Two Writing Websites (Book in 100 days)

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How to Write a Novel in 100 Days

While I was surfing the Internet, I ran across this fabulous web site called “How to Write a Novel in 100 Days,” by John Coyne.  From what I’ve read so far–I haven’t gone through all 100 days–it seems very doable.  I’ll give this a go and see if this helps.  It might give me a little extra push, and at least more structure!

How to Write a Fantasy Story

I ran across this resource online which basically outlines some of the basic steps (seven steps to be exact) for writing a fantasy story.  What I like about this resource are the extra tips, including things to avoid (warnings), things you need, and related wikiHows (other guides).  The overall content is useful while covering the basic concepts of writing a book.

How to Write a Fantasy Story


How to Write Books (Study Literature & Life)

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The old adage of “practice makes perfect” rings very true with writing.  Practice, practice, practice!!!  Here are some helpful tips for studying life and studying literature.

Studying Life

Sharpen your power of observation by taking descriptive notes on life where you are.  Use all of your senses to describe events, people, things.  What did you hear, smell, feel, taste, and see?

Go to places where people interact with each other, such as stores, fast food joints, restaurant.  Observe how people appear, how they behave, how they interact, or anything unusual about them to glean ideas.  Write what you see, and make long lists of sentences that uses the story elements of characterization, plot, and setting.

Studying Literature

Instead of reading through a novel for entertainment, evaluate it for its content and literary techniques.  Don’t forget to write what you enjoy to read.  Use a folded 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of blank paper as a bookmark for books you read. Study books which use many techniques, and go through it several times to evaluate how they accomplished certain aspects such as dialog or description.

Take notes on the blank “bookmark,” and don’t forget to include the book title, author, and the date when you read it.  Write down unique word combinations and descriptions that may provide inspiration to you.  Be careful about plagiarizing though–strive to be creative and as one-of-a kind as you can be.  In fact, when you find a book that really “works,” you’ll probably want to read it multiple times (see prior posts for details).

You could also try rewriting the end of a novel you just read, or reconstruct the summary of a story with a different plot.  As you read, outline novels from beginning to end.  Practice writing summaries of a story to highlight the main points, characters, themes and goals.  Pretend that you’re writing to sell it to someone.

Note which elements you find effective and break it down so you understand how the author did it.  Learn from the mild and “poorly” written book that you and others have read.  First find the elements which did work (and why), as well as the elements which didn’t work for you (and why).  If you can’t find a book that “does it all,”you may want to study books from genres that specialize in certain aspects.  For example, if you’re looking for a way to create more adventure in your writings, consider reading a fantasy book that pull reader into new worlds or an action book in which the characters traveler considerably.

How to Write Books (Revisions)

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After writing the first draft of your story, read through it from beginning to end to look for any glaring errors, such as grammar, facts, flow, etc.  You undoubtedly will have reread each section and chapter several times by this point, which is perfectly fine.  Make any changes that you feel that need to be modified such as grammar, facts within the story, etc.  Then set your book aside for several months (3 months minimum without looking at it or thinking about it). You may even want to begin writing a new book to get your mind off of this project.  Setting aside your book helps you look at your writing from a more objective perspective.

When it is time to pick up your book again, track any changes you make with different colors (or font/note/pen colors).  This allows you to back track if you change your mind.  Evaluate the following:

  • List of characters — list the characters as they are introduced to the reader and how they are introduced.  Include descriptions about them (names, appearances, behaviors, temperaments, primary traits, etc.).  Keep to the basic information (1-2 paragraphs); don’t rewrite your book.
  • Time line — outline the basic events of your story as they appear, chapter by chapter, and how they appear chronologically in time.
  • Plot outline — list the basic plot line, subplots, motivations, events and devices as they appear in your story.
  • Geographic locations — list the location and time it takes to travel from one point to another (if travel time is an important aspect of your story).  You may even want to create a map.
  • Emotional connections — list where you use emotional connections with your reader.  One of the most important elements of genre writing is being able to connect to the reader.  If the reader can relate to your characters they’ll be more invested in the story.  Evaluate each story element to see if it touches the appropriate emotions for its genre.

Remove any unimportant story elements that don’t contribute to the purpose of the story.  Be clear with your story and your words; say exactly what you mean & don’t be vague.  Check your facts.  Research whether they are realistic and accurate.

When it is time to ask others for feedback, you may want to solicit opinions from others.  A good rule of thumb is to have someone who regularly reads this type of genre to review it; someone who primarily reads romance novels may not provide useful or even accurate feedback.  Some basic questions to ask might be:

  • Did you like the characters?
  • Which characters did you like or not like?
  • Were there any spots in the story that you found boring or slow?
  • Were there places that were confusing or unclear (time, place, setting, characters)?
  • Any conflicting character traits and actions?

How to Write Books (Pacing)

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Pacing is another important factor to keep in mind while writing.  Your writing should flow fairly evenly with a constant push toward the plot’s solution and obstacles that keep threatening the resolution.  Avoid jumping around from action to description & characterization to dialog, and bouncing back to action.  Readers might find parts exciting while other sections drag.

To keep balance throughout your writing, think of a three-legged stool with each leg representing the motivation associated to the character, the story facts or the plot.  Ideally, each sentence should have at least one of these types of motivation or a combination (perhaps all three in the same sentence).  If there is too much of one, then it might become uneven, less practical, and even unusable.

