This post originally appeared on angelajfordmarketing.com
What do you do to add flair to your stories and improve your novel writing skills?
For me, it all started with one-star reviews. They are soul-crushing. I pour my heart into my stories and it a vulnerable experience that leaves me feeling low and unlucky when the bad reviews come in. And trust me. They do.
In Spring of 2018 my box set reaching #157 on the Amazon charts which is the highest I’ve ever been. It was a miracle that brought in thousands of dollars and the dreaded one-star reviews. At first I ignored them, but they sat there like an inch that goes unscratched. So I read them. It hurt.
Some reviewers couldn’t get past the words I made up, others hated the story from the prologue, others thought it was stupid, the list goes on and on and on. While bad reviews are unavoidable and it seems like there’s nothing you can do about them, there is. Perfect your writing skills and hone your craft so the next book you write will be better than the last.
I’m not saying that I wrote a bad book, it was the best I could do at the time, but now that I’ve learned a ton about novel writing, I know I can do better. Will I avoid poor reviews? Probably not, it’s impossible to please everyone. But will I keep writing? Absolutely.
When it comes to novels, writing here are some pro tips that can save you time and energy and help you write faster!
I plan on releasing 5 books this year and I can do that because of the steps I take before I begin to write. Read on to discover all of my secrets.
Study the craft of writing
Story structure is easily learned after all what more could there be to it? A beginning, a middle and an end. But if you want to be an excellent writer you need to plan.
Word to the pansters – stay with me on this on! I’m not talking about a soul-crushing outline that will send you screaming. I’m talking about a plan. A plan will help you write an excellent story, write faster and avoid the dreaded writer’s block. I have to break it to you, a book goes so much deeper than having a brilliant plot and a diverse cast of characters. You need more than that which is why studying the craft of writing is so important.
There are a few ways to do it. I found the main things that really helped me to develop the craft of writing was reading books on the art of outlining, plotting and character development. I also discovered reading books in my genre to see how popular authors put the technical details of writing into practice helped me to see plotting and character development in writing. two books which are quite similar. They have the same approach for the method of writing a novel but come from different angles.
The first book I read on writing has a more technical approach. It is called Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K.M. Weiland. Structuring Your Novel allowed me to see where the missing plots were in my novels and what I could do to fix them.
The next two books are quite similar. They have the same approach for the method of writing a novel but come from different angles. These two books are all about creating characters readers can identify with. I recommend that you purchase and study both books. But only if you are serious about improving your writing and becoming a better author.
The first book is Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development by K.M. Weiland. In this book she walked through several components on character development which made me realize that pantsing is not the best idea. Have you ever written a book, finish it and realized something was fundamentally wrong? I bet it’s because you did not revolve around the three act structure with characters integrated within the plot.
K.M. Weiland writes about creating the character journey. Your character(s) starts out in one place and mentally (and perhaps physically) but by the end of the story has fought through a revelation that transforms them to their true self. They need to overcome something. Most stories center on the misbelief and the lie that the character believes about themselves. The character’s struggle, their highs and lows, the lies they believe about themselves, and how it affects them both internally and externally, are what makes a character come alive. But as I was reading the book, I found it to be a little too technical for my creativity.
Which is why I picked up the second book: Story Genius: How to use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron.
This book is actually perfect for me because I’m not into outlining and I despise plotting more than one scene at a time. Don’t give me wrong, I always know the end goal of the story. But Story Genius appeals to my more creative nature. It really helped me to dig deep into the mental state of the character and the psychology of where they are now and where they will end up going.
Having a plan helped me create a much better novel. As I worked through my second epic fantasy series: Legend of the Nameless One, I was pleased and thrilled to hear the positive feedback from readers on how much my writing has improved. But that’s not the only thing that helped me change up my game, I also worked with an editor who pushed me to focus on my writing and figure out what’s wrong with it.
Most editors I’ve worked with copy edit my novel and send me a clean version to review. There’s nothing wrong with that method, in fact, it’s clean and easy and doesn’t force me to dwell on my mistakes and improve them. However, the last two editors I’ve worked with made a point in highlighting the mistakes I tend to make and helped me figure out how to fix them. Now I have a list of things to watch out. Are you making these mistakes?
#1 – Particle phrases
This is where two actions happen at the same time, something I did not understand I overused until an editor pointed it out to me.
