Posts Tagged With: writing tips


So, last time I promised my return to steady updates. Getting a seasonal job turned that into a bit of a fib. We shall actually get back on track now.

But let’s get rolling, even if we’re a little late.

It’s NaNoWriMo and aspiring writers everywhere are trying to buckle down and prepare themselves for a daily word count of 1500 to reach their goal. A 50 000 word novel in a single month. It’s quite the feat! A feat I, admittedly, have failed year after year to accomplish. In years past, school work kept me occupied, and now I’m working two jobs to get some extra cash this holiday season. So, I have decided on a new strategy this year.

It’s called the Elephant Method…or something similar.

Writers can often find themselves needlessly distracted by the Internet. Maybe they needed a picture reference. Perhaps they were just looking for that perfect word. Next thing they know, they’ve spent an hour surfing social media and have lost momentum.

The Elephant Method is one solution for this. When the writer hits a point where they just can’t think of the right word…they use ‘elephant’ as a placeholder. Then they can keep writing and return to it during their second run through, and focus solely on replacing the elephants.

So, your sentence could read “It was just past elephant, and Professor Elephant’s office smelt of elephant, elephant, and fresh elephant” on the first run.

When you get around to editing, the sentence will then read “It was just past eleven at night and Professor Aubrey’s office smelt of cigarettes, ink, and fresh vomit.”

Pretty simple, provided you don’t forget an elephant or have elephants in your story.

But the idea is to keep you in your writing zone, preventing you from losing focus while you search for the perfect word or description. Remember, a rough draft is rough for a reason! You can substitute any word you might want– poodle, mango, chicken, butterfingers, I don’t know. It’s all up to you!

Now, I’m off to a late start, but. I’d best get back to mango-ing mangos with mangos.

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My Favourite Place for Names

A while back I wrote about names. I offered some stories and strategies I use for coming up with names. What I didn’t talk about, however, was how sometimes names just won’t come. Everything you try doesn’t sound right. Or you aren’t sure where to start looking when it comes to names for people from different cultures. Or maybe it’s not a person you need to name, it’s a place. What do you do then?

Find yourself a name generator.

I have a personal favourite for this task that I wish to share. Fantasy Name Generators was a website I came across while bored browsing the web. The Fantasy Name Generator is an endless source of naming delight. Their random generators touch all corners of your writing needs, from fictional people in a modern setting, to fantasy worlds, and the realm of fanfiction.

Under the ‘Real Names’ section, seekers will find three columns listing generators by ethnicity. The names range from modern to archaic to ancient in some cultures. Within, you can select whether you want a male or female name, as the family names generated are the same for both, you can easily go through dozens of names before finding one that you think fits.

Some warning here though. As some cultures use different writing systems from us and have different naming conventions, it is always best to do some follow-up research on a name. Make sure you have the western spelling right, and maybe ask someone from that culture if the name looks right.

Under the Fantasy Names tab, you get a strange and assorted list. Anything from Amazons to serial killers to vampires to wizards can have their name generated here. You get goblin names like Plyz or Slivak. Detective names like Norah Sharpe or Dan Maxwell. Superhero names like Venombite, or Doctor Smooth Vulture.

Okay, that last one was a bit silly. Some of them are.

The Pop Culture section is a fanfiction writer’s dream. While it’s not as extensive, it does focus on the bigger names: Harry Potter, Dr. Who, Star Wars and such. Great if you’re trying to name that minor original character from your Avatar: The Last Airbender story. Or if you just can’t decide what to name your next World of Warcraft character.

But for some, naming a character is easy. It’s the places around them—the cityies and cafes the parks and mountains—that stump the writer-to-be. Your protagonist could have a date at The Royal Junction or buy their morning brew from Big Boulder Coffee or spend their nights with friends at Club Embassy. Information is exchanged during a foggy night at Sunnyside Memorial Park. The possibilities here are endless.

