Top Tips for Writers From Writers
While there is no quick fix for everyone's WIP, the smallest piece of advice can help drop those pennies. Chris Buono, Adite Banerjie, Jill Kemerer and Reese Ryan share some of their top tips for writing success!
Chris Buono ~ What Works For Me
You have a romance story in mind. You’re ready to start writing it. But, wait! What's the best way to get that story from your heart onto the page?
Here are three ways that have helped me with that question. Perhaps these tips can benefit you, too!
1. Title, Title, Title
Would you go out of your way to read a play titled Romeo and Gladys? Perhaps not, since you already know that classic’s title to be: Romeo and Juliet! Still, even if Gladys was the correct accompanying name in that title, something about it just doesn’t have the same ring as Juliet.
What I’m saying here is this: spend time getting your title correct. Make it meaningful to your work, and eye-catching to those who see it. I try to be somewhat clever with my titles. Doing so helps to both keep me interested from the story’s start, and, hopefully, works to hook would-be readers, too.
For example, my short romance title Blue Sneakers, Red Heart, on the surface, does not say much about that Valentine’s-Day, hoping-on-a-memory tale. However, the particulars mentioned in that title are essential to that story and do help to create, I feel, plot curiosity from the story’s cover. Is your story’s title creative? Does it stop would-be readers in their tracks?
2. Spot the Obvious
In my contemporary romance novel Her Boss’s Surprise, the hero unknowingly wants love; the heroine knowingly wants a family. Now, there were other particulars surrounding both the Hero and Heroine's inner dilemmas—which brought them to those “need points".
However, seeing below the surface of those characters helped me to better bring them to life.
For example, from those initial particulars that I knew grew the question: What is preventing my hero from getting that love, and my heroine from getting that family?
Then, regarding those particulars, I saw: 1) the hero’s broken heart and impotence as primary causes for his relationship hesitations; 2) the heroine’s fear of abandonment and commitment as her relationship trepidations, due to her father’s accidental death.
It was only when I was open to seeing my characters for what they were, why they were that way, and how they were going to complement their interaction together, that I was able to pen their full story.
Are you seeing your characters, or are you just plopping their story onto the page? The latter may cause you writing frustration; the former may bring about both writing fun for you and story joy for your readers!
3. Breaking News
There’s nothing worse than hitting a writing wall. So, how can you get through it and back on the writing track? Breaking News!
So, what is that, and, how do you use it to your writing advantage? If I feel my story’s going stale, or it’s difficult to write, I stop writing. I’ll then take a break for a set amount of time—anywhere from fifteen minutes to three hours.
Then I’ll write Breaking News at the top of a page, set a timer for three minutes, and bullet point in rapid fashion my story—as much as I know about it. When done, without reading over that list, I’ll take the day off, review the list the next day and, more often than not, be able to get back to writing that story without much trouble.
The next time you encounter writer’s block, try Breaking News to get through it!
Adite Banerjie ~ Movie Methods
For me, fiction writing is about telling stories that are visual, emotionally gripping, and entertaining. Being a huge movie buff, I try to make my stories play out like movies—fast paced, yet still having some quiet moments. So, a few years ago, when I decided to switch lanes from writing non-fiction to writing fiction, I read several books on the craft of screenwriting and took some online courses. In the process, I discovered some very fine techniques of storytelling.
One of the key takeaways for me was the importance of a great beginning. William Goldman said, “You always attack a movie scene as late as you possibly can. You always come into the scene at the last possible moment.” A late entry ensures that your story begins with a bang—right in the middle of the action and already has momentum built in. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a pacy thriller or a historical drama, starting late ensures there is enough going on in the lives of the characters you are introducing. And the idea is to hook the reader and reel her in.
Another key aspect of screenwriting is its focus on structure. Movies are known to have a three-act structure. However, it’s easy to lose one’s way in the second act. To deal with the problem of the saggy middle, I turned to Hollywood screenwriting guru Chris Soth’s method—who teaches the Mini Movie structure. Soth breaks down the three-act structure into smaller segments. So instead of three acts, you have eight mini-movie segments. He uses the acronym WRITENOW which serves both as a motivational mantra and a pithy reminder of the eight segments:
W - set up the ordinary World where the characters are introduced ending with an inciting incident that sets the story in motion.
R – the protagonist is Reluctant and refuses the call to action.
I – Initial attempts made by the protagonist to resolve the problem.
T – Failure of those attempts which forces the protagonist to Try harder and by the end of the segment is fully committed.
E – This is the mid-point of the story and leads to an Eye Opener for the protagonist which makes her change gears or come up with a new plan.
N – Nadir. This is the all-is-lost moment for the protagonist, when everything seems to have been in vain…
O – …but wait….the protagonist Overcomes the odds—based on lessons learnt during her journey—and makes a final push.
W – Resolution/Winning completes the story.
While writing my latest romantic comedy novel, Bombay Heights, I used these eight segments to loosely plot my book. I created detailed character profiles and with these I quickly came up with a number of sequences for each of the eight segments. This created a basic structure for the story and I could tweak the segments according to the needs of my storyline.
But the best part of using the mini-movie structure was that it helped me introduce plot points at the right places and ensured the pace of the story did not flag. Another plus was that I did not need a very detailed outline, as there was more than enough scope for me to be creative with my sequences within each of the segments. So, in a way, I ended up being both plotter and pantser! What’s more, it helped me finish the book faster than I normally do.
