Writing Tips & Tricks

The world of writing and publishing can seem daunting and overwhelming. I know I was a bit frightened at first. It’s scary and nerve-wracking to send out something so personal as your own writing. It’s something that is from you, in your deepest parts. I think that sharing your writing is a bit like bearing your soul. These ideas, these characters, these settings, these feelings, they are all your own. I feared rejection most, and I’ll admit, it was tough to deal with at first. Now, I brush it off and move on. In a world of such competition, that’s really all you can do.

Story Plot & Development

With short stories meant to be sold, it is very important to know where your story is going. If you begin your story without knowing at all how you want it to end, the reader will be able to tell. They might not recognize it for what it is, but it is noticeable when a writer begins without knowing what will happen later. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of freewriting, and starting a story on a whim is always fun. The point I’m getting at is that plot is important. It helps keep you on track in your story, that way you won’t end up prattling on about something that is really of no importance.

Before you write your story, write down your main idea. I like to just do a word association for my plot planning, but it’s fine to use a graph or diagram (they are more organized). Get down all your ideas about the story, don’t worry if you will actually use them or not, just get as much on paper as you can. Once you’re satisfied with your very broad outline, it’s time to start cutting. Go back through (or sleep on it, sometimes it helps me to sleep on ideas to develop them), getting rid of anything that you don’t think helps the story to flow and make sense.

Then, it’s time to look at the plot. Since short stories aren’t nearly as long as novels, you have a smaller window to grab the reader’s attention. This is why it’s important to follow a basic plot line. You want your starting point to be as interesting as possible, to grab the reader, draw them in, demand all their attention. There should be little set up, possibly giving background, and shortly afterward and engaging incident should happen. This is where you grab your reader’s attention. From there, you want your story to escalate (this is called development), building tension for the climax. The climax should land somewhere in the last third or fourth of the story, you don’t want it too early, otherwise readers will lose interest. It should be an incident that brings your hero or main character together with whatever protagonist you have chosen where they will face off or confront each other. No matter if your story will have a happy ending or sad, after the climax, make sure all loose ends are tied and shortly conclude your story.

It is so important (to me at least) for any and all loose ends to be tied in a story. That’s why I decided to dedicate a whole paragraph to this subject. Have you ever read a story or book that mentioned something, not even anything of importance or all that much interest, but during the story, it is never addressed again? I find that this happens more in novels, as there’s more information to wrap together, and sometimes those loose ends just slip through the author’s fingers. It happens. Still, it is distracting for the reader. The effect this has is usually as a result of poor planning or plotting on the author’s part (not that that’s always the case). I find that it’s even more distracting in a short story. Who wants to read a hundred page story, only to feel unsatisfied in the end because something was not addressed? Not I.

This brings me to my next point.

Rereading & Editing

I know this is obvious to most, but I’m going to point it out, just so I’ve got things well covered. When you write a story for the first time, it is not going to be ready to be printed off and sent out to see who will buy it. Editing is a MUST in this business. I’ve been writing for five years, and I still find mistakes, miswordings, misspellings, and punctuation errors in my final drafts. It’s nearly impossible to catch everything, but that is why it’s so important to reread and reread and reread some more.

I like to read my short story, first draft, through two to three times before writing my second draft. Some writers even have a second draft formula (that tells them how much of the first draft to cut). I don’t adhere to any formula. I find it restrictive, but it’s totally up to you. Do whatever you’re most comfortable with. When rereading, ask yourself frequently, “Does this make sense?” Is it logical for your four hundred pound main character to suddenly get a spark of confidence and ask out the hunky gym trainer she’s had her eye on? Unless you point out what sparked her confidence, the answer is likely no. The worst mistake (in my opinion) a writer can make is to not bring everything full circle. It leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied. What we’re aiming for here is a satisfied reader (after they finish the story of course).

