Tips on Writing
"Once upon a time their was a girl who had black curly hair and blue eyes and was the farest in her town. All the boys wanted her, she was the prettiest ever. Her eyes sparkled 'cuz she knew that, but there was another girl who was not so pretty. She had brown hair. it was straight. her brown eyes were flat she could not talk with them. Her cheeks were not rosy red they were very pale white. No boys liked Jane they prefered the pretier miss Star."
"Once upon a time, there was a girl. She was the fairest in her town. She had black curly hair and blue eyes. All the boys wanted her; she was the prettiest girl they had ever seen! It would drive them wild to see her sitting demurely on a bench-seat, her eyes sparkling with the knowledge of her beauty.
There was another girl, Jane. Her hair was a straight, dull brown; her brown eyes were not very pretty- she could certainly not talk with them the way the other one could! Her cheeks were a bland white, not a luscious, rosy red. No boys liked her; they preferred the prettier Miss Star."
These paragraphs convey essentially the same thing, but which one conveys it better? Paragraph A, with its grammatical and spelling mistakes? Or paragraph B and C, full with adjectives, adverbs and lively verbs? Paragraph B and C, of course.
"But how do I get my story like B and C?" you ask. "I'm not the world's best at spelling, and as for grammar- even I know it's appalling!"
Let me tell you how.
First up: Before you get your head dizzy with all the heavy English Grammar, there is one easy step: Get to know your characters. Know them like they are real people. Talk to them in your head while you're writing - no, no, it's not a sign of insanity! When you get to a really stubbing point and you're not sure how to go on, instead of giving up, just ask your character, "What are you going to do now?" If you do it enough, and you know them enough, you'll no doubt think, "Oh, great! I've got it!" and on with your writing you go!
Or, if that doesn't work, just take a (short!) hiatus from your writing. If you're suffering from an unexpected bout of that dreaded Writer's Block, or you are just sick to death of writing (you've done it too much and it just stresses you!), just have a rest, or a think whilst you're working- whichever you prefer. Regardless, just have a think about all your characters- yes, even that one crazy one with the straw hat that has one line and shows the main character to their next conflict/resolution- and ask yourself, “What makes them tick? Why did I think them up for my story? What do I need to do to play them out the best?” For instance, Miss Star might be lovely- the picture of beauty. She may be impeccably polite, courteous and kind- but is she privately? Or does she snob the other girls with an 'I'm too good for you' attitude? And as for Jane, lowly, ugly Jane, she might have a sweet, likable character. And when the Prince Charming comes along, he might be originally interested in Star- intoxicated, like all the other smarmy boys- but sooner or later, he will see her ugly side. Then he might meet the shy, non-pretensive Jane, and, because of his unlucky experience with Darlingzilla, fall completely head over heels in love with her, and think her to be the most beautiful girl in the world, with a charming, honest personality to match. He could, quite honestly, think quite easily of them marrying and sharing seventy years' worth of love together.
That wasn't so hard, was it? And yet, in that short paragraph, you have theoretically mapped out an outline on which to go by when that awful Block threatens to cripple you.
And also, you have pretty much figured out the preliminary outline of the three main character's personalities. Glorious Star is two-faced; plain Jane is honest and practical; and Prince Charming, with his normal, penetrable man's intellect, has rooted this all out and has picked the one who he can conceivably spend the rest of his life with.
Once this is done, you need to work out all those other characters along the side. There will be Star's parents; maybe owners of the local general store, or maybe her mother is the town dressmaker. In any case, her parents are kept extremely busy by their jobs, and Star rarely sees them- so she doesn't benefit by their example (which is, essentially, why she is a two-faced liar).
After that, there are Jane's family. She might have poor, hard-working parents, but her father always manages to be home by six-thirty supper-time; her mother, a stout, busty housewife who loves to bake goodies and clean house. And then there's her seven-year-old sister, Annie- who Jane loves to look after and help with the homework (thereby freeing her mother for what she loves best- the housework and the busy cooking). And when her father gets home and the supper's eaten, they all sit down, talk companionably about their day, and play games and laugh together until it's Annie's bedtime. While she trots obediently upstairs to get ready for bed, Jane offers to do the washing-up, her mother (tired from the day's hard slog) gratefully accepts and goes upstairs herself to read that intriguing book that almost made her forget to wash the windows and mop the floors.
Her father takes a tea-towel and dries while she washes, to reward her for helping his hard-working wife. Too soon, all is done, and Jane happily takes herself up to her room to get ready for bed herself.
There might be other characters, like perhaps the Teacher, or maybe Star's best friend who's equally two-faced. Do the same with them; this should get you really pumped and excited about your story, and combat the Block when it keeps threatening- for excitement and perseverance are the best cures for that annoying disease!
Now we come to the second step. Once you know all your characters inside out, get to work on that outline. We know that, 1). This story is a Romance, 2). That there are two characters, possibly at odds with each other, 3). That Jane is nice and Star isn't, 4). That (maybe?) Star gets jealous once Prince Charming discovers Jane, and 5). That the Moral of the story is that nice girls are preferred vastly by men, regardless of their looks.
Once this is sorted, you need to work it out. A title is not needed as yet- unless you are publishing it onto a Writer's website to get feedback- such as Mibba.com or Webook.com. Always remember with outlines: they have rules of formatting- they are not just higgledy-piggledy.
