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!