After you’ve written your second draft, it’s important to get an outside opinion. That doesn’t mean you have to pay someone to read your story, ask your Mom, or brother, or girlfriend, or husband, or friend, or coworker. It’ll save you cash, just make sure whoever is reading your story will give you an honest and open opinion. It’s important for your reader to be objective. If you know your Mom will sugar coat everything, you don’t have to not let her read it, just make sure you get at least one opinion from someone you trust to tell you the truth. You may ask why you should get a second opinion in the first place, I mean if you’re writing a story on a topic I’m sure you know at least some of what you’re writing about. This is because letting others read your work helps you to get some perspective both on the story and the mistakes you make while writing, and trust me, everyone makes them. If it’s your first time letting someone read your work, I know it can be hard to do. Like I’d mentioned earlier, sharing your work is like bearing your soul to someone. If you got a bad response, it’s hard to pick up and move on. That’s why it’s best to let someone you trust read your work for the first time. They don’t have to know what they’re talking about when they critique, they just have to be supportive of your work. It’s tough to keep writing when your first reader gave you a bad review. Oftentimes, it’s productive to get more than one opinion on your writing, since not everyone thinks the same way or likes the same things. One person might think your story needs a lot of work, while another may think it’s perfect the way it is. There’s no right or wrong opinion here (though it is extremely helpful to have someone who knows something about English or Literature or Writing have a look at your work). If you trust the opinions of your readers/editors, it makes this process so much easier. My Mom is quite objective (I think it’s because she knows how important my writing is to me and wouldn’t want me sending out a story that is not ready), and is into literature. My husband, on the other hand, has read two whole books to date, and knows little about the writing process, story structure, and what good literature is. So when my Mom tells me the story’s good, I listen, when my husband tells me my story’s good, I look for another opinion to go with his. Not that I don’t trust my husband to give me an honest opinion, it’s just that his is not going to be as educated as my Mom’s.

Once you’ve finished your second draft, your rereading and editing is still not over. I have stories that I’ve gone through five-six times and I still find things I can improve on, things I can cut, things I can rewrite to make it flow better. As the writer, your editing is never finished. Though it is important not to drive yourself crazy trying to get it perfect. What I’m getting at is that it’s never perfect, and there is a point where you’ll have to accept it and just send the damn thing out already. Generally, I like to have at least three drafts under my belt before sending a story out. It seems to be enough to weed out the worst mistakes, however you can do whatever fits you best. If you feel that five drafts would be more appropriate (I’d say you’re a little anal, but to each his own), then go ahead and write your five drafts. It’s important to be confident in your work before you send it out to a publisher. If you’re not confident in the writing you send them, then why should they be confident in it?

Now for the dreaded grammar. I have a hard time with punctuation and grammar (and being a writer it’s a bit shameful to admit), but I don’t let that stop me from writing. Most of my problems are silly things, like where to put commas. I also occasionally misspell, and that’s why I find spell check to be an invaluable tool. Now, I’m not saying that spell check is God, but it is extremely helpful. There are things spell check will miss, like when you mean to type a word and accidentally misspell it as another word. If you’re trying to add drama by using short or one word sentences (something I’ll go over in more detail later), it’ll tell you they’re wrong, when really they usually should be left as is to add to the story. This is also the case with dialogue (as I will also discuss later), since it’s often important to misspell in order to get a certain dialect or way of speaking across. My best advice for you, is to pick up a grammar book. As of yet, I haven’t found one I particularly like, but look around, borrow a couple from the library, and choose one that best suits you.

Selling What You Write

The publishing world is a daunting place, full of people who have probably been in the business longer than you (if you’re a new writer). It’s important to know what you’re doing when sending work to a publisher. They often have guidelines or requirements for submissions (as in the manuscript you submit to them). Each publisher is different, and not all require the same thing. That’s why it’s important to do your research before you lick your envelope and send out your story.

Another invaluable tool, I’ve found, is a book called “The Writer’s Market”. It’s a hefty book, and lists publishing companies for books, short stories, poems, pictures, columns, nonfiction work, as well as contests and awards and lists literary agents too. It is a necessary tool for the freelance writer, but is also helpful for a writer looking for an agent. Now I would say go buy the thing, but it’s like $50. The local library where I live carries the 2010 version, which works fine. However if you’re using an outdated version, you MUST check out the publisher online as well, as “The Writer’s Market” publishes a new edition every year with updated listings. Though you should look up publishers online before sending out your work any way. When using this book, it’s important to read the beginning so you understand all the symbols and vocabulary. The first time I cracked it open, I was nearly overwhelmed trying to decipher the little symbols. It is a market book after all, and if you haven’t heard of it, you’re likely a new writer. I use this book constantly. It has tips and tricks in the front as well that have helped me immensely.

