10 THINGS EVERY WRITER SHOULD DO IN THEIR NOVEL

typewriter

I just realized that it has been quite some time since I’ve written a resource post. I recently went through some saved material on my computer and I stumbled across these tips. The following are not my own personal guidelines. They originally appeared as an article from a 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest’s newsletter. Now I don’t think that any writing guidelines or advice should be categorized as absolute but I think that most of these are really important. I am guilty of slipping backstory into every spare moment and sometimes my characters say too much. However,…I always try to build complex and interesting characters. One of the most difficult aspects of writing for me is not actually sitting down to write but in trying to get it right the first time. I am hoping that these 10 points remind me to simply start writing and that everything else will fall in place (if I remember them). So this post will be tacked onto the bulletin board above my desk as I try to work on this year’s fiction. I hope you enjoy them and also find them useful.

10 THINGS EVERY WRITER SHOULD DO IN THEIR NOVEL

1. Start your story in the right place—when something exciting happens, when something unusual comes to pass, when a worthy challenge has been presented to your protagonist.
2. Save the backstory for later, and be sneaky about it. Feed it in carefully and sparingly just when the reader needs to know. And use only the most essential details of the past. Don’t have your protagonist staring out the window so that you can tell your readers through internal dialogue everything you need them to know. (This is called an “info dump,” and is to be avoided.)
3. Avoid saying too much or too little. Saying too much bogs down your pace and can come off as pretentious. Saying too little makes it difficult to connect with your characters and can strip your story of its emotional impact.
4. Build conflict. The conflict is the engine that drives your story. If you don’t have much under the hood, you aren’t going anywhere. Layered conflict, or conflict that grows and changes as the story progresses, is even better. It keeps your reader from getting frustrated, bored or weary of the protagonist’s journey.
5. Stay active. Active writing means keeping the reader in the action. It means moving forward in real time. It means using specific details as opposed to clichés and generalizations. It also means using better diction and stronger verbs.
6. Skip the boring stuff. Nobody wants to read it. Use snappy, realistic dialogue that is unique to each character and isn’t bogged down with too many tags or adverbs (“she said sternly …”).
7. Create characters who are interesting and layered—which means they are not perfect. They must also be properly motivated or they will not be believable or sympathetic.
8. Help your reader suspend disbelief by avoiding a plot that is too contrived or coincidental. Put in a strong foundation at the beginning of your book so that whatever turns on it is credible and rings true.
9. Avoid writing that is overly dramatic or self-indulgent. Writing that tries too hard becomes obvious very fast.
10. Trust your reader and use plenty of subtext. By this I mean … be careful not to make everything quite so obvious. According to Alicia Rasley: “Subtext is like a gift to the astute reader—an additional layer of meaning implied by the text but not accessible without a bit of thinking. … Experienced readers aren’t confined to the text—what’s printed on the page—they interact with the text, fully participating with the writer in the making of meaning in the story.” Such reader participation heightens the emotional impact of a story.

How to Be

goals

This post is multi-inspired. It’s in part because I’ve witnessed small acts of wonderfulness every day and in part because I spend a lot of time around people who haven’t found their voice yet. These are not resolutions but reminders of how I want to conduct myself during this year. I hope to be able to accomplish these daily; to develop and remember to enjoy life. Each day I want to ensure that I am growing as a person and as a writer. I still plan to pursue my writing resolutions for the year but I think that these will make me a more responsible creator.

Be more active every day: By this I mean physically & mentally. I’ve recently discovered that physical activity makes me more mentally acute. It makes my mind feel sharper. In fact, it makes me more aware all around; which leads to my next goal.
Be present every day: For me this means that I need to be more in the moment and grateful every day. In the quiet moments I need to remember that I am alive, healthy, talented, intelligent (you get the idea).
Believe every day: Several of my best friends and I are faith filled women. We are believers. So I want to revel in that with childlike faith; from the smallest things like flowers in bloom to the larger blessings of life.
Be less cynical at least once a day: Okay, I can be a cynical pessimistic bastard sometimes. Most of the time would probably be more accurate. I need to remember that life is full of things that make people happy (like the cat videos on YouTube and for me, new shoes, good food, and books) this leads to my next point.
Be happy/ smile: On October 13th 2012 and February 13th, 2014 I lost two of my favorite people in the universe. These were two people who loved to smile and had these incredibly huge hearts. I believe that just like laughter, smiling can be healing & therapeutic.

