For years, I’ve enjoyed speaking to aspiring writers—from grade-school children to seniors who have finally decided to put pen to paper. I’ve found that sticking to the basics is usually the best approach—not to mention, it serves as a great reminder for myself.
First and foremost, I say, “Be true to yourself, always. Express your thoughts and feeling in your own voice and no one else’s. No one can tell my story—only me. And only you can tell your story!”
Then I’ll dive into my writing process:
In my estimation, the first decision in the writing process is the toughest decision of all. Is the idea for your story good enough to spend the time on? If you can sincerely say that you have one, then get started right away. For book projects, some writers spend months working out a concept before they ever put pen to paper (so when someone asks you how long it took you to write a book, there is no true way to gage this; it happens in the mind long before it ever appears on paper).
Outlines (or story boards) are very important because they provide you with a means to create your own boundaries; a meandering road in which to keep your storyline rolling along. The outline can provide you with the order and discipline needed to get the job done. Without it, many writers start one place and never end up anywhere. Keep it loose, but keep it. (For me, novels are like complicated word puzzles brought together with the help of an outline).
The hook at the beginning of any story is what initially catches a reader. Without it, the rest of the story is worth nothing because it will never be read (and experienced). The trick is to hook the reader in, while providing just enough mystery to read on. In short: Come in with a bang. Go out with a bang.
Use All Five Senses
When you write, describe the scene with all five senses. Set the scene for the reader with sounds and smells – not just what can be seen.
When writing dialogue, be as ‘real’ as possible. When characters speak in a book, they should speak as though they would on the street. This is what makes the story believable.
This is where I spend a lot of my time and effort. If your characters are real enough, they will tell the story for you. Think about it: The raised eyebrow from a well-established character is worth so much more than a paragraph or two.
Show, Don’t Tell
Exactly what it says. Don’t write, “Bobby is angry!” Write, “Bobby’s nostrils flared, while his cheeks turned a frightening red. With clench fists, he stormed off.”
Less Is More
In the craft of writing (though it’s taken me several years to see this), less really is so much more. You don’t have to use big words to impress people. Big words slow your story (and the reader) down. Use simple language to convey your thoughts and feelings and others will relate.
IMPORTANT: Write what you know, who you know and where you’ve been. Anything other than that requires an incredible amount of research and is usually not as believable. Again, everyone has his/her own story (or stories) to share, and no matter what you write, your story will absolutely bleed through. Even fiction has a whole lot of truth to it. Stick to what you know. It’s what makes you unique, and will inevitably define your voice as a writer.
Honestly, I don’t believe in writer’s blocks—though I understand that they’re quite real when perceived as such. True story: I have a friend—let’s call him Jack. Anyway, he phoned me one night complaining that he was agonizing over a terrible writer’s block. “How does your story end?” I asked him and he went on to explain the ending in detail. “Good,” I said, “so write the ending and then all you have to do is fill in the middle.” He did just that. The lesson is this: Most books aren’t written from point A to point Z. If you get stuck at a certain crossroad, begin to write a passage from a different point in the book. This maintains momentum and confidence (if lost, the two causes of a perceived block). Again, I write novels like creating complicated word puzzles—only to put it all together in the end in order to paint the grandest picture I can. Do whatever works for you, but keep moving. The last thing you want is for a story to go cold on you. You could risk losing the passion, if you wait too long to finish it.
Your editor should be someone who enjoys your work, but can still prove honest and critical; someone better at the mechanics of writing than you are. You want someone tough—and please be sure to appreciate every second they put into your work—but you also want someone who is fair. If an editor does not appreciate your style or voice, how can they help better your work?
Sticking with the basics has served me well through the years…
Steven Manchester is a nationally bestselling author. His next book, Pressed Pennies, will be published in 2014. You can learn more about Steve and his books at our website.