What does a proper manuscript look like? (A manuscript is the copy of your story that is sent to an editor to read) The writer’s market explains this, however I’ll go over some of it here. Now, it’s important to remember that these are general guidelines and you should check a publisher’s website before sending them your manuscript, not all publishers accept manuscripts in the same format. Generally, you want your name (your real name, even if you’re using a pseudonym), address, phone number, and email in the upper left hand corner of the first page. On the right hand side at the top, type a word count (total number of words in your story before adding name, address, etc.), and the type of rights you are offering to sell for the story. Usually this remains the same unless you are selling a story for reprint. I offer “One Time Word Rights”. “The Writer’s Market” offers help here as well. There is a section in my 2012 edition that explains what the different rights you can sell of your story. A mistake that many new authors make is getting their work copyrighted before sending their work out. I understand, we don’t want someone stealing our work, right? And editors work in the writing field. It would be easy for one of them to copy your work and put their name on it, don’t you think? It is pointless to copyright your work as it is already copyrighted having come solely from you. You have your other drafts, do you not? (ALWAYS keep your drafts. It’s important in case of computer failure, file loss, etc. I like to keep a backup of computer files, and a hard copy, as in paper copy, in case my computer crashes (something I learned the hard way!)) Another important thing to remember is to NEVER send your only copy to a publisher. Stories are often lost or accidentally thrown away, and then where would you be? Without your final draft. So after your name, address, phone number, etc, double space twice, then center your title in caps lock, double space, type “by”, double space again and type your name or pseudonym. Double space twice again, after your name, and begin your story (make sure your paragraphs are indented by the way). On the subsequent pages, type your name, then a dash, then the page number. This should be located in the upper left or right corner of the page. Most publishers, I’ve found, ask that you double space the entire manuscript, in which case the spacing for the title of your story should remain the same. I would include an example, however this blog makes me double space every time I press “enter”, so it wouldn’t look right any way. If I can, I’ll post a picture of what it should look like.

Publishers almost ALWAYS ask that you send a SASE with your manuscript. SASE stands for: self-addressed stamped envelope. This is often necessary to get a response from a publisher and/or to return your manuscript. Not all publishers return manuscripts, so make sure to check before you send it out. I always ask for mine back. Most writers don’t. If you want your manuscript returned, make sure you have sufficient postage and a large enough envelope. You can’t expect them to cram your hundred page manuscript into a letter envelope.

It’s also important to have a cover letter when sending out a manuscript. Not all publishers require one, but it’s important to know how to do them. First off, make sure you have the name of the specific editor you are sending your manuscript to. This can usually be found on their website. If, however, you can’t find a name, it’s safe to just type “Fiction Editor” (if you’re sending fiction). It’s polite to address them by their title, such as Mr. James Green, or Ms. Carla Forlen, for example. If you’re unsure of the gender of the editor and can’t tell by the name, just leave off the title. Now, in the upper left hand corner of your cover letter, type the editor’s name and the address you’re reaching them at (as in the publishing company address). Then double space, type “Dear Mr. James Green,” (or whatever), enter, make sure and indent, and begin your cover letter. What does a cover letter include? You may ask. The first thing to remember with a cover letter is to keep it simple, direct, and short. Editors spend a lot of time reading manuscripts and cover letters (some don’t even bother to read the cover letters), and don’t have time to read about how great you think your writing is.  A good cover letter consists of an approximate (or exact it’s up to you) word count, the title of the story, the genre (not always important), and any RELEVANT credentials you may have. For example, if you spent three years in Cambodia cooking at a restaurant, it would be great to include that information if you’re writing a book on Cambodian cuisine. However is you spent three years in Cambodia cooking at a restaurant and your writing about Mars’ ability to sustain life, you don’t want to include your Cambodian cooking credentials. It’s also important to note in your cover letter whether or not the story has been published before. Many publishing companies do not want to reprint what has already been read elsewhere, usually they want the new thing. Be sure to be polite and courteous in your cover letter. I like to thank them for their time and consideration, and sign “Sincerely,” with your real name.