I am a plotter. I realize some of you may be a pantsers and now hate me. I get it. I do. Whether you plot or not, you’ll likely want to know my secrets. I’ve been sharing them for a decade, and—full disclosure—I love hearing plotting secrets, too! I think we’re all looking for an elixir to make writing easier, to guarantee a bestseller, to make our novel stand out from all the others. However, I don’t have the elixir... Sorry! But I do have a plotting system that works for me. So let’s start with the basics. A story always begins in my head. I might have one line of dialogue or a snapshot of a character or a situation demanding to be explored. I spend a lot of time just thinking about this kernel until I have characters to go with it. I try on ideas for them and discard anything that feels wrong. Since I write romance novels, I have two main characters—the Hero and the Heroine. When I have a grasp of who they are, I give them names and create a Pinterest board to match them with a celebrity. Having visuals of the characters helps me stay focused throughout the book.
Next up, I figure out their GMC (goals, motivation, and conflict). Basically, what do they want, why do they want it, and why can’t they have it? At this point, I take a step back and ask myself what are the stakes? My goal is to keep the reader turning the page to see what happens next, so the more the hero’s and heroine’s GMC's conflict with each other, the better. Now I’m ready to think about the major plot points. I figure out the following five plot points. Inciting Incident, Leaves Ordinary World, Mid-Point, Black Moment, and Finale. The Inciting Incident is what happens to potentially change the characters’ lives right away. Next is Leaves Ordinary World. Basically, they both must make the decision to accept the change and get out of their comfort zone. The Mid-Point should be either a false high or a false low—they believe they really can have it all, or they believe they were idiots for ever leaving their ordinary worlds. The Black Moment is when the characters realize they love each other but the romance can’t work (all is lost!). Then they must overcome their fears and choose love, which leads to the Finale, the happy ever after. Aww…. At this point I jot down a one-sentence summary of the book. A fantastic article on this subject is, Writing A One-Sentence Summary by Rachelle Gardner. Then I expand it to draft a back-copy blurb.
Technically, I could start writing the book at this point, but I go a step farther and brainstorm several middle scenes. Middle scenes must add conflict and tension. Then I draft a really choppy long-synopsis. And when that’s finished, I’m almost ready to get started! Lately I’ve been organizing my current work-in-progress in a three-ring binder with tabbed dividers. I print out a map of the setting, the synopsis, and a scene breakdown cheat sheet (go to Jami Gold’s Worksheets for Writers to print your own) to keep me on track. One section of the binder is for my story time-line. I jot down what day the story takes place for each scene and/or chapter. I also have a stack of loose-leaf paper to scribble upcoming scene summaries to ease into the next writing session. It only takes a few minutes to brainstorm what needs to happen next. This habit saves me a lot of time. I used to just stare into space not knowing what to write at the beginning of a writing session. Now I reference the notes I took previously and jump right in. So there you have it! My process continues to evolve, but these are the core plotting tools I use with each book.
This isn’t a treatise on the superiority of plotting. Nor am I here to convince you that you should stop doing what already works for you. But as a writer who once proudly clung to my identity as a pantser while struggling to finish any of the five novels I’d started, I’m uniquely qualified to speak to a certain segment of pantsers.
This is designed to help:
• Aspiring writers who believe they are pantsers, but aren’t finishing anything.
• Writers who often write themselves into a corner and then either struggle to fix a broken plot or abandon the story.
• Writers who consistently rewrite huge chunks of their story because it inevitably goes off the rails.
I’m all for doing what works. Do you write your best while drinking pink moscato and wearing bunny slippers? Do it. Is the coffee shop the most conducive place for you to write? Set up shop there. Are you most productive when you write in sprints, work with an accountability partner, or participate in a critique group? Embrace it. But if your current modus operandi consistently results in unfinished manuscripts, broken plots, and massive rewrites, there’s something you might not have considered… Your current method isn’t working.
At the very least, it isn’t optimal. If your goal is to write better and faster, clinging to a broken writing process is counterproductive. It feels most comfortable to you because it’s what you’ve always done. Perhaps you’ve even found some success using it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way of working. One you might come to love, if only you give it a chance.
I should know. I was dead set against plotting. However, several years ago, I listened to a podcast interview with author Kimberla Lawson Roby. She talked about her extensive outlining process. Honestly? It terrified me. It sounded like too much work and very little fun. But I was struck by an important realization. What I was doing wasn’t working. So what did I have to lose by trying her method? I started off with a small experiment. I plotted the remainder of the scene from a manuscript I’d abandoned months earlier which had left me stumped. I asked myself some essential questions about the scene, What was its purpose? What did it need to accomplish? Then I jotted down a sentence or two about what needed to happen to fix the scene.
Amazingly enough, the solution to my dilemma became clear and I finished the scene I'd struggled with for months. It worked so well I did the same for the rest of the chapter, and then for the rest of the book. It worked! I finished the book! Something I hadn’t previously been able to do after several attempts. The experiment taught me something important about myself. I need the structure of a minimal story outline. It serves as a solid foundation for the story, while permitting enough freedom to allow my characters to take me to wonderