Friday, February 15, 2013

Things that Will Make You a Better Writer

I can tell you all the things everyone else is saying about how to be a good writer. Take a creative writing course, do writing prompts and grammar exercises. Read this book or that book. I can tell you that you need to be determined and focused, but odds are you know all of this already. In the end what makes a good writer is someone who can tell a good story, so below are things that have helped me tell better stories.

Ashley Rose

Write Poetry – Ever hear someone describe a book as written in lyrical prose and then wonder how you can write in lyrical prose? Lauren Oliver’s writing is often described this way and I think her writing style is a big part of why her books are so beautifully descriptive. One way to learn how to write more lyrically is by writing poetry. Poetry makes you look at the way words sound and how they can project emotions and how they make you feel. When you write poetry you search your vocabulary for a word that rhymes, or has a certain amount of syllables, or just feels right. Writing poetry will help you think differently about the words you use in your stories.
Read EverythingStephen King once said, “There are books full of great writing that don't have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story... don't be like the book-snobs who won't do that. Read sometimes for the words--the language. Don't be like the play-it-safers who won't do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.” If you want to write a book that can do both then read both. But go beyond just stories and language, read books that are in your genre and read books outside of it. Read contemporary and fantasy, horror and romance, books written in first person and third, present tense and past, those that are published under big names and indies. We are inspired to write by what we read and if you read a little bit of everything you may find yourself inspired by something entirely new and different for the type of story you like to write.
Write for the Newspaper – I wrote for my school newspaper in college and the biggest thing I learned from it was how to edit. Now, writing articles didn’t spark my creativity like writing fiction, but having to keep my articles under a certain word count taught me how to cut unnecessary material. “Dead words” were what we called them in my creative writing class in high school. See what words, sentences, even paragraphs you can cut. If it doesn’t move the story along you don’t need it. Mark Twain once said “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it.” This is a lot harder of a thing to do than most people think. When you’re writing a first draft of a novel you tend to just want to write without thinking and then suddenly you’re going into great detail about what your main character is eating for lunch. Details are great, but once you get your first draft done go back and make sure you details don’t side track your reader.
Take a Class on Shakespeare – A real Shakespeare class where you talk about what Shakespeare was trying to say with his work, not some Woman’s Study’s course where feminists get their panties in a twist reading Taming of the Shrew. The truth is there are some wonderfully strong female characters in all of Shakespeare’s works (Including Taming of the Shew), ones that any woman could be proud of if she truly understood what William was trying to say. But that’s not exactly why you should read Shakespeare, why is because Shakespeare looks at all sorts of different themes in his work from feminism, to liberalism and  anarchy, to justice and mercy and of course love and sacrifice. If you take a course, and I say a course because Shakespeare can be hard to figure out on your own, even with cliff notes, but with others who you can talk with and discuss things with as you read his plays, you will find they relate so perfectly to the world we live in, even now so long after they were written. And, they just might inspire you.
Study Psychology – One of the most important things to me when I’m writing is having characters act in a way that is believable, and after studying Psychology for the past few years I feel like I have a better idea of how and why people react the way they do. Understanding human nature helps me create human characters. It’s easy to write characters that are like us, but it can be hard sometimes to figure out what someone else would do. If you don’t have time for a psych class Google some of the basics and create character profiles. Is your character an introvert or an extrovert? How do they deal with stress, do they internalize things or make inappropriate jokes? And, most importantly why do they do what they do? Is your character guarded, what happened to them to make them that way? Also when I’m looking at paranormal aspects, like Ivy’s telepathic ability in Into the Deep, understanding the human brain was helpful as well.
Study Philosophy – Maybe not logic so much, but my Ethics course was incredible. Thinking about right and wrong and how we decide what is right or wrong will blow your mind a little, but it was a really helpful course in showing me how people justify their actions, how people make bad decisions, and how different people look at the world differently. Along with Psychology this went a long way in helping with my character development. It also made me want to say something with my writing.
Watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog – If you don’t have the time to take a class on Philosophy watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. This short little side project of Joss Whedon’s, like most of his work, will have you looking at your characters in new ways. With a villain as the main character who really only wants to change the world and a superhero who’s the antagonist and is really only a tool this movie will help you break away from clich├ęs in your writing and show you that you should look deeper into the motives of all your characters. What do they really want, hope, dream for? Some of the best stories out there make you sympathize with the bad guy. Having all of your characters deeply written and well-rounded is important. I also highly recommend watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Avengers.