Here’s an example of a bad cover letter:

Hey,

I have the best story idea ever! We will get rich off my book, I can promise you that. It’s going to be about a naval capitan who is mysteriously transported back in time and must fight his way back home. I was thinking it would be cool if he fought some evil robots and a horde of zombies. What do you think? This book will gross more than any other book your company has ever published. I’m going to need the money upfront though. Since it’ll do so well, I’d like a hundred and fifty thousand to start off, then I’ll start writing the book. I am very qualified to write about this topic, since my Uncle Bob was in the Navy. He can tell me all about it. Besides that, I’ve seen lots of zombie movies and I know all about them. You can send my check to: I.M. Dummy, 4444 A Rd, Beverly Hills Ca 90210.

Now, what was wrong with that? First off, the editor isn’t addressed by name. This is rude. The writer should have at least addressed the letter to “Fiction Editor”. There is also no address in the top left corner, and the paragraph wasn’t indented. It’s apparent that the writer is excited about his work. However, he hasn’t even written the story yet. That’s a stop sign for editors. Query letters are for pitching story ideas (something that, honestly, I don’t use; look it up if you’re interested though), not cover letters. Another thing the writer did wrong was mentioning money. Never mention a price or money at all in your cover letter, it will be discussed upon acceptance. Also, his qualifications are really nothing special. Schooling you can mention, as well as working in certain fields, but Uncle Bob probably doesn’t know much about the life of a naval capitan who is sent back through time. Also, watching zombie movies does not qualify you to write about zombies. Sure, it helps, but it would be better to research the zombie myth throughout history. Finally, the writer does not sign his name. Yes, he includes it with his address while demanding a check, but he should have properly signed it with his name.

Here’s an example of a good cover letter:

Mrs. Laura Craft

3333 Red Bird Dr

Boston, MA 55555

Dear Mrs. Laura Craft,

Enclosed is a manuscript of my short story, titled When The Cows Come Home. It is 1,567 words and two pages in length. Also, it is previously unpublished. The story is that of a troubled young woman sent to a dairy farm to work for the summer. Growing up on a dairy farm, I know all about milking procedures and what it takes to live the farm life. I would like to thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Sara M. Writer

9999 Sky Dr

Detroit, MI 33333

(555) 555-5555

(email address here)

Sorry about the spacing between lines there, bear with me please. Any way, let’s take a look at what this writer did right. She included the editor’s address, and full name, addressing her with “Mrs.”. The writer gives a word and page count, along with the title of the book being in italics (which you’re supposed to do). Stating that the story was previously unpublished is important as we discussed earlier. She also gives a very short overview of the story (which is really not necessary since the editor will read the story when they are finished with the cover letter, however if you do this, be sure to keep it very short and simple, let your work speak for itself), and why the writer is qualified to write about a dairy farm. I find it important to thank the editor for their time (as I mentioned before), and it really is the polite thing to do, as this writer has done. The cover letter is then signed with the author’s name, followed by her address, phone number, and email.

I hope you can quite clearly discern between a good cover letter and a bad one. These guidelines I have stated, are general and you should be sure to check with the publishing company’s website before sending any work to them. It is also important to know the magazine/book publisher and what they print. You don’t want to send them a horror story if they only publish children’s books, or maybe your writing style is not suited to the magazine. Be sure you read work similar to yours that has been previously published by the company.

More important notes on submitting work:

  • Always type your manuscript and cover letter. Handwritten is often illegible and unprofessional.
  • Always use a professional font, like Times New Roman, in a standard size 10-12.
  • Always use clean standard white paper to print on. Colors are distracting and unprofessional.
  • Remember to stay professional in tone, making it easier for editors to take you seriously.
  • A manuscript five pages or shorter can be folded three times and put in a #10 standard letter envelope. Anything more than five pages should not be folded and should be sent in a 9X12 or 10X13.
  • Do not send cover art or pictures to go with your story unless otherwise noted.
  • Do not forget to include a SASE. Many editors won’t read work that doesn’t have one.
  • Do not send your work by Certified Mail, it’s the sign of an amateur.
  • Remember to check the standard response time as well. This should be on their website, and is sometimes found in “The Writer’s Market”. And remember that it is not an exact response time, many take longer than stated. Don’t call every week to see where they’re at with your story. Usually editors have a lot of work to go through, be patient and wait for them to contact you (unless it’s been a ridiculous amount of time).

I would like to note that any names, phone numbers, and addresses used here are fictional and any resemblance to any persons living or not is purely coincidence. Also, these guidelines are for submissions by mail. Online submissions are different and you should check their website for a format and guidelines.

