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What I Wish I Knew When I Started to Write

G Younger

I had a new writer ask me this. I thought I would share my advice I sent him. If you have anything to add (I seriously can't imagine this group doesn't have an opinion - and that is why I keep coming back) please share.

Three tips I wish I new when I started my first story on SOL:

1) There is a difference between a proof reader and editor and you need both. An editor will help you with the story. For example continuity, character development, and pulling you back from the ledge when you insist on doing something stupid. They also tighten up you writing. A proof reader fixes grammar and spelling and catches minor issues. While an editor will catch a lot of the grammar and spelling errors, that is not their main job in my opinion. If you have a good editor it is more of a collaboration IMHO. Believe me - you need both. Very few people can self edit for the simple fact that if you wrote it - it sounds fine to you...

2) Create a character page. I do an image search and put it right under the character name. I then fill in the basics (age, height, occupation - you need to figure out what is important to you). I then write a quick bio to give me a back story. I find I constantly use this. It helps to have a picture to be able to refer to.

3) Create a basic road map with an end in sight. I use two things. The first is a calendar. This is good for a saga like Stupid Boy. I put in all the important dates (birthdays, football games, vacation time). I then write a one or two line planned chapter summary.

I am a serious train of thought writer. Many times when I sit down to write I have no idea what will come out. I just start to write. I need the structure the calendar and chapter summary give me. It helps me focus on what the intent is for the chapter and I usually am pretty good at reining in my tangents. Sometime though, your best stuff comes from unplanned tangents that can send your story off in an unexpected direction. Change is good - as I used to preach in my project management days.

Ernest Bywater

@G Younger

I will add, have some minor side plots or sub-plots to help the story along and assist you with developing your characters.

Keep actions and activities fairly realistic - unless it's about a superhero.

Crumbly Writer

@G Younger

Three tips I wish I new when I started my first story on SOL:

Ha-ha! Possibly the difference between "knew" and "new"? Sorry, I couldn't resist. I knew what you meant immediately, but the irony of the typo struck me as humorous.

I'd add to #3 that a timeline document is also essential to avoid having things happening at the same time, or out of chronological order. I use mine all the time, but editors dislike using them since they won't catch continuity errors if they consult a basic timeline before reading the story.


Keep actions and activities fairly realistic - unless it's about a superhero.

Even superheros need a challenge, and wrestling with their own limitations is more effective than creating ever more powerful evil villains (that gets old fast!). That's why it's important to outline the limits of someone's abilities, knowledge or specialties. That way, you can have them question their own actions whenever something goes sour, adding the conflict of self-doubt that'll reflect the readers' own doubts about the story, allowing you (the author) to minimize the gaping plot holes in your story by addressing them as the story unfolds.

G Younger

@Crumbly Writer

Possibly the difference between "knew" and "new"?

Refer to point one ;-)

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer


What you say is true, however, I was trying to make the point that you don't have everyday people doing superhero stuff, leave that for where you have the designated superhero. So when you write a fight scene, make sure you describe it in a way that doesn't require someone to violate the laws of physics to carry it out, like some movies do. The same with all their activities. sure, push them to the edge of the envelope, but don't go off the paper.


@ G. Younger: nice post; good points.

Making a roadmap with an end in sight is essential. Some of us are "pantsers;" some are "plotters." That just means that some folks (like myself) grab our keyboards and let the flow take us wherever it goes, spontaneously, until--without fail--we fall into a plot hole or get hopelessly lost. Others, the "plotters," studiously and laboriously lock an outline down before typing their first word. They'll never get lost but a burst of creative anarchy will tear hell out of their carefully-crafted blueprint.

I've read (and experienced) the joy of creative flight; most commonly I've heard it expressed as "my character took control; I was just a conduit!" That's great, but when the keyboard cools down, it's time to revise the roadmap or risk getting lost while off on a tangent, "pantsing" the plot.

It seems much easier to find a good proofreader than a good editor (observing your definition). Both are priceless. A low-key request for editing help in one's "author blog" might work well; that's where interested readers look. One might volunteer and prove to be an excellent editor in the rough.

Great characters emerge from our memories, I believe. It doesn't matter if they were real, or products of great books we read or films we viewed. I was lucky to grow up in an isolated, high mountain valley in early days, populated with some unique & eccentric folks. It's not hard to resurrect their shadowy selves for a role. Integrity of one's characters is quite important: once defined, a character must be consistent and true to form.

As for description, I subscribe to a severe "less is more" discipline. A few careful words of description will trigger the reader's imagination. Their mental stage will dress the set and visualize the cast. If a longer description is appropriate, it will stand out for its relative rarity and alert the reader that something of note is unfolding.

awnlee jawking

@G Younger

What do you mean by 'new writer'? Someone who's never written a story for an audience before or someone new to SOL?

Your tips look sensible for someone writing a lengthy story, say Novella or larger, and I use variants myself for my SciFi novels. But they're rather an overkill for short stories. And if the 'new writer' has never written for an audience before, I recommend they start by experimenting with short stories until they're happy they've found a style that suits them.

I would also suggest that they write what they know. That doesn't mean the experimental stories should be autobiographical or 'Mary Sue', but the settings should be familiar and not require large amounts of research.

And since you came up with three suggestions, I'll add another. They should heed the feedback they receive if they want to improve to dead-tree-publisher-bothering quality. IMO the SOL scoring system encourages authors to produce more of the same, but that's not the way to improve as a writer.


Replies:   MountainLaurel

@awnlee jawking

"IMO the SOL scoring system encourages authors to produce more of the same, but that's not the way to improve as a writer."

This is a serious point. Don't get me wrong, I have no issues with the scoring system on this site, but yes, a high score for one type of story will cause someone to try and repeat with more of the same. If you receive a mediocre score and see a badly written story out score you, many have a habit of emulating the bad story in order to get the sense of validation a high score gives. I know, I fell into that trap on another site. I turned out some real trash because I was getting high ratings, but they weren't anything I'd admit to having written. There's the rub.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater


IMO the SOL scoring system encourages authors to produce more of the same

That's only an issue if the writer is driven by the scores they see. Many of the writers ignore the scores, so it doesn't affect them.

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