In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* Topic: How to Get Here, Part 2
* Of Interest
Quotes of the Day
“You have to believe in your long term plan, but you need short term goals to motivate and inspire you.” Roger Federer, professional tennis player (paraphrased)
“Did you know that 94% of consumers in their 20s purchased boba (bubble tea) in the last three months?” 1440 Daily Digest Maybe a story starter? Soma, anyone?
Topic: How to Get Here, Part 2
If you have chosen to opt-out of the responsibility-and-labor-and-drama-intensive myths and choose instead to trust yourself (see yesterday’s post), you’ll become an adherent to Heinlein’s Rules and you’ll practice writing into the dark and cycling.
That puts you on the path to practice and always moving forward, writing story after story or novel after novel as your knowledge of craft increases. And that is all you need to become a professional fiction writer.
The writing craft itself, techniques to improve your storytelling and your chance of success, is a different matter. Today, I’ll offer a few techniques that will cut the learning curve sharply if you will practice them.
▪ Learn to Hook the Reader and then Ground the Reader in the Story
Hook the reader with the first sentence or paragraph of the story. Like most things, this only takes practice. Your creative subconscious has absorbed story structure for years. It is aware that a good story needs a hook at the first. The more often you engage your creative subconscious, the more active it will become. That includes giving you dynamite hooks.
The myth folks talk endlessly about how they spend hours or even days coming up with a great first sentence or paragraph — the hook — for their short stories and novels.
But every hook I’ve written (around 200 short stories and over 60 novels) has come directly and automaticallyl from my creative subconscious. Trust yourself. Trust your creative subconscious and your characters.
For just one example, the first paragraph of my novel Confessions of a Professional Psychopath, serves as a pretty good hook:
Of the three wingback chairs in my library, only one is upholstered in human skin. There’s a reason for that.
The title of the book sets the mood and tone for the hook, and the hook itself (those first two sentences)
- further establishes the mood and tone,
- lets the reader know the POV character is confident, formal but relaxed, and
- hints at the setting (and begins grounding the reader): a fairly large library (3 wingback chairs), so probably in a very well-appointed house, and a mental image of how those three wingbacks must look. (Did you find yourself trying to see the difference between the upholstery on the chairs? [grin])
But again, that’s only the hook.
You still have to ground the reader and pull him or her more deeply into the story. That’s what your opening is for, and grounding the reader is essential before plunging into the action.
The opening might be anything from 250 or 300 words up to 1200 or more words. Because they’re confident in their ability and some stories require more grounding, Stephen King (and other professionals) often spend two or three chapters just getting the reader to settle into the story.
Be patient with your characters and take your time. Or rather, let them take their time.
The easiest way to ground the reader in the setting is through the physical (and emotional) senses of the POV character (not the senses of the writer).
In Confessions, by the third or fourth paragraph the POV character has let us see more of the room and started introducing us to the camera crew, director and others who are there to interview him.
(As an aside, you don’t have to do an interview in a Q&A format. In fact, most often a Q&A format is a bad idea. It causes the writer to focus at least partially on format, and that requires the critical mind. Once the fact of an interview is established, just tell the story. You can close the gate on the interview at the end, or not.)
▪ Get over the notion that ideas are special. They really aren’t. They’re a dime a million
Sometimes you might get an idea that seems stronger or more substantial than some others. If it’s strong enough to drive you to the keyboard either Right Now or at your very earliest opportunity, Go! Write it!
Don’t just scribble it in some “idea book” and hope it will feel the same later. It won’t. The words will be the same, but the emotions of the moment will have long-since gone.
If you do let an idea slip away, don’t sweat it. There will always be another one. In fact, once you learn to trust your creative subconscious, soon enough you will be deluged with ideas.
If you want or need to write a story in a pinch (you can even do this to show off if you want), follow this equation: character + problem + setting = story starter. In other words, pick a character, give him or her even a minor problem, and drop him or her into a setting.
As always, the key is to trust your character(s) and just write whatever comes. And the problem in the equation can be any little thing. It doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story. The equation is meant only to get you started writing.
▪ Finally, Understand This
If you want to become a professional fiction writer, check your priorities and adjust them if necessary:
▪ THAT you write should matter to you more than almost anything else.
▪ WHAT you write (the individual story or novel) doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s only a few minutes’ or hours’ entertainment for you (and then for the reader). Nothing more.
I also suggest you do whatever you need to do to disconnect yourself from the eventual outcome. How many copies sell and whether anyone else likes your stories or not is beyond your control. So don’t worry about it. Your role is to write the stories, so just write the stories.
No matter how you choose to write — whether firmly ensconced in the myths or free of them — one fact remains constant: as with all other art forms, your rate of improvement as a writer will depend on how much you actually practice (meaning putting new words on the page), not how long you hover over one work in an effort to “improve” it.
Hovering over a story or novel never makes it better, only different. And again, what pleases you or any other reader will seem like garbage to other readers. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try.
Those who write into the dark typically get a lot more practice than those who are steeped in the myths because we who WITD have more time. It’s all math, and numbers don’t lie. While other writers are spinning their wheels in-place, evising and rewriting and getting critiques, we’ve already submitted or published and moved on to the next novel.
One “traditional” writer I know revises, gets input from her critique partners, rewrites, and polishes, and she still somehow manages to put out two novels per year, at roughly 120,000 to 200,000 words total. She is therefore considered prolific.
Meanwhile, last year, while writing into the dark, I wrote over 840,000 words in 13 novels and a few short stories. And that was in only seven months and one week, from January 1 through August 6.
I’m able to do that because I’ve shoved my ego and my critical voice aside. I know that the reader, not I, determine what is “good” or “great” or “bad,” and that’s fine with me. I trust my creative subconscious and I trust my characters to tell the story that they, not I, am living.
Practice, my friends. Practice is what it’s all about.
This ends the brief series of posts on two very different methods of writing. I hope it’s helped you in some small way.
Next time I’ll talk about a craft topic that’s been rearing its head lately in conversations with other writers. But first I plan to take a day or two off from the Journal and finish Blackwell Ops 8.
Talk with you later.
See “Interesting Reaction” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/interesting-reaction/.
See “Murder in the Family” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/murder-in-the-family/.
See “The Care And Feeding Of Copy Editors” at https://killzoneblog.com/2022/08/the-care-and-feeding-of-copy-editors.html.
See “15 Nashville Slang Terms You Should Know” at https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/nashville-slang-terms. Reference.
See “Better Book Promotion on Amazon” at https://www.amarketingexpert.com/2022/08/09/better-book-promotion-on-amazon-5-simple-reasons-your-ads-arent-working/.
See “The Best-Selling Books From the Year You Were Born” at https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/best-selling-books-year-you-were-born. Just for fun.
The Journal…………………………………… 1400 words
Writing of Blackwell Ops 8 (tentative title, novel)
Day 19… 2117 words. Total words to date…… 41729
Day 20… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 43754
Day 21… 1770 words. Total words to date…… 45524
Day 22… 3296 words. Total words to date…… 48820
Day 23… 3259 words. Total words to date…… 52079
Day 24… 2712 words. Total words to date…… 54791
Day 25… 1068 words. Total words to date…… 55859
Day 26… 1003 words. Total words to date…… 56862
Total fiction words for August……… 8042
Total fiction words for the year………… 60538
Total nonfiction words for August… 8030
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 114270
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 174808
Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. I’ve never said WITD is “the only way” to write, nor will I ever. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among other topics.