Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Intro to Novel Writing

This Intro to Novel Writing post is for newbie writers who’d like to take a stab at having the best fun in the world.

Step 1 – Put on Your Thinking Cap

Every successful book starts with a kick-ass idea. Without that, you’ve got nothing. So, how does one come up with that awesome idea?

What best-selling author Stephen King does is to ask the question – what if? He says he then takes two unrelated ideas and sees if he can get them to work. That’s how he came up with the plot of Carrie. Two unrelated ideas – adolescent cruelty and telekinesis. With over 50 published books (most of them best-sellers) his formula apparently works!

You can find good ideas everywhere. Look up unusual and interesting facts, take an actual murder case or an event you’ve read about or seen on television and make it your own. Change the characters and the setting – perhaps even certain elements of the event and throw in some other incidents and voilà – you’ve got the possible foundation for a great story.

Step 2 – Elaborate Your Idea

Now it’s time to do some serious thinking. You don’t want to just copy a story you’ve read somewhere. That would be plagiarism. What you want to do is take the scenario you’ve come up with and figure out who the main characters are (more about this in the next step). Next, it’s time to let your mind wander and wonder:

  • I wonder what would happen to character X if he was an athlete, or an alien, or secretly married to twins.
  • I wonder what would happen if character X spent his/her childhood as a changeling, or his parents were Russian spies, or perhaps he can remember NO childhood. What caused his amnesia?
  • I wonder what would happen if character X was really a fairy or an alien pretending to be a human? Or what if character X had the power to annihilate the world by clicking his fingers – what would happen?

Step 3 – Characters

Novels are populated with people. So you must come up with a main character who the story will be about. For example, J.K. Rowling’s famous series Harry Potter is … about Harry Potter. But Harry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Harry interacts with his friends Ron and Hermione and with his enemies like Voldemort. He has a family, albeit one that hates him, and interests like playing Quidditch and getting into trouble.

So too, must your characters.

Who are the characters that will people your world? Does your main character have a family? Has she lost her family in a vile and cruel way, or maybe she grew up in foster homes. Give her a background, physical traits and a job. Give her likes and dislikes.

Step 4 – Conflict

Interesting stories are full of struggles. If your hero gets the girl right away – where’s the story and why would anyone care enough to read to the end of the book. The characters in your story need to have a quest. There must be something they hope to achieve and there must be something or someone who is always in the way, preventing them from getting to their goal. The bigger the struggle to overcome, the better the book.

Step 5 – Sub-plots

No character in real life or in a novel lives in a vacuum, pursuing just one thing in life. In reality, we might be accountants who enjoy writing the next great novel at night; we might be a mild-mannered journalist by day and Superman by night. So too, your characters. Give them layers – that’s what a sub-plot means. Perhaps your hero is trying a man for murder, but that’s not all he does. He probably has a love life on the side and perhaps it’s not going well, or maybe his mother has upped and married a man who is younger than him and because of that your hero can’t concentrate on the job he’s got to do. Have fun coming up with sub-scenarios.

Step 6 – Read & Write

Read books in the genre you are writing. Romance writers should be soaking up as much romance as they can. If you’re reading about it, that’s fine. If you’re experiencing it, even better. If you enjoy writing thrillers, read them as well. A good writer is a voracious reader. Learn from the books or soak it up through osmosis.

Now comes the toughest, but most fun, part. SIT DOWN AND BEGIN TO WRITE.

Congratulations & Next Steps

If you’ve followed Steps 1 – 6, you’ve generated a few solid ideas and have come up with a plot line or two. You’ve learned a few techniques and you’re raring to get started. Do it. Start writing. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you’d like input from others to find out whether your story is actually interesting: are your words making sense? are your characters compelling? do you even have a plot?

Beyond-the-Lamppost Weekly classes can help you.

You can join the Lamppost Writers Weekly Classes held in Oakville, Ontario. There is something for everyone to choose from. Small classes of not more than 8 students mean lots of individual attention to focus on your writing’s strengths and weaknesses.

OR

Sign up for the 12-week Online Creative Writing Classes. Each week you’ll send me 3-5 pages of your novel and each week you’ll receive in-depth feedback on your work to help you grow as a writer. Also expect to receive a weekly handout to help you understand the intricacies of creative writing.

