Writing Tips from a Young Author
Posted by Elizabeth Langston Sep 27 2012, 12:01 am
‘Tis the season to celebrate aspiring authors. With NaNoWriMo and the Golden Heart deadline just around the corner, I thought you might enjoy hearing from an aspiring young author. Guest-blogging with us today is Amy Langston, a high-school senior and writer with amazing talent. (I say that as her completely biased mother!)
Amy, tell us a little about your writing experience.
I’ve been working on a novel since March 2011. Before then, I only wrote short stories or poems. I didn’t think I had the ability to come up with a story complex enough to be a novel. In late 2010, I gained an interest in manga and other forms of Japanese media. It was through that exposure that I got bitten by the bug. I created stories with a similar style and type to manga. Many of my story ideas were structured liked comic strips. Because comic strips can go on for long periods of time, my stories became more complex. Also like comic strips, they had little-to-no plot and were mostly focused on character development and relationships. Eventually I conceived a plot to go along with one of my stories, and my novel was born. It’s nowhere near done–which means I get to practice the writing tips I preach.
Can you share some of your writing tips?
Just write. When you’re writing the first draft, just write down everything you can think of. Don’t worry about the little parts you’re not sure about, whether it’s how you worded something or the details of setting and characters. Let your first draft help you get all your ideas out; you’ll have plenty of time to decide which ones you like the best. Remember that you can always go back and change the story later. A book is never going to be perfect the first time.
Let the plot develop as you write. You don’t need to have the entire plot planned out before you write. Sometimes, while you’re writing, you’ll decide that the book should be going in a different direction than you originally planned, you might change a key aspect of character, or you’ll find a key scene difficult to write. As you start to understand your characters’ personalities and interactions with each other, it’ll save a lot of time to let the plot form as the story goes rather than design it all out from the beginning.
Choose your words with care. Particularly if you’re writing in first person, you need to stay in the mind of your character. Choose words that your character would use based on their age, location, worldview, etc. Consider your characters’ situation and use their vocabulary and word structure as a demonstration of their personality. Using a variety of words is a good thing, but using flowery language can be distracting. It needs to be realistic.
Don’t talk at the reader. If you’re writing in first person, don’t write as if your character is talking to the audience. Although this is also a good rule in third person, it’s more of a problem in first person, especially when describing the actions going on or the narrator’s thoughts. Write it as if there’s no book at all. As far as the characters are concerned, the events are just happening in their lives; there’s no book about it.
Write as if the reader is clueless. Don’t assume that the reader has read the blurb on the back. Write the story like the reader knows absolutely nothing about the book before reading it. Don’t introduce information that the reader had to have read in an outside source to understand.
Use discretion when taking advice. It’s a good idea to hear advice from other people because they’re your audience. But you don’t need to take every little piece of advice you’re given. If several people say the same thing, it may be a good idea to implement it. If you hear something from only one person—and no one else makes the same comment—it may be unnecessary to worry about it. Your goal is to satisfy the audience at large, not a single person.
Think before writing subsequent drafts. After your first draft is finished and you start editing, it’s normal to make some major changes. Even if you’re planning to delete, add, and revise scenes in your story to accommodate these major changes, use the first draft as your foundation for editing; don’t try to write the whole thing again from scratch.
Don’t force morals onto the book. It’s a good idea to have a general “point” to convey, but part of the fun of being a reader is to have multiple interpretations and theories concerning the characters and their actions. It happens all the time–and I think it’s a good thing!
Read other books. Read other novels in a similar genre/style to what you intend to write. This will allow you to learn about the trends and “rules” about your genre. You’ll also learn about what you should do when writing, and also what you shouldn’t do–often, the latter is just as important as the former. Finally, you’ll put yourself in the audience’s shoes. As the author, you don’t always get that experience, so by being a reader of another book, you can better relate to your readers and their desires and expectations for your novel.
Learn how to write by doing. You don’t need to know absolutely everything about how to write before you start. Part of the fun of the writing process is practicing how to write plot and characters as you go. It’s a learning experience.
Great tips. Thank you.
Before we end, I have one more question. What do you like most about writing?
It helps to learn about human interactions and tendencies: our wants, needs, and motivations. In discovering these in our characters (and I am a firm believer that we don’t make decisions for our characters…they guide us) we come to a better understanding of our own selves. The characters aren’t just a “figment of our imagination”–they become something more powerful than that, regardless of whether they are tangible. They’re like the personification of emotions. We can’t touch emotions, but they are, no doubt, one of the most powerful driving forces.
Well, blog readers, how about you? Did you begin to write in high school? What advice would you give to your young-writer-self? Do you have any writing tips to add?
Amy Langston is a writer in many styles and genres: poetry, historical fiction, short stories, nonfiction. In her free time, she attends Mizzou Online High School and gives brutally honest editorial advice to her writer-mom. Elizabeth Langston is a 3-time Golden Heart Finalist in YA. Her debut novel, Whisper Falls (Book 1 of the Whisper Falls trilogy), will be released in November 2013 from SpencerHillPress. To learn more, visit Elizabeth’s website or blog.