As someone who writes most every day, I consider myself decently knowledgeable about numerous aspects of writing. I’m no expert certainly and make mistakes like a normal human would, but I grasp the basic concepts pretty well. That being said, as someone who writes often, it always surprises me how many people have stories to tell but claim to have no ability to write well. Today, I would like to impart some knowledge on these sorts of folks. Now, this is not an attempt to say, “I’m better than you,” or anything like that. I simply feel some of the tips I can offer may help someone out down the line.
So if this is something that would interest you, please sit back and enjoy~!
- Outline your story.
In my opinion, outlines are one of the most crucial steps to starting any story. While there are, of course, people who thrive when they don’t have a set plan for their story, I find more often than not most people do better with an outline.
So what do I mean by outline? I simply mean a bulleted point list of all the major plot points. Does Bob journey to the forbidden mountains, fall in love, and then get turned into a frog? List all those as separate bullet points. The organization of your outline is totally up to you; as long as it’s something you can understand, it’s fine. You can add as many details to each point as you want (I’m a particular fan of organizing things with subpoints), but it’s also okay to just do the bare minimum.
The point of doing an outline, however, is so that you go in with a plan. When you have your major plot points listed out, it becomes much easier to notice things like logic inconsistencies and plot holes. Additionally, it also gives you the perfect medium through which to foreshadow future elements. For me personally, I find writing is also infinitely easier when you have an outline prepared, since you already know where you need to get with any scene/arc/etc. I could go on and on about the benefits to outlining, but the point is it gives you a plan, which is necessary particularly for those who aren’t experienced story writers.
- Remember writing is not science, it’s a creative pursuit.
I’m sure a plethora of people have heard this before, but it never hurts to reiterate. Throughout your writing development, you will be told numerous amounts of rules. Generally, these are things like avoiding clichés and tropes, not beginning a story a certain way, etc. However, unlike science, these are not set in stone rules. While they are good guidelines to follow, there exist an infinite number of contexts where any one rule can be broken and work in an amazing way. In the same spirit of art, it’s okay to experiment with how you write a story, even if it means breaking some of the rules that get hammered into you during your youth.
Now, another aspect of this being a creative pursuit that’s worth mentioning is writing is also subjective. No matter what you do in regards to rule-breaking or not, there will always be people who don’t like your story. Now, you should of course consider all criticism seriously. That being said, you can choose to continue writing how you like if you feel certain aspects are necessary for the story you want to tell. There’s nothing wrong with not following someone’s advice, and you can always find an audience that likes it the way it is. The point I wish to make here is that you should simply write the story that makes you happy.
- When applicable, read your stuff aloud.
Assuming you write your entire story down at some point, you’re probably going to want to edit it (at the very least for grammatical stuff). When you edit it, I highly advise reading it aloud. Of course, I don’t expect anyone to start randomly reading their story on the crowded bus. However, if you can find time to yourself, I definitely encourage reading the story aloud, or, if you can’t read it, getting someone else to with you present. The reason this is a desirable way to edit, is it’s a quick cheat to find grammar, flow, and other sorts of similar errors that you might have otherwise missed. I myself do this all the time since my brain has a tendency to auto fill in words even if they’re missing. Reading aloud helps you catch issues like that quickly so you don’t wind up publishing a story with items like, “You only need go with flow.” There are a ton of other ways in which this helps, and while you may have a sore throat after, you may find your editing skills improved immensely from doing this.
- Trimming is important.
When I say trimming, I mean this in two ways. In the first way, it is often better to be brief than it is to expound on something. While your two paragraphs about your protagonist’s breakfast may be a beautiful masterpiece, in the larger picture it may not really be necessary to elaborate that much on it (assuming the breakfast plays no part in the actual plot). Of course, brief does not mean never describing anything ever. Generally, the rule of thumb is to describe things that you want the reader to pay attention. Does it turn out that the breakfast gave the protagonist magical powers? Then yes, that would be a scenario describing the breakfast wouldn’t be out of place. If it’s just a normal breakfast though, you don’t really need to write an essay on it.
The second way I mean trimming is simply to not make things overly complicated. I’m sure you love your protagonist who is a magical girl, but also a princess and a half-demon who gets overcome by blood-lust occasionally. While I won’t knock having such a protagonist, the problem is that all these things are going to require story rules. What triggers the blood-lust? What are the transformation rules? The world is as much a part of a character as the character is a part of the world. The rules between are intermingled and, unfortunately, readers can only keep track of so many rules. So, simply for the sake of not confusing the reader, one needs to find a balance between being complicated and being simple enough readers don’t need a whole guidebook for how the world works.
There are a lot of other pieces of advice I could give, and ways in which I could elaborate on the points above. However, I think I’ve conveyed a basic understanding at this point of these basic writing components. Becoming a good writer, like numerous creative pursuits, is simply a matter of practice. Writing with confidence, whether you think you are good or not, will also make a huge difference in your ability to convey your story. I hope with this article that some people feel better equipped to dive into story-telling. There are never enough stories to be had in the world, so I encourage everyone to tell the ones they have.