Helpful tips:

  • When creating a scene, try to give it functionality and purpose such as a storm that cause the characters to do something.  Every sentence should have a purpose; if it doesn’t, then why should it be included?
  • Practice writing various descriptions.  Try increasing your observation skills by looking at things that happen in real like with more perception and detail.  Then use these techniques in your writing.
  • Verify whether your character’s reactions and emotions match their dominant character traits.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks, and make sure to write with clear meaning with each sentence.
  • Avoid withholding information from your reader, yet balance it value.  (If it doesn’t support the story plot, ask yourself if it truly needs to be there.)
  • Avoid over used phrases that appear regularly in your type of genre.
  • Avoid relying on coincidental events.  There should be purpose behind everything.
  • Avoid describing things in too much detail; don’t go overboard.
  • Be creative with your original ideas, descriptions and precise words with meaning.

How to Write Books (Dialog)

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The two main functions of dialog are that dialog must define a character by make them unique (unique dialects, manners of speech, types of phrases, not “out of character,” etc.), and it should help move the plot forward.

Dialog is often where an individual can voice their feelings and emotions.  Keep in mind that certain genres might have unique dialog, such as westerns.  The nature of the book will also shape the dialog.  For example, readers don’t expect long dialogs in adventure or thriller books. Dialog in books is more direct and clear than real life conversations.

Also don’t be embarrassed about what comes out of a character’s mouth; the character is not an extension of your own personality. If this were true, all of your characters would sound the same, and the book would have no variation.  After a while it would become bland reading.

Mix up your dialog with different dialects and personalities.  Use the most of well-developed dialog, and don’t bury it in long conversation. A good verbal exchange at the beginning of a chapter has a way of pulling in the reader.  Another useful tip is to rewrite dialog from other authors.

How to Write Books (Motivation)

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It can be said that the reasons why something happens is what makes the book work.  Readers want to know why characters behave the way the do, how they decide on a course of action, and how they react when life comes at them.  This is probably even more important than the characterization of a person, but in reality it is actually apart of who the person is. As mentioned before, keep the motivation believable; unrealistic motives are big detractors to readers.

Motivation is what makes a character react the way they do in a situation. It stems from the character’s traits, and is factually correct with details and is believable.  Ask yourself:

  • Why your character is the type of person you created motivated?
  • Why is the action the character takes to important for that person?

Pitfalls to avoid include spontaneous, random or foolish (out of character) decisions or actions.  Actions that come out of passive needs and emotions; there should be purpose and drive behind the action.

How to Write Books (Plot)

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The plot of the story is the goal or main point of the story.  The main reasons are (note: the following is paraphrased from Robyn Carr’s book Practical Tips for Writing Popular Fiction):

  • To get something: achieve or acquire.
  • To cause something: revenge or punishment or change.
  • To escape something: danger or pain.
  • To resolve something: get an answer or fix a problem.
  • To survive something: endurance or stamina.

There is a need to do something, which is essential (it is not a want). Layout a plan to include the type of plot (see above), the specific need of the character and its importance, and the obstacles that must be overcome.  Together these create urgency and should provide a sense of movement throughout your book.  The conflict within the book pushes the book forward while the obstacles give the tension. To successfully use unexpected conflicts, alternate expected and unexpected conflicts while keeping all elements leading up to it reasonable and believable.

Tension and conflict must also line up with reader satisfaction.  There is a balance between the intensity of the conflict, progress by the main character, and new obstacles to overcome.  A book gets very good when the conflict and tension come to a breaking point.

A good technique is to write an outline of the story (very rough), add details, revise it, and rewrite it. If not enough detail is provided, the reader may become confused instead of building tension.  Organize your facts and time line so your readers ask the right questions.  You don’t want to the reader to be left completely in the dark and wondering what is going on.  Subplots should not overshadow the main plot, but they can shift the story’s feel temporarily (e.g. comic relief or another problem setup for the next book). Some pitfalls to avoid include not having a well-developed plot idea, not resolving the plot (being to vague or too many subplots), not making things believable.

Mechanics of good storytelling include:

  • Steady flow of action that consistently pushes the story forward instead of burst of detail, action, dialog, and then detail again.
  • Don’t mix your tenses: Present tense (we go), past tense (we went), future (we will go), past perfect (we had gone), and past participle (we have gone). Try to stick with one, but if you mix them make sure that the reader can understand it.
  • Transition sentences or paragraphs that bridge time can be complicated.  Watch out that the transition is not too short.  You also don’t want stay in one place (setting within the book) or time too long.  Remember that transitions move time and people to new places.  Just don’t lose your reader in the transition.
  • Try to avoid using too much passive voice; your story will seem dated instead of current and happening now.
  • Try to stick with one perspective throughout the story. The different types of narrative perspective are: first person (I did…), third person multiple views from the perspective of individual characters (he did and believed…), third person objective/factual (he did and had brown hair), and omniscient or distant (they did…).  The last one is looking at events from an outsider’s perspective, like a reader who not involved with the story.

To choose the perspective of the story,consider who the most important character is, how the perspective will influence the story, characters, action, and plot.

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