critical factor in the success of my writing career.
But what areas should writers focus on for intense growth? With all the advice floating around out there, we can get overwhelmed, even confused.
Of course all of us are at different spots on the writing path. And what one writer needs to work on will likely be different for another.
But . . . if I had to break down the top 5 areas I think writers should focus on, especially early in their writing careers, this would be my list:
1. Strengthening the story:
Believability: Fiction cannot imitate real life; it must transcend it. But in taking stories to the “entertainment” level, motivations must also still be grounded on a logical, progressive, “this-could-really-happen” foundation, even if it’s in a galaxy far-far away.
Complexity: No matter if we write for children or adults, readers long for a story with the kinds of twists and turns that keep them turning the pages. Take the story off the first floor and move it into the labyrinth.
Uniqueness: Reject the predictable and stretch deeper and farther for fresh ideas. While various genres will have taboos (stories/topics that are harder to sell), we can look for ways to push the boundaries, add our unique perspective, and move beyond the familiar.
2. Plotting with greater structure:
Conflict & tension: Adding conflict to every page will increase the tension, pulling the readers' emotions tighter, making it harder for them to put down our books. Physical and emotional conflict are cyclical, like a tornado, constantly spinning faster and wider, until reaching a climax.
Three strand plot lines: Weave the strands like braid. Physical plot—overcoming major outward barriers or defeating an antagonist. Emotional plot—working through inward issues for character growth. Relational plot—conflict between 2 major characters, particularly critical in romances.
Three Act Structure: Act I: An inciting incident pushes MC (main character) into a new situation. Act II: MC makes progress toward goal, but complications and higher stakes escalate and threaten to defeat him. Act III: MC experiences setback, climax, then aftermath.
3. Writing by scenes and sequels:
Goals: A scene should play out for a reader like they’re watching a movie. A good rule of thumb: make a scene have more than one reason for being included in the book, preferably multiple reasons. With each scene ask: what are the goals? What’s at stake for the characters?
Transitions: Keep transitions between scenes short—if any is needed at all. Jump-cutting between scenes is a technique that moves us from one scene to the next without any exposition.
Hook: If possible, open the scene with a hook, the critical moment of the scene. Most scenes need very little set-up and whatever is needed can often be woven in. End the scene in such a way that the stakes are high for the MC. Don’t tie it up nice and neat. Make the reader need to keep going.
4. Developing deeper characters:
Physically: Avoid clichéd descriptions. We can’t describe everything. Sprinkle in the things that make the character unique. And then show who the character is through their actions, reactions, and dialog.
Emotionally: Dig deep into a character’s past to find the motivation for their goals and dreams. The more complex and deeper we go, the more realistic our characters will become.
Likeability: In giving our characters problems and adding conflict between characters, it’s easy to tip the scales so that our MC ends up being hard to like. We have to find something redeemable, qualities that readers appreciate, traits that make them heroic—even if in a small way.
5. Tightening excess and unnecessary prose:
Backstory: In the first chapter, only sprinkle in enough to ground the reader in the setting. Then throughout the book, add in pre-story information only as needed and only in small bites.
Exposition: Over-explaining kills the story-flow and treats our readers like ignorant children. Instead we should weave in any necessary exposition and assume our readers are brilliant adults who will catch on without us having to go into detail about everything.
Extra wordage: We can tighten our stories by eliminating unnecessary words. For more ideas, read these posts by my critique partner Keli Gwyn: 12 Weak Words We Can Turn Into Strong Ones, Weasal Words in Our Writing.
My suggestion for growth? Pick ONE area (from the above list) where you are weakest. Read more about that particular skill. Intentionally practice it in your current WIP. At first adding in the new skill may slow you down and feel awkward. But with a little practice, eventually it will become second nature.
In which of the areas listed above are you weakest? Do you make a habit of intentionally practicing new skills? And if so, how?
*Due to the Easter holiday weekend, I will not be posting on Friday this week.
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