The Importance of Reading To The Writer

It’s easy to lose yourself and your personal time with these hectic times we live in. Everything’s rushed, and we are apt to cram our schedules full of things that could, quite frankly, be put off for another day. I am not saying its best to procrastinate, but it’s important to make time for yourself.

When was the last time you sat down and read a really good book? As a writer, my answer to this question is pretty sad. I don’t think I’ve finished reading a book in months. It’s most important for a writer to be constantly reading. It helps to give you inspiration, it shows you different styles and voice, it shows you what works and what doesn’t. Think of reading as a type of research. The more you read the easier you will be able to recognize other writers’ mistakes and correct them in your own work. However we don’t read simply to notice what others are doing wrong. It’s also helpful to look at what they’re doing right, what grabbed you. Take a few minutes after reading to think about the strengths in what you just read. Colorful character development, excuisite settings, bold dialogue, all these things and more can be used to your advantage.

When was the last time you read a bad book? This is helpful to the writer as well. Think of the last book you read that left you feeling unfulfilled, dissatisfied. What factors made you feel this way? Was it lack of character development? Was it a poorly flowing story line? Generally it’s much easier for a reader to find the weak points in a story than the writer, which is why this is helpful, and why it’s so important for you, as a writer, to have others read your work.

Here’s a good exercise for writers: Find a great book, short story, or article you really enjoyed. Take a moment to think about what you enjoyed so much about it. If part of what grabbed you was the setting, write your own story with a similar setting. Or if it was the characters that sparked your intrigue, use that character’s traits to create a work of your own. Or if it was the story line that interested you, use it, along with your own twists, experiences, and ideas to create something that has a similar feel. You may find yourself quite pleased with the results.

Overall, reading is important to everyone and anyone(or it should be). Reading helps to expand the imagination, and for the writer, helps show how the use of different words, settings, and characters can evoke different feelings and tones. It helps us to experience things through someone else, whether it’s a fictional character, or someone who actually walked this earth. By reading, you are setting your mind free to the realm of possibility, a place where most fiction writers want to be. So next time you’re wolfing down your lunch so you can scramble back to work, or gearing up to do housework, stop for a second, use your lunch break to relax, those chores can wait too, and just read.

Making Monsters Real

When it comes to characters, we all know they need to be believable, right? Then why on earth would a writer pay so little attention to an extremely important character like the monster? If you are writing horror, fantasy, sci-fi, or any genre where you are essentially creating anything from an entire world to just a creature, you need to understand the importance of making your creature(s) realistic to the reader.

Why?

  • If you fail to fully develop your creature in your mind before you begin writing, the readers will know
  • Say you haven’t thought about your monster entirely, in one passage you’re thinking it looks something like a bear, yet in another you are feeling the sea monster. Make up your mind. Pick a monster and stick with it.
  • Be sure that if you’re writing about a well-known monster, you’ve thoroughly researched lore on the creature. If you include that your creature breaks the mold in some way, thoroughly explain your reasoning and how that is possible.
  • When creating your own monster, be sure to include descriptions that can compare to real animals, so the reader will be more easily able to draw a mental picture of the beast
  • Make sure your creature behaves properly. If this monster can’t speak, then we may doubt his ability to sit down and read the local paper while sipping coffee. If your monster is a stupid hulking beast then make it act like a stupid hulking beast.

What you need to realize about your monsters and creatures, is that they are your characters, and very important ones at that. When your monster falls apart in the mind of the reader, the entire story follows, because what is a scary story without the stinking, fur covered, beast lurking behind the teenager’s car?

How to develop your ideas into a life-like monster:

