Writing 101

I have a confession to make.  I’ve never taken a writing course yet I call myself a writer.  Gasp!  When I was a silly little freshman at Boston University, I majored in Business Administration because that sounded so grown-up and like the safest option.  However, I couldn’t keep my eyes open in half the classes because I was bored to death!  After one semester, I transferred out of business school and into the College of Arts&Sciences, but I still didn’t major in creative writing. Back then, I couldn’t fathom how I would ever sustain a successful career as a writer.  So, I compromised and majored in Psychology instead. Psych was definitely interesting, but to this day, I’ve never actually worked in it before.  Too bad I can’t rewind my life and just take the plunge and major in creative writing!  Oh well, enough past tripping.

I’ve been studying a lot about writing techniques and the essence of what constitutes an amazing book, novella, screenplay, and/or teleplay.  From what I’ve read, it seems to boil down to three E’s.

  1. Exceptional Story
  2. Exceptional Plot
  3. Exceptional Characters

For some people, story is the most important aspect because a good plot and great characters cannot make a shitty story blossom.  I think for me, if I’m reading a book, then I lean more towards wanting the story to be exceptional, but if I’m watching a movie, good acting and character development can make up for a weak story.

First, let’s tackle story.  After you choose your theme for your book, you need to flesh out the story.  I usually do this with a series of questions.  Where is the protagonist/antagonist emotionally going in this book?  What is the protagonist/antagonist looking to gain?  I’ll literally map out point A to point B on a piece of construction paper.  What obstacles, trials, triumphs will the protagonist/antagonist encounter to get from point A to point B?  I do this for all the supporting characters in the book as well and then create moments/scenes on how their lives intertwine. I also started using the snowflake method to really tackle how to tell a good story and this has really helped my writing.  If you’re not familiar with this method, here is a link that explains it in depth, www.advancedfictionwriting/articles/snowflake-method/

Next up, plot.  Writing the plot is definitely the nuts and bolts of the story.  If your story is good, then an exceptional plot will make it shine.  First, I write a general outline of what I want to happen in the book.  Then, I write a separate list of different plot ideas for each character.  Then, I choose the best plot ideas to make it a solid story.  Usually, the best plot ideas are the ones that support the theme of the book.  You will probably end up having pages of plot lists for this step, but it will help a lot when you are writing your book because this step will virtually cut out writers block.  

Lastly, we come to writing exceptional characters.  For a character to be exceptional, it has to be…….you guessed it, three-dimensional. Think about it.  When was the last time you heard two people speak and sound exactly the same?  Of course, we all share similar opinions from time to time but the way those opinions are spoken inevitably sound different from person to person.  As writers, we have to learn how to translate the realness of a person to a character on a page.

I started a character bible last year to have on file for new books/screenplays that I want to write in the future.  What’s a character bible you ask?  It’s just a handy book of developed characters ready to be brought to life.  For each character, I write their name, age, gender, religious affiliation, political affiliation, socioeconomic status, nationality, ethnicity, education background, and personality traits.  Once I choose which book/screenplay I will use a character for, I will fill in more history about the character(divorced/single, do they have kids, brothers/sisters, live close to family or far away, favorite foods/drinks, body type, etc).  I just try and make the character as three-dimensional as possible because exceptional characters shouldn’t sound the same when they’re read off the page.  

These are just some basic writing techniques I’ve been using lately.  I would love to get feedback from you all about writing techniques you swear by.  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

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Marketing oh Marketing

Marketing, oh marketing!  Some people are fantabalous at it while others quite frankly suck at it.  I think I land in the sucking at it category, but I’m actively trying to change that.  I published my first novella on Amazon in April, 2015 and I’ve sold 45 copies to date.  My sister bought one copy and I bought 43 copies(for reviews).   What about the other copy, you ask?  Well, that was my sole sale to someone that doesn’t know me.  I was sooooo excited when I saw that sale and literally skipped all the way home from the coffee shop that day.  I thought I was well on my way to having a successful career like J.K. Rowlings, E.L James, Hugh Howey because their careers all started with one sale, right?

Yes, they started with one sale but to convert that sale into millions of sales, they also had good marketing strategies in place.  It’s the age old conundrum.  You can’t sell books without good marketing and you cannot market books you haven’t written.  I’ve read tons of articles about how to market a self-published book and it’s a tad overwhelming, but I really need to learn how to become stellar at marketing so I can get more sales.  From what I’ve read so far, it seems like a good marketing arsenal entails the following: tons of book reviews, word-of-mouth, FB ads, guest blogging, video ads.

I haven’t paid for reviews, but I did buy my book and gifted it to friends and family and asked for honest feedback.  I gave it to 43 people and I only got six reviews.  People are busy, I guess!  In all fairness, I only gave them one reminder to review my book because I didn’t want to come off as too annoying.

Now, I’m reading about how to effectively use FB ads for marketing ebooks.  I stumbled across this website, http://www.selfpublishingformula.com, and Mark Dawson seems pretty genuine and helpful to new authors looking for marketing/advertising advice.

As I said before, doing all of this at once is a bit overwhelming, but it’s necessary if you want to have a serious career as a writer.  I think for now, I need to learn how to effectively divide my time between writing and marketing.  One cannot exist without the other and it seems like the people  who are successful are the ones who have figured out how to solve this conundrum.

Till next time….

Six days until….

My last day of teaching ESL is on February 19, 2016 and  I can’t wait to be free from the chains!  I’ve decided to leave my traditional job and become a full-time writer for good until I can’t afford to buy food for my kids.  I should say that I have a big safety net aka my father.  My kids and I will live with him while I finish writing my first fiction series.

