I don’t remember there ever being a point in my life where someone sat me down and told me, “This is how you write a story.” Sure, I learned about basic plot structure in my middle school literature class, but that wasn’t really meant to teach us how to be better writers. Besides, by that time I had already written stories of my own. They weren’t any good, but they were still something.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you take writing seriously, you probably should study the craft of it. That doesn’t mean you need to go earn your MFA in Creative Writing, but it’s worth your time to pick up a book on writing or read a few articles here and there. I know it’s hard to take advice from others (especially – gasp – when their writing methods differ from yours), but you’ll be thankful for it.
But aside from reading about writing (and reading good writing – all writers should be readers, after all), there are other, less obvious “writing teachers” out there. I’m sure you could come up with some if you thought about it. Today, I wanted to share some of the more surprising ways I’ve learned about writing and storytelling.
If you see a scattered pile of computer paper and hear muffled noises coming from underneath it, I promise it’s not haunted. It’s just one of us senior writing students, buried underneath our overwhelming major projects.
Truth be told, my senior seminar project is actually going pretty well. I’m on track in terms of my word count, and it seems like the story is moving along at a nice pace. I covered what my major project is about in my last Writer’s Life post, but here’s a quick recap: I’m writing an “alternate history” novel set in 1968. It features two young women (a college student and a journalist) as they investigate several U.S. soldiers who have mysteriously disappeared in their home country.
As of this writing, I’m at 26,783 words just over halfway to my word count goal 50,000. I’m also a little more than halfway to my deadline of November 30 (remember, I started mid-October). In other words, things are right on track and as long as nothing wild happens (knock on wood), I should reach my goal no problem.
Big-picture-wise, it looks like things have been smooth sailing, but this project has been more complicated than that. I’ve fallen behind a few times, though I always manage to recover within a few days. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of great help – I have a writing program that keeps me organize, fellow writer who encourage me, and music that keeps me motivated.
When Stranger Things started garnering hype on the internet in 2016, I sent a text to my mom telling her she should watch it. She enjoyed shows with vague paranormal/alternate universe stuff like Fringe, and from what I could tell, Stranger Things was right up her alley. I wasn’t all that interested. I was midway through the first semester of my first year of college, and I preferred to spend my limited free time writing or gaming.
And then within a week of me telling my mom to watch Stranger Things, she messaged me and insisted that I give the show a try. And because I’m a good child (most days, at least), I listened to my mother.
Whatever I thought Stranger Things was going to be, it was so much better.
The Netflix Original series, created by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, takes place in 1983 in the small, midwestern town of Hawkins, Indiana. The premise is simple enough: a young boy vanishes without a trace, and mysterious events begin taking place around the town. Combining an engaging sci-fi world with 1980s nostalgia set Stranger Things apart, but beyond that, the show features strong writing, dynamic characters, and a fascinating story.
With Season 3 of Stranger Things being recently released, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the show’s first season and analyze what we can learn from it.
Beware – Spoilers for Season 1 of Stranger Things below!
There’s a stereotype of children’s entertainment being overly simplified and poorly written, and unfortunately, that’s true for a lot of children’s shows. Every so often though, there comes someone who puts time and effort into what they create, because they understand that children can be just as smart and perceptive as adults.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of those shows, and today I want to talk about just a few of the things we writers – even adult writers – can learn from it.
I have a confession to make: I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I set it as one of my goals earlier this year, but as November grew closer, I realized that it wasn’t going to work out this year. I had a lot going on in terms of school and my personal life, and adding 50,000 words on top of that looked more like torture than a fun challenge.
When November 1 came and I saw many of my friends announcing their intentions to participate in NaNoWriMo, I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty. After all, I had told myself I would do it, and I’d gone back on that commitment. As the month wore on though, I got over my self-deprecation and realized that I actually enjoyed not being a part of NaNoWriMo this year.
That might sound like heresy to the writing community, but it’s the truth. I’m thankful that Past Maggie made the decision to pass on NaNoWriMo 2018. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good things that can come out of NaNoWriMo – self-discipline, connections with other writers, and a completed draft, to name a few. Those things come with sacrifices, however, and I’m of the mind that sometimes those sacrifices aren’t worth it.
When you’re only one person and you’re trying to come up with an entire cast of characters, it’s hard to make sure they don’t all end up being clones of each other. Trust me, sometimes I look back at the “books” I wrote when I was eleven years old and I realize that all of my characters are the same people with different names.
When we think of a “smart” character, we usually think of the stereotypical maladjusted nerd, always spouting facts but is generally pretty useless. However, this isn’t the case in real life – people are smart in all kinds of different ways, not just in terms of what they learned (or didn’t learn) in school.
How do you write a cast of characters that are smart, but also unique? Based on books I’ve read and movies/TV shows I’ve watched, I’ve compiled a short list of different ways your characters can be smart. It’s not an exact science, but hopefully this gives you a place to start.
Most writers have heard of “Outside,” even if we’ve never seen it. Supposedly, it’s a mysterious place where this thing called “society” is, where people buy things in stores instead of buying them on Amazon, and they talk face-to-face instead of over text message. If you ask me, that sounds pretty terrifying.
In all seriousness, writers do have a reputation of being hermits who spend most of their days in the shelter of their home or local coffee shop (we have to fuel our creativity somehow). Oftentimes, this is with good reason: we need to be able to focus on our craft without other people interrupt us, and that’s much more likely to happen when we leave our safe writing bubble.
But what if the benefits outweigh the costs? We might embrace the hermit lifestyle, but we might be wise to step outside every so often – there are definitely some good reasons to do so.
I just recently finished rereading one of my favorite book series, Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter. The series takes place at an all-girls school for young geniuses where the students are trained for future work as scientists, analysts, spies and other high-level government jobs. In the meantime, however, the girls are still navigating everyday life (they’re just doing quantum physics instead of high school biology).
Not only is the Gallagher Girls series one of my favorites, but it’s also a very well-written series of books. There are a lot of elements that make the Gallagher Girls amazing, and so today, I’d like to share some of the biggest writing lessons I’ve learned from this wonderful series.
Well my fellow writers, this is it: In just a few short days, NaNoWriMo 2017 will begin, and many of us will be spending more-than-usual amounts of time in front of our computers, typing away until our fingers hurt or we realize we need to eat something.
Writing 50,000 words in thirty days is not an easy task. I can’t speak completely from experience, since all of my NaNoWriMos in the past have allowed me to customize my goal, but the number is daunting. Fortunately, however, it’s not impossible. All you need are the right tools.
Using my own experience, and consulting a few of my friends that are NaNo veterans, I’ve compiled a list of things to include in your NaNoWriMo “Survival Kit.” Hopefully these will be applicable whether you’re a plotter or a pantser (read this post for an explanation), or whether this is your first time or tenth time.
Here’s what I recommend for your NaNoWriMo Survival Kit: