Preparing to Write

Anyone can write, but it takes study and practice to write well. It's that trailing adverb that is operative in your goal toward authorship.

It's never too late, in your project or in life, to hone your skills by enhancing your understanding of what agents, editors, publishers, and critics consider quality writing.

Read 5+ Books in Your Genre

The best writers are voracious readers. As one example, here's a reading list suggested by
Stephen King (link opens in a new tab)

Reading expands your world view, builds vocabulary, and exposes you to sentence structure, pacing, and the rhythm of words. There is poetry in prose. While reading, you absorb the meter and tempo of well-constructed sentences and paragraphs, thereby training your writer's ear.

Even while actively composing manuscripts, the most prolific writers always find time to relax and enjoy a good book... and absorb style and wisdom from the writings of others.

Reading is the best way to overcome writer's block.

Read five books. Okay, maybe four, but no fewer than three. Read them as meditation. Don't simply fly through words and flip pages, take time to see what authors do as they develop a character, a scene, a plot.

Who You're Writing For
Successful writers always have their audience in mind. You compose to evoke a reader's emotional highs, lows, and simple pleasures. Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said, though it's origin has been attributed to others, "If there's a gun on the table in Act I, someone better get shot in Act II." Learn how to place those clues as it provides readers with the joy of anticipating what comes next and the thrill of being right.

If you're new to writing—certainly if you're experimenting in a genre that is new to you—read a number of successful works in that idiom. Each has its own rules, accepted norms, and basic standards. Know them.

Read 5+ Books About Writing

Keep learning. Devour books about writing. Subscribe to writer's magazines, print or on-line. Schedule an amount of time each week to the study of technique.

Here's a
LIST (link opens in a new tab) of essential books on writing, a great place to start. There are hundreds more; peruse Amazon or Barnes and Noble (, keyword Writing. Don't forget your local independant booksellers.

While much is repetitive—overlap abounds—each presentation adds important elements to your body of writing wisdom. Often, what is translucent in one will be made transparent in another.

Reading about the craft is a productive use of time to break through those moments when creativity has left the building.

Are You an Outliner or Pantser?

There are two camps of writers. Some outline their entire manuscript, investing considerable time in developing characters, often creating full biographies of every significant personality, and sketching the events of each scene and chapter.

Others write by the seat of their pants, typing away, following a train of thought and allowing characters to grow with situations they—the characters—develop on their own.

Hence, Outliners and Pantsers.

Few of either camp denigrate the other, both accepting that it's just a matter of personal preference. Each has flaws, though. Outliners may find themselves pantsing it in the middle of a scene as inspriation comes from the ethers and a new subplotline bursts into consciousness. If intriguing enough, an outline may have to be radically changed, and characters introduced or killed off. Alternately, Pantsers can find themselves five or ten-thousand words into a dead-end having followed a plot trajectory that fizzles.

The best way to determine which modality you'll employ is to try outlining first. If you can develop a step-by-step story arc, frame each scene and chapter, and identify all the main characters, you're an outliner.

However, if outlining is too frustrating and tedious, and you have a solid idea of where you want to go but aren't sure how to get there, pants it.

A hybrid may suit you well, jotting down notes of the larger arc of the story without the detail characteristic of outliners, then pantsing the manuscript based on those written thoughts. Pantsing one project and outlining the next is an option.

The only rule is to do what works for you.

About Research

There are no innacurate facts; they are false assertions of fact. As you're not allowed to be mistaken, an inaccuracy is a lie, and lying to your readers will lose their loyalty to your work and could cause them to put your book down never to return to it. They won't read your next either.

At one time, the advice was, "Write what you know." However, in the age of Google, and with the panoply of docuseries on streaming services, and the abundance of non-fiction works downloadable to an e-reader and from the library, there is no limit to the firsthand feel a writer can embue in his people, places, and things.

One of the worst writing offenses is to play readers for fools. Your situations have to obey the laws of physics, even in science fiction; that's why it's science fiction. The exception, of course, is fantasy and horror where you make the rules. Even then, you must stick to the rules you've created; consistancy is essential.

Your statements about the world must be factual. I edited a work in which the protagonist drove from Orando to Albuquerque overnight. That didn't ring true and I'm sure I'm not the only one who would have noticed. Checking online, the travel time is twenty-six hours, an error that could have eroded readers's confidence in the story. Correcting the source error corrupted the timeline of the plot and a good deal had to be rewritten. A quick search would have avoided that hassle.

Your lovers cannot sit on a beach in California and watch the sunrise over the Pacific.

The limitations of the cars you feature, the weapons your bad guys employ, and the cities in which you place your characters all have to conform to the real world. You can invent a town, but if it's in Hawaii, your characters can't drive to Los Angeles.

Even the smallest details matter. Is lottery's Power Ball one word or two? Cinderella's glass shoe or slipper? Small inaccuracies degrade writing.

Another dimension of research avoids a literary faux pas. Google your character names; you may find that Jack Reacher is taken, and that Harry Porter is too close for comfort.

In What Genre Are You Writing?

Googling "What are the genre of fiction?" provides sources enumerating disparate genre, from seven broad groups to over one-hundred including sub- and sub-sub-classifications.

The IQ140 consolidation includes eleven genre plus others:
  • Literary: catch-all for serious stories written with artistic flair.
  • Contemporary: catch-all for other stories not up to the standards of Literary
  • Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Action: includes detective, spy/espionage, military
  • Speculative Fiction: Fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, and apocalyptic
  • Historical fiction
  • Romance: may include erotica
  • Women's fiction/Chick-lit: a story line primarily addressing women's experience
  • Horror: ghost, monster, and slasher
  • Western
  • Comedy: including dark comedy and paradies
  • Young Adult and New Adult: Stories of interest to adolescents and older teens, respectively
  • Others:graphic novels, children's books, bildungsroman, magical realism, etc.
Clearly there are cross-overs:
  • Women's fiction and romance are a natural pair, but novels featuring strong women in military roles would interest many women readers as well as men.
  • Cowboys and Aliens was a western/science fiction/graphic novel hybrid before it was a movie.
  • Jane Eyre is women's fiction and bildungsroman with a touch of comedy.
If you know the genre in which you wish to write, read numerous books successful in the category and stick to the rules: tempo, pace, use of language, etc. Emulate them.

However, it's best to write as well as you can without regard into which arbitrary classification your manuscript may fall. If you procure an agent or publisher, they will determine the genre of your work as it is a marketing decision above all.

Should you self-publish, there's time to wrestle with genre selection when listing your book with your sales channel.

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