Tag Archives: writing

The 7 Elements of Great Storytelling

book-863418_1280What are the elements that make a story great? Recently, I sat down and decided to write the core elements that I feel make a story great, and I came up with seven.

1.      Writing

Writing a great story naturally involves great writing. This is why I put this as the very first element. If you’re thinking about having a career in writing, your writing must be good – a base level of proficiency should consist of:

  • Fluidity
  • Clarity
  • Purpose
  • Proper spelling and grammar
  • Expansive vocabulary
  • Appropriate word choice
  • Logical coherence

The good news is that almost anyone can reach this level with practice, which is actually encouraging. Unlike other disciplines such as singing or playing in the NBA, writing well has less to do with natural talent or physical attributes, it’s just a matter of putting in the effort. Stephen King wrote in his book ‘On Writing’, “the first million words are practice,” and I believe this to be more or less true. If you put in the work and show up every day, your writing will eventually improve.

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2.      Originality

Your idea or story has to be somewhat original and interesting. I say ‘somewhat original’ because it’s very difficult to come up with a completely original and interesting idea. Most great storytellers borrow ideas from others. It’s okay to be inspired by others and borrow ideas – I borrow ideas all the time, but I make reference of them to give credit where it’s due. In my Prodigy book, I use themes from Plato’s Republic, but I make sure to reference them to let the reader know that I’m not trying to steal Plato’s ideas and pass them off as my own. Instead, I’m paying homage to something that inspired me.

To improve originality, it’s important to be well-rounded in terms of your interests and your scope of knowledge. So try to be very broad with your understanding of things, especially areas where you have relatively no knowledge, whether it’s science, religion, cultures, economics, history, geography… It’s also helpful to be:

  • World travelled
  • Read books
  • Hang out with different types of people
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Watch documentaries
  • Challenge your opinions and assumptions – be critical and objective about your thoughts
  • Be observant about the world
  • Develop a new hobby such as archery, yoga, ballet, rock climbing…

Over time, you will uncover things, learn new truths, and develop original thinking in areas where you would otherwise not have gone down if you just stayed in this narrow lane of topics that interest you.

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3.      Characters

Your characters have to be well-defined and relatable. Part of having well-defined characters means they should each have their own distinct voice and unique set of characteristics that separate them from other characters in your story. Here are some things to consider:

  • Your characters shouldn’t all sound alike
  • Each character should have their own point of view
  • Your reader should be able to tell who’s talking without you telling them
  • Your characters should generally behave in a consistent manner

One method I use, and a lot of other writers use, is character profiles. These are simply one or two page summaries of each of your main characters. Start by selecting an image of what your character looks like (you can draw it if you like or find an image online). Next, write down the answers to the following questions:

  • What are their beliefs or values?
  • What is their background?
  • What motivates them?
  • What are their goals?
  • What are their interests or hobbies?
  • What are their opinions?

You can then have a few quotables, something like, “I’m working part-time and going to school to become a doctor,” “My girlfriend is a painter,” “I really don’t like how lazy I am, I want to change.” This will help cement the idea of their true nature in your head.

When you take the time to write character profiles, you can put your characters in any situation and have very good understanding of what they would do and how they would behave in that situation.

Biker through tunnel

4.      Pace

The pacing of your story has to be such that the reader does not get bored easily. Make them want to keep reading. I often use the metaphor of a monkey swinging from vine to vine – when it swings from one vine, and that vine has reached its maximum extension, there should be another vine within reach, ready to be grabbed and allow the monkey to carry its momentum forward.

So if you have a really lengthy and verbose opening that describes the house the person grew up in, the colour of the carpet, their lovely neighbours… and you go on and on and on about minutia, then it’s going to be boring for many readers – it’d be like starting a race with your feet in mud. Why have your readers slog through mud at all. They should be able to take off with your story and maintain that momentum (or have the momentum increase) until the very last page.

If you want your book to hit with a lot of people, you need to hook them in immediately and maintain a steady pace. This may not come easy to you in the first draft, but it can be done in the editing process. For instance, maybe in the revision you decide that the first three chapters can be combined into one chapter, or better yet, one paragraph. This gets the story started as deep into the story as possible.