But that’s not where it ends. Need a title for that catchy tune the bard is always singing? They have a Song Name generator. They’ve got Guild Names and Spell Names and Afterlife Names and Currency Names. Within their “Other” section, you’ll find all sorts of miscellaneous names you never knew you needed!

But this site offers more than just names. Stuck on an idea for your next short story? It offers plot descriptions and prompts. Need an actual idea for a city? It won’t only give you a name, it will give you some history and attractions for you to use as a springboard when you develop your world. The descriptions can be tweaked of course, to better fit your story.

The Fantasy Name Generator is easily one of my favourite resources for names. Here’s hoping it may become one of yours.

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How NOT to Keep your Audience Reading

Your whole goal when writing, be you a poet or a short story scrivener or a novelist, is to keep your audience’s attention to the very last word. To have them so absorbed in what you ha e written that they absolutely need to finish that next page, and then the page after that, and then the page after that even though they should really be getting to bed because they have an early meeting tomorrow. There are many drafts to go through to reach this point, and every person is different so your writing won’t be for everyone.

Here are some things that have made me just give up on a book.

Endless Description– This is sometimes more of a skip offence for me. Details are great. They paint a picture, help immerse the reader’s senses, provide places to hide exposition and foreshadowing. But if I have read two pages describing the drop on dew on a blade of grass in the courtyard, I’m going to get bored very fast. I may not put your writing down if the story and characters interest me enough, but I will skip things over. I’ll put the writing down if I start to lose the plot trying to wade through metaphors and purple prose.

Boring Characters– If I’m supposed to follow these people around for the entirety of your story, as a writer, you need to give me something to invest in. If your characters are bland at best and loathsome at worst, I won’t want to read about them. Nothing is worse than your audience feeling apathy for your characters, and having despicable ones will not keep attention much longer.

The only greater sin is giving me really good minor characters, but forcing me to read about the terrible ones.

Confusing Plot/Boring Plot– It’s important to keep your plot organized, but also have it be exciting. If I have no idea what’s going on and can’t keep up with all the subplots infesting your primary plot, I will get tired of trying and give up. If I’m spending the entire time waiting for something exciting to happen, I’ll just get tired. The dreams I have while taking a nap will probably be way more entertaining.

Excessive Profanity– A good curse in dialogue is fine. A well-placed curse can even put emphasis on a crisis or make your audience laugh. However, dialogue is usually where curses should be limited. You don’t need to curse excessively in your narration, even if you’ve gone first person. A little emphasis is fine, but when every few sentences contains a curse, I don’t feel like I’m reading a professionally written piece. I feel like I’m reading the minutes of a fourteen year old boy’s Xbox session.

Cliches Galore– If I can guess everything that’s likely to happen in your story based solely on a summary and come out with a 90% accuracy rating, you’ve got a problem. Readers like to be surprised and to see new things. Predictability can leave your readers bored. We’re along to watch the struggle, not roll our eyes at obvious solutions or static characters and settings.

Preaching – There’s a difference between delivering a lesson and using a character as a mouthpiece to voice your opinions loudly and as if they are correct. Proper lessons are taught through character development and subplots (and even the actual plot, depending on your story). If I feel like I’m listening to an aggressive sermon, telling me about how this is bad and if you do it you are bad, I will stop listening.

General Discomfort– I once stopped reading a book with an interest plot, good form, and pretty good characters. My reason? Several scenes involving minor characters came off as exceedingly racist. Was this intentional on the author’s part? I have no idea, but writers, make sure you really look what you’re writing. You don’t want to alienate your audience with unintentional prejudice.

And if your prejudice is intentional? Then you deserve to lose readership.

Too many combinations of these will also result in a loss of interest, but for some people only certain combinations will do it. You could be fine with bland characters as long as the story is good. You might enjoy a cliche storm that you need not think too much about.

But as a general note, trying to avoid these issues will be the first step in keeping your readers engaged.

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Lackluster Love-Interests

Romantic subplots are a great way to add a little spice into a novel. Whether they take only a single book or develop across an entire series, audiences love reading about the relationships between two characters. While they aren’t necessary to any story, there’s no denying that readers can be a very romantic sort.

