Ever wondered how to write great characters?
I’ve been writing since I was old enough (and had enough motor control) to hold a pen.
Even when a tiny tot I was always telling stories, usually about the adventures my cuddly toys had when no one was around. As I grew older, I told stories about the neighbourhood cats and the family of wood pigeons that lived at the bottom of the garden. Then, as I grew older, still my stories became about my favourite TV show & video game characters, with a few of my own creations thrown in.
Why am I telling you this? Only to illustrate the point that I have been telling stories and writing them down since I was an infant. My mum still has my very first official book “Jack Cat’s Magic Show,” safely stored with the family photos.
But it was in college when I hit my late teens that I started actually taking writing seriously and sending my stories out into the world. I also started trying to learn as much as I could about writing, how to get better at it, what not to do and how to market myself. Unfortunately, in my early years, I absorbed every scrap of information blindly and as a result believed a lot of myths I now know to be false.
Today’s blog is going to be about some of these myths. I would like to dispel them as in my opinion they can be harmful if believed.
Twitter is a tricky beast; out of all the social media platforms, it was the one I had the most difficulty with.
As you may have noticed I can talk for Britain, getting me to shut up is an art form in and of itself, so when confronted with such a limited amount of characters I struggled. I’m strict with myself in my fiction and nonfiction writing, reading and re-reading and re-reading again, eliminating every unnecessary word but social media is usually where I am less restrained. I see social media as a way to truly connect with people, and my first thoughts were that I couldn’t be my genuine self if I was limiting myself so much.
But then I changed the way I looked at Twitter. I looked at it as a writing exercise, to try to say something meaningful in just a couple of words or to try to tell a story in a sentence. It was a fun exercise, but it didn’t interest anyone other than myself.
Once I decided I wanted to grow my Twitter following and turn it into something I actively used to promote my writing I made an effort to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. Some of the things I tried worked, others didn’t There was an embarrassing amount of trial and error until I found a formula that I could manage and showed some success.
Some of the below might not work for you the way they did for me. But I sincerely hope they do.
I’m a big fan of Facebook; I’ve been on it for years and use it as a way to stay in touch with the people that I have met throughout my life who are not within easy travelling distance. I’m connected to friends who physically live hundreds of miles away from me, and when we do meet up, it’s like we’ve never been apart all because of Facebook.
But when you’re a writer looking to market themselves you need to start using Facebook a bit differently to how you’ve used it before. You need to make a page and gather followers, the more followers you have, the more people will be aware of upcoming books, events and signings. It’s a great way to advertise what you’re doing to a huge audience for a relatively small cost if you use Facebook advertising or no cost if you don’t.
Building an audience. However, that can prove problematic. How do you find those who might be interested in what you have to say and write? How do you engage with them in such a way that it feels natural and not a forced way of selling your book?
Writing is a fickle beast.
Sometimes it comes easy; sometimes it does not. We can go for significant stretches of time with little or nothing to show for it. The blank page mocks us cruelly. Then there are periods of great abundance where sleep becomes something other people do because the ideas won’t leave us alone. Rarely is there a happy middle ground.
But that doesn’t stop us from trying, and you can create that fabled middle ground. You can train yourself to do almost anything.
Human beings are (generally) creatures of habit so why not make ourselves creatures of writing habit. Creating a habit helps you squeeze into the headspace for any particular task more easily. Setting yourself a nighttime routine will help you fall asleep sooner (usually), setting a morning routine will help you get to work on time, setting a writing habit will help you write each and every day.
Creating a daily writing practice helps, it took a while to settle in (apparently it takes at least 21 days to form a habit that will stick), but now that it’s there I find it easier and simpler to write at certain times of the day. Once I trigger my brain through the little rituals I’ve built up, it automatically shifts into writing mode.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke about characters that you love, I did so because I was re-reading a favourite book series and re-visiting these characters reminded me how important people are to a story. Of late, however, I have relearned the importance of setting.
Recently, I had a list of jobs I wanted to do in the evenings after work and not one of them has been done, this is because I was in Columbia.
Columbia being the floating/flying city in Bioshock Infinite.
SIDE NOTE: This is an awesome game and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys videogames. Even if shooters are not your thing chances are you will enjoy Bioshock. Shooter games are not my usual style of game, but I love this series both for it’s tragic and captivating stories and it’s mesmerising settings.
I want people to become lost in my worlds, just as I became lost in Columbia.
I’ve been writing now for over a decade, since I was in college, well earlier really but college was when I started writing regularly and sending out my writing for others to read and between college magazines, novellas, novels and recently nonfiction books and articles I’ve picked up a few things.
We are all learning and learning is very objective. What works for me may not work for you, a ‘writing myth’ to you may be true for me. There are, however, some lessons that were hard to learn. Things I wish I’d known when I started out. Today I would like to discuss some of the more common myths that when I read them as a teenager I believed but have now learned are not true, at least not for me.
There are lots of different ways to write, some people sit and write without a great deal of planning, they let the story lead them, let it evolve naturally. Some do a little bit of planning, they get a rough idea what’s going to happen and then let the story tell them the rest. Others (like me) plan the hell out of a story before they write the first word.
With any project, there is a level of commitment, but for a large project you need to be motivated, resilient (to overcome challenges) and have at least some time management skills. While writing a short story is a particular skill, and while some of the skills gained when writing longer stories can be transferred to short ones, some skills can only be honed and developed by writing short stories.
I know writers who can pen novels long enough to hold open fire doors and keep you gripped from page one right through to page one thousand and one, who then struggle to write a story three thousand five hundred words long.
With that in mind, I want to share my best tips for writing projects both big and small.