- Read, read, read. Because reading of any kind at all— anything at all — improves your world view and subconsciously teaches you how those writers did what they did. But reading in the genre you wish to write in gives you added insight into how to write that particular genre.
- Write, write, write. Because practice makes perfect and that applies to writing as much as to any other craft. But, again, writing in the genre you wish to aspire to teaches more specific skills than just writing in general because there are so many different kinds of writing that learning one doesn’t necessarily mean you can do other kinds as well.
- Learn, learn, learn. Because no one ever stops learning and writers well into their eighties and nineties still take classes and read how-to books and talk to each other about how to improve their craft. Not how to learn it but how to improve it.
Because most readers have had similar experiences and the evocation of the senses brings back those experiences and makes the story more real, sharper, and more personal.
And that’s the goal of every writer. To bring the reader into the story.
Flashbacks work and are often essential for the reader to understand what’s going on and the actions of the character in question.
I learned what I consider to be a better way when writing short stories. Because short stories are short. Every word is important. Can’t waste words on long, involved flashbacks.
But a writer can do what I call mini-flashbacks. A sentence or two inserted in the middle of an action to give a reason for that character’s actions.
Such as a quick comment by a super-macho hero who’s burping a baby found in the middle of a battlefield while he sings a lullaby as bullets whiz all around that he was the oldest of six kids and knows all about babies and that they need security and burping. Does the job, doesn’t use up too many words, lets the writer get on with the story while keeping the character in character.
The 1970s is a recent enough period that many people from that time are still around and in sound mental health. And most of them would love to sit around and talk your ear off about their lives.
Which is wonderful because you’ll get a real feel for that time.
And is terrible because you’ll only get a feel for their tiny part of that era.
So do your research and talk to people from that era and then take a mental step back and put it all in perspective.
Then look at the story you’re telling and use whatever helps. And ONLY what helps because it’s so easy — and literary death — to include too much detail. The background is only important to the extent that it helps tell the story.
It’s very easy to get so caught up in the enjoyment of writing about something you love that you can go on forever and bore your reader to death.
It’s also some of the best writing you can do — if you follow all the advice you’ve ever heard on the craft of writing — because your heart will be in it and that alone will make it wonderful.
It’s a matter of whether the characters are described well or not so well. Good writing will turn them into archetypes and become the best and most representative of the group they belong to, whatever that group may be. Poor writing will make them stereotypes worthy of laughter and readers who put the book down without finishing it.
The thing is, if your characters are representatives of a group, they can be recognized easily and quickly by the reader and that’s a great help to the writer. Less work, less stress, fewer words for the reader to wade through to get to the story.
Use that quick recognition. It’s valuable.
Just make sure that you do your job as a writer well so your character is an archetype instead of a stereotype.
Because you’ve never done it before.
Any endeavor can be extremely difficult for a beginner.
But the more you do — or even the more you sit at your computer and think about writing even if you don’t do any actual work — the easier the process becomes because you are becoming mentally psyched up to do it.
And one day you’ll discover that it’s not so hard after all.
Issac Azimov once said that he learned to write when writers were paid pennies a page, so he learned to write the finished product as his first draft as a way to same time and earn more money.
I do the same thing but it took a long time to learn how to say what I want to say with nothing extra thrown in that’ll be removed or changed later.
And I struggled with the necessary self-discipline to accomplish such a task. How to ignore all those little voices in the back of my head telling me to take this or that side trip because it’s ‘calling to me.’
It worked for Azimov and it works for me. I do very little editing and neither did he.
However, every writer is different and every writing process differs from every other writing process and many, many writers would produce inferior products if they used that same self-disciplined method because their best work comes when they take all those creative side trips that I don’t allow myself to take and when they simply let the words spill out however they wish.
Such writers say their best work happens when they don’t use self-discipline. But they do a lot of re-writing and editing.
If you don’t want that to happen, make it short and sweet and to the point. Write your dialogue and then go back over it and see how many words you can cut. When you have pared it to the fewest possible words to get the message across, then you’ll have created dialogue that gets readers’ attention.
Because they don’t have to wade through a lot of fluff to get to the essence.
When I first started writing as a career, I found that I ‘wrote out’ a lot of things from my past. Okay, I’ve had an easy, comfortable life but, like with everyone, there were a few things that were best gotten rid of mentally. And those memories made great stories.
Then I became a pro and learned that part of being a pro is mentoring new writers and that’s when I learned that what I’d done in the beginning is the norm and is done so much that I now (privately!) call the first part of any writer’s professional journey the ‘cathartic’ phase of their career. And those memories make great stories.
I can’t count the times I’ve read stuff by a new/emerging writer that was based on their life and that was something they had to get out of their system before going on to other subjects. And some of the best writers in history never made the transition. Think Sinclair Lewis and other American writers of that same period. And they were great stories.
The thing is, I’ve seen the same thing happen among people who enjoy writing as a hobby with no intention of ever becoming pros. Because everyone has something to write about that’s based on their life.
Because writing is cathartic. And healing. And even if you had a wonderful life, remembering all that stuff from your past is also fun. And makes great stories even if you are the only person to read those stories.
And when that cathartic phase of your writing journey is completed and you are ready to go beyond your own past and present, stretching your imagination and letting it soar is fun! And makes for great stories even if you are the only person who ever reads them.