**This blog is on hiatus until the New Year. Thank you for reading.***
It occurred to me lately that I could use Pinterest to collect writing help articles as well as blogging help articles. Since then I’ve been swamped in writing tips. I think I have to start saving more dessert recipes and crocheting patterns just to keep things in balance.
But with this newfound access to a ton of internet knowledge, came the responsibility of using it properly. How and when do you apply writing tips? Are you supposed to have a list of writing rules open beside you as you write and keep referring to them?
You’d never get anything done. When do we use writing tips, then, and how?
The short answer: during planning and editing.
For the long answer I’m going to go through some common types of writing tips and how to use them.
The Word List
(This also applies to your thesaurus)
Many of these lists have themes, such as words to use instead of “went,” words that evoke sensory details, words that “every writer should know.”
In general I think these lists are good, but use with care. Just like a thesaurus, it is very easy to look pretentious if you use words your audience doesn’t understand. There is also the risk of using a word incorrectly because you don’t understand what it means.
In which case you end up looking silly to those readers who do.
However, you can use these lists. These are best used in the final polishing, or line-editing, of your work. For instance, if you notice your characters are constantly “dashing” everywhere, a good word list with action verbs can help you out. A thesaurus is also helpful if you are struggling to remember a word. Often you can find it by looking for words with similar meanings.
The only “words to use instead of” list you should never use is the “said” replacement list. Do not, ever, replace “said” with anything. Except perhaps “asked,” although some suggest that a question mark is sufficient.
Unlike pretty much any other device used in fiction, “said” is supposed to be boring. It is there to be skipped over, so that the reader sees the character’s name and knows who’s talking, and that’s it. The dialogue itself does the rest.
If you must specify that a character is shouting or whispering or whatever, use an action tag.
Lists of “words every writer should know,” are a particular danger zone. While I agree writers should probably know what these words mean, they are almost always exactly the sort of words writers should use very, very infrequently. Or not at all, unless needed for voice or characterization purposes.Use a thesaurus with the same caution.
With one exception: if you have a very-highly educated and/or pretentious character, it is perfectly fine to use these words.
How To Plot A Novel
These articles usually cover things like the progression of suspense/conflict in a novel (inciting incident, rising action, climax, ending). Or they may cover plot points, and any of the other large-scale building blocks of novels generally. This also applies to articles on how to write a scene.
This kind of information you should know and have in the back of your head when you’re going through the plotting stages of the novel. Which, depending on your style, may occur before any writing begins or intermittently during the process of writing the novel.
It may also help you realize what a horrible mess you’ve made of your novel after you’ve written it. For example, if you go over your novel’s plot and realize you’ve glossed over the climax entirely, or you have no plot points at all…
…then you’ve probably successfully created a first draft, and are now ready to begin the arduous process of rewriting it. Congratulations.
How To Write The First/Last Chapter/Page
These I also find useful in the planning stages. Or if I’ve tried to write the first scene (or whatever) a few times and it just doesn’t seem to be working. They’re also a handy guide for rewriting said sections.
Oh, and the first page of your novel is absolutely the most important part and you should rewrite/edit it fifty bazillion times. Of course, you also have to back up your fabulous first page with a high-quality novel, but the importance of first impressions cannot be overstated.
Unless of course you are paralyzed with doubt about your first page. In that case, just forget it for the moment and move on.
I think these are super neat. Ideally these are used in the planning stages, where they have the greatest potential to save you grief later on, but can also be used if you find yourself running into problems during writing, or as a primer prior to rewriting.
My deal is, although I think these are really cool and I like the idea of them, so far I have never used any. I tend to daydream up sufficient detail about most places and people organically.
While these profiles certainly can be useful, they also feel a bit artificial to me. Like a school project. Which is also why I don’t normally make use of writing prompts or creative writing lessons, even though those things are probably beneficial too.
Unless the writing prompt results in you writing a cliché or the creative writing instructor doesn’t know what s/he is talking about. Which can happen too.
God bless, and happy writing!
(Come back next week for a new sneak peak of The King’s Children.)