But there’s no point to putting your protagonist into a romantic relationship if the love interest only exists for that purpose.

I’ve seen it many times before and there’s few writerly things that annoy me more than a love-interest who only exists to be a love-interest. They have only the most basic pieces of personality that are blatantly meant to appeal to the protagonist. They might mention having a job, or some goal they want to achieve, but it’s all waved off, secondary information that never gets elaborated on or shown. Any conversations about those topics end up quickly derailed into talking about the protagonist. The love-interest’s life revolved around the protagonist now that they’ve found each other. You’ll see this more with female love-interests than male ones, though there are cases of the opposite.

A love-interest who only exists to be a love-interest makes the audience wonder what the protagonist sees him them beyond the physical. Yes, there are generic traits like niceness or a sense of humour, but your love-interest needs agency and a life beyond her partner. Here are some things you should consider about your love-interest.

  • How are they compatible with your protagonist?

Yes, I did rag on this a bit, but a love-interest needs to have traits the protagonist will find appealing. However, they have to go beyond being “nice” or “having a sense of humour.” Consider the type of person your protagonist is. What qualities might they seek out in a partner? Are they the adventurous type who will want someone who can keep pace with them? Or are they the sort who needs a patient soul to wrangle them in when they get over-excited?

  • How are they not compatible?

There’s no such thing as perfection in a relationship. Personalities are going to clash in some cases and on some issues. If you protagonist is a hot-head, their habit of rushing into things full-steam may prove an issue to a more level-headed love-interest. Conversely, a love-interest with a blunt, matter-of-fact nature may be difficult for a sensitive protagonist to deal with. Personalities have to clash in more ways than “You do all these dangerous things and I want you to stop.” The trick to making the relationship interesting is in how they deal with these clashes.

  • What kind of life does the love-interest have?

As I said, the biggest issue with some of these love-interests is that they often exist only to be love-interests. Yes, they may be fighting alongside the rebels and wish for peace, but in the end they don’t have any real dreams or goals beyond the plot basics and getting with the protagonist. Your love-interest is a person with a life separate from their dates/random rendezvous in the starship’s halls/banter while travelling the kingdom. Where are they from? What do they do for a living? Who are the other people in their lives? Every person has a story you don’t know, and even if your novel is from the protagonist’s point of view, details of the love-interest’s life should pop up in dialogue or attitude.

  • What are the love-interest’s dreams and goals?

Everyone has things they are passionate about and things they wish to do. Losing weight, learning Croatian, getting their beginner’s starship licence—all these are examples of goals a love-interest could have. They could want to write a novel, travel the world by boat, or convert their sinking city into a flying one—all examples of dreams. Honestly, the two can often appear to be the same thing. While finding love and getting married can be one of these things, it shouldn’t be the only goal/dream for your love interest.

  • What is their purpose in the story?

To make a love-interest a full-out character, they need to be something more than a person for the protagonist to fall in love with. What’s their role in the overall plot? Are they significant to it? A love-interest is an important character, and they need to have more bearing on the plot then a few scenes showing their bland devotion to the protagonist.

Your love-interest needs to be a character in their own right for the audience to be invested in the relationship you’re building. You need to write your love-interest as a person, first and foremost, keeping their love-interest role as a secondary consideration. Perhaps not even that! Depending on how prominent a character they are in the overall plot, their love-interest status may even be a lesser concern.

Romance is fun, and can make an excellent sub-plot. However, if your love-interest isn’t on equal grounds with your protagonist, your audience is in for a bland, boring ride full of dull devotion and cliché conflicts. Readers get invested in characters, and if there’s nothing to be invested in, your romance will fall flat.

But look at it this way: would you want to be in a relationship with someone whose only interest was in said relationship?