Writing Fantasy

The biggest Do of writing fantasy is letting your imagination run free – after all, it is a fantasy that you are writing. However, within your fantasy world you need to have some rules. You get to make up the rules, but … you must abide by them – and it must be believable. It helps to make notes on your fantasy world, giving it a history and peopling it with characters so that it becomes real to you. But unless you are writing high fantasy, you won’t need to reach to the level that J.R.R. Tolkein or Georges R.R. Martin went to. (Is there some spooky coincidence to them both bearing the R.R. middle initials?)

Beware Cliches

Whether you are writing high or low fantasy, or even urban fantasy – there are many creatures
that have now become cliches: dragons, vampires, and werewolves are common examples. Does that mean you can’t use them? Not at all. It means you need to find something fresh about them – forget twinkling vampires – Stephanie Meyer beat you to that in the Twilight series, plus that was the weakest point in her book, if you ask me.

World Building

This is the fun part. You get to decide what type of a world it is, whether magic is a natural resource or a treasure that only few can possess. You get to create continents and oceans and people. You are a God, but just like God put certain physical rules into place – you have to do the same. He was consistent. Gravity is something that is felt over the entire world – not just in North America or Asia. In the same way, make sure you remain consistent in whatever you choose.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America‘s website is a resource that all fantasy writers should explore. This particular page (see link above) lists tons of questions which will help you build your fantasy world.

Staying Focused on a Single Story

Credit: Attitudes 4 Innovation

I know I have trouble staying focused on a single story – and that’s good and bad, depending on how fast the ideas flow and how fast you write.

Staying focused on a single story allows you to put all your efforts into getting the manuscript done, polished and edited and finally out the blinking door and onto a literary agent’s doorstep. Then, you can start on something else.

But having more than one story going at a time works for those of us who find that if they’re stalled on one plot line, can continue working on something else at the same time and – voila! At the end – you have two novels for the price of one!

Pulled in all directions? Have great story starts that go nowhere? Mind too full of ideas? Here’s what to do.

How to Keep on Track

1. Weekly classes definitely help to keep you on track since you are forced to cough up 1,500 words each week. The pressure, as many of us know, forces the brain to produce.Look at the Big Picture

2. Set a goal and tell the world … or perhaps just those who are supportive. If you know you have a deadline of a year to complete your novel, and you have a personality that sets store by deadlines – you will honor it and reach your goal. Give yourself some motivation for getting there. It could be anything – from a new app to a fancy new outfit – whatever will give you the impetus to get there.

3. On the flip side of goals and deadlines are penalties which you can give yourself or a trusted accomplice to exact. It could be monetary or whatever you determine, but it must be something that will hurt, if even just a little bit.

4. Force yourself to write or dictate into a phone a certain amount each day. I find that inspiration often hits me when I’m walking Indy, so I always carry my phone around and talk into my memo app. I may look like a fool to people who pass me by, but hey! who’s laughing when I’m that much further along in my manuscript.

5. Brainstorming with your writing group can also help to keep you on track. Enthusiasm is infectious and if your writer friends are enthusiastic about where your story is going and what your characters are doing – you’ll get fired up again and the creative thoughts will begin to flow again.

You might also like these posts from Writer’s Digest

Capturing Ideas

Credit: Clarice Bajkowski

They’re everywhere, but capturing ideas and transforming them into a coherent and gripping story is what’s difficult. In fact, sometimes ideas can be overwhelming. It’s tough to actually sit down and convert them into something worthwhile. Other times, it’s a challenge to carry through on an idea and see it to the end. Is it good? Bad? Indifferent?

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In writing, there is first a creating stage–a time you look for ideas, you explore, you cast around for what you want to say. Like the first phase of building, this creating stage is full of possibilities.”

Capturing Ideas

In this technological age – the phone is king. There is a notepad ready, so you can let your
fingers do the walking or (if like me – you are walking your dog) you can turn on the microphone and let the ideas reel out of you and into your trusty phone. Just be prepared for some nonsensical words – I find the mic is great at substituting silly words for what it thinks you are saying. Speak slowly and clearly, or you’ll find you have created a new language that is incomprehensible even to you!

You can also use the camera to capture images that inspire you.

Photo courtesy of waferboard on Flickr

Notepaper and pen or pencil is still a writer’s best friend. Never leave home without it. Your phone may die, technology may come to an end, but if you’ve captured your ideas on paper, you’ll breathe easier knowing your thoughts are there for you to retrieve when you need them.

