Learning to Outline

book_outlineIn the Soviet time, when I studied at school and later at university, no one ever bothered to teach us any methods of writing. We never did any training in organizing or planning compositions, not to mention such things as structuring book plots or writing marketable outlines. As far as I know, the situation has not changed much since then in the post-Soviet educational establishments, so many of my compatriots, even those with diplomas of journalists (no universities have ever had any programs for fiction writers here) have a good understanding of how to plan, or structure, or organize a text. So, I have been learning to do this from A to Z, previously as an academic books author and now as a beginner in fiction writing.

I really loved to study K.M.Weiland’s book “Structuring Your Novel” and I have her brilliant novel structure scheme on my table all the time:

RESIZED-structuring-your-novel-visual-chart-screenshot My other favorite guide is the 3-Act Structure guide, which is skillfully described by Emma Johnson  and a number of other experts in methodology of writing.

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Yes, I prefer to call it by a boring word methodology, because in fact, it is always a method that turns any action into a skill.

Method is the only tool that can turn a spontaneous action into a skill.

In my culture the learners of this kind would be called “samouchka” (“самоучка”, Rusian: a self-studying person), which means that I often have to develop my own methods of doing things. So I do.

I have developed a convenient scheme of outlining fiction books for potential marketers, based on the existing novel structuring methodologies, which I mentioned above. Below, is my little scheme (or model):

A Novel Outline Model

With [some unusual condition that distinguishes him] [the main character’s name] is looking forward to a [the main character’s primary intention or goal]. Instead he walks into [First Disaster], and [Point of no return].


[The second main character’s name] has been [the 2-nd main character’s condition in the beginning of the book]. But [his/her initial intention/goal] is confounded by [the conflict of the story].


[The main character’s name] becomes involved into [Second Disaster (The Midpoint: the main character’s push to action, his move to different circumstances)], so he/she is seeking [the main character’s new goal]. Instead, he/she discovers [the 2-nd Pinch point event, when the antagonist’s power is reaffirmed], and faces [Third Disaster (an event that provokes the inexorable course towards the Climax].

I have played with the model, trying to create outlines for my books, and it seems to work well! With this structure (plus some time spent on polishing of the outline) I can create outlines a lot faster than just by doing it out of my mind. You are very welcome to try it, and please, tell me if you can think of improvements for this model.

I will greatly appreciate any comments and suggestions. Thank you!

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Verbal Art Made Visible

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I’d like to begin this one with a quote:

“Conflict generates energy and that energy, at its best, reveals a universal truth. In almost every iconic masterpiece you will see this equation at work. Writers would be well served to seek out some of these iconic visual works and examine them closely.” Annie Weatherwax

These words belong to an artist, who found her way to writing fiction by studying masterpieces of visual art- a necessary component of education for every creative person, which so many representatives of the verbal arts world ignore today.

Conflict is a critical condition for plot development in fiction writing. Tension, its inevitable product, helps keep the story dynamics and thus, ensures its ripeness and thoroughness. As Annie Waterwax notes,

“Tension is a primary component in all forms of art, achieved by the conflict between opposing elements. It’s the tension that holds our interest. In a masterpiece, the energy created by that tension reveals a universal truth. And a masterful artist does this without the viewer knowing it. She slips the message into our collective subconscious unnoticed.”

This peculiar talent of knowing how to send ‘the message into our collective subconscious’ is often overlooked by writers as something irrelevant, and the reason why they cannot do it is lack of general aesthetic education. Sadly, fiction writing is rarely mentioned as an art form today (in my opinion, it still is); the widely accepted ‘standards’ of fiction writing focus mainly on genre, plot and structure requirements, while the artistic beauty of writing is just a nice additional bonus, welcomed mainly by publishers, because majority of readers are rather attracted by fast-pace plot development and intrigue than by the way it works to enrich our aesthetic personality. Overwhelming majority of people today prefer visual arts and music to reading, while appreciation for the beauty of writing style and its harmony with genre and structure of the story is regarded as an extravagant whim of the few.

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Still, knowing a lot about art in general helps every writer, because it broadens their imagination and develops their artistic taste. I am glad to see that the most appreciated fiction writers today (irrespectively of the genre they write in) are always people of good aesthetic taste (quite often, they are passionate art lovers). 

Putting it simply, developing a good aesthetic taste is a way to see more beauty around you, and- yes, one needs to learn to see beauty! And beauty is exactly that energy, mentioned above, which reveals universal truths to a person. Without learning about it, an author lacks necessary means of high-quality writing.

Our imagination is born deep inside our mind, in the storage of memory, knowledge and life experiences which we have accumulated during our lives. If we have a good deal of beautiful images, associations and emotional memories stored there, the final products of our imagination have more potential to be beautiful, too. Only an author who has a good taste for visual (musical and other) arts can create really beautiful verbal pictures and deliver them to other people’s minds. I think we should always remember this when we sit down to create our masterpieces in writing.

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Suspense… in Life and in Fiction Writing

 I have been reading about the role of suspense in fiction writing and, as it often happens in the world of writers, I found a number of excellent articles describing features and merits of suspense, but none of them provided a decent definition of the term. Some works characterize suspense as a “sense of anticipation or worry that the author makes the reader feel” (https://prezi.com/wyt6zmamrm9w/elements-of-suspense-in-literature/ or http://elementsoflit.weebly.com/foreshadowing-and-suspense.html), which provides general understanding of the role of suspense, but is a bit misleading because, according to this description, suspense is a human feeling: an emotion, that’s all.

The scheme which I posted above presents suspense in one row with other genres of literature: mystery, horror. It is not the first time that I see attempts to present suspense as a whole separate genre of litreature:

“So, you’ve been working on a new novel… what genre? Historical again?”

“No. Suspense.”

“Ah, I see.”

Maeve Maddox, the author of the article ‘Is Your Novel “Mystery,” “Thriller,” or “Suspense”?’ (https://www.dailywritingtips.com/is-your-novel-mystery-thriller-or-suspense/) calls suspense a separate genre of fiction, with a note that “sometimes the three are presented as separate genres, and sometimes they’re lumped together as Mystery/Suspense, or Suspense/Thriller”. This shows that many authors and critics today have realized that suspense is not necessarily a mystery or horror, it is something different, because its meaning has changed for the reader. The reader sees suspense as a puff of obscurity on her face.

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Suspense is not necessarily a mystery or horror, it is simply a puff of obscurity on your face.

“SUSPENSE: the main character may become aware of danger only gradually. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The reader sees the bad guy plant the bomb, and then suffers the suspense of wondering when or if it will explode.” (Maeve Maddox; Please, find the link above)

This description corresponds well with the above scheme and also shows specificities of suspense as a high-grade genre of fiction literature. So I have been wondering: isn’t it a sign signaling to all authors that a new genre has been born and is actively building its way into the list of “traditional” genres of fiction? Can I write in a letter to a literary agent: “My novel is a suspence with some elements of fantasy”, or would it be safer to call my novel a “suspense fantasy”, where the main accent falls on the word “fantasy”?

Can we call suspense a genre of fiction? If yes, how ripe is the genre today? Somehow I have no doubt that suspense will soon form into a separate, widely accepted genre of lirature, because in the 21-st century people who read are seeking for fast-paced, action-packed, yet emotional fiction, and suspense is exactly what they need, because it apeals to the readers’ hearts.

In their reviews of suspense, some authors just leave it without a definition and move right on to discussing the distinguishing qualities of suspense fiction in comparison with other genres. Here is, by the way, a very good analysis by Stephen James, called Six Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense, available on Writers Digest at http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-secrets-to-creating-and-sustaining-suspense. In this article, the author looks at four factors necessary for suspense – reader empathy, reader concern, impending danger, and escalating rension – which are regarded as the author’s roadmap to the readers’ hearts. Then, the author suggests six ideas, or tasks, which a writer should set and achieve to create a good suspense effect in a piece of fiction:

  • put characters in jeopardy;
  • include more promises and less action;
  • keep every promise you make;
  • let the characters tell readers their plans;
  • cut down on the violence; and
  • be one step ahead of yur readers.

These tips, along with the detailed explanations provided in the article, must be very valuable for every author, as they set direction for an author’s effort, and still, these are just tools of suspense as a writing method, they are not the laws of a genre… yet.

Stephen James concludes his article with the words-

“No matter what you write, good prose really is all about sharpening the suspense.”

Well, if this statement is true, it does not make suspense a separate genre yet, but it surely makes it even more: a cross-genre requirement, a condition of achieving high quality of writing, a goal to which every author should strive, regardless of the genre they are trying to conquer.

Well, to me, the question is still there: what place does suspense have in contemporary literature? Is it already a separate genre or is it rather a method of writing?

