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7 Ways To Reinvigorate Your Writing In 2016

This article was originally posted here.

Happy New Year! I hope you had an excellent holiday season and managed to find time between bouts of frivolity to get a little writing done. However, if you’re anything like me, trying to get anything productive done in the last week of December is a fool’s errand!
But now we’ve arrived in 2016 and it’s back to work with no excuses.
Did you make a New Year’s resolution? I made several, one of which was to take my writing to the next level in 2016. If you want to do the same, to reinvigorate your writing and start 2016 on the right foot then these tips are for you.

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1. Try New Forms
Do you only write short stories? Peg yourself only as a novelist? Is poetry your only creative outlet? Branch out.
Different writing forms require you to create in new and exciting ways. Even if you don’t fall in love with any new forms you can still learn a great deal from trying to write in them for at least a little while. And you never know! You may be an excellent playwright but have confined yourself only to novels, or a great poet who only writes screenplays.
You owe it to yourself, as a writer and as a creative person, to try new forms and learn from them. All writing is interconnected. The greatest writers have at least dabbled in poetry, prose and plays.
See also:
How to Write a Short Story from Start to Finish – The Write Practice
How to Write Poetry – Creative Writing Lessons
How To Format Your Screenplay – Writer’s Allegory

2. Switch Up Genres
In the same vein, cooping yourself up inside one genre can stifle your writing and suffocate your creative innovation.
There are so many genres you can write in and, while there are some merits to writing primarily within your favoured genre, sticking to only one means you miss out on interesting and valuable components of other genres that you can incorporate into your favoured one.
After all, genre fiction can only be stale if the genres stay entirely rigid and seperate from each other. The fluidity of writers in genre fiction leads to interesting developments within genres and leads to the creation of new genres.
Of course, if you don’t write genre fiction maybe you should give it a go, and if you only write genre fiction perhaps a dabble in literary fiction might be on the cards. Don’t hem yourself in.
See also:
List Of Writing Genres – Wikipedia
25 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING HORROR – TerribleMinds
Traditional Poetry Forms: The Sonnet – Writer’s Allegory

3. Broaden Your Reading Horizons
If you’re going to broaden your writing practice, you would be best advised to do the same for your reading habits as well.
Every writer does some things very well, as sure as they do some things not so well. Reading a variety of authors in a variety of genres, even in a variety of forms, gives you examples of all kinds of writing done well and not so well. Recognising how this is achieved is a core part of improving as a writer and as such reading a broad variety of different writing will help in this endeavour.
Of course, you shouldn’t read books that you simply won’t and don’t enjoy. Keeping the passion for reading is as important as keeping the passion for writing. But you shouldn’t shy away from reading something new because you don’t know if you’ll like it or not. In fact, that is exactly what you should be reading.
See also:
Books in 2016: a literary calendar – Guardian
Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels – GoodReads

4. Experiment With Voice
The primary goals of writing practice are to improve your technical craft, improve your structuring and to find your voice.
Finding your voice as a writer is a very difficult process and there are no shortcuts. You simply need to write until it feels right. But there are inefficient ways of finding your voice, and the most common way writers stunt their progress is by settling in to a voice that isn’t quite right but “good enough”.
A way to freshen up your voice is to experiment with entirely new ways of writing. You could study other writers and try to emulate their voice, or you could tell stories in a completely new voice that is nothing like yours. You’ll find that there are new and exciting things you’re able to do along the way, and some of these may be incorporated into your primary writing voice.
And it’ll be fun to write in the style of Douglas Adams, I assure you.
See also:
Voice in Writing: Developing a Unique Writing Voice – Writer’s Digest
10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice – Jeff Goins

5. Develop A Writing Strategy
While writing is a creative pursuit, many writers find that following a writing process helps them to be more productive and allows them to get out of their own way when writing.
Planning may seem the very opposite of creativity, but what it does is keeps you writing with certainty. Without a plan you may find yourself stopping and starting, trying to decide where you’re going next. This halts the creative flow and can even contribute to writer’s block.
Having a process for planning and outlining, setting yourself clear goals either for word count or scene count and paying attention to what works best for you and keeps you creative and productive can really take your writing to the next level.
See also:
Outlining Your Novel: Why and How | The Creative Penn
Outlining Your Novel – K.M. Weiland