Categories: musings, On Writing | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Silent Protagonists: Behind the Controller or Nose in a Book

E3 2015 has come around again and brought us a plethora of new game announcements to anticipate in the next year. New games, DLCs, sequels, remakes, re-mastered editions, all your gaming needs from Nintendo, Bethesda, Blizzard, Ubisoft and other big names and independent publishers. Of particular interest was Bethesda’s announcement: that they would be making a sequel to the highly successful Dishonored.

I’m so far through the moon about Dishonored 2 that I blasted out the dark side and landed in another galaxy. I know little about the game thus far, but the trailer shows that Empress Emily Kaldwin will be one of our playable characters alongside Corvo Attano, both having been betrayed. Talk of a Dishonored sequel was floating around the internet for a while, a lot of it spurred by a fake leak called “Darkness of Tyvia.” Throughout all of this, speculation, ideas, and suggestions were made in various gaming forums.

One of those suggestions plays relevant to the topic today: the silent protagonist. It’s always been a fairly well-known factor of video games, allowing the player to better feel like the actual protagonist. However, from a story standpoint, a blank slate makes for an uninteresting character. One thing some gaming forums demanded of a new Dishonored game was a protagonist who actually spoke.

Silent protagonists are not the easiest characters to make work. As they are a blank slate for the player, someone looking for a hero to support can find themselves a little underwhelmed. The only thing I projected onto Corvo was my desire to protect the child Emily. Unsurprisingly, I never went for one of the game’s bad endings. Overall though, there wasn’t really much to Corvo but that protective aspect and a desire for revenge.

The DLC content for Dishonored, however, gave us Daud. At the beginning of the game, Daud assassinated the Empress of Dunwall and appears near the end when Corvo is betrayed by his allies and left to die. In the DLC, you actually play as Daud, facing off against a different villain in an effort to protect Emily from a threat Corvo has no knowledge of. This content was far better written, with more interesting characters and locations than the main game.

Daud was a more interesting protagonist because he could talk (and was voiced by Michael Madsen aka Mr. Blond). We got to learn a lot about him. Saw how he reacted to situations beyond fighting. Came to understand how he cared for his subordinates and got to see how he related with others. Most importantly, we got to see the guilt he felt over the Empress’s death.

Granted, this is all the from the Good Ending run. Like I said, I was terrible being evil.

A silent protagonist doesn’t work well in a game like Dishonored because of the first-person format. Link from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda franchise is one of the best known silent heroes in gaming. Where other characters have dialogue boxes (even if they aren’t fully voiced), Link is never shown speaking. However, because Zelda is a third-person game, the player can see Link react to things around him. They can see his facial expressions and gestures and the way he behaves around others. A silent protagonist must be visible and emotive to be effective in a video game.

But from a written perspective, a silent protagonist is probably best portrayed first person. If said character doesn’t have a communication method like sign language or writing in a nortebook, the reader will need to see inside their head. A silent protagonist could be done in third person, if they are an expressive one like Link, but in first-person the reader will get to better view their thoughts and feelings. We also will want to know why they’re silent. Are they mute? Did they lose the use of their voice in an accident?

However, the best way to create a silent protagonist is to use factors from both methods. Let us have the protagonist’s inner thoughts, but make them expressive so we can see how they physically react to the world around them. Stone-faced protagonists are rarely endearing when they talk. A silent protagonist with no inner thoughts and limited expressions is going to be either boring or a tired cliché.

Classic in video games but rarely seen elsewhere, the silent protagonist takes some skill to pull off. A silent protagonist need not fall into first-person gamer blankness as long as the writer remembers that even without a voice, there’s still emotion and agency behind this character.

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Story Mapping…With Actual Maps!

Open up your average fantasy book and you’re likely to find a map on the very first page. This map can be simple or detailed, display an entire city or several neighbouring countries or even a whole continent. They give the reader an idea of where a character is in relation to other places. They show us how the setting is laid out. They present the protagonist’s home, hangouts, and places he or she prefers to avoid.

They’re also great tools for when you’re writing.

Your setting is an absolutely massive part of your novel and, like everything else, it needs to be kept organized. You can’t have your protagonist know the location of a place in relation to his home in one book, and then have it be in a completely different location by the next book (unless the owners changed locations or someone moved, of course). But consistency is important, and it’s nice for readers to have something visual to reference.

So, I highly recommend making your own setting map.

“Make a map?” You might be saying, “But I know nothing of cartography!”

Don’t worry. This map doesn’t need every street marked out or every town listed (it can if you want, but it’s not necessary). For example, the map of Camorr in Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is simplistic. As Camorr is a city-state made up of various islets, only those locations are labeled with names like “Shade’s Hill” or “The Shifting Market.” Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon goes even simpler, showing us the shape of a continent, a few boundaries between kingdoms, and the locations of three or four major cities.

Say your map is of the city where all the story (or most of it) takes place. You might choose only to label the districts. It’s simple, but if your character lives in “Merchant Quarter” and needs to get to the “Freedocks,” a glance at a map will give an idea of where your character is going, how long of a trip it might be, and even the type of area they’re going from and headed to. The Freedocks might be located near the Temple District, and thus be busy, but respectable. Or they could border Murder Row, and be a place to avoid after dark.

You could go a step further and add in key locations. The protagonist’s home, place of work, and usual drinking hole could all be dotted in. Major landmarks could be labelled. Drawing a map might also help you learn a few things about your character. A character with financial stability would probably live in a nice location, like an apartment near a mall or an area with nice shops, cafes, restaurants, or markets. If your character is poor, how far do they travel for work? Chances are a maid from the slums who works in a manor has quite the commute.

For larger maps, you need not add every town and village in the kingdom, but you could add those the heroes pass through so the reader can trace their path. Label areas the heroes may venture into, like forests or lakes or fortresses. It will help you make sure your characters are headed south and don’t start going east because you forgot where the wizard’s tower was.

You can make your map on poster board or just scribble designs in your notebook. Add as many details as you want or as few. Maps are great references, and you’ll find you characters navigating their surroundings much easier because of them.

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Journalistic Endeavors

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand the appeal of journals. Every television show had an episode where someone got into someone else’s journal. Commercials advertised journals that were voice activated and girls everywhere were thrilled. I got a journal for my birthday one year and wrote two entries in it before I forgot it existed. The only other time I did journaling after that was for an assignment in university, and I’m pretty sure I just threw up my hands, said, “Screw it!” and scribbled most of my entries last minute.

My problem is that I don’t like writing about myself. Considering how I run this blog, I seem to be getting better about it. A personal journal is still out of the question. These days, I gather multitudes of journals for different reasons.

Have you ever had a dream that was so fantastic and inspiring, only to forget about it mere moments after you wake up? Ideas can come and go like this two. One second you have an amazing bout of creativity and it drives you to your computer, only to fade one you open Word or whichever writing program you prefer. Journals, as it turns out, are a great solution to these problems.

Much like some people keep “Dream Journals” at their bedside to record their dreams, an author can keep one at hand to record ideas when a bout of inspiration hits. Journals come in a number of sizes, and a small one will easily fit into a purse or a back pocket. These are ideal for those on-the-go ideas that come from nowhere and need to be scribbled down right away.

There are slightly larger journals—ones roughly the size of your average hard-cover book. While these can be used to record anything from striking lines to entire paragraphs, I prefer them to record notes. Anything from characters to world-building to sketches of maps and lists of deities reside in my medium-sized journals. It’s vital to remember the important factors of your story, its characters, and their world. Otherwise, you might forget that interesting subplot, or that secondary character’s motivation!

For actual writing, I prefer the education-sized journals. More accurately labelled as notebooks, they’re a nice large size for planting down bits and pieces of fiction writing when a computer is not readily available. It was fairly common once for writers to start with handwritten rough drafts before typing the second draft out onto a computer (or a type-writer, if you want to go further back). It’s a valid practice. Handwriting gets out a lot of the word vomit, and as I re-write it onto the computer, I can easily see places where a bit more description might be needed, or where I might want to swap sentences or entire paragraphs for better flow.

