Good morrow, bloggerly chums!
This month, the month of November, has a special significance for many writers. It is a significance that fills one with excitement or dread or both. It can make writers squeal with delight, scream with terror, or weep in utter despair. Or perhaps all three at once.
As many of you no doubt are aware, November is National Novel Writing Month. This means that people all over the place in cabins and skyscrapers and bureau drawers are at this moment scrambling to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Hence the intense weeping.
I myself am quite at ease because I am not participating in NaNoWriMo. Call me a coward, but ’tis too much for my small sponge brain to handle at this time.
Nevertheless, writing is and always will be a major part of my life, and as it is National Novel Writing Month, I thought it would be fitting for me to do a post about how to be an excellent and accomplished writer. I happen to have ten simple guidelines for making that a reality. Those of you who are participating in the maddness of NaNoWriMo should be taking notes on this.
These steps are a fool-proof way to create stellar stories. Obviously I am not exaggerating or oversimplifying anything.
Ahem. Here we go.
1. Use creative imagery
Readers want a story, not a dry account. Imagery helps readers to relate to the action on a more emotional level. Instead of saying, “His heart beat quickly,” spice it up a little bit. Say something like, “His heart felt like a caged bird anxious to burst out of his ribs.”
None of your readers have ever had a real bird in their chests (hopefully) but it gives a more striking feeling than is given by the plain facts.
2. Be subtle
Don’t be afraid of using subtlety. When you overstate everything, the readers may become insulted. You have to trust that they can figure some things out on their own, instead of treating them like an idiot. Reading should feel more like a discovery and less like getting slapped in the face with information.
What to do: He swiped angrily at his red-rimmed eyes. His sister looked away, biting her lip.
What NOT to do: He swiped angrily at his red-rimmed eyes because he was crying and he didn’t want anyone to see his tears because he didn’t want to be crying. His sister looked away, biting her lip. She looked away because she saw that he was crying and she didn’t want him to know that she knew that he was crying. She was embarrassed for him, because she knew that he didn’t like it when people saw him crying.
I hope you see what I mean.
3. Choose interesting names
Names are important and they can be part of the poetry of your story. Don’t throw them away. Don’t just slap names on everyone like Johnny Johnson, Sarah Smith, and Michael Brown. Unless it is part of the story that your characters have extremely dull names. I would much rather read about someone named Ariadne than someone named Ashley. Just saying.
4. Keep the plot twisty
Don’t bore your readers with predictability. If your readers can tell what will happen on the last page from two hundred pages away, what is there to keep them reading? You have to surprise them. You have to keep them guessing.
5. Give your protagonist flaws
Readers don’t want to read about a cardboard cut-out, and if you want your main character to feel remotely human, he or she has to be flawed. The character has to make mistakes, fail, get angry or scared or be overly controlling- or perhaps all of those things. Nobody is perfect, and perfect characters are not very relatable. Hence, they are not very interesting. It’s just science.
6. Keep the language as simple as possible
Fancy words are all fine and good to a point, but if the coffin is buried in flowers we won’t be able to see that it’s a coffin. (I don’t know where that came from, but hey, it works.)
Sometimes imagery is effective, but often it is extremely distracting. And while words such as “hitherto,” “alas,” and “perchance” are deliciously fun to use, they also can be distracting, and it is often better to use a humbler alternative.
What to do: She felt cold. Her bones were cold. Her eyelids were cold. She thought that if she tried to bend her fingers they might break off like frozen twigs.
What NOT to do: She perceived that she was enduring a great chill to her person. Her bones were as cold as a snow clad mountain in the middle of a prolonged winter. Her eyelids were as cold as the hard ice in the very heart of a glacier that has been frozen for a millennia. She mused that were she to endeavor to bend her appendages they would mayhap break asunder like frozen twigs from a diminutive poplar tree that had sunk under the weight of ice from a hundred winter nights.
Not that the secondary example was not more fun to write, but it works better for humor purposes than serious ones. If you are really wanting to tell us that the girl was cold, just get to the point already.
7. Please tell the story, for crying out loud
Don’t be so subtle that the reader has absolutely no idea what is going on the ENTIRE TIME. It IS your job as the writer to tell us what is going on, after all. Don’t leave us in the dark.
I have read books that were so vague that I was completely baffled. If you don’t have anything to say, spare us. Please. The world is confusing enough as it is without books that are subtle to the point of meaninglessness.
8. Keep the names simple
Readers want to be able to pronounce the names of their beloved favorite characters. Sometimes we get carried away with making the names interesting and end up with terribly convoluted names that no one can possibly pronounce or remember. Try to keep the names simple, striking, and memorable. None of this Tilvenyanfeligi Morvenkaronsioloieziocex nonsense.
9. Don’t betray your reader’s trust
Plot twists are all fine and grand, until someone breaks the believability.
Readers want to be surprised, but they don’t want the shock to be so out of the blue that it destroys the flavor of the whole story. You can’t turn a sweet, badger-loving, cupcake baking child into a serial killer totally out of nowhere and expect the readers to accept it. You better have a VERY good explanation for something like that. Even then, they might not forgive you. So be careful.
10. Make your protagonist likable
Sure, readers want flawed characters- but they don’t like reading about people that they absolutely CANNOT STAND. Don’t make your protagonist too whiny or too cruel, or no one is going to like reading about them. Readers need someone that they can root for.
Well, there you have it: Ten Easy Steps to Becoming an Effective Writer. Go forth and use this information to write your novels. I am sure that you will not find any of these steps to be contradictory to each other. How hard can crafting a literary masterpiece be?
What kinds of stories are you working on right now? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Do you have any other guidelines to add to my list? I would love to hear all your writing news in the comments!