#2 – Overused Words & Lack of Variation
I have a list of words and phrases I use repeatedly. My list includes:
- as if
- as though
I’m sure there are others, but those are the main ones I watch out for when writing. To combat this, I not only have my editor and proofreader watch out for repetition, but I also use a software called ProWritingAid. They have a feature that checks for repetition throughout your novel so you can fix those pesky words that dull down your writing before your readers begin to snooze.
I also made myself a list of items to keep track of doing the self editing phrase. It’s important to make the story as clean as possible.
#1 – Don’t state the obvious
#2 – Don’t repeat yourself.
I have a fantastic habit of saying the same thing in three different ways. When I see that happen in my writing, I delete the reputations that make little sense.
#3 – Show. Don’t Tell.
This is an old saying and one I’ve heard so often it’s easy to let it fly in one ear and out the other. But when you describe feelings such as anger, hate, jealousy, rage, exhaustion, make sure you don’t simply say: She was angry with her friend. Describe the anger, what did it feel like inside, how did it manifest externally? I use The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression to help me think outside of the box for describing emotions.
#4 – Use active not passive voice.
You can tell if you’re writing passive if you reach the end of a sentence and the phrase “eaten by dragons” makes sense.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t outline the entire novel all at once but I do take notes and plan out the highlights of the plot and character arcs. My planning helps me to write faster and avoid writer’s block even though all the twists and turns in the story don’t come until I start to write the actual novel.
Regardless, planning helps me know what is coming next and I can go back to my guidelines to re-read the scenes. Since I plan out my novels at bird’s eye view, here are the things I focus on.
This is usually something that comes through brainstorming. I jot down several keywords. For example, I’m working on a novel called Realm of Ice. Some themes include winter, ice, cold, life and death, shifters, ice kingdom and political moves. Writing it down helps me narrow down the theme of the book.
Introduction & Set Up
Many plotters call this Act One of the story. It’s where the key players are introduced, the setting and what a normal day in the life of the characters looks like. If I have several characters and points of view to go through, this can get rather long, but I keep the action going by having a key event (also known as the inciting incident or the hook) happen to each of the characters.
Hooking readers is critical, and if this is something you struggle with I recommend reading the book: Writing Dynamite Story Hooks: A Masterclass in Genre Fiction and Memoir by Jackson Dean Chase
Beginnings are rough for me. I end up going back and rewriting the first chapter a few times until I can nail the hook. During the first draft I don’t worry too hard about it because I know it’s something I’ll come back and rewrite after the first draft.
Also known as the midpoint, this is the biggest part of the story. According to K.M. Weiland it should include the 25% – 75% mark of the story. It is massive and includes the rising action—at least to the midpoint—and the rising action after the midpoint.
I love digging into the make or break moment for the characters. This is the point where the reader feels like all is in vain and maybe the characters should give up because there is no way for them to win. Then suddenly, something unexpected happens and the hero rises up and wins the day. Everything comes together, loose threads are tied up and if there’s more, a door is open to the next book in the series. To boil it down, Act Three is one amazing ride until the final words, The End, are written.
Avoiding those pesky flat characters
Since I like to fly by the seat of my pants, I generally outline a chapter before I write it—however that does not mean I outline the entire book. Instead I go chapter by chapter.
Each chapter is their own mini-story and includes a beginning, a middle, and an end. Or, if you like, a hook, an action and a disaster. I really like to hone in a focus on my characters, the obstacles that stand in their way and how they will overcome the internal and external characters that keep them from getting what they want.
That sounds like a lot for one chapter, but it works out well with keeping the action going in the chapter and flowing smoothly into the next chapter.
After the disaster, the character needs a moment to react to what happened. This can be a form of introspection which I absolutely love and respect. In all honesty, I can go overboard with writing intense chapters that are extremely introspective. Having a plan helps me shorten the introspection and make sure that I have my characters reflect on the most important emotions that play into the ongoing story.
There are many elements that go into crafting an amazing novel, but at a high-level, these are the actions I personally take to improve my writing, and I make it my goal to focus on learning something new with every single story I write.
As a recap, here are the books I recommend reading:
- Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K.M. Weiland.
- Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development by K.M. Weiland.
- How to use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron.
- The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression
- Writing Dynamite Story Hooks: A Masterclass in Genre Fiction and Memoir by Jackson Dean Chase
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