In Memory of Radio

baraka

In January of this year poet Amiri Baraka passed away. The former poet laureate of New Jersey was often surrounded by controversy but he was more than a poet. He filled his 79 years with numerous accomplishments including starting The Black Arts Movement. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Baraka was famous as one of the major forces in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and ’70s, which sought to duplicate in fiction, poetry, drama and other mediums the aims of the black power movement in the political arena.” He was also the cause of New Jersey’s cessation of awarding the Poet Laureate and providing a voice for many of voiceless people in inner city America. Baraka was a playwright, essayist, and courter of political and socio-economic change. As a fellow New Jersey native, his voice and attention to live performance always helped me as I navigated my way to becoming a poet.

One of my major regrets is that he passed away before February 8th when he was scheduled to appear at the Schomburg Center in Harlem. I planned to be there that day, after attending the Broadway play After Midnight. The fact that I did not get to see him inspired this post.
*********************************************************************************

Who has ever stopped to think of the divinity of Lamont Cranston?
(Only jack Kerouac, that I know of: & me.
The rest of you probably had on WCBS and Kate Smith,
Or something equally unattractive.)

What can I say?
It is better to haved loved and lost
Than to put linoleum in your living rooms?

Am I a sage or something?
Mandrake’s hypnotic gesture of the week?
(Remember, I do not have the healing powers of Oral Roberts…
I cannot, like F. J. Sheen, tell you how to get saved & rich!
I cannot even order you to the gaschamber satori like Hitler or Goddy Knight)

& love is an evil word.
Turn it backwards/see, see what I mean?
An evol word. & besides
who understands it?
I certainly wouldn’t like to go out on that kind of limb.

Saturday mornings we listened to the Red Lantern & his undersea folk.
At 11, Let’s Pretend
& we did
& I, the poet, still do. Thank God!

What was it he used to say (after the transformation when he was safe
& invisible & the unbelievers couldn’t throw stones?) ‘Heh, heh, heh.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.’

O, yes he does
O, yes he does
An evil word it is,
This Love.

-Amiri Baraka

For A Poet

American Poet Countee Cullen was a prominent participant of the Harlem Renaissance. Like this poet he developed a love and affinity for the art at an early age and began writing when he was 14. One of the things that set him apart from his Renaissance counterparts was his avoidance of racial issues but I still find his voice deserving of praise.
Countee Cullen’s “For A Poet” is a piece that I spent years trying to emulate. It contains the type of rhyme pattern and voice that appealed to the young developing poet of my teenage years. This poem’s attributes and imagery are ample in the single stanza that Cullen wrote.

cullen

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,
And laid them away in a box of gold;
Where long will cling the lips of the moth,
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth;
I hide no hate; I am not even wroth
Who found the earth’s breath so keen and cold;
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,
And laid them away in a box of gold.

-Countee Cullen

Nikki Giovanni- I’m Not Lonely

This is one of my all-time favorite poems especially because Nikki Giovanni is one of my favorite poets. To me, this poem is beautiful because the narrator distinguishes between being lonely and alone. She insists that she’s not lonely since her lover left but at the end she acknowledges that she is “all alone.” I think this poem has a simplicity that allows the imagery to shine through and that’s another reason that I love it.

lonely bed

I’m not lonely
sleeping all alone
you think i’m scared
but i’m a big girl
i don’t cry or anything

I have a great
big bed to roll around
in and lots of space
and i don’t dream
bad dreams like i used
to have that you
were leaving me
anymore

Now that you’re gone
i don’t dream
and no matter
what you think
i’m not lonely
sleeping
all alone

-Nikki Giovanni

Ce Coeur Brisé (This Broken Heart)

broken heart

My heart is heavy,
Broken, physically hurting.
Empty.
Just when I think
That not another tear
Can be wrought from
It
Turns out that I was
Wrong.
I am wracked with
Emotion
And these tears
Fall on their own.
I realize that
Loss is a part of life.
But is the worst
And I am not sure
That my heart will
Ever recover from this
Hurt.

America-Claude McKay

At least once a week during this month I want to share the poetry of one of my favorite poets. Today, it’s Claude McKay. Please bear with me as I try to develop a method for this crazy impromptu idea(yes, I just came up with it today)! I promise to still share my own work throughout the month.

theharlemrenaissance

America
 
by Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.