So, while I doubt journals will become places for me to pen my biggest fears and most powerful thoughts, they are serving their purpose. I’d recommend a journal as a tool for any author, budding or established. Just make sure you have a few good pens to go with them!

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The Importance of a Great First Impression

In essay writing, they call it the Hook. In fiction, we’ll call it the First Line.

Different names, but they serve the same purpose. This is the first piece of your story that the audience is going to read. Whether that audience is someone from a publishing house considering your work or a potential fan, it’s important to draw them in right away. Alongside and eye-catching title and an engaging premise, this is the best way to catch your reader’s attention. There are many ways for a good first line to be written. It’s all about picking what works best for your story and its starting point.

A good first line can do and be many things. It can drop the reader into the protagonist’s hometown in spring. It can throw the reader into intense action. It can introduce a protagonist. It can be dramatic. It can be funny. It can be long and flowing, with beautiful structure and melodious language. It can be short. Simple. The trick is to surprise the reader make them laugh, or have them wonder what could possibly be going on.

Here are just a few lines that I think are great, and why I think so.

At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.”The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.

I love this line for many reasons. First, it gives us our first introduction to the world we’re about to enter. We get a glimpse of how the calendar works, learn the name of two deities, learn the name of the city the story takes place in, and get an idea of what kind of people we’ll be dealing with. Secondly, we get our first impression of one of our secondary characters. It makes the reader ask, “What kind of man is this Thiefmaker, selling children to priests?” Finally, this guy is selling a child to an eyeless priest. That’s definitely worth reading further in!

The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”Blood Rites by Jim Butcher.

The first time I read this line I laughed aloud. It’s short, sweet, and tell the reader a fairly important factor about the protagonist. Now, this line doesn’t come from the first book in the series, so anyone reading it would likely already be familiar with the protagonist’s tendency to cause destruction. However, I think the implication of such a character trait may get across to anyone picking this book up for the first time. For me, the shortness of the line and the straight-forward humour is what makes this a favorite.    

            “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”—1984 by George Orwell.

Another type of good first line is a line that makes the reader do a double take. I don’t know what clock strikes past twelve, but giving the reader a mundane statement with an unusual twist is another good way to get them to read onward.

“Mr and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.

Of course I’d put a Potter line here! While I didn’t have a good appreciation for first lines when Harry Potter came into my hands, I do like this one now. We get a good impression of what the Dursleys are like before we meet them, and you just know that everything is about to turn out not-normal for them at all.

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”—The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket.

I love Mr. Snicket’s prose, and this first line is an excellent example of it. You get a good impression of his narration style from this one line, as well as his brutal honesty. A reader must wonder what kind of writer advertises his book as having an unhappy ending.

These are merely five lines that I like. I could go on for hours on this subject, in truth. There are many books and many good first lines. Some are classics and stand the test of time. Some are an example of modern talent. I encourage you readers to go and look up some of the lists I’ve seen.

What are some first lines you enjoy, readers?

Categories: musings, On Writing | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Writing Ahead Without Losing Your Place

Writing can be a rather disorganized task, especially when it comes to planning out scenes. We all have stuff we enjoy writing: extended dialogue, scenery descriptions, machine porn, romantic sequences, epic battles. As our fingers itch to type these parts, the details play over and over in our minds until we have them more or less solidified. We can’t wait to toss them all out onto the page.

Except, there’s a scene or two before them in the chapter. Some interaction we haven’t quite got worded or an action sequence we aren’t entirely sure of. Maybe there’s a few research notes we haven’t gotten to yet. We want to maintain our daily writing quota, but trying to get through this scene leaves us stuck. It’s one of those “stare blankly at three sentences for several hours” kinds of situations. We know what should happen before the scene we’re ready to write, but we aren’t quite sure how to word it. How do you move past this writing road block and get your daily word count in?

Easy. Write the scene you want to write. The trick is not to allow yourself to go too far ahead.

