8 Strategies for writing Fiction
We know as authors that the writing process is made up of effort and worry. The job is a mixture of word counts and applied techniques, but it can be more difficult to manage the concern, a combination of anxiety, uncertainty, tension and opposition to the procedure.
I mastered the importance of art and routine in handling both the job and the worry over the four long years I spent writing my first book, A Propper Man.
If you’re curious how to start writing a novel, these methods will help you reach your goals with less uncertainty and less obstacles. The thoughts on craft help form an attack plan to accomplish your everyday work, while those focused on the routine and ruminations on writing life help you bring the plan into motion and find the will to complete it.
To write your first book, art tips
Although when added to fantasy, the concept of craft can sound like a witch’s brew, it’s no magical stuff.
Sure, there are fictitious features that are valuable tools for your arsenal, as well as tried and tested ways of narrative that are beneficial to hear about. Mostly, though, the art of writing consists of continuous rehearsal and process: the beginning and ending and rewriting of the stumbling, mealy-mouthed verbosity that you must repeatedly add, ad-infinitum.
On the first day of class, as a literature professor once explained, “I’m going to dump my toolbox on the floor here.” Take what you can, but know that you do not need anything.” There are a few to consider below.”
1. Have a Road map
For novel authors, the term ‘outline’ is a polarizing one. We all know about this structure, but we either love or loathe it, based on our knowledge and attitude.
It helps to have some kind of map or roadmap for where you’re headed, whatever opinion you have on outlines, even though you just know the approximate path and have a few main landmarks scribbled on a bar napkin. As E.L. Doctorow famously said, “It is like driving in the fog at night to write a novel.” You can only see as far as your headlights are, so that way, you can make the entire journey.
Before abandoning them entirely in favour of designing my own, I played with four distinct outline schemes. I used notecards that each contained a clear declaration about the action that took place in each scene, then taped each card to a whiteboard in front of my desk in chronological order. It took seconds to substitute a scene, add one, or switch a couple around, if I wanted to. And when I lost my route, I just had to take a look at the roadmap. I went from there to a more detailed overview at the scenario level that helped me structure the cause and effect that progressed each scene and the plot as a whole.
It took time for an approach to be discovered that succeeded. I prefer analog, but a digital tool like Scrivener may make you feel more relaxed.
Experiment to see what fits for you and then change it to match it with your storybuilding strategy. But with a map, you can need to pull over and return to it now and then, even at night.
2. Find the relevance of differences and interests
This gem is among the eight tips from Kurt Vonnegut about how to write a better story: “Every character should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water.”
How the character goes about having it is what makes a story really convincing. What lies in his path, and how is he going to conquer such obstacles? Manipulating the character in such a way that the experience feels worthwhile for the reader is one of your duties as a storyteller, even though all the character needs is a glass of water. The elements of confrontation and stakes are central to this buy-in from the reader.
Conflict is an intrinsic incompatibility in literature between the interests of two or more characters or powers. By adding uncertainty as to the result, confrontation induces suspense and excitement in a plot.
Be specific about the conflict: how your character’s ability to get what he wants is slammed by the setting, other players, or even local and global events. When conflict is apparent, you allow the reader to better grasp what fuels the determination of your character.
Stakes suggest what happens to the reader if the character does not get what he needs after the confrontation altercation. Have some fun escalating the stakes to push your character to take action that may be out of character abnormally, or fantastically.
Picture this scenario: twenty-five vehicles from a slow-moving roadblock on the interstate, thirty minutes from home, are waiting on the highway. He may have been trapped there for an hour, maybe longer. He’s frustrated with the low stakes, that he could miss the first quarter of Monday Night Football. So he turns on the radio, checks in line with his mobile and ekes along.
Today, what happens if a man gets a warning that his young son is deadly wounded and that he is the only one who can save his life by reaching him in time? Suddenly, at 100 mph and police cruisers in hot pursuit, he is offroading into the median, blowing past the roadblock and racing into his home.
High stakes alter motivation and place the characters in fascinating positions that you previously could not imagine, resulting in convincing, page-turning fiction.
3. Maintain calculated scene beats: The heartbeats of your book
The dynamic movement that propels a plot forward is made up of scene beats, or micro-tension. Jeff Vandermeer calls them “micro-cycles of ebb and flow, development and setback playing out within a scene” in his Wonderbook.
Before I actually pegged its current direction, I wrote four iterations of my book. Challenge that? I have written a series of scenes that are diverse and often tangentially related. These scenes were perfect in a vacuum, but many of them fell short when woven into a tapestry of scenes and chapters. In order to drive the plot forward, the atmosphere, the dialogue and the characters did not demonstrate enough micro-tension.
While most readers won’t realize that a beat is absent from your scene, when they contemplate flipping another page or picking up their smartphones to search the new Buzzfeed list, they can definitely sense it in the way their minds wander.
To preserve a calculated evolution of the scene’s changes in emotional mood, make sure to examine the beats, cause and effect. Ensure that they draw on each other. The character walks into the room thinking only one thing will happen, just to discover something different. It is a beat as he realizes this. Or, the heroine solves a mystery, and learns something surprising that alters her quest’s intent. How she feels about the exploration is another beat, in that moment.
Lay out the beats on the page if you’re grappling with a scene and you can’t quite figure out what’s wrong. A decision is taken after every beat: open the door or pretend not to be home; get in the car or call a cab; take the blue pill or catch the red pill. What does the heroine do, and how does it affect her by that choice? When you have set out the beats, you will be able to see where the scene is lagging, perhaps where intense emotional changes are missing.
