writing. Take notes. This is your MFA at your pace.
Personally, I like to watch critique videos. Where readers give feedback on books they’ve read. What the writer got right and wrong. This is in addition to craft videos. (Bonus: You’ll see a lot of criticism is opinion and grow a thicker skin when you’re eventually ready for feedback.)
Step Four: Write! Practice what you’ve learned, preferably an aspect at a time. You’re going to learn there are many elements to writing a well-crafted story. Don’t be overwhelmed. Treat it like a class, dedicating a small piece at a time, eventually getting to the big picture and combining all the elements you’ve learned.
Step Five: Get feedback from someone experienced and talented, not your buddies. In creative writing classes, you constantly write pieces and get feedback from your peers and the professor. Find some writers who have a little more experience under their belt to give you feedback. Critique groups can be a great resource for this. Facebook is an excellent source for finding critique groups.
Writer beware: Some critique groups are heavy on the criticism and light on the helpful feedback. These are tired writers with little talent who want to make themselves feel better about their work by tearing down newbies. If critique feels abusive and not constructive, find another group.
Step Six: Repeat until you have something worth sharing with the world. Have fun with it. Experiment. You’ll get there!
So, I’m not going to get into that. There are plenty of resources out there like Save The Cat and Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story that will help you learn how to plot and plot well.
I’m posting these excerpts in the raw, unedited/revised form because I need to push forward with this project and not get side-tracked with the Shiny New. Yeah, maybe it will be embarrassing later. But, as long as I’m moving forward and writing East Side Hedge Witch, then I’m good.
This is my experiment with process and I’m sharing it with all of you.
I found a lot of my friends in the writing community are having a tough time focusing. The Covid-19 blergh mind has hit us all, even the introverts are ready to do their introvert-y thing again. Those of us who have compromised immune systems, are getting outside for exercise and necessities, but saying no thank you to everything else.
Unfortunately, that means no writing in coffee shops for the extroverts among us. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but we don’t have to do it alone, even in the time of Corona. If you’re like me, you already belong to lots o’ writing groups both virtually and IRL. If you’re not like me but are feeling the lack of connectivity, try joining an online writing group on Facebook or MeWe, or wherever on social media. A lot of those groups are having virtual write-ins on Zoom, Google, or Discord. I host one almost daily for my Facebook writing group Speculative Twist.
It really helps me focus when I have the Brady Bunch-esque tiles of faces there on the screen while I type. We have humorous breaks as well as serious writerly discussions. Hope you find something out there that works for you!
What’s pantsing, you say? In the writing world you run into the strangest vocabulary. We literally make up things for a living (or hobby) so it’s no surprise that we also make up words.
Pantsing is derived from the expression “flying by the seat of your pants”. In writing terminology, pantsing means to write a work of fiction with no outline or formal plan. That is sometimes true, but most of the time, even pantsers have a good idea of where the story will go. In essence, it’s discovering the plot as you write the story.
Some argue that pantsing is making more work for yourself. Some argue that the pantsed draft is the 0 draft and an outline to build upon.
Plotting is writing an outline that dictates when the major turning points of the story will be. For more details on how to plot, I’d suggest reading up on the subject, taking a workshop either online or in person, or dissecting your favorite book into four major turning points. Writers are readers. Students of writing to old pros need to learn craft.
Which is better?
That’s a personal choice. Like a painter, you might want at least a rough sketch of what the story is going to look like, but some claim a detailed outline or an outline at all stumps their creativity.
Personally, I like plantsing. It’s plotting a bit but not in detail and letting the story go off that outline and in another direction if needed. I ask myself a lot of what ifs. I ask myself, what is the central theme? I jog down some notes, and a few times, I’ve created a detailed outline in Scrivener. I may never look at that outline again, but at least I have mapped out from the abstract to the concrete how I want the story to go.
Most of society, who has the privilege to do so, thinks that novels, movies, and television shows are purely for entertainment. They are the folks also under the belief writers, actors, and other people in the arts don’t have “real jobs.”
I write full time. It is a real job. I don’t get paid until the product is finished, but I have the privilege of a situation where I don’t have to write to eat. I do plenty of other things to safeguard that. But, that is not the point of this blog entry.