6. Follow Writing Blogs
Even your downtime from writing, those little breaks that you allow yourself, can be used productively.
You should always be learning from those around you, and with the blogosphere spanning the internet you’ve never had more people around you willing to impart their knowledge. There are so many great blogs for writers like you that cover all sorts of perspectives and subjects within the field of writing. There are bound to be blogs that will be useful to you.
Engaging with writers through their blogs is free and easy. You could waste 15 minutes scrolling through your twitter feed, or you could load a couple of blog posts and learn something new to improve as a writer.
See also:
Top 25 Writing Blogs | Positive Writer
Live Write Thrive
Helping Writers Become Authors

7. Join Writing Communities
Another great resource the internet has coughed up for writers is the online writing community.
This includes message boards, online workshops, subreddits and a plethora of community-driven blogs. Even social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have groups and hashtags geared towards bringing writers together.
Engaging with other writers can help you tackle the inevitable loneliness that comes with a writing, the solitary pursuit that it is, and feeding off of a sense of community can help bring life to your writing by increasing your enthusiasm with the craft.
See also:
WritersCafe.org | The Online Writing Community
Writers Online
Scribophile

BONUS: Participate In Competitions
An underappreciated way of breathing new life into your writing is to participate in writing competitions.
There are countless writing competitions, big and small, that you can participate in every year. No matter what form you write in there is always some competition you can enter at any given moment.
Writing for competitions can force you to try something new, such as writing to theme or to a certain word count, and the rewards range from small cash prizes to publication to places in writing schemes. Having a set deadline can also force you to be more productive, and knowing that someone with real writing chops will be reading your writing will give you that extra drive to really deliver your best work.
See also:
A List of Creative Writing Competitions in 2016

Good luck with the new year and all of your writing endeavours. How are you planning on making 2016 a year of writing success? Leave a comment below.

Happy New Year, and keep writing!

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5 Tips For Writing A Killer Opening Line

This article was originally posted here.

How do you write a killer opening line for your novel? It’s a good question. The first line is very important, it serves as the first impression for your novel, so making sure you have a great one is key to hooking readers in.

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So I’ve put together these 5 quick tips for writing a killer first line for your novel.

1. Display Your Voice
As I said before, the first line of your novel serves as the first impression your reader gets. If it’s your first novel, or at least the first novel of yours a reader has come across, then it may well be your first impression as a writer to that person. It’s vital you display your voice in that opening line.
This is because your voice is what makes your writing unique. Your voice is your fingerprint, your signature. The first line of your novel should say to the reader, “Hey, you! This is what I’m about.”

2. Bait That Hook
If your first page is the hook for your potential readers to get caught on, then your opening line should function as a tasty little baitworm wriggling on that hook.
A great way to do this is to pique their curiosity. Pose a question. Tell your reader that there is something they don’t know. That’s infuriating, knowing that you don’t know something. But guess what? They could know. All they have to do is keep reading and you’ll answer that question.
This is twofold, killing a mating pair of magpies with one well slung rock. Firstly, it makes your reader want to read on and find out exactly what it is they don’t know, or the answer to that opening question. Second, it functions as a promise that there will be many questions to come, that they’ll be kept interested and kept guessing all the way through your novel.

3. Subvert Expectations
The element of surprise is always a thrill, and it is no different in the opening line of a novel. People crave novelty, the unexpected, it is endlessly intriguing to us.
And again, it functions as a promise. This time you’re promising the reader that you’re giving them something new, something they weren’t expecting. No-one wants to read a novel where every turn is expected and every development an obvious one. So tell them in the first line that they have no idea what might happen next.

4. Set Up What’s To Come
You could just tell your reader the whole story in one line. This isn’t a weird way of writing a novel very quickly, it’s a device for generating interest in the rest of your book.
Hopefully your story is more than a surface synopsis, otherwise you have more problems than a first line, so if you can give a vague outline of what’s going to happen, and I mean very, very vague, then the tone for the whole book is set and your reader will simply needto know the details.
Of course, this isn’t always possible, and it certainly isn’t always a good idea. And it’s rarely a good idea to do this if you’re giving away a twist ending, for obvious reasons.

5. Make It Memorable
If you can make your first line memorable then you’re in the money. Imprinting the beginning of your book on a reader’s brain has a great many upsides, not least being the knowledge that you’ve become a part of their psyche.
If someone can pick up your book, read the first line and remember that line weeks later, you’ve sold a book. That person is going to need to read your novel if they can remember your opening line, especially if you’ve used the other tips outlined here.
When trying to write a memorable first line you should strive for a little poetry, dichotomy and/or philosophy. Read it out loud, see if it makes your spine tingle, then you know you’ve got it.

And those were 5 tips for writing a killer opening line for your novel. I hope you found them useful. I’d like to hear from you what some of your favourite opening lines are, so leave them in the comments section below.

And, if it pleases you good sir/madam, keep writing!

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3 Ways Reading Can Improve Your Writing

This article was originally posted here.

Reading as a writer is an essential part of improving your work. Seeing how those before you have crafted their writing and applying the lessons you learn to your own endeavours allows you to stand on the shoulders of giants rather than shiver in their shadows.
But many people find it difficult to make time, between writing and other commitments, to read as much as they should. If that sounds like you then it may benefit you to think about reading less as a thing you do for fun and more as another facet of writing practice.
So, on that note, here are three ways that you can use your reading time to improve your writing.

Absorb The Structure
Even Picasso needed to learn to use a paintbrush, and so every writer must learn how to wield the tools of their trade: the word, the sentence and the scene.
This is the nitty gritty of writing, the craft of the thing. It’s pointless having a story for the ages if you can’t tell it properly. In fact, most writers facing writer’s block are probably having problems with the craft rather than their creativity — they just can’t find the words!
Try this: go to google, type in “fan fiction”, scroll through until you find something truly awful and really read it, paying attention to why it sucks so much. I can save you some time, it’s almost certainly the word choices, sentence structure and scene composition. You see, something that is well written can have a bad story and flat characters and it’ll just be boring. If the craft isn’t there, the down and dirty mechanics of writing, then it’s just going to be offensive.
The great thing is you can absorb the structure of well-written prose simply by reading it. Of course, you have to read a lot of it (but then again if you don’t love reading then it beats me why you would want to write!). You’ll pick up the general structure of the craft very easily without really thinking about it, although it is always worth having a book or two on the intricacies of the craft so you can improve more quickly.

Learn The Tropes
What is your genre?  Most writers stick to a small number of genres for the majority of their careers, so it is important to understand exactly what your genre is.
Obviously you can name your genre, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean by knowing your genre is knowing the tropes and iconography your genre uses, in essence the building blocks of what makes a story fit into that genre.
For instance, the horror genre can count amongst its tropes the haunted house, characters being cut off from civilisation and supernatural beings seeking revenge on the living. There are, of course, thousands upon thousands more.
Knowing the tropes of your genre is very important when writing genre fiction, even if you decide not to use them or to subvert them. Seeing them used will help you to understand not only what the tropes are, but also what purpose they serve and why they are so often employed so as to become tropes. This can only help you improve your genre writing.

Find Your Voice
No matter how good your plot and how interesting your characters, it is your voice that carries your writing.
Every great writer has their own unique voice. You know without looking at the cover exactly who wrote the book. That’s a huge part of the appeal of those big name writers. In order for you to really master this craft you must find your unique voice to give your readers a reason to keep coming back for more.
One writer with an unmistakable voice was Douglas Adams. Any of you that have read anything by him would be able to identify immediately a line from one of his novels, not by memory but by voice. That’s what you should strive for, because it makes you irreplaceable.
Reading books by a variety of authors, both well known and otherwise, will expose you to the different ways writers achieve their voice. Your voice will come naturally and develop with you, but if the refinement is through writing then the mining is through reading.

And those right there are just three (of many) ways that reading can improve your writing. What lessons have you taken from reading other authors that you have applied to your writing? Leave a comment below.

And — as though I need say it — keep writing.

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4 Techniques For Naming Your Characters

This article was originally posted here.

Naming your characters is a very important step in any story. The name you give a character can influence the way a reader pictures them, the type of character the reader thinks they’ll be and, of course, if that character is remembered long after the story is finished. Harry Potter, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Artemis Fowl — these are all great names for different reasons.

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These are not so great…

The problem is, naming your characters can be deceptively difficult. We’ve all sat there, trying to think of a cool name for an slick-tongued space-rogue or an inexplicably adventurous archeologist, only to come up with such gems as “Jack Smith” or “Jane Nondescript”. I haven’t got the data to back it up, but I’m almost certain the human brain only has the capacity for 5 names of people that aren’t currently breathing your air.
In the interest of saving your sanity, I’ve put together four techniques for generating character names for you to use:

1. Try ‘Name-Farming’
Any time you hear or read a name that jumps out at you or evokes some kind of feeling, write it down. It helps if you carry a notepad, as all writers should anyway. Be especially aware when reading newspapers or online articles, when credits come on at the end of a film or tv show and even things as simple as radio shows with listeners phoning in. Then, jot it down and when it comes to naming a character later on you already have a list of great names to use.
For instance, I just took a look at the BBC News website and spent five minutes looking around, clicking on random articles and scanning them for names. The best I found was “Fergus Walsh”, an excellent name if I ever decide to write a novel about a stoic farmer who loses his beloved tractor and uses that loss to finally access his emotional core and reconnect with his estranged wife.
The great thing about this technique is that you can do it all the time without making much effort. You don’t need to go looking for the names, just jot down the good ones for later use as you encounter them doing what you’d normally do. It’s also an inexhaustible resource of at least semi-decent names, as there are always more articles to read with names in them and, presumably, most people have had at least a little thought put into their names by their parents.
You do have to get into a habit of writing down the names, which is a stumbling block for some, and there is also the distinct possibility that you write down the name of someone who, unbeknownst to you, is actually very, very famous. You don’t want to name your arch-villain “Barack Obama” and not realise your mistake until later.

2. Take Names From Your Childhood
Everybody remembers that kid at your school who just had the coolest name. Don’t be shy about appropriating it. It’s not just your friends either, it could be anyone whose name you can remember from your school days, including students, teachers, even lunchladies or your friend’s mum.
Taking two memorable names from my school days I came up with “Philippa Hillyard”, a bouncy young lass in a sundress who’s only too happy to show you the way to the village fair.
The great thing about this is if you can remember someone’s name from when you were much younger, then you already know that it’s a memorable name! This is especially true if the person whose name you remember was someone you barely knew or had only heard of in passing, as that means all you’re remembering is the name.
However, be careful about using people’s names without permission. It’s fine to use a given name or a surname without asking, as long as the character isn’t very similar to the real person. It is entirely inadvisable to use a full name of someone you went to school with, as you could open yourself up to legal action.

3. Visit Baby Name Websites
What better way to generate names than to go to a website specifically designed to deliver you names? Do a quick search for baby name websites and try a few out, but my favourite is Nameberry.com because of the advanced search feature. You can specify age, gender, number of syllables, what the name ends in and I’m sure other features I’ve never bothered using. You could also use a good old-fashioned baby name book, but print media is severly lacking in search functionality these days.
A quick search for ‘gift’ in name meanings gave me “Dottie”, who I imagine to be a giving, kind Christian lady who is very humble and very devout. ‘Joy’ gave me “Allegra”, who I imagine is the woman sleeping with Dottie’s husband while she’s at Sunday service.
This method allows you to add subtext to your character names if you like that sort of thing, but the most useful thing for me is using advanced search tools to get exactly the kind of names I’m looking for.
However, this technique only really works for given names. Also, unless your search skills are up to scratch you can end up wading through a lot of terrible names before finding the gem in the rough.

4. Make Your Own
But who needs all this searching? Any word can be a name if you that’s what you call someone! Obviously most words don’t sound much like names, but there are methods of making words that do. You could simply combine fragments of two different names to come up with a new one. Surnames are even easier, you can add “-son”, “-man” or “-berg” to pretty much any noun to make a surname that sounds plausible, or add “-er” to pretty much any verb. Job names, especially traditional ones, often make excellent surnames.
I came up with one full name by combing fragments of other names (“Fergen Wailey”), a surname (“Mirrorberg”) by adding “-berg” to a random item I could see, and another surname (“Wiggler”) by adding “-er” to the only thing I could be immediately bothered to do.
This technique can really bring you some truly unique names, which is especially great for scifi and fantasy writers. I mean, no-one wants to name a bloodthirsty Orc “Roy”, do they?
On the other hand, this is the most difficult technique as it requires you to engage more heavily with your creativity. You also run the risk of producing names that only you have any idea how to pronounce, which is very jarring for a reader. Also, you run the risk of coming up with names like “Fergen Wailey”. Maybe he’s a gnomish bard.

So there we have it, four techniques for generating character names. Did you employ one of these techniques and come up with a genius character name? If so, post it in a comment below.

And even if you’re stuck using “Fergen Wailey” for your first draft, keep writing.

