Throughout November I posted craft, structural, and speed writing tips on Twitter and Tumblr to aid those at work on a novel. Now that National Novel Writing Month is over, I present the complete list:
- Hook readers from the very first sentence. Keep them hooked with questions, tension, character, fascination, stakes.
- Don’t frontload with information. The story should move: start with action, and then quietly weave background throughout the opening chapters.
- “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” –Kurt Vonnegut
- Fewer words pack greater punch.
- In high school, my writing class had to describe the sound of snow being stepped on without using the word crunch. Best answer? “Like a camel licking a cactus.” I STILL remember it. Lesson learned: when describing things, make vivid and unusual comparisons.
- Verbs and nouns over adjectives. Was it sour, or did it kick like a mule?
- If you want to get the story out, say goodbye to your delete key.
- Highlight and use placeholders for details you haven’t figured out yet. You can come back to them in revisions.
- The first draft is just for you. Don’t worry about plot holes, inconsistencies, weak prose, wrong accents. Just write.
- Getting away from the screen (for a shower, laundry, walk, etc.) is a great way to reach solutions when you get stuck.
- What’s on the line? There should be negative consequences if your protagonist doesn’t get what he/she wants.
- When worried about bending the rules or doing something unconventional in your story, remember this: “When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can.” —Neil Gaiman in his 2012 Keynote Address, aka the Make Good Art speech
- Write in the active, not passive voice. “Pandora opened the box.” Not “The box was opened by Pandora.”
- “End each chapter on a cliff.” See Writer’s Digest for more.
- Say things as directly as possible. (See: fewer words, tip #4)
- Things to avoid: clichés. Adverbs. Gratuitous exclamation points. Drugs. That boy your momma warned you about.
- Every sentence has a rhythm. Mind them, and arrange and vary to make music. Read This sentence has five words for more.
- Increase the stakes as the story progresses to keep readers turning pages.
- It’s easier to edit plop than nothing.
- Sensory details make vivid, sometimes lasting impressions. (See: “camel licking a cactus,” tip #5.)
- “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” –Elmore Leonard
- Word count slump? Try writing in bursts. Timed sessions of 45 minutes – 1 hour are manageable and bring focus.
- Hold the reader’s attention. Things that don’t: excessive description, asides, internal thought, showing of research.
- Simple is best.
- Every scene, line, and word should serve a purpose.
- Short sentences heighten tension.
- Dialogue can also be used to imply what’s happening and things that aren’t being said.
- “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” –Stephen King
- Things that illicit a physical reaction from readers—laughter, tears, a wrinkled nose—are usually signs of a job well done.
- “The only universal rule is to write. Get it done, and do what works for you.” –Anne Rice
Feel free to add your own in the comments!
30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge
Day 23: If you held all the cards, where would you want your writing to take you?
Short answer: Europe!
Slightly longer short answer: As early as third grade I dreamed of writing best-sellers. I suppose, if we’re talking ALL the cards, I won’t give up on that dream. But ultimately I don’t need fame or fortune. I would be happy just to live comfortably doing what I love, and have the resources to follow my other dreams like world travel and living abroad.
Alright. If we’re really going to play the “ALL the cards” game, I think a list is the best way to go.
Julie’s Quick List of Writing Goals & Dreams
- Be able to afford a comfortable, debt-free life
- …as well as travel
- Get published by a respected publishing house
- Make the NYT bestseller list
- Appear on The Daily Show and / or The Colbert Report to discuss my future best-selling books with idols Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
- Attend a book-signing in which I am the author
- See my book(s) discussed on television, in high schools and universities, debated by scholars
- Make a lasting contribution to culture, the arts, and humanity
If you’re going to dream, dream big.
But even if you fall miserably short of your goals, have a laugh. Failure is often the first step to success.
A delicious dozen reasons to read yours truly
30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge
Day 22: Why should someone read your work?
To experience something I painstakingly unearthed from the sands of my mind like a buried civilization one fragment at a time and then translated into a cohesive sum for your verbal pleasure, entertainment, and intimate window into human experience? *Takes breath*
There’s also my list of fictional reasons, which is less realistic, but more fun.
12 Reasons Why You Should Read Julie Israel
- Studies show that reading Julie Israel in the morning helps increase metabolism.
- Those that read Julie Israel are happier and laugh more than those that don’t.
- Reading Julie Israel has been shown to significantly improve IQ and SAT verbal scores.
- Julie Israel promotes universal understanding and world peace.
- Reading Julie Israel helps reduce crime and world hunger.
- Every time you read Julie Israel a unicorn is born.
- Reading Julie Israel can make snow fall on a school day.
- Those that read Julie Israel on a regular basis are 50% more likely to develop super human powers such as wit, ambidexterity, and the ability to reach something in the back of the fridge without taking anything out to get to it.
- Julie Israel repels vampires (especially those pesky glittery ones).
- Reading Julie Israel is a natural cure for allergies, migraines, flu, insomnia, chicken pox, restless leg syndrome, gamer’s thumb, and doughnut overdose.
- Julie Israel will help save the economy and prevent global warming.
- Julie Israel is a known aphrodisiac.
Oh, and all the cool kids are doing it.