I’m excited but I’m also a little frightened.  It’s scary jumping into the unknown world of not having a steady paycheck every month, but the little voice inside of me keeps telling me to take the plunge.  Sometimes, I think that little voice is a million times more wiser and smarter than me.  She’s not scared at all and says that everything will work out.

You’re probably curious what my plan is and it might sound unrealistic to some, but that’s where my faith is kicking in and telling me that I got this.  First, I’m going to finish the second&third books in a visionary/paranormal fiction series I’m writing.  Then, I’m going to dust off one of my screenplays and enter it into a few competitions.  Once summer arrives, I’ll delve into the freelance writing world and stay there until my novels and screenwriting can pay for my lifestyle.

The next four months I’ll be stuck in writing/rewriting heaven, but I’ll be sure to keep this site updated.  Be sure to stay tuned and see how I’m trucking along^^

What’s your favorite?

I’m always stumped when someone asks me what my favorite book is.  Choosing your favorite book is akin to choosing between your best friend and your sister to be your maid of honor. So, I usually divvy my favorites into the different stages of my life.

Elementary School – Any V.C. Andrews Series (especially the Casteel Series) – I was entirely too young to read about the subject matter in these books but my mother was so excited that her “baby” had such a large appetite for reading that she didn’t think to check if it was appropriate or not.  I loved the soap opera-esque nature of the books and I couldn’t put the books down until I finished them.  It got so bad that I would sneak and read the books in class until of course I got caught by my teacher.  Her books hold a special place in my heart because they were the first adult literature that I read.

Middle School – Anne of Green Gables –  Outside of my parents, certain characters in literary history were my role models and Anne was at the top of the list.  Her defiant nature and  strong will left an indelible impression on me. It was empowering to see a female character go after what she wanted no matter the consequences.  I read the book and saw the movie many times over the years and I still enjoy both to this day.

High School – The Color Purple – I saw the movie first but in all fairness, I was in kindergarten when it was published. This movie was on repeat in my household because my mother LOVED this film. I was curious how the book lined up with the movie and read it one summer vacation.  Alice Walker is a beautiful storyteller and her writing takes you right alongside with Celie as she endures and eventually escapes from a horrible existence with Albert.

College – I’ll admit I didn’t do too much leisure reading in College because the last thing I wanted to do was read a book during my free time. But I read Bridget Jones’ Diary and never laughed out loud so much while reading a book.  However, Bridget Jones’ Diary took me down a long road of reading Chick Lit(which isn’t bad) and it took me about 10 years to climb out of that abyss.

Post College till now – Honestly, I haven’t read much during the past 15 years. I tried to focus more on reading screenplays because I wanted to learn the ins and outs of writing scripts.  Every time I sat down to read a novel, I would think about my own unfinished great literary work and put said book down.

And my favorite is….Any book with strong female characters. I think we have an internal need to identify with others and that definitely plays a role when I choose a book to read~~

 

Time

Time….It’s the one thing in life that doesn’t wait for us.  There’s a never ending race to accomplish our chores/activities/goals based around how much time we have or don’t have.

I’m amazed at how much time I used to squander away.  Before I became a mother of two children under the age of five, I had so much time but I hardly spent any of it writing.  Every morning, I lazily woke up, took a shower, got dressed, and went to work.   Over the past 15 years, my “work” has morphed from a temp agency drone to a customer service representative to an executive assistant and finally to an ESL teacher.

When I got home from work, I only wanted to decompress and prepare for the next day.  On the weekends, I was out and about in whatever city I lived in hanging out with friends/family/lovers.  Rinse and repeat these actions and voila, 15 years has passed since I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

In the back of my mind, I was a “writer” who couldn’t follow my real passion because I had to pay the bills and I didn’t have enough time  to do it all.  It’s easy to push a dream to the far away land of your subconscious. You tell yourself that not many people make it in this artistic field.  You’d be lucky to sell a thousand copies of your book or sell one screenplay at best.

You convince yourself that it’s easier for people who want to have more tangible careers because they can go to university and actually get a job upon graduation in teaching, medicine or the law.  But an artist doesn’t have the same odds.  Upon graduation, we start a fake job and try to do our real job on the side.  And some of us really do make it. The ones who persevere and do both jobs at the same time waiting for the moment when preparation meets opportunity.  But the rest us, we tell ourselves that we’re simply shooting for the stars because it’s a lot harder to face the reality that we’re not using our time wisely to do the impossible.

I should say that I did write a little during the past fifteen years but not nearly as much as I could have.  I completed two screenplays and started about a dozen others.  I probably started about five different novels but never made it past the first chapter.

Then, something tragic happened in 2011.  My mother lost her battle to diabetes at the age of 62.  When she died, I finally realized that I was almost out of time.  Sure, I was only 33 at the time, but at the rate of my productivity, I would probably complete one more screenplay and start five more different novels by the time I’m 59.  I decided it was now or never.   I started writing regularly even though I ironically had less time with a shiny newborn by my side.  Between working and taking care of my children, I wrote another screenplay and a novella in three years.  I’m not saying that’s an amazing amount of work, but for me, I felt like I climbed Mount Everest.

So, here I sit, thinking about how to prioritize my crazy schedule to increase productivity because time doesn’t stop for anyone~~

 

 

Hello world!

My name is Shane Waters and I’m a novelist, freelance writer and aspiring screenwriter.   I started this blog to create a space for me to talk about anything related to writing in the form of books/film/TV.  It’s also a place for me to write about what my hopes/fears look like as a writer trying to make a living solely from writing avenues.  It’s gonna be a wild and crazy ride, so buckle your seat belts and enjoy!