Politics or social issues make their way into the arts because that is how creative types process the world around them. You may or may not agree with their stances, but like many things in life, it’s not about you.
I was recently lurking in a meme group for the fandom of What We Do in the Shadows. Someone in a comment thread went on about how this was a shitpost group and why are people making it political?
Um…Taika Waititi is one of the creators of What We Do in the Shadows. ALL of his work is political and about social issues. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is about the broken foster system in New Zealand (and quite frankly, the world). It exploits gun happy nuts while showing what responsible gun owners use their weapons for–hunting and living off the land. He even took jabs at George Bush Jr and “No Child Left Behind.” It was all done with humor and great story telling so it didn’t feel preachy, but believe me. The message was there.
JoJo Rabbit is a darkly funny satire about hate. It shows that even the Nazis were complex and human, and a product of their time, but many were truly awful. Through the lens of a child unlearning hate, he teaches hate and prejudices can be unlearned.
Even What We Do in the Shadows touches on feminism, toxic masculinity, internet trolls, and other social issues.
Entertainment isn’t just stories without a purpose, they’re about humans and their issues whether they’re regular people or ancient vampires living in modern Staten Island…like regular people.
I was recently in a Zoom meeting with a group of writers. One thing that was mentioned in the meeting was that YA Science Fiction doesn’t sell. I found the statement odd, but I live in a house filled with teenagers, and before quarantine had a constant influx of 13-16 year olds raiding my pantry and gabbing. Nothing is set in stone in their world, or true of this generation as a general rule other than rapid change. They were raised with tech at their little fingers we could only imagine in our childhood.
With the internet in their hands 24/7, comes trends that last days or hours, and by the time it reaches adult ears or experts observing the trend, it’s no longer true. So, I usually ask the kids what they’re into when they come over as informal market research.
One of the things they always talk to me about is what they’re reading. Names of authors that came up within the last year: Jessie Mahalik, Amy Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, Brandon Sanderson (I know. You’re thinking Mistborn or Elantris. Sorry. That’s beloved by us old geeks, not them. Skyward and Steelheart is what they mentioned.), T. A. White, and a few others. Guess what they’re all writing? YA Science Fiction. And there’s so much more coming out.
In conclusion, don’t try to pin down this generation by what adults say they want. Talk to them.
I read that an author should make the first line the best. Another book said an author should sum up the entirety of their book in the first line. I thought that was absurd and you couldn’t possibly do both….then I thought of a few, and they were some of the best and well-known lines in literature:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by, Jane Austen You get several things about this story from this one line. The focus is going to be on marriage and socioeconomic status. This is going to be a satirical piece. The author has witty, dry humor.
”It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” The Bell Jar by, Sylvia Plath One word: Quirky One more word: Dark
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The run on sentence to end all run on sentences.
What’s your favorite first line? Share it in the comments.
The point of NaNoWriMo, for me at least, is not to write for the sake of word count. It’s to make a habit of writing daily. Usually I can knock 1667 words a day out, no problem and I’ve won every year I’ve participated. However, I usually have to trash those 50k and rewrite the whole thing. Why? Because I pantsed the drafts and had no idea how they were going to end. (No, I didn’t pull down the pants of my WIP and expose its undies. In the writing community, a pants, pantsing, pantsed, refers to writing by the seat of your pants and a pantser is someone who pants their novel. In other words, writing with no outline or plan.) The NaNo drafts were the equivalent to world building notes/outline in story form not good writing. Fifty thousand words of mostly telling. Even last year’s Scavengers of the Starsea ended up being rewritten. This year, I made an outline in Scrivener, and I’m trying to stay in scene and not do a lot of telling. I want to edit/revise this draft not rewrite an entirely new draft. Writing this way has slowed me down as has reviewing what I wrote the day before and making minor edits (I keep what I cut. I just highlight it read. I wrote those words, they’re going to count, damn it.) So, yes, I’m technically behind, but I feel this draft is a lot better quality than other years. So, my new NaNoWriMo rule is quality as well as quantity. It’s slower, but I will like what I wrote a lot more later.