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5.      Story Arc

The story arc must be suspenseful. By nature, human beings are really attracted to suspense. In most stories, the hero always wins, and yet despite knowing this, we still love watching movies and reading books. That’s because it’s not necessarily the payoff at the end that we live for, even though that is satisfying. What we truly crave is the uncertainly of the drama.

In his book called, ‘The Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama’, David Mamet talks about this hypothetically perfect ball game in which he does a very good job of describing the kind of natural tension that we love.

He says, “The perfect ball game – what do we wish for in the perfect ball game? Do we wish for our team to take the field in thrash the opposition from the first moment to the final gun? No, we wish for a closely fought match that contains many satisfying reversals, but which can be seen retroactively to always tend toward a satisfying and inevitable conclusion. We wish, in effect, for a three act structure.

“In act one, our team takes the field and indeed prevails over its opponents, and we, its participants feel pride. But before the pride can mature into arrogance, this new thing occurs – our team makes an error. The other side is inspired and pushes forward with previously unsuspected strength and imagination. Our team weakens and retreats.

“In act two of this perfect game, our team is shaken and confused. They forget the rudiments of cohesion and strategy and address that made them strong. They fall deeper and deeper into a slew of despond. All contrary efforts seem naught and just when we think that the tide may have turned back the other way, a penalty or adverse decision is rendered, nullifying their gains. What could be worse?

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“But wait. Just when all else seems irredeemably lost, help comes, which is act three. A player, previously believe to be second rate, emerges with a block, a throw, a run, and offers a glimmer of that possibility of victory. Yes, only a glimmer. But it is sufficient to rouse the team to something approaching its best efforts and the team indeed rallies. Our team brings the score back even and makes the play that would put them ahead, only to have it called back yet again by fate, or by its lieutenant, a wrong-headed, ignorant or malicious official.

“But see, the lessons of the second act were not lost on our team. People might say that it’s too late or the clock is too far run down, our heroes are too tired… yet they rouse themselves for one last effort, one last try, and do they prevail? Do they triumph with scant seconds left on the clock? Oh, they do. They all but prevail. As the final seconds of the play, the outcome rests on the lone warrior – that hero, that champion, that person upon whom in the final moment all our hopes devolve. That final play, run, pass, penalty kick. But wait. That hero that would have been chosen for the task, that champion is injured. No one is left on the bench…”

There is the perfect game as described by David Mamet. It’s very interesting and obviously points to these kinds of ebbs and flows, this tide, this yin this yang, this push pull tension where they’re up, they’re down, they’re up again, they’re down again. And just when it appears there is no hope, somehow by all odds stacked against them, they come back and become triumphant in the most unsuspecting way in the final seconds of the game. So if you can, your story could follow a similar arc as well.

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6.      Conclusion

Your story must have a satisfying ending, which is indeed difficult. When I write, a lot of times I don’t know how the story will end. I may have an idea, but I usually discover it when I get there. I just wing it and hope for the best. It’s difficult to have a satisfying, original, and unpredictable ending that pays off for the reader. If you build up the story adequately, the ending must deliver so that the previous efforts are not lost. You want your reader to finish the book with a smile, unable to contain their joy – they can’t wait to tell their friends, read the sequel, learn everything they can about you… A good ending can also save, or make up for a lackluster climax. An average story with an amazing twist ending can bolster the story in ways that no other part of the book can.

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7.      *Bonus* — Timing

If you incorporate the first six elements of storytelling into your book, you may come close to creating a masterpiece. However, I think one bonus element could be included in the list that may elevate a great book to a nearly perfect book – and that is well-timed comedy or drama in appropriate places. By this I mean, if you’re writing a really dramatic scene with lots of tension, a great way to keep the reader engaged is to inject some comedic relief (or if your book is funny, inject some drama in certain places). Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is an excellent example of this. And if done well, it could really take your book to the next level.

So there they are, the 7 elements of great storytelling. If you have any other insights or feel I missed some, please let me know in the comments below.

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How to Introduce Backstory Without Boring Readers

How to introduce backstory without boring readersI get a lot of questions regarding writing advice. While I’m no expert, I certainly have some opinions that I’m more than happy to share. Recently, I was asked:

“How should I go about adding background information about characters, setting, and whatnot, while making it seamless and natural to the storyline, and engaging for the reader?”