Sticky notes are another great tool for capturing ideas that pop into your head when reading a novel. Something a character says, or a phrase that catches your eye could lead to something momentous. Grab a sticky note and paste it in the book along with whatever it is that gave you your eureka moment.

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3 Best Writing Books

Choose one or all of these writing books to gift the Shakespeare in your life.

kingOn Writing by Stephen King

This is my favorite book on writing – strange because I’m not a big fan of King’s mostly because I don’t like horror and find his writing style not very appealing. He is a master of plots though and has a wicked imagination, which I admire. What’s great about On Writing is the advice he gives. It is clear, meaningful and written is plain English. Buy it, you won’t regret it.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. Whitestyle

So many writers today have no idea how to string a sentence together and as for grammar and spelling – well, they seemed to have bypassed that class in grade school. You can’t write a novel the way you text, so if you want to learn the elements of writing – begin with this book.

 

bellPlot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell

Whew! that’s one heck of a title, but read through that and you’ll get a super idea of how plots work and how to create them. James Scott Bell writes suspense and thrillers (not my favorite genre) but when it comes to teaching someone how to craft a novel – he’s No. 1 in my book.

 

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January Creative Writing Classes

Start the New Year off with a creative writing class. If you are new to writing and want to learn how to turn your idea into a novel, Creative Writing 101 on Tuesday afternoons is the one to choose.

You can come with your own ideas, or tempt your brain with some writing prompts.If you have a manuscript you’ve been working on for some time, and have gotten nowhere with – the Wednesday or Thursday class will be ideal for you. This is a challenging course where you submit 1,500 words each week. It is intended for writers who want to strengthen their manuscripts and move ahead rapidly. Be prepared for lots of hard work but plenty of fun.

Creative Writing Classes

WINTER 2017 – 12-week Writing Classes

imagesCreative Writing 101 – Tuesday afternoons Jan. 10 – March 14  from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Jan. 11 – March 15  from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Thursday afternoons Jan. 12 – March 16 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Location: Unity Church, 3075 Ridgeway Drive, Mississauga
Fee: $160 for 12 sessions – To register, email: beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Rules for Writers

rulesRules I Agree With

Never open a book with weather – Agree (Boring)

Never use the words “suddenly”. Agree – within reason.

Winter 2016/2017
Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons Jan. 10 – March 14 in Oakville – details HERE 
Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 11 – March 15 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 12 – March 16 in Oakville – details HERE

Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Agree – it can become fatiguing quickly

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. Agree completely

Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK – Agree.

Carry something to write on at all times. Agree – you never know when inspiration will hit

If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick – Agree – don’t be stupid

If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page. – Agree. Doing nothing gets you nowhere

Give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Agree – it will bring your book alive

Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. Agree, within reason. If you keep changing your mind, you’ll get nowhere

A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk – Agree, or sleep on it

Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. Agree – your job is to finish your book

Keep a diary. Agree – if you don’t you’ll regret all those great thoughts or character you forgot to jot down

Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. Absolutely agree – don’t depend on just one idea

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. Absolutely agree – just do it.

Rules I Disagree With

Avoid prologues – Disagree (I read them all and find them fascinating)

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue – Disagree – Said is one of the best dialogue tags to use, but mix it up every now and then for variety

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” – Disagree –  They can be powerful when used with a discerning eye

Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Bah – humbug – Disagree –  J.K. Rowling uses them by the handful – on each page

Don’t write in public places. Disagree – Write wherever is right for you

You might also like these posts from Writer’s Digest:

 

From Idea to Story

Credit: designshack.net

Credit: designshack.net

There is no easy way to get from idea to story.

Ideas themselves are a snap to acquire. But what you do with them after is the key. You can get ideas in your dreams, in everyday life, in overheard conversations and on the television. You religiously jot them down in your idea notebook, but when the time comes to begin writing that masterpiece the muse has often taken wing and flown off. Those magnificent words you logged with such gusto stare back at you in meaningless mots of drivel.

Is there anything a writer can do?