First off, begin with one element for the creature. I’m thinking scales. So this beast is covered in quarter sized, nearly transparent, blue-ish scales that reflect light, making the beast sparkle in the day-time. On that note, I’m going to include that my beast is nocturnal, due to the flashy quality of his scales. This is where it’s important to understand how real animals adapt to extreme environments. I know that many nocturnal animals have large eyes to allow them to catch traces of light easier, so my creature now has large eyes as well. For color, I’m thinking yellow, just because it’s a bit shocking. Next we want to go into a little more detail. Think about hands, arms, wings, claws, tails, paws, flippers. What kind of extremities do you want your creature to have? To answer that, you may need to think about environment a little before developing your creature further. My scaled beast will call home a large pond in a vastly marshy swamp area, therefore he will need flippers or webbed fingers and toes, and possibly a fish-like tail. This is where you want to start thinking about body size. Are you wanting to create a ghoulish little thing about the size of a large cat, or are you going for a mammoth beast that can knock down a full-grown man with a swipe of its arm? And of course there’s everywhere in between the two. My creature will be about the size of your average man, which will come in handy in the story because I’m thinking some poor unsuspecting woman could mistake the creature for her lost boyfriend and go towards it, only to be stopped dead in her tracks. Now that you have a general body size in mind, consider how you want your creature to move, this will help you decide how long or short the arms and legs or flippers or wings or whatever should be. Say you want your creature to be both biped and quadruped (meaning they can walk on both two legs and four). I would consider making the front arms or legs longer than the back, that way the creature can move similar to how a chimp would. You must also think about the creature’s face, which means thinking about what the monster eats (probably people) and what sort of teeth and mouth would be best suited for this. Generally fangs and long, sharp teeth are what people go for here, but there are other instances in which teeth wouldn’t be necessary. Most importantly, you need to think about how this creature will move and act, this will help you to look at other animals that are similar in ways, so you can incorporate realistic qualities that will make the monster feel real to the reader.

The thing that I cannot stress to you enough about creating a monster is research. You have to do it, and do it some more, and hell, when you feel like you’ve got enough info, keep looking and gather a bit more still. As creator, you need to consider every angle and aspect of this animal’s life, not that you need to include all these details all the time, but when creating something never seen in a story before, it is important to include a lot of back story on the animal. You have to have an understanding of how your creature could theoretically be a living, breathing being, rather than a one-dimensional beast with claws and no motivation.

When I started writing my novel Lashine (which, I’ll admit is still unfinished), I wasn’t even sure I wanted to create a monster, but the more I thought about the circumstances I wanted to create, the more I started seeing that a monster would fit just right. Since the main idea I had was for people in the town of Lashine to never grow old, I had the brilliant idea that the root of this phenomenon would be a parasite. So I researched parasites, but none were as big as I’d wanted and none seemed quite right. So I looked at invertebrates as well, and there I found a bit of inspiration. Yet, I still liked the idea of a creature that climbed inside a person and once they were in there, it would be impossible to get them out. Out of this research came this mental picture: a small creature about the size of a kitten, with a long worm-like segmented body that was bulbous at the head and tapered down into a long tail that ended in barbs, there are no eyes (since living inside a human body they don’t need them) and slits for nostrils, a large fang-filled mouth sits below the slits, and the only extremities this creature has are small t-rex like arms which it uses to pull its body along. This creature has a powerful tail that is able to launch its small body up to six feet in the air. They land on a person’s chest and use their little clawed arms to grab onto the flesh of the face and mouth and pull themselves in through the throat. Once in the stomach, they chew or tear a small hole in the back side of the stomach, closest to the spine, and wriggle their boneless bodies through the small passage and in between the vertebrae. There, comfortably nestled in the spinal cord, the creature goes to work, feasting on the tissue and creating a nest out of its excrement. The nest itself conveys neurological signals as the tissue would have, and the human host goes on living, without aging as the creature slowly eats all the spinal tissue. After forty years or so, the creature runs out of its food source, and cannot keep up on the nest. The structures lose their strength, and crumble, paralyzing the host and killing them within a few short days. The pain for the host is excruciating, and when the host dies, so does the parasite.

Besides all that, I came up with a detailed mating season as well as a back story about where the last plague of these parasites hit. It may be beneficial to the author to include some back story on the monster created as a prelude or prologue, as this may help to set the tone for your novel. Remember that throughout the story, you will need to refer back to certain details about the creature, as well as their back story. A good idea would be to keep notes to easily flip back to. Also, being that my creature was a parasite, I delved deep into the world of parasites to learn everything from what they eat, how they navigate their host’s body, how they navigate outside their host’s body, to reproductive aspects of their life as well. I researched human anatomy as well, and honestly, when I couldn’t get it to fit nicely with my parasites movements throughout the body and their size, I just sort of looked the other way. Not EVERYTHING has to fit perfectly, but it has to be close enough to be believable.