I would advise not to go too crazy in the beginning. In other words, it may be best to keep the backstory to a minimum in the first couple of chapters. Offer as little backstory as necessary, just enough to provide context, but not enough to make it a slog to get through.

Reading an entire novel requires a huge time commitment and a lot of effort, and there are a ton of other forms of entertainment competing for the reader’s precious time. What a lot of readers do is read the first couple of chapters and see if the book is heading in a direction that will entice them to continue reading. If not, they abandon it and pick up something else. So more than any other time, the opening must be awesome, and backstories are generally not awesome, so save it for later, if at all.

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In my book Prodigy, I have an intro, which I was not a fan of, but I just found it to be the best way. I basically set up the entire context of the story in one go. This is the point of an intro so I don’t think the reader minds as much. It’s when you begin your story, introduce your character, and then ‘info dump’ by stating everything about her.

An example of bad background info would be, “Amy sat quietly in class, listening to her teacher drone on. She was reserved ever since the accident last summer, where her and her friends went camping and accidentally killed a guy…” this may be okay, but not in chapter 1.

I consider it bad because upon first mention of Amy, it’s ‘dumping’ the backstory onto the reader. Your reader doesn’t care about Amy yet and at this point has nothing invested in her, so why would they care about her backstory? If you were to ask me, I’d say have Amy do something interesting, make the reader care about her, and then fill them in on some other details piece by piece – definitely not all at once, and definitely not in the first chapter.

girl reading

You may also do a prologue. In the Art of the Hustle for instance, I have a prologue of the main character when he is rich. He’s being interviewed on some talk show and the interviewer asks him, “How did you become a billionaire, where did it all start?” And then I open with chapter one as this young broke kid finishing high school. I think this was way more compelling because the reader knows he eventually becomes rich, but doesn’t know how. As the story unfolds, the reader is trying to guess how he becomes rich.

As the story progresses, I try to use dialogue as much as possible to introduce backstory. This seems natural since characters meeting for the first time don’t know much, if anything, about each other. So naturally they would ask questions that would reveal their backstory. Even then, I wouldn’t get too crazy with it. I may do a bit and then back off out of fear that the reader would get bored.

Batman / Bruce Wayne dead parents

photo credit: Frank Miller

So let’s say you are writing Batman and you open with an epic fight scene (usually a good way to hook the reader). Then you could have Bruce back at the bat cave, looking at a photograph of his dead parents and Alfred come in and say something like, “Today’s the twentieth anniversary of your parents’ death,. You would have made them proud, Bruce…”

In this example, we’ve seamlessly worked it into a piece of dialogue that naturally fits the scene. It seems organic and not shoehorned in.

So to reiterate, my preference is to provide background information sparingly, work it into the story as seamlessly as possible (e.g. through dialogue), and try to avoid ‘info dumping’ at the beginning of the book.

I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, let me know.

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How to Transition Smoothly Between Chapters

How to Transition Smoothly Between Chapters I get a lot of questions regarding writing advice. While I’m no expert, I certainly have some opinions that I’m more than happy to share. Recently, I was asked:

“Are there any ‘good’ ways to have smooth transitions between chapters so that the story flows in an understandable way for the reader?”

First we need to understand that there are two different types of transitions that can occur when a chapter ends:

A.) transitioning from one scene to a completely different scene

B.) transitioning from one scene to a continuation of the same scene, but just in the next chapter

Biker through tunnel

In scenario (a) if there are large gaps of time between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next, then I usually say something like, “The last 6 months had been rough for Joe. He kept his head down and worked hard…” This is my “establishing shot” so-to-speak. It provides context for the reader and lets them know that the scene has now jumped. The next paragraph after that, I will have Joe doing something and engaging in a new scene.

