Read 5+ Books in the Your GenreThe best writers are voracious readers. Reading expands your world view, enhances your vocabulary, and exposes you to sentence structure, pacing, and the rhythm of words. There is poetry in prose and reading allows you to absorb the meter and tempo of well-constructed sentences and paragraphs. You won't know you're learning while you're learning.
Even while actively composing manuscripts, the most prolific writers always find time to absorb style and wisdom from the writings of others.
Reading is the best way to overcome writer's block.
So, 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. Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said, though it's 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.
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 WritingAlways keep learning. Absorb books about writing. Subscribe to writer's magazines, print or on-line. Schedule an amount of time each week to studying technique. Here's a LIST (page 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 (BN.com), keyword Writing. Don't forget your local independant booksellers.
Reading about the craft is yet another way to break through those moments when creativity seems to have left the building.
Outliners versus PantsersThere are two camps of writers. Some outline their entire manuscript, investing considerable time in developing character pesonalities—sometimes creating full biographies of each—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, congratulations, 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, then pants it. Perhaps a hybrid will 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.
There are no rules about this; do what works for you.
About ResearchAt one time, the advice was, "Write what you know." However, in the age of Google, the panoply of docuseries on Netflix, and an explosion of non-fiction works downloadable for free—or a few dollars—to a Kindle or other e-reader, there is no limit to the all-but-firsthand feeling a writer can embue in his people, places, and things.
One of the worst offenses to be committed by a writer 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've 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; checking Googlemaps, the travel time was twenty-six hours, an error that couldn't stand as it would have eroded a readers confidence in the story. That corrupted the timeline of the plot and a good deal had to be rewritten. A quick Google search would have avoided that hassle.
Your lovers cannot sit on a beach in California and watch the sunrise.
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. On the last page, a reference was made to the Power Ball lottery. One word or two? I looked it up. Two words. Further, Cinderella's glass shoe? Googled it. Glass slipper. Small inaccuracies degrade writing.
Keep the facts accurate. Any inaccurate fact is a lie, and lying to your readers will lose their loyalty to your work and could cause them to put down your book never to return to it.
Another dimension of research involves avoiding 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.
© 2021, Robin D. Ader. All rights reserved.
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