4. Approaching the method of analysis of passes, not drafts
Drafts are hulking things, beastly. Going through a massive draft page by page can grind you down and be a huge amount of effort.
Think of passes instead of looking at the editing process in terms of drafts or copies. There are lighter, more jovial passes. They give you the ability to accept revision elements and to go through the process more efficiently, such as a painter applying layers of color to an artwork that is not completely understood.
One pass may be for testing, another couple for growth and continuity of character; maybe you add one pass each for speech environment, sound, and accuracy. It may seem Sisyphean to edit and re-edit the same copy repeatedly and inevitably contribute to unproductive tinkering.
Identifying the passes needed to complete the project, and being disciplined as you progress through and pass, helps the task of revision feel less daunting.
Routine: Writing your first novel is important.
How do you do that until you have the right materials and you know what you’re trying to build? That’s where a strong personal approach to fiction’s psychology and routine becomes important.
In your brain, you construct a novel first, so it’s important to make sure it’s a healthy and efficient place to work.
5. To consider and resolve opposition
Steven Pressfield reflects on opposition as a primary culprit in preventing production in his fabulous novel, The War of Art. The modes of opposition are myriad and incredibly intimate.
For me, errands, laundry and applying for “legitimate” work online were the normal suspects. I ate up hours, even whole days, avoiding the process of placing words on the paper until I was frank about how I stopped writing about myself. Each time they popped up, I kept a list and remembered my resistance modes.
On those days when writing doesn’t sound fun, what methods of resistance do you fall prey to? Write them down on a large sheet of paper and place them on your desk. In time and with repetition, you can interrupt what you do and return to work as you understand opposition. To create a routine, the capacity to resolve opposition is fundamental.
Maintaining your practice is always the only thing that will assist you in the middle of your novel in the depths of depression, where the joy has drained from your writing and you’re left with the ditch-digging needed to complete the project.
6. Write to the counting of a word
Strange bedfellows are time and paper. Who is to tell how long a story can take to complete? But we all face a plain truth: If you don’t put words down on the paper, you can’t write a book.
It takes time, preparation and a semblance of an organised schedule to compose 100,000 words. Each writer handles this method in their own way, but rather than a time block, my routine includes a dedication to a regular word count. Writing to a word count eliminates me from the burden of continually feeling short on time.
Some days, I need forty-five minutes for a thousand sentences. I could stretch out three writing sessions for several hours on others: at the coffee shop, at home while preparing dinner and waiting to prepare the rice, and lying in bed for a few minutes after I finish reading. Looking back, I’m not trying to recall the amount of time needed for each session, only that I reached my word mark.
Set your own count of words to make it attainable. Five hundred words is all you can handle? Terrific! Fantastic! Aim for the target, and then hit it. Stop, then. Don’t edit, don’t think, just go and count up the terms when your hand or fingertips need a rest. My guess is that you would find that you’ve written more than your regular target.
If it encourages you to compose more words, do so. But allow yourself a chance to quit. And when you stop, think about what you did and how it feels for a moment. To finish, read. Every day, do it now, forever… before you need a cheat day.
7. Get a cheat day, cheat day
Dieting is a bad term, but I love the idea of a cheat day: eating whatever you want and pretending to feel bad about it one day per week.
Sure, we all want to be ideal adherents to the dogma that the best way to change is to publish every day, but life just gets in the way sometimes. And that’s perfect. You could have children, or children and a mad career, or all the above, plus a yard home. If you can find time to compose, fine, but if you can’t, give yourself one day when your apparent loss of success isn’t judged.
The Uncertainty Theory of Heisenberg postulates that the very act of observing something eventually affects what is being observed. So stop dwelling on the days you’re not writing. Just look down. You can find that withdrawing shame from the process over time, shifting the focus elsewhere, makes it easier to stick to a schedule. It’s amazing how it happens.
8. When struggling with fear and uncertainty, learn to distinguish reality from fiction.
Perhaps the most destructive types of protest are anxiety and doubt; they have undoubtedly stopped more art from touching society than any other sort of cultural injustice.
Take a minute to distinguish reality from fiction when you’re feeling anxiety and uncertainty. Break away those things you know as fact; “writing is difficult,” “I need to write a lot of words to finish a novel,” “publishing is complicated,” from the fiction: “no one will ever read about what I write,” “writing is a waste of time and effort,” and “I don’t have talent.”
This is a crucial mindfulness technique and it actually allows one to consider and compartmentalize thoughts consciously. We all teach ourselves different kinds of fiction about making art. The biggest difference between those who persevere and those who leave is the willingness to understand, in spite of it, the fallacy of subjective reasoning and power on though. The query, to paraphrase Seth Godin, is not how to get rid of fear, but how to dance with fear.
Putting all of this into effect
The reality of the matter is that there is no single blueprint for great novels being made. It works if it works. The old story about processes and madness is true: there is almost always a method present, no matter how insane or esoteric the routine of an artist is. It’s important to make your own.
You take no satisfaction in completing a book when you’re like me; you want to finish a wonderful novel. You also want to do much better at the next book. Understanding yourself is key to this process: your natural talents and those that need more effort and practice.
Listen about what you hear about your writing assignments and report it. Take the lessons that teach you as much about yourself from your writing as they do about your art. This practice will help you complete the personal masterwork you’ve always dreamed of making in time, and with hard work and confidence. Behind the perceived madness of your imaginative process, and the work emanating from it, you can create the system.