My book The Art of the Hustle does this quite a bit since I cover 10 years in the book. In one scene, there was so much of a gap (like 4 years), that it was weird to just transition from one chapter to the next so I made a new part. So the book starts out with Part 1 – Chapter 1,2,3,4…. then about halfway, I introduce Part 2 and mention that it has been 4 years later. man walkingIn some cases, it may be more fluid to not have a chapter break, but instead just have a text break. So an example would look like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

***

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

With this technique, you don’t have to be all that smooth since the separator lets the reader know that you’ve transitioned into a different scene. If the gap in time is not that large, say the character is at work in one chapter, and then at home in the next chapter, I may just say “Joe was exhausted. He sat on the couch as he usually did after his shift and watched sports highlights…” hot air balloon at nightScenario (b) — a continuation of the same scene, but just in the next chapter — is much easier. I actually prefer this ‘cliff-hanger’ technique as much as possible to encourage people to continue reading. TV shows often end this way as well. So if a chapter ends like, “Joe turned around and was shocked by who was standing before him.” I’ll end the chapter there so the reader wants to keep reading to find out who was standing behind Joe.

Then, in the next chapter I would begin by saying something like, “Joe couldn’t believe his eyes as he was now staring at a man he long presumed dead…” So basically you just pick up where you left off. In fact, I often write the scene straight through and then later pick some moment which I feel would make a good cliff-hanger and then end my chapter there.

Some writers have an ‘A’ plot and a ‘B’ plot and they stitch it together like a zipper. So in my above example, you would say something like, “Joe turned around and was shocked by who was standing before him.” End chapter. Then the next chapter would be the ‘B’ plot — a completely different scene altogether.

Then once that chapter ends, you pick up where you left off with the ‘A’ plot. I tend not to do this, but it can add more excitement as the reader now has to read an entire chapter just to get back to where they left off in the story. Blog banner

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The Secret Manuscript – Chapter One

Here’s a video I made of me reading chapter one of my new book, The Secret Manuscript, which was published in August of 2014. If you haven’t already purchased a copy, it’s available in every major ebook store. For those who want to follow along at home, here is the text for chapter one.

The Secret Manuscript – Chapter One

Ben pulled out a knife from his back pocket and extracted the blade. Piercing the sharp edge into a corrugated box, he slid the razor between the two flaps that were being held together by a strip of tape. He proceeded to slice off the flaps to prepare yet another box for the floor.

For the most part, Ben kept his head down and worked diligently and unsupervised all morning. He fought the temptation to look at the clock as he knew that would only make time seem to go slower. The only joy of working in the stockroom of a grocery store was that there would be several deliveries throughout the day, giving Ben a chance to be outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, even if it was just from the loading docks. The rest of the day, he was stuck in the chilly stockroom under the dim lighting, contemplating his life choices.

A small radio played soft rock while he worked. Over the tunes, Ben heard a voice shout to him.

“Hey, B.O., I need you in aisle six!” his manager, Chad, demanded.

The secret manuscript book coverBen retracted his knife and put it in his apron before heading onto the sales floor. Chad had a disgusted look on his face as if Ben was the cause of all his problems.

“Somebody dropped a jar of pickles,” Chad said.

“Okay, I’ll get right on it,” Ben replied.

“I’ll be deducting the cost of the pickles from your paycheque.”

“What? You can’t do that.”

“First of all, don’t talk back to me,” Chad said aggressively as he approached Ben in threatening manner. “Second, someone has to pay for those pickles. Pickles aren’t free you know.”

It was the worst logic Ben had ever heard, but he decided to let it go. Unfortunately for him, he needed the job to support his meaningless existence.

“Yes, sir,” he said submissively.

Ben hung his head low and begrudgingly walked to the back to retrieve the usual clean-up supplies. He returned to the sales floor, wheeling a mop and bucket with one hand and carrying a broom and dustpan in the other. The resentful look on his face caught the attention of an attractive girl who was about his age. She must have overheard the discourse between Ben and his manager because she approached him and offered some words of encouragement.

“Don’t worry about him, he’s a jerk,” she said.

“Thanks,” Ben replied. He looked at the woman in awe. In his mind, he quickly made the following deductions — attractive woman in Cold Lake, must be from out of town, must have a boyfriend, probability of getting her… zero. Whatever Ben’s confidence was before he started mopping up pickles in his dorky uniform had now been reduced substantially. The only sensible thing to do was to forget about her and get his work done before he got into any trouble.

As Ben pushed the dirty mop back and forth through the sticky pickle juice, a thousand thoughts ran through his mind. He questioned whether the flack he received from Chad was worth it. Being a stock boy for the local grocery store was not how he envisioned his adult life, but he took solace in the fact he was at least not making minimum wage. For all that the job did not offer, there were a few perks. The main one being the discount he received on all his groceries. Having that reduced his cost of living, making it seem like he was earning more money than he actually was.

It was a task-based job comprised mostly of stocking shelves, handling incoming shipments, and doing the occasional clean up. He could simply come into work, put his head down for a few hours, and not have to deal with people. In fact, he enjoyed the solitude. That way he could get the real work done — creating characters, plotting stories, and developing dialogue. He would store all this information in his head throughout the day, then after his shift, he would go home and write.

However, his one-time dream of being a published author was being crushed with every waking moment. The reality was that he lived in a small town of less than 2,500 people, so being anything other than what he was — a menial worker — was an unlikely prospect.

Upon completing high school in Cold Lake, kids usually did one of three things: move to a bigger city to attend college, move to a bigger city to find work, or stay in town and work some dead-end job. The latter was what Ben had chosen to do — the typical choice of the unaspiring working-class citizen. Nobody really wanted to stay in Cold Lake, Alberta. Those who did slowly withered away leaving behind a hollow legacy of nothingness. Ben did not want that to happen to him. Instead, he wanted to find his purpose, a reason for existing, but from his current standpoint, his future looked bleak.

What made matters worse was the grocery store manager, Chad. He was a few years older than Ben and by this point in his life had worked his way up to a management position. The gross abuse of power was evident in nearly every decision and directive he made. For the unaspiring, having authority over others quickly fostered delusions of grandeur. Those who wielded the minutest of power rationalized their position as having a natural superiority over their subordinates. Chad was no exception. He made everybody’s life there a living hell, especially Ben’s. Ever since Chad was promoted, Ben had been looking for a way out — any way.

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How to Describe Things in Writing

 

man scratching his head

One question I get a lot is, “I’m not very good at describing things when I write, do you have any advice?”

Play to your strengths

If you’ve read any of my books, you’ll notice I never really tell the reader what my characters look like beyond “she was beautiful” or “he was scrawny”, I let the reader decide those details on their own. Rarely do I describe rooms or tiny details of things. I think the brain is wonderful at extrapolating those details without the aid of the author. So the mental image I talk about is more for the author’s sake than for the reader’s.

hustle_coverFunny story… after reading my book, The Art of the Hustle, someone made a comment stating, “Great story, and I love that the main character is black!” I’m like, “He is? Okay, sure.” So to this guy, his mind filled in the missing details with what was relevant to him and what he pictured in his mind, and I think that’s great.

Another trick some author’s do is put in a placeholder word that is easy to find using the search function and will not appear anywhere else in the text. So for example, use the letters TK any time you have to describe something and are getting bogged down. The idea is that you can go back to those spots and fill in the details later, and not fall into a trap and disrupt the flow of your writing. For instance, “Joe walked into the TK room and noticed a TK couch on his right…”

Turn weakness into strength

So my first suggestion would be to play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses. But if you don’t like that idea, the alternative (there may be more than one) would be to work on your weaknesses much like you would working out at the gym. Eventually, you will get stronger in this area. So for example, what you could do is start your day with a writing exercise to describe some object in your house – something that you know well. It doesn’t need to be in front of you, but have a clear picture of it in your mind. Describe the shape, texture, material, weight, shine… anything you think the reader would like to know about it.

five senses

Usually with good writing, you want to include the 5 common senses such as Sound, Smell, Sight, Touch, and Taste. If you keep those in mind when you describe a scene, you will get the reader more into the story. I’ve been using this approach a lot and I think it’s good. Of course, you don’t want to overdo it and describe the five senses every time your character interacts with something new, but let’s say your character walks into an old kitchen – it should smell a certain way right? And maybe the fridge has a low frequency hum, and maybe there’s s grease stain on the floor that’s sticky, and so on. So you can see how you start to build a mental picture.

I hope that helps.