Another thing I found particularly helpful was to draw out how I saw the creature in my mind. If you’re not artistically inclined, this may be a bit difficult for you, but even if it doesn’t turn out looking exactly how you imagined or if it doesn’t look like great art, you will still be able to better “see” at least in your mind, what this monster looks like.

Tying Those Loose Ends

When writing a story, whether it’s a short one or a novel, it’s easy to get caught up in the story line and the numerous details and forget to wrap something together nicely and put a bow on it. As authors, we must tie loose ends. Not doing so, can ruin a story, in most cases. (Of course there are exceptions.)

But how do we go about doing so?

I have two quite obvious, but nonetheless important, tips for you: rereading, and sharing your work with others. While rereading is the most obvious, it’s often the least successful. Why is this? For me, it’s because when I reread, I know the story already, it’s fresh in my mind (remember my post about putting your work away for some time?) and I find I’m able to gloss over any issues, including loose ends. This is why I find it EXTREMELY important to allow someone else to read your work. I know I have posted about this at least once before, but I cannot stress to you how important it is.

For example, I recently finished writing The Sick Man, the ghost story I’d posted about some time back. I broke my editing ritual this once, and was quite happy and surprised with the results, and got insightful feedback. Instead of writing my second draft before sharing, I handed over my first draft, spell checked, to my Mom.

As I’ve mentioned before, I know that I can trust my mother to be objective and honest about my work, simply because I know that she would not want me to send out a story that isn’t the absolute best I can do. She pushes me to make my stories better, and that’s why I can trust her opinion.

I’d asked her if she read the story yet last night, and she said she had it right then and was about to. I asked her to let me know what she thought when she finished it, but to take her time, no big hurry. I wanted to make sure that she gave it all her attention.

This was the text she sent me about her thoughts on my story: “That story is totally fricken awesome! I only have ONE question. You didn’t answer it in your story. Why was the house cold? Was the heater out? If it was the poltergeist, you need to make the couple a bit leery about why it was cold…like everything was checked out by the heater guy, but was fine. Or tapping the thermostat to give the impression that something was funky. You know? Beautiful story tho! I loved it!!”  (Word for word, that is exactly what she wrote in her message.)

Then I asked her if there were many grammar mistakes that she caught, to which she replied: “No. It flowed very well.”   (Yay! =])

Now, you could imagine my surprise that I would get such a reaction from a first draft. A FIRST DRAFT?! Yea. You guys might think that maybe my Mom glossed it over a bit, or made it sound better than she really thought it was, but, because you don’t know her, I have to tell you all that she understands that to do so would be to sabotage my writing.

My point being that you have to find your own person (like my Mom) in your life to objectively read and give opinions on your work so that you can tie up those loose ends, like the cold house in my story. If it wasn’t for her reading the story and pointing it out to me, I probably would never have thought about it because as I was writing it, it seemed to explain itself to me. I know now that I should detail a little more on why the house was cold, since it raised a question with my reader that was unanswered.

Tying up loose ends ensures that the story doesn’t leave the reader feeling disappointed or unfulfilled after reading. Think about the last story you read that left something hanging (figuratively of course). How did you feel after reading it? What would you have done differently to achieve the effect that we all want as authors, for the reader to enjoy the story? Doing this, analyzing how loose ends effect a story can not only help you to see the importance in making sure no stone is left unturned but can also help you to notice the holes in your own work.

How about that D-list character you introduced in the third chapter of your novel? Where is he now? What is he doing in the end? How was/is he important to the story? How can you resolve the character within the story without seeming tedious or straying from the storyline? Remember all your characters, situations, and all points raised. Hell, write them down on note cards (that’s what I do when I’m working on a novel), that way they’re easy to access and a great reminder for anything you may have forgotten to address.

A Little on Archetypes

Archetype is defined in the dictionary as: noun- 1- the original pattern or model for which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based, a model or first form, a prototype 2- (in Jungian psychology) a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc, universally present in individual psyches. ( from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/archetype?s=t )

Now, archetypes are all around us, and in horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. fiction, it’s important to know archetypes for the genre and know how to avoid turning your individual work into a cookie cutter story.

Don’t get me wrong, archetypes are not bad, and many great stories have come from them. The only problem is with archetypes, your vampire or Big Foot, or werewolf could end up like damn near every other one ever written about. So how do we avoid this?

