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Here's my contribution to the ongoing attempt to bring in more craft threads: what's the best advice you've ever gotten that helped improve your craft? It could be specific to your writing, or just general advice. Odds are good that it'll be something that resonated with you and might help other writers looking at their own work and trying to figure out how to improve it.

For me, it came from DWS, and was a total throwaway line in one of his blog posts. He said for writing description, if you want to ground your readers in your character's world, every two pages you need to put in a description of what they're seeing using all five senses, and make it personal to the character by giving their opinion of it.

That blew my mind. I read through the one novel I'd released at that point and marveled at how thin the description was, and how it was limited to only what I could describe by sight, and occasionally touch or smell. Taking a moment and carving out the description of how the place smelled, the scents and aromas that wafted through it, the fact that one of them was so pungent it almost left a taste on the character's tongue, and of how the air was stale and caused their skin to crawl - that was an eye-opener for me and helped me improve my writing markedly. The fact that I was essentially rendering the character's opinion made it even easier for me to not make it repetitive when writing for multiple characters because everyone's going to have their own opinion of what they're experiencing, refracted through their own personal prism, as it were.

So, what was it for you?
 

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Robert, I'm not sure if this is appropriate here, as it is more for people who have just decided to wrtie that first novel. I know there are lurkers here, though, and maybe it will help them like it helped me.

I read somewhere online (I don't even know where) one man's opinion on how to write your first novel.  I had wanted to write it most of my life. Every time I started I got bogged down. The more I read about how to do it the less I wanted to actually do it, because I am not a plodder. Storyboards, writing down details or every characters made me want to do anything but write! Hell, I'd be bored with the characters before I started the book. (That is why I quit acting. I got bored that the person I played was "stuck" night after night instead of moving on.)

So, anyway, this one guy said simply this: Commit to a certain number of hours each week at a certain time of day and, no matter what, stick to it. Then, when you are writing, keep writing. Let's say you write a hour a day. After your hour, walk away. The next day when you sit down, don't edit or read what you wrote, unless you need the last couple of sentences. Just keep going until you get to the end. Why? Because until there is a book there is NOTHING to edit.

That did it for me. I could do that. I commited to one hour a day, five days a week. In five months I had over 1,000 pages or 300,000 words. There was Gastien Part 1: The Cost of the Dream and Gastien Part 2: From Dream to Destiny. You better believe that after typing that many words I was going to polish and edit and see it through to the end.

Nothing took that hour away each weekday.  Nothing. Even if I had a doctor appointment or something, when I got home, everything else waited until I wrote an hour.  My husband was very understanding.

So, for those who don't like being tied down by "rules" and "lists" and notebooks, just write. Really, that's all you have to do. The rest will get done if you simply write.
 

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Very good thread! I hope to hear a lot of craft advice from some of the KB authors. I feel I've already learned something just from Robert's post, lol.

Mine doesn't count as one simple sentence or anything, but I once took a workshop by Alexandra Sokoloff on "Screenwriting Tricks for Authors" where she broke down story structure the way it's done in Hollywood. She opened my eyes to all kinds of structural patterns. I had been so clueless before on the actual crafting of a good plot, but her seminar and then subsequent books and blog changed my writing forever.

I probably spent a couple of months after that class making lists of my favorite genre movies, favorite types of heroines, favorite types of romantic relationship or partnerships. I rented or bought a ton of movies and analyzed their story structure, looking for themes and twists and common structural devices. I learned more in those months than probably the rest of my life combined. In fact, I'm working on a new book now and I started my plotting/brainstorming with yet another list of Top 10 movies in this genre/style.

I'm not copying someone else's structure. I'm just learning about how the movies or books I most appreciate handled certain subjects so that I can learn from them when coming up with my own story structure. If you're someone who struggles with plotting, or if you just want to learn more about structuring your stories, I can't recommend her books and blog enough.

http://www.amazon.com/Screenwriting-Tricks-Authors-Screenwriters-ebook/dp/B0032JSJ9U Only $2.99 or free with Prime membership.

You can also find just about all of the info in her book scattered through her blog posts if you don't want to spend money. http://www.screenwritingtricks.com/

She has another book called "Writing Love" that is basically the same as the screenwriting tricks book, just with a focus more on romance.
 

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A friend of mine, who was, at the time, much more versed in writing than I was, told me:

You have a whole book to ground your readers in a world. Don't try to cram it all on the first page.

This in regard to backstory and exposition. You hear writers say a lot "but the reader needs to know all this before we get into the story proper". No. The reader doesn't. Take it from me. Been there, done that.
 

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An author whose work I admire looked at me across my pages and said, "This is good. Don't let anyone [expletive] with it."

(This didn't make my ego blow up, because she didn't say it was amazing or anything, but she said it was good, and I appreciated that. I was also ready, at that point, to get away from a lot of group-crit and all that, so it was great timing to have someone give me the push to just go and do my thaing and not get too bogged down by contradictory "rules.")
 

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sarracannon said:
Very good thread! I hope to hear a lot of craft advice from some of the KB authors. I feel I've already learned something just from Robert's post, lol.

Mine doesn't count as one simple sentence or anything, but I once took a workshop by Alexandra Sokoloff on "Screenwriting Tricks for Authors" where she broke down story structure the way it's done in Hollywood. She opened my eyes to all kinds of structural patterns. I had been so clueless before on the actual crafting of a good plot, but her seminar and then subsequent books and blog changed my writing forever.