Do you believe that in a couple of years, when more suspense masterpieces have arrived, all book stores will install shelves with a one-word sign “SUSPENSE”?

If you have answers to these questions, please, share. I will appreciate any comments on this. Thank you.

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Today, suspense is a method of writing, which is making its way to become a separate genre of fiction.

 

The Challenges of First-Person Narrative

“I would so hate to be a first-person character! Always on your guard, always having people read your thoughts!” ― Jasper Forde, Lost in a Good Book

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Writing from the first person is a big challenge, I realize it more and more every day. The most important thing is to keep the reader interested at all times, which means that the character has no right to be boring, even for a single moment!

When writing from the first person, it is very important to keep rational balance between narration and dialogue: if I allow my character to ramble, I’ll kill the readers interest in a few pages, but too many dialogues may be killing for the whole novel, too.

Then comes the necessity to follow “show not tell” rule: one of the most difficult tasks, because if I am the one who tells the story, I often have a temptation to simply tell it and go on.

Also, my character needs to have the voice – I mean, my character happens to be the one who experiences stuff and then learns the lessons and makes the conclusions – to accomplish the goal of the whole writing. My character becomes the one who sets the questions and answers them for the reader at the same time: the situation which seldom happens in real life and thus, is difficult to reproduce in a reader-attractive manner.

Finally, if I want to grab the readers’ attention and keep them excited to the very end, my character should continuously explore her own personality and “alter” it as she moves forward with the plot. The gradually accelerating pace of the narration should be inseparably connected with personality dynamics of the main character, and once this person is telling the story, she needs to take every step consciously, but then it is difficult to keep the air of mystery in the book: the story risks to become too predictable to be interesting! This is another challenge for the author.

It seems, I need to be a Mark Twain to do such a thing well enough! Talent, plus wit, plus tremendous life experience, plus really hard work, ah, yes – plus the ability to learn from one’s own mistakes: this is the formula of success for the task of writing a first person narrated story. Quite a complex one, don’t you think? 😉

 

Reading Like a Scientist

This morning, I came across an excellent article by K.M. Weiland 7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story . While I was studying it, I kept catching myself on switching to my “scientist reading mode”, which has developed through years of my academic career and seems so natural to me that I read nearly everything – even fiction – this way now. I must mention to K.M.Weiland’s favor that her writing is always very logical, well-structured and brilliantly worded.

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“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”― Galileo Galilei

Having spent decades of my life doing academic research, supervising post-graduate students and writing university coursebooks, I always tend to look for structure in every piece of text that comes into the range of my vision. First of all, I mark out the keywords  in the title, then my eyes stubbornly try to find these keywodrds throughout the whole text. I admire well-structured texts, and always, no matter what I am reading, I make lots of notes while reading.

The article about creating an outline of a story seemed not only well-structured, but also very informative to me as a beginner in fiction writing (a rare pleasure to come across in the world of creative bloggers and fiction writers), so I could not help but making lots of notes as I read it through. This is what I got in the end, and these colored notes – no doubt – will now help me a lot to learn K.Weilland’s method in detail. I have pasted the article with the notes below, to demonstrate how its brilliant structure becomes a roadmap for every working author to use when creating outlines of their stories. If you only pick out the colored notes, you will get the full skeleton of K.M.Weiland’s methodology. If you pick out both, the colored notes and the underlined phrases throughout the text, you will get a great set of tips to keep in mind when writing your own story outline. Enjoy!

Once again, many thanks to the author for her elaborate work and very useful advice!

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“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory—let the theory go.” 
― Agatha Christie

7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story, by K.M.Weiland

(Keywords: outline / story outline (story outlines are the object of research) ; creating / steps to creating)

(Science name for the article would be: Creating a Story Outline)

“Mention the word outline in a room full of writers, and you’re sure to ignite a firestorm of passionate debate. Writers either love outlines, or they hate them. We either find them liberating, or we can’t stand how confining they are. (Problem identified)

My experience has been that more often than not, those who swear they dislike outlines are thinking of them in the wrong ways. (Common practice that brings up the problem)

Outlines are not meant to trap you into preset ideas or sap your creativity before you start the first draft. Outlines are also definitely not meant to be lifeless Roman-numeral lists. (main qualities of outlines discussed)

To imbue your writing with the full power of outlining, (the task of the research is set) you need to approach the process from a mindset of flexibility and discovery.(method outlined) When you do this, you’ll end up with a road map to storytelling success. (anticipated result identified)