Yes, there is. Keep jotting those ideas down, and then begin asking yourself some pertinent questions such as:

  • Does this idea lead anywhere?
    What does the character want?
    Is this a mystery, a romance, fantasy?
    What conflict does the main character face?
    How will he resolve this conflict?
    Does he have goals and objectives?
    Can I stuff obstacles in his way to prevent him from reaching his goal?
    What kind of change will the character experience during the process?
    Is there a way for me to populate my character’s world?
    What sort of resolution does my character want?
    Which part of the original idea excites you (the writer) most?
    How can I let my imagination run free and take this snippet of an idea and build an entire world around it?
    Can I take this boring idea and revitalize it by placing it in a genre where it would be fresh and exciting?

If you can answer these questions, then you are on a roll and should be able to flesh out your idea into a story. Start off thinking in terms of a short story if that is more helpful to you. As long as there is a beginning, a middle and an end, it will serve as a guide or synopsis for you on your way to creating a full novel-length manuscript.

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Follow Bev on Twitter @bev_bell or on Facebook

Start Your Novel

Credit: joshuamowll.wordpress.com

Credit: joshuamowll.wordpress.com

How you start your novel can be a fun, spontaneous process, or one filled with forethought and planning.

Many people have different ways of approaching writing and no one way is right or wrong. Sometimes, the perfect first line can lead you to creating an entire imaginary world – it’s like the story erupts within you, based on that cue. People who work in this way are called ‘pantsers’ meaning they fly by the seat of their pants.

Other times, it is necessary to think and draw up a story arc to plot exactly where you are going. People who work this way are called ‘plotters’ because they plot their story in depth. There is no right or wrong way. And in actual fact, you do need elements of both approaches.

Having said that, if you are new to writing it would make sense for you to answer these

Credit: deadline.com

Credit: deadline.com

questions before starting:

Do you have a storyline?
Who is your protagonist is and what does he or she want?
What is their goal, their objective?
What is the inciting incidents that sets the protagonist on their path?
Who is the antagonist or villain?

Once you can answer these questions, you can start fleshing out the characters and develop sub-plots, a climax and a way of ending your story on a satisfying note.

Writing a novel is consuming and fun, but you need to let your imagination take over. When writing a first draft, let the story flow in an organic way. Re-writing will take care of making sure everything makes sense in the story. Joining a writing class or a critiquing group will help you move your story forward and learn the elements of good writing.

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Follow Bev on Twitter @bev_bell or on Facebook

First Page Critiques by Literary Agents

first52First page critiques by literary agents are gold for writers. At the Toronto Writing Workshop, held a week ago, we were fortunate to drop off our first page for critiquing. As we all know, the first page is enormously important. It can make or break your book.

Stacey Donaghy-Donaghy Literary Group

Stacey Donaghy-Donaghy Literary Group

A panel of 11 agents read the first page (they picked random people). My fellow writer, Linda and I were in the front and were chosen to yell out ‘Six’ when six agents held up their hands which meant the first page had bored them and they wouldn’t read any further. (We did our job with aplomb!) About 12-15 first pages were read and almost every one was cut short because 6 agents raised their hands. In every single case, at least 4 agents raised their hands.

Here are some of the comments from the agents:

Opening with dialogue is a red flag

– Introduce your plot right away

– If your first paragraph has major issues, it introduces red flags for the agent

– Red flags for an agent – Character begins novel by waking up, seeing what he/she looks like and weather

– Make sure every word belongs on the page

– Expository dialogue – stuff you wouldn’t say, but is the author giving info

– You can introduce the reader to something shocking but don’t spoil it by taking the reader out of the action

– Grammatical errors are totally fixable but turn the agent off

– Role of profanity. Use it when it works – not for shock value. Must be authentic

– Swearing in description is really difficult – ex: shitty little apartment (doesn’t work)

– Don’t open with a bored character. Your reader might get bored as well. Don’t make your reader bored along with the character

– Don’t lose your effectiveness by overusing certain words

– Starting with a date might turn off some readers. Only use if really necessary

– Lack of flow is a problem

– Skin doesn’t become hyper aware. Be aware of how you are in your head

– Be careful of looking like you’ve pulled something out of the thesaurus. Don’t be too creative with your words (meaning using high-falutin words) it pulls the reader out

– Don’t start getting technical right away. If the reader doesn’t know who’s talking, you will lose them

– Nix the wordiness. Agents will immediately assume the rest of the manuscript is wordy too

– Description overkill – you have an entire manuscript to build your world. Don’t do everything on the first page. Sensory overkill

– Recognize that telling every detail can be better served by showing it

I wish they had picked one of the five of our first pages. I guarantee there would have been
no raised hands.