I probably spent a couple of months after that class making lists of my favorite genre movies, favorite types of heroines, favorite types of romantic relationship or partnerships. I rented or bought a ton of movies and analyzed their story structure, looking for themes and twists and common structural devices. I learned more in those months than probably the rest of my life combined. In fact, I'm working on a new book now and I started my plotting/brainstorming with yet another list of Top 10 movies in this genre/style.

I'm not copying someone else's structure. I'm just learning about how the movies or books I most appreciate handled certain subjects so that I can learn from them when coming up with my own story structure. If you're someone who struggles with plotting, or if you just want to learn more about structuring your stories, I can't recommend her books and blog enough.

http://www.amazon.com/Screenwriting-Tricks-Authors-Screenwriters-ebook/dp/B0032JSJ9U Only $2.99 or free with Prime membership.

You can also find just about all of the info in her book scattered through her blog posts if you don't want to spend money. http://www.screenwritingtricks.com/

She has another book called "Writing Love" that is basically the same as the screenwriting tricks book, just with a focus more on romance.
Sarra said what I was going to say, and considering our relative sales records, right now it carries a lot more weight coming from Sarra! :)

I didn't take the workshop, just have the book: "Screenwriting Tricks for Authors." It helped me so much! All the info in it is on Alexandra Sokoloff's blog, if you can't afford the book:

http://www.screenwritingtricks.com/
 

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From DWS (during multiple workshops)- All setting is character opinion. (ties into that 5 senses every 2 pages thing and helped me go from under describing things or describing things in very boring ways to having people praise my world-building).

From Whitney Otto (during a class she taught while I was getting my MFA)- Dialog doesn't have to be call and answer. Sometimes someone says something and the response is silent.  (This totally reformed the way I wrote dialog and took me from hating it to loving to write lots of it).

From Lester Dent (an article I read, I think)- Parade the tag (ie give characters each a little thing all their own and then "tag" them with it every now and again, because it helps the reader remember who they are and keeps them original and distinct.  Think about Brad Pitt's character in Ocean's Eleven- he's ALWAYS eating something.  That's sort of his tag.)

Another little thing I picked up somewhere is "what is the bad guy up to?"  I don't remember where I first heard that, but it totally helped me solidify my plotting and keep things interesting in my stories. Learning to treat villains, even minor ones, as fully fledged characters with their own story, even if their actions don't make it onto the page, has helped a ton. Joss Whedon said in an interview that every character has a story and I think that this follows as well.  Both those things have helped me write fuller characters and (I hope) better books.

 

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I think the best advice I've gotten has been to simplify my writing.

I was one of those writers who was happy to drop 120 words on a single sentence, and to reel off paragraphs that took up half the (printed) page (or more) . . .

I've found that one of the greatest strengths of my current style is that it allows the reader to use their own imagination. I don't tell them precisely how something appears. I let them fill in the blanks, while giving them the important parts of the story.

What's happening. Who's talking. How the MC feels about it, for that matter.

Things like that.

Now, this is something that I've only recent found success with, and my old stuff was very much smiled upon as well.

But I think it's worth noting that I feel much more comfortable in the world I'm creating when I'm not spoon-feeding each and every detail to my readers. There might be something in that for others to take something from, so hey, I've shared.
 

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I learned an awful lot studying screenwriting, so I echo the sentiment of picking up pointers from screenwriting techniques.

I have two quick tips.

For pacing, enter a scene late and leave it early. Instead of having a character walk into a room or sit down at the table, join them in mid-coversation/action and leave the scene before everything is resolved.

If you are stuck in act two (and who hasn't been?) if you have an antagonist, consider things from their point of view. What would *they* do next to keep their interests safe? That can often help you prod your hero in a stronger direction.

Oh, and Caddy, not all plotters are plodders. :)
 

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I read a quote from Hemingway once that "The first draft of anything is shit."

When I was drafting my first novel and my first piece of fiction that wasn't fanfic, I had to say that to myself every day just to remember it was okay to not have it perfect. On a similar vein, I like Mur Lafferty's mantra of "It's okay to suck" from the "I Should Be Writing" podcast.
 

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Don't worry about how everyone else says you are supposed to write. Write in a way that feels correct to you. That way, if people like it, it will be much easier to do again.
 

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Get rid of the friggen adverbs. So much clutter there. I still use a few but not NEARLY the amount I once did.

I read an interview once with Chuck Dixon (comic book writer, wrote Batman, Robin, Detective for years) and he said he always starts a new issue out with an action scene. While that won't really work too well for a character study, it WILL work for an upcoming super-heroish project.
 

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Best dialogue advice I ever got: Sometimes your character answers what the other character didn't say.
 

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There are a few that have helped me.
  • The best way to learn to write is to read a lot.
  • Another good way to learn to write is to write a lot.
  • Raise the stakes in your story.
 

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John Grisham once said (of The Client I think) "I chase my protagonist up a tree, but then I throw rocks at him" (paraphrased)

which harkens back to one of my personal favorites "Raise the stakes" Every time I've EVER peer reviewed or read someone else's work in a workshop or classroom or similar setting I always, always, always have to tell them to RAISE THE STAKES.
 

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Actions speak louder than words.

Another take on the old "show don't tell".

I just finished my MS for my second novel today, and wrote it from 1st person instead of 3rd limited like I usually do. What I learned from doing this is that I could portray an incredible amount about a character just by having them do something, have them smile or frown or laugh, I don't need things like "as if they" "almost like they were" "they seemed angry", just have the other non POV character do something, actions speak louder than words.

Still unpublished at this stage, so can't wait to get the editing done on the second MS. My first novel is undergoing significant over-halls, as it was my first book ever some things just didn't work  :-\.
 
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