There’s nothing really wrong with writing some things out of order. You simply have to make sure that everything established in that scene fits once you go back to write the stuff before. For example, I recently started work on what would be the sixth chapter of a book by starting in the middle. One section I skipped over writing was minor. The scene has a thief waking up to find himself in a greenhouse after being knocked unconscious in an alley on his way home. Since I had more or less solidified his confrontation with the other characters in the scene, I simply wrote a note to [ADD GREENHOUSE DESCRIPTION] for when I came back to that part. Part of it was my eagerness to get to the dialogue, but the fact that I wanted to have some references on-hand for the description played a part as well.

But that’s only for maybe one or two paragraphs. I also have a half a chapter to write before this scene comes into play.

When my character wakes up, I shift the scene by mentioning the last things he saw before blacking out and then comparing them to what’s new, so I need to make certain the previous scene ends on those notes. I also have the character retrieve a letter from inside his jacket, so I have to remember to write the scene he’s given the letter by another thief. It’s easier to keep track of things like this within a single chapter.

I don’t recommend going forward like this for something extremely plot relevant though, especially if the characters make a big discovery or if there’s a lot of exposition involved unless your story is both well-planned and documented. In cases like this, I’d recommend writing the scenes out by hand in a notebook. Then you can use then as references once you’re ready to type the scene out.

It helps to keep writing ahead in small distances. If you go too far, you risk creating confusion that will be a pain to edit later. I find moving ahead in small bursts helps me upkeep my writing quota in addition to allowing me to figure out how to words the events taking place around those scenes.

Do you sometimes write ahead?

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Where The Thousand Words Come In

I love world-building. Of all the things that will suck me into a book and force me to buy all of the author’s works, the world is one of them. Our world is full of detail and amazing locations and wondrous sights. It’s only fair that the worlds of fiction—whether set in the real world or a fantasy one—be just as detailed.


I have a private blog, sadly neglected as it is, devoted entirely to images. Photographs of faraway cities, elaborate costumes, artist’s renderings of worlds both real and imagined grace its pages. Some of you may have something similar. A Pintrest account maybe. Or a simple file folder devoted to anything that inspires you.

I find having a resource like this to be immensely useful. For all our imagination, we writers sometimes fall short on how to describe something. We know the villain lives in an imposing citadel, but what kind of imposing citadel? Are there spikes and polished black stone, or living gargoyles and slick grey walls? Say your character has to go to Turkey to discover the next big clue. But you’ve never been to a Turkish market before, and certainly can’t afford to travel! Luckily, many before you have and they took a lot of pictures.

I find having an image in front of me helps determine my word choice. Even if I’m only basing my setting off of an image, it’s a sturdy canvas that I can add my own flourishes to. Yes, it’s a picture of a hidden beach inside the cavern, but it’s not the only thing I’m seeing. I’m also seeing the sirens lying in wait, or the smugglers who stash their goods in holes hidden by runic magic carved into the stone.

References help because they force you to think about how you would describe the scene to give someone the best impression possible. Without a good reference point, a writer risks falling back on vague phrasing or descriptors they’ve read a hundred times before, which may or may not reflect the place they’re trying to represent. Vague or overused descriptions don’t add to world building, they take from it.

But an image can’t be the entirety of the description. To help build a world, the writer must engage the reader’s other senses as well. Your research will help there. Knowing what’s being sold in the market will help you determine the smells. Knowing how the market environment is will help you better write interactions between characters (with some of your researched wildlife as background music). Talk to people who have been to these countries influencing your fiction, whether they were just visiting or lived there for a time. Even if your city or country is fictional, talking to someone from the area you’re basing your writing on will help you better understand the atmosphere and culture, and therefore help you better write it.

Know specific smells or noteworthy sounds. “Spices” doesn’t tell me much about your world in the way that “cinnamon and cardamom in round glass jars” does. “Bird calls” don’t give the same imagined resonance as “the shriek of long-necked buzzards.”

Whether your story takes places in the far future, the distant past, today, or in worlds that do not exist, A little thought, solid research, and some inspirational artwork can bring your prose a long way.

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