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Story Structure: Dan Harmon’s Story Circle

This article was originally posted here.

How do you structure a story? We all know that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end, but is there any more depth to it than that? Yes, yes there is, and if you’ve ever tried to digest Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces you’ll know exactly how deep and complex story structure can get. For this reason, the universe gave us Dan Harmon and he, in turn, gave us his Story Circle.
The Story Circle is essentially a boiled down version of Campbell’s monomyth. Here, we’ll boil down the Story Circle for ease of understanding. Once you’ve got the idea, its well worth heading over and reading the original posts by Harmon himself as he goes into much more depth than I will here.

The Basic Structure Of Every Story

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So let’s start with the basics. This is how every structurally sound story plays out:

1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
2. But they want something.
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
4. Adapt to it,
5. Get what they wanted,
6. Pay a heavy price for it,
7. Then return to their familiar situation,
8. Having changed.

Or, boiled down only to the most important bits:

1. You
2. Need
3. Go
4. Search
5. Find
6. Take
7. Return
8. Change.

Memorise it. It won’t be hard to, it’s already ingrained in the part of your brain that recognises a good story.

The Steps Explained

1. “You.”
All you need to do here is show your protagonist. We need to know where we are and who we’re following. This is exposition, a quick tour of the world we’re inhabiting. This is your character’s life, the world he lives in, his roots.

2. “Need.”
Now show the problem. The world has a flaw, all is not right, your character’s life is imperfect in some way. His need will drive his personal journey. Whatever problem is presented here, he is offered a way of solving it, of fulfilling his need. He might refuse to solve it straight away, but rest assured he will give in and begin his journey, because this need is what the story is really about.

3. “Go.”
Everything changes. Whatever the hook of your story is, the thing you tell your friends the story is about to get them excited, it begins right here. The protagonist is thrown into a new world, crossing the first threshold into the unknown. We’ve crossed into a dark, mysterious world and our protagonist cannot leave until he has completed the trials that lay ahead.

4. “Search.”
The protagonist can’t just get what he wants by wanting it — he has to work for it, earn it. Campbell calls this “The Road Of Trials”. This is where the protagonist proves himself, overcoming challenges and in the process gaining the tools he needs in preparation for the events ahead. He is confronting his own limitations.

5. “Find.”
He finds what he is looking for, whether he knew he was looking for it or not. His trials have paid off. He couldn’t have got here without them. This is an intense moment, a moment of naked joy, weightlessness and vulnerability. This is the story’s midpoint, and marks the moment when the universe stops pulling the protagonist around and he must act on his own volition in order to proceed. It may be tempting to stay here, but he moves forward nonetheless.

6. “Take.”
Now to begin the journey back to the familiar world. This won’t be easy in the least, it is its very own road of trials, set to prepare our protagonist for his return to the familiar world. These trials strip away any remaining ego and by the time he’s through every last one of them he has become a living god. These trials are the price he has to pay for the previous step and for his return to the familiar world.

7. “Return.”
The last threshold. This is an epiphanal, defining moment, returning at last to his world as a new man. His journey has taught him all it could, and by crossing this threshold he tells the world he is ready to show what he has learned.

8. “Change.”
And he does. The tools and powers he acquired on his road of trials, or “Search”, have completed him. He has one last thing to do, a thing for which he needed to complete this journey, and this is where he does it. And the universe will bend to his will and give him what he wants, because he has become more than a man.

Applying The Story Circle
Go back to the basic outline. Whenever you’re putting together a story, no matter what form, see how well you can fit it to the steps outlined there. If it’s too much of a struggle then you probably have a problem with the structure of your story. Use the steps to see if you can change the story to better fit the structure laid out here and you’ll find your story will be more engaging.
What you shouldn’t do is use the Story Circle as a starting point, that’s a one way street to a formulaic, boring plot. It’ll be structurally sound, but it’ll have no style and no creative edge. This is a tool to aid the structure of your story, not a paint by numbers guide on how to write one.
The important thing to remember is that you’ll know intuitively if your story is lacking structure because it’ll feel incomplete. The structure laid out here is not invented, it’s discovered. It’s ingrained in the human psyche, the definition of a good story in its basic form.

Now that you’ve read my boiled down version of Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, you should head over and read the original posts for extra depth and theory. You should also try to spot this structure when you’re reading or watching a story and write down the steps. Post the results in the comments below.

As always, keep writing.

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