Basically, the archetype is everything that is typical of a certain kind of story. For example, in a story, there are details included about the house feeling cold, strange noises in the walls, the lights flickering, people getting the sensation that they’re being watched. All these elements can go without a label, because people would know upon reading these details that it is a ghost story. That is because there is an archetype for ghosts, and while we may not want to admit that they really exist, they do exist on a shared imaginary level that is learned, handed down, or inferred through movies, stories, etc. Think of any major monster you’ve heard of, like the vampire. The vampire is the perfect example of an archetype (though its been changed a bit recently by new books and movies). We all know the basic vampire has fangs, pasty or pale skin, they can hypnotize you with their gaze, they’re afraid of garlic, sunlight, and crucifixes, they drink human blood, a steak to the heart will kill one, you can’t see their reflection, etc.

When using an archetype, I feel that it’s very important to set your story apart from others, much as Stephanie Meyer did with her Twilight series. She changed little things here and there on that dusty old archetype, and made it her own, such as the sparkling vampires. It’s up to you whether you want to change the archetype itself or events and circumstances surrounding the archetype. However it’s important that when changing something to explain how and/or why this is. Failing to do so can leave your story to fall flat.

Also, when using an archetype, be sure to research or at least think hard on other stories you know use the same one. Back to the vampire, let’s say you had this wonderous idea to write about a little back woods town that is slowly changed into a town full of vampires. You might want to think twice about that one, since it’s been done before in Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. A good way to implement the idea would be to develop that idea a little farther, go into more detail. Changing your “little back woods town that is slowly changed into a town full of vampires” into “a resort or hotel where everyone is changed into a vampire”. See how little tweaks, little changes, can make a world of difference and make your story your own?

The thing that makes archetypes so easy and so helpful is that they are widely known or widely accepted ideas. This makes it easier for the reader to connect with the story on some level. They’ve heard of your monster before and know a little of what to expect when they pick up your story. Versus writing a story about a monster that didn’t previously exist, even in our collective imaginations.

Creating your own monster is a difficult thing to do. If you don’t include enough detail, the creature won’t stand in its own story. This is why I stress the importance of research. Some people may think that horror, sci-fi, fantasy writers have it easy. Nothing that we write about really exists, right? So we can just make it all up as we go. Wrong. If using an archetype, you must thoroughly research the lore, background, and other stories written about the same thing. A poorly researched archetype makes for a poor story, especially when you forget that most vampires are allergic to garlic, and yours are eating spaghetti. The same is true for our created, individual monsters. They must feel as real as possible, otherwise it’s not believable. Have your monster take on a trait shared by well-known predators, or maybe use traits of known archetypes. You want to include details that your readers can recognize as being from or correlating with the real world.

Description Exercise

This technique is largely for those people who really struggle with description and sensory details, and is meant to get your mind working in the right way to pick out sensory words for perfect description.

  • Get to a quiet room, taking a pen and paper with you.
  • Think of an item, one you can use four of your five senses on- all but sight. I chose hot cocoa. =]
  • Close your eyes and visualize the item.
  • Without using the name of the item, think of other related words that could be used to describe it. I came up with: hot, steamy, sweet, creamy, delicious, warm, chocolatey, and belly-warming (the last two are not real words, I know, but this is only an exercise, so hyphenated words are fine).
  • Open your eyes, write down all those words (or you could have been writing them as you thought of them, the eyes closed thing is only to help focus on physical sensations).
  • Use your list of words to create a sentence or two describing an experience with your item. “The cup is warm against my cold fingers. Steam rises tranquilly, twisting and turning through the night air. I lift it to my lips, scalding them as the creamy sweetness passes my tongue and slides down my throat warming my belly.”
  • Note that you should be alluding to what it is, without actually mentioning the item in question.

You can also do a variation of this where you actually have an item before you, looking at the textures, shape, and colors, touching it, lifting it, and using it (if it’s more than a knickknack or something). In this case, you should still be listing words to describe the item without naming it, and then turning it into a sensory detailed sentence or two explaining your experience with the item.

 

 

P.S. I will continue to edit and add to this page. If there’s anything you would like me to address or if you notice any mistakes or misinformation, please leave a comment letting me know and I will edit accordingly. Thank you, and I hope this page helped you.

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Comments
  1. Teeny Bikini says:

    Excellent read! I must come back to this when I get down to the nitty gritty of finishing my book. Thanks for your expertise!

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