Edward Mullen

Read Also:

OVERCOMING WRITING RESISTANCE

HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL

HOW TO BUILD AN AUDIENCE AS A WRITER

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Overcoming Writing Resistance

Overcoming writing resistance

Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to write when you have other obligations such as work, school, or family. It can be tough to find motivation and maintain momentum, especially with so many other distractions competing for your attention and limited resources, but it can be done.

MOTIVATION

I can’t really tell you any secrets to motivation other than if you want something badly enough, you’ll find the time to do it. Otherwise, you may need to be honest with yourself and re-evaluate whether writing, or whatever it is you need motivation for, is really something worth pursuing. Eric Thomas has a great quote, he says, “When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.” Steven Pressfield also addresses this in his book, The War of Art, where he discusses the concept of resistance. If you like something, but not enough to find time to do it, you may need to just move on.

eric thomas quote

But if you want to be a writer, here are a few ways to get motivated:

    • Set a writing goal. I aim for 1000 words per day, but if you cannot write everyday, try a realistic goal such as 3000 words per week. Based on this schedule, you will complete your first draft in about six months. Mark it on your calender, set notification reminders, and stick with it.
    • Get into a routine. Human beings tend to be quite adaptable to almost anything if they can create a habit. Getting in shape for instance works on the same principle. It may be tough at first, but then it becomes easier when you make it a part of your lifestyle. So schedule times to write and stick with it. So let’s say you set aside time to write Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday night, and aim for 1000 words per day. Chances are you’ll write more than that and finish your first draft ahead of schedule.
    • Reading bad fiction is a really strong motivator for me. I’ll sit down on the couch or my favourite reading chair and dive into some book that I happen to own. Usually what happens around chapter two or three is I get up and say, “I can do better than this!” and go to my computer and immediately start writing.

DISTRACTIONS

    • There are many software programs that can facilitate the writing process and eliminate distractions. Try Write Room (Mac) or Dark Room (Windows) – they make the entire screen blank with only a cursor and your words visible. Some writers find this helpful so they’re not tempted by the browser icon. While I’m discussing writing software, try Scrivener, it can be really useful for compiling notes and organizing large documents.
    • Another method I’ve heard of is having a “writing computer” that is not connected to the Internet. This will allow you to focus on the task at hand and not wander by checking email or social media sites. It is also useful for not losing your work since there will be no threat of viruses. One word of caution; however, most people’s so-called ‘writing computers’ will be old, and old hard drives can stop working without warning. Make sure you’re consistently backing up your files. You may want to get an external hard drive and leave it plugged in.
    • It’s not always easy to sit and write when it’s sunny out, or when people in your house want to hang out, so what you can try is writing late at night or early in the morning when everyone else is asleep. If you’ve never tried writing from midnight until 2:00 am, you should. You may be surprised at the result. Sometimes my best ideas come to me when my mind is fatigued. I also find this adds motivation because you’re reinforcing your work ethic. Of course you could be sleeping – that’s what most people are doing – but not you, you’re working toward achieving a goal.
    • Try cleaning your house, room, office, desk… whatever needs cleaning. I don’t know what it is, but when something is cluttered, my mind becomes cluttered and I can’t focus as well. I like to take care of all the distractions before I start writing, so they’re not nagging me.