Road maps are there to show you the fastest and surest way to reach your destination, but they certainly don’t prevent you from finding exciting off-road adventures and scenic drives along the way. (relevance explained)

At their best, outlines can help you (a) flesh out your most promising story ideas, (b) avoid dead-end plot twists and (c) pursue proper structure. And the greatest part? They (d) save you time and (e) prevent frustration. (the object of research and its main characteristics outlined)

Sketching out your plot and characters in your first draft can take months of trial and error. Figuring out those same elements in an outline requires a fraction of the time—and then allows you to let loose and have fun in your first draft. (difference between drafting a plot and writing an outline is shown)

Let’s take a look at how to get the most out of the outlining process, beginning with the shaping of your premise and working all the way through to a complete list of scenes. (the goal of the article is set) (Note: Although this outlining method is one I use myself and highly recommend, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to outline a story. The only requirement is that you find the groove that works for you. If you start outlining and begin to feel the technique isn’t working for you, rather than denouncing outlines entirely, consider how you might adjust the process to better suit your personality and creative style.) (special conditions outlined)

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“If you’ve got the truth you can demonstrate it. Talking doesn’t prove it.” 
― Robert A. Heinlein

(The steps of research are outlined below)

1. Craft your premise. (write a one paragraph summary of the work)

Your premise is the basic idea for your story. But it’s not enough to just have an idea. “Guy saves girl in an intergalactic setting” is a premise, but it’s also far too vague to offer much solid story guidance.

This is why your outline needs to begin with a tightly crafted premise sentence that can answer the following questions:

• Who is the protagonist? (identify protagonist)

• What is the situation? What is the hero’s personal condition at the beginning? How will that condition be changed, for better or worse, by the hero himself or by the antagonistic force? (outline situation)

• What is the protagonist’s objective? At the beginning, what does the hero want? What moral (or immoral) choices will she have to make in her attempt to gain that objective? (set the objective).

• Who is the opponent? Who or what stands in the way of the hero achieving his objective? (describe antagonist)

• What will be the disaster? What misfortune will befall the hero as the result of her attempts to achieve her objective? (outline the problem and goal)

• What’s the conflict? What conflict will result from the hero’s reaction to the disaster? And what is the logical flow of cause and effect that will allow this conflict to continue throughout the story? (conflict/contradiction)

Once you’ve answered these questions, combine them into one or two sentences: (another step of research suggested)

Restless farm boy (situation) Luke Skywalker (protagonist) wants nothing more than to leave home and become a starfighter pilot, so he can live up to his mysterious father (objective). But when his aunt and uncle are murdered (disaster) after purchasing renegade droids, Luke must free the droids’ beautiful owner and discover a way to stop (conflict) the evil Empire (opponent) and its apocalyptic Death Star.

2. Roughly sketch scene ideas. (drafting the big picture)

Armed with a solid premise, you can now begin sketching your ideas for this story. Write a list of everything you already know about your story. You’ll probably come to this step with a handful of scenes already in mind. Even if you have no idea how these scenes will play out in the story, go ahead and add them to the list. At this point, your primary goal is to remember and record every idea you’ve had in relation to this story.

Once you’ve finished, take a moment to review your list. Whenever you encounter an idea that raises questions, highlight it. If you don’t know why your character is fighting a duel in one scene, highlight it. If you don’t know how two scenes will connect, highlight them. If you can’t picture the setting for one of the scenes, highlight that, too. By pausing to identify possible plot holes now, you’ll be able to save yourself a ton of rewriting later on.

Your next step is to address each of the highlighted portions, one by one. Write out your ideas and let your thoughts flow without censoring yourself. Because this is the most unstructured step of your outline, this will be your best opportunity to unleash your creativity and plumb the depths of your story’s potential. Ask yourself questions on the page. Talk to yourself without worrying about punctuation or spelling.

Every time you think you’ve come up with a good idea, take a moment to ask yourself, “Will the reader expect this?” If the answer is yes, write a list of alternatives your readers won’t expect. (a sequence of steps suggested in order to achieve the goal)

3. Interview your characters. (take only the main characters now)

In order to craft a cast of characters that can help your plot reach its utmost potential, you’ll need to discover crucial details about them, not necessarily at the beginning of their lives but at the beginning of the story. (do interview the characters!)