An outline always:
Has a title (this can be thought of later in the piece for stories- not for assignments, essays, or similar bits of writing, though).
Has major points. These are in Roman Numerals. I, then II, then III, then IV, etc. You can have any number, depending on how complex you want them. One way I suggest is making I Chapter One, II Chapter 2, etc. Or just making I the first major happening, II the second, etc. (Not minor happenings, though, these are in the subpoints). A major point does not have to have subpoints, but it is recommended to have them.
Has subpoints. These go under the major points. To be grammatically correct, an outline has to have at least two subpoints under each main point (if you decide to have a subpoint, you have to have over two- and, by the way, it is very much recommended to have subpoints in all but one or two of your main points- if you don't, I recommend only sparing a few pages for it). And each subpoint goes under a (capital!) A, B, C, D, etc.
Under subpoints are the minor subpoints. These are numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.). Like subpoints, these have to have at least two if you have them, but you don't have to have them. And they go under subpoints, not under major points.
Every one of the above is not a sentence; it is a phrase.
If you need an illustration of the above, I'll do one of paragraphs B and C.
Description of Star and Jane's Looks
I. Description of Star
A. The Fairest in her Town.
- Black hair
- Blue eyes
B. All the Boys Wanted Her.
C. Prettiest Girl They Had Ever Seen.
D. She Drove Them Wild.
- Sitting on Bench-Seat
- Eyes Sparkling With Knowledge of Beauty
II. Description of Jane
A. Hair is Straight, Dull Brown.
B. Brown Eyes Not Pretty.
- Couldn't talk with them
- The other girl could
- Bland white
- Not rosy red
D. No Boys Liked Her.
E. They Preferred Prettier Miss Star.
Do you see how I've done it? No detail is left out. When it's a paragraph, you need to incorporate every detail.
But when it's a story, you don't have to (because, obviously, it would be so gruesomely boring that you just simply wouldn't do it!). Just the main points of the chapter can be included in the main points. Then, dissect it according to most important in the subpoints, and the lesser ones in the minor subpoints. Remember to put them in order!
While you are organising the outline, remember that exuberance over your story is paramount, because this is a very boring step to your overall goal: Write an Awesome Story!
Once you've done this to your best ability (remember- it's a basic outline. It doesn't have to be perfect first time, and you can always add to it later. To add to it most easily, I suggest creating a document on Word on your computer), start writing your story. I enjoy this step the most, because it lets your creativeness out! Also, it's up to you to mold each character how you want. If you have no friends, create your characters, talk to them- if they are like real people to you, they can be your friends!
Your story can be awful as anything at this point. It doesn't matter; this is only your first draft!
This step can take years. Rome isn't built in a day. J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, took five years before she even wrote the first word of her book. Even when she finished it and took it to a publisher, the publisher told her that it wasn't any good- that children wouldn't like it! She was living in a literally rat-infested house. And now she earns millions of dollars per book! If she had given up at that first criticism, around five-seven years would have been completely wasted, and would (most probably) still be in that same house. So don't give up with it, whatever you do!
Once done, review and correct. Most authors revise their work completely over five times, and edit small parts so many times you can't count it.
One thing I do advise though- don't completely revise your book until it is all finished- one hundred percent. Editing it is fine, but restarting it could take your enthusiasm away, especially if your revision isn't working and you've just lost the other, slightly better version. But if you have to, start it in a separate document and be sure to specify in its title that it is a revision (A.K.A., 'The Protagonist (Revision)'). That way, if it doesn't end up going well, you don't lose everything.
You don't have to be a world-class writer. When I started writing, the dream was there, but the ability sure wasn't. Apart from the usual spelling mistakes (I had the reading age of seventeen at age eleven and was the best speller in my class for five years running, but I still made a lot of mistakes!) and grammatical errors, my 'abilities' at age eleven were substandard- they consisted of me making up a story as I went along. At that age I usually made my main character an identical twin (as I am one), and based the twin on mine. She loved writing, too, but her style is a lot different to mine- non-fiction and diary-writing are more her line. Anyway, I would say (as an example): “Suzy loved ice cream. She had brown hair and grey eyes. Oh and she had a twin! At school they had an enemy. Her name was Emma Richards. She had blonde curly hair and a evil face.” - That sort of thing.
But I kept at it and didn't give up when the going was tough (and it was!). I practiced and practiced (it helped that I had a lot of ideas), and wouldn't rest until my technique was improved, improved some more, and improved again. This continued for eight years, and is where I am now. The same happened with drawing and singing (both vastly improved, but singing is still awful!).
My point is, practice is the best way to improve. And, like anything else, the opposite is also true. No practice, or hardly any, and you do get worse. Which is why websites like Mibba are good- not only are they free, but you get feedback and improve! It's an incentive to keep going when that going is tough.
After the book is finished to your satisfaction, there are a few options- one, get good at grammar if you aren't already. Two, if you have a friend who is, ask them to read over your story for you. Or three, contact an agent, who will tell you how to do it all more efficiently than I can, right now.
And lastly, any questions? If you do, just message my profile. I'm happy to help.
April 17th, 2013 at 06:54pm
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