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MOMENTUM

    • One really effective method to achieve something is having a buddy working toward the same goal. Together you will push each other and keep each other accountable. A writing buddy can also be a great way to brainstorm, or bounce ideas off and see which ones stick. This has been a tremendous help for me.
    • Creative writing classes are another way to get honest feedback. Look up courses at your local college or university and see if they offer a class that fits your schedule. You will partake in group discussions, writing exercises that sharpen your skills, and perhaps most importantly, you will have other writers critique your work. At first, this can be demoralizing to have a group of people rip your story to shreds, but you’re all there to learn and become better. It also puts you in touch with other writers who can edit your work.
    • Even when you’re not writing, it doesn’t mean you can’t be working on your story. One great quote I like is from Rudolph Erich Rascoe, he says, “What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.” Try to think about your story on your commute to and from work, while you’re working, when you’re at the grocery store… and then capture any ideas you may have. Then compile those notes into a master ‘note’ file so when you sit down to write, you will have momentum throughout the week. In other words, you’re not forcing yourself to come up with ideas at the time when you need ideas – it may not be the most efficient way to work. I come up with ideas all day, even when I’m sleeping, and when I sit down to write, I’m excited to explore where the ideas lead me.
    • If you find your momentum has waned a bit, you may need to re-evaluate the plot and see if you’re still passionate about it. There’s no shame in abandoning something that doesn’t work and starting fresh, just make sure abandoning doesn’t become a habit when the going gets tough. Some days are more of a grind than others, but hang in there and keep jabbing away at it. If the plot is no longer entertaining you after you’ve given it due consideration, then maybe it’s best to leave it alone. You can always come back to it.
    • My final piece of advice is this – You’ve heard the phrase, ‘you have to crawl before you can walk’, well the same applies to writing a novel. Try writing a blog post or a short story first. The simple satisfaction you receive upon completing a short story will often inspire you to work up to a larger project.

Edward Mullen

READ ALSO:

HOW TO BUILD AN AUDIENCE AS A WRITER

HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL

HOW TO STAY COMMITTED TO YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION

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How to Build an Audience as a Writer

The following is a list of advice that can improve your writing.

1069921_10100669193867131_531800510_n1. Practice Makes Perfect

Think about how much practice it requires to be really good at something. If you want to be exceptional, then you need to put in the same effort into your craft as Kobe Bryant puts into basketball – you need to write and edit everyday. To give you an idea, I write or edit around 11 hours nearly every day. There’s a really good quote I like to use often, it’s from Steve Martin’s book Born Standing Up – he says, “Be undeniably good.” If you are undeniably good at what you do, then people will find out about you.

2. Take Your Time

A common mistake a lot of new writers make is they release their work too soon. RESIST THE URGE TO DO THIS!! To give you an example of what I do, I wait at least a year before putting any book or short story out, but usually longer. From the time I write something until the time it goes public is around two years. This is such an important point and should not be overlooked. Trust me, you need some separation from your work and within that time, your skills will have improved. You’ll go back to stuff that at a time represented your best work, but a year later will be complete rubbish. So if you want to make the maximum impact with your writing, it has to be good, and a story hot off the press usually isn’t good.

3. Make a Good First Impression

You’ve heard the saying ‘You only get one chance to make a good first impression’. Make sure your writing is very polished. You won’t be able to do this on your own so you must get editors to review your work. This also applies to the cover art as well. Make sure the product you’re representing is indistinguishable from a professional book. If your writing is of a poor quality, and then your next book is the best book ever written, you may not get that second chance from people.

4. Expose Yourself

If you’re writing for the sake of writing, that’s great, but most of us want others to read our work. There’s nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything wrong with trying to make a living from your art. However, to do this is very difficult. To build your fanbase, you must first reach some kind of audience – a large number of people who will evaluate your work and decide whether or not they like it. One way to do this is to be featured on a website that reaches a lot of people. You want the spotlight on your book for as long as possible to give people a chance to read your words. If your book is featured and appeals to people, you may even make a ‘trending’ list or a ‘hot’ list. This is also a great way to gain exposure. It also helps if you can be number one on those lists, but anywhere in the top ten is good.

Edward Mullen Prodigy #1

Another great way to expose yourself is to have multiple avenues where people can access you, and don’t be afraid to give your stuff away for free. Be active on as many social media accounts, respond to fans, have a podcast, have a YouTube channel, a blog, and be candid. People are usually really good at spotting fakes. If you want success in anything, you have to be authentic to who you are. Don’t be afraid to expose your personality and even your insecurities, because those things are what make you unique.

5. Explore the World

Writing well is not only about constructing grammatical sentences, your ideas have to be engaging and interesting for people to read. Interesting ideas, interesting points of view, and interesting ways of describing things comes with life experience. As a teenager or young adult, your experiences may be limited so I encourage you to experience new things. While you are exploring the world, remember to be observant and take notes. Observe how people behave, how systems work, what the inside of an office building looks like, and capture your ideas in digital form or on paper for later review. The more experiences you have, the more reference points you will be able to draw from in your writing.

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Edward Mullen

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