To do this for your protagonist, work backward from the moment in which he will become engaged in your plot (the “disaster” in your premise sentence). What events in your protagonist’s life have led him to this moment? Did something in his past cause the disaster? What events have shaped him to make him respond to the disaster in the way he does? What unresolved issues from his past can further complicate the plot’s spiral of events? (work backward method – try it!)

(useful tips here)

Once you have a basic idea of how your character will be invested in the main story, you can start unearthing the nitty-gritty details of his life with a character interview. You may choose to follow a preset list of questions (you can find a list of more than 100 such questions in my book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success), or you may have better luck with a “freehand interview” in which you ask your protagonist a series of questions and allow him to answer in his own words. (try to do both and see what works better)

4. Explore your settings. (list the main settings)

Whether your setting is your childhood neighborhood or the seventh moon of Barsoom, you’ll want to enter your first draft with a firm idea of where your prominent scenes will be taking place. (think over locations of scenes)

Don’t choose a setting just because it sounds cool or because you’re familiar with it. Look for settings that will be inherent to your plot. Can you change your story’s primary locale without any significant alterations to the plot? If so, dig a little deeper to find a setting better suited to your plot, theme and characters.

Based on the scenes you’re already aware of, list the settings you think you’ll need. Can you reduce this list by combining or eliminating settings? Nothing wrong with a sprawling story locale, but extraneous settings should be eliminated just as assiduously as unnecessary characters.
5. Write your complete outline. (write an extended outline)

You’re finally ready to outline your story in full. This is where you will begin plotting in earnest. In Step 2, you solidified the big picture of your story by identifying the scenes you were already aware of and figuring out how they might fit together. Now, you will work through your story linearly, scene by scene, numbering each one as you go. Unlike the “sketches” in Step 2, in which your primary focus was on brainstorming and exploring possibilities, you will now be concentrating on molding your existing ideas into a solid structure. (outlining the first rough draft)

How comprehensive you want to be is up to you. You may choose to write a single sentence for each scene (“Dana meets Joe at the café to discuss their impending nuptials”), or you may choose to flesh out more details (“Joe is sitting by himself in a booth when Dana arrives; Dana orders coffee and a muffin; they fight about the invitation list”). (sub-methods listed)

Either way, focus on identifying and strengthening the key components of each scene’s structure. Who will be your narrating character? What is his goal? What obstacle will arise to obstruct that goal and create conflict? What will be the outcome, and how will your character react to the resulting dilemma? What decision will he reach that will fuel the next scene’s goal? (outline the key components of scenes in connection with the goal)

Work to create a linear, well-structured plot with no gaps in the story (see the checklist on the opposite page). If you can get this foundation right in your outline, you’ll later be free to apply all your focus and imagination to the first draft and bring your story to life.

As you mentally work through each scene, watch for possible lapses of logic or blank areas in how one event builds to another. Take the time to think through these potential problems so they won’t trip you up later. If you get stuck, try jumping ahead to the next scene (good sub-method) you know, and then working backward. For instance, if you know where you want your characters to end up, but not how they’ll get there, start at the ending point and then see if you can figure out what has to happen in the preceding events to make it plausible.

6. Condense your outline. (write an abbreviated version)

Once you’ve finished your extended outline, you may want to condense the most pertinent points into an abbreviated version. Doing so allows you to weed out extraneous thoughts and summarize the entire outline into a scannable list for easier reference. Because your full outline may contain a fair amount of rambling and thinking out loud on the page, you’re likely to end up with a lot of notes to review (I often have nearly three notebooks of material). Rather than having to wade through the bulk of your notes every time you sit down to work on your first draft, you can save yourself time in the long run by doing a little organizing now.

You may choose to create your abbreviated outline in a Word document, write out your scenes on index cards, or use a software program such as the free Scrivener alternative yWriter.

7. Put your outline into action. (useful tips here)

By now, you’ll be feeling prepared and eager to get going on your first draft. Each time you sit down to work on your manuscript, begin by reviewing your outline. Read the notes for your current scene and the scene to follow. Before you start writing, work through any remaining potential problems in your head or on paper. If the time comes (and it will come) when you’re struck with a better idea than what you had planned in your outline, don’t hesitate to go off-road. These ventures into unknown territory can result in some of the most surprising and intriguing parts of your story.

An outline will offer you invaluable structure and guidance as you write your first draft, but never be afraid to explore new ideas as they occur. Remember, your outline is a map showing you the route to your destination, but that doesn’t mean it is the only route. (outline is a kind of a road map for the story)

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“Science, my boy, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.” 
― Jules Verne

Feeling Time

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Leo Tolstoy

eggLike in many other cases, one can begin to understand these words only after having a massive experience of conscious expectation for something significant to happen, and then living through the event as it happens. Only having waited for years to meet the one you really love, you can say that you know the science of being patient and the burden of “feeling” time.

Feeling time is a burden, because it is a torrent that flows through and beyond us; it carries us forward – always in the same direction – and we can do absolutely nothing about it. Time has its powerful plan for every one us, but no one of us has the power to alter anything in the plan.

Doesn’t this make Time the greatest antagonist of all? Mmm, I really need to think about it…

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Writer’s Self-Promotion: Short or Wordy?

self-promotion

This morning I came across a letter from a writers’ magazine to which I am subscribed. It suggested to take a look at ‘a special offer for readers’ from their trusted partner. As I have a habit to read every email I receive, I read it through. The announcement started with a massive energy injection in a form of a greeting:

“Fellow Writer,
What if I told you-”

The greeting was followed by a 1300-word-long biographical description of the author’s way to financial happiness, suggesting me to do the same and promising to tell me how to do it, for this price if I subscribe here, or for that price if I sign up there. In my case, the ‘energy injection’ stopped working after the first passage, so by the middle of the second passage I was beginning to regret loosing my precious morning time on reading something that I probably don’t need.

Still, my female curiosity took over, so I switched to speed-reading and finally, on the last passages of the email, I realized that the announcement was about membership in a writers club! Finally, the P.S. part of the email, which was two passages long itself, contained more practical information on the cost and free bonuses that the club membership offers.

All in all, I spent nearly quarter of an hour reading through and digesting the information; then I caught myself on thinking that, according to the length of the message, the membership might be so overwhelming that I would have no time left for doing my writer’s job in the end!

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Again, I remembered the main requirement dictated to us by present time: brevity. Probably, I am giving it too much attention, but I really believe that today, brevity is a crucial requirement, even for such a specific business as self-promotion. If I were to write that announcement, I would cut it down to two hundred words, or even less. It is so easy today to simply provide links to pages with more detailed descriptions of any ideas or events!

In the end, self-promotion is all about attracting your audience by a few keywords. When you want to attract visitors to a pub, you only need to write a short sign: “BEER HERE”; it is the same with the virtual world we work in. Create a short slogan, give it a short description on your website, and discuss it in your blog, then, don’t forget to link all those pieces of information to each other! Doesn’t this look easier than writing miles of text trying to convince your audience? Not to mention that time is the most precious thing we have, so we should not steal each other’s time by writing lengthy announcements.

Please, tell me if you think this is not right. I will gladly discuss every opinion. In the end, we are all in the same boat: we need to know how to self-promote. Thank you!

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Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. (Wikipedia)

beautiful journalist looks typewriter

It was a surprise for me to discover how much has been written about writer’s block in English. In my culture (Russian), the same thing is called творческий кризис (‘creative crisis’) or творческий затык (‘creative block’), and quite often, authors are shy to discuss this intimate state of mind, because it is associated, in the first place, with weakness of character. Russian authors usually suggest three steps of overcoming the block:

  1. Push away your fear by allowing yourself to write bad. If you ignore others’ remarks about your bad writing and simply go forward, your writing will improve.
  2. Your lack of ideas comes from the lack of knowledge. Learn more about the subject of your writing (the time which you are trying describe, the psychology of people, the place where you build your scenes, etc.) and creative ideas will pour into your head.
  3. No procrastination! Do not allow yourself to think about doing it tomorrow. Sit down and write. Do it now.

These three simple rules really help. Why don’t you try them if you have a writer’s block?

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

As a bonus, here is a link to a wonderful collection of quotes by worldly-known writers about overcoming writer’s block from Ken Miyamoto’s blog

“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.” — Elmore Leonard

 

The Principle of Brevity in Writing

writing brevity

Today, in our fast-paced world, time has become the greatest of all values. We, people, still have not fully realized this fact, but it already dictates us the necessity to introduce some changes into our lives – first of all, in the field of time management

The dwellers of large cities (New York, London, Tokyo, etc.) were the first to sense the change: they had to reduce the time spent on walking, cooking, cleaning, driving, socializing, learning, and so on and so forth, including the time spent on reading. Today, smaller cities confidently follow megacities, while the pace of life continues to accelerate, forcing us to revise our professional habits, too.

Have you noticed that more and more people tend to skip reading long texts, even if they are beautifully written and contain brilliant ideas? We seem to give preference to visual, well-organized, simplistically laid-out, or even bullet-structured information. When we revise a book of fiction, we tend to say (more and more often these days), “It’s a good book, but a little too long. It would be better if it was one third thinner…”

The reality makes every author to face an inevitable phenomenon: we don’t only have to write quickly, we also have to adhere to the new principle: the principle of brevity in writing. The rule is simple: the shorter is your post (article, story, novel, etc.) the better, because brevity in writing shows the author’s respect for their readers’ time.

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This fact may upset those authors who love writing long pieces of speculative prose. Certainly, there will always remain people who will love reading very long novels, but the number of such readers will continue to reduce. Well, this is the trend of the new Millennium! I am afraid, we have nothing else to do, but adjust.

I will try to be short here, too, and wrap up this one here. As a postscriptim, to please your eyes, I will finish this post with beautiful words by Aldous Huxley, written in 1958, which have become even more timely today:

However elegant and memorable, brevity can never, in the nature of things, do justice to all the facts of a complex situation… On such a theme one can be brief only by omission and simplification… In practice we are generally forced to choose between an unduly brief exposition and no exposition at all. Abbreviation is a necessary evil and the abbreviator’s business is to make the best of a job which, though intrinsically bad, is still better than nothing. He must learn to simplify, but not to the point of falsification. He must learn to concentrate upon the essentials of a situation, but without ignoring too many of reality’s qualifying side issues. In this way he may be able to tell, not indeed the whole truth (for the whole truth about almost any important subject is incompatible with brevity), but considerably more than the dangerous quarter-truths and half-truths which have always been the current coin of thought.” A.Huxley, Brave New World Revisited.


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A Few Thoughts About Ethics in Writing

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Interestingly, while ethics are huge in technical and academic writing, it is not given the same attention in the world of fiction writing. As an author who belongs to both groups, I have been watching the difference and wondering why? Could it be because scientists have to be more accurate about every word they write? Or maybe, the fiction writers are in any way more (or less) ethical than technical writers, so they don’t need to set up any rules of fiction writing ethics? 😉 I want to believe that both groups equally care about their readers and this difference is nothing more than a tradition, so nobody ever asks the question.

Ethics codes are present at the workplace: even if they aren’t always enforced, they still exist and we obey them… often mechanically, without thinking. Summing up a dozen of articles which I studied in search for an answer to my question, there are a few basic points to adhere to whenever you are writing a professional document:

  • don’t mislead;
  • don’t manipulate;
  • don’t stereotype; and
  • always check the facts.

Well, I did a thing which I may regret doing: I tried to apply these rules to fiction writing this morning… and found the reason of my writer’s block! I realized that everything fiction writers do is exactly the opposite of the four rules!

Unlike academic writing, which is all about sharing facts to feed the work of mind, fiction writing works with reader’s imagination and emotions; it’s principal idea is to mislead, manipulate, hide (or distort) facts of real life with the only purpose of creating stereotype universes in the readers’ minds and enticing them into reading! 

Does this mean that fiction writers are unethical, immoral, dishonest, improper, corrupt, unrighteous, unjust and… (could not think of more antonyms to the word “ethical”, sorry)?  Uh-huh, I kind of regret I took up the topic already!

To calm myself down, I decided to accept the following explanation: fiction writers have to break those rules of ethics. Like mathematicians, who sometimes look for a proof by contradiction, fiction writers need to show their readers a ‘different’ world, where rules are broken and norms are corrupted; we only have one rule to follow: we must expose the fake in the end. If writers did not do this, the world would never get to know “Alice in Wonderland”, “Winnie-the-Pooh” or Harry Potter books! These books mislead, manipulate, create unusual stereoptypes, and distort our reality, but they do this so awesomely well that no one can resist reading them again and again!

So, what is the answer? Is it ethical for fiction writers to ignore the ethics of academic writing? 😉 The question is still up!

Please, share your thoughts, I am very curious to know your opinions on this.

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Shelf Love

live mines and duds: the reading life

May The Best Book Win!

here nests a librocubicularist who prefers nonfiction and moonlights as the host of Silent Book Club Kota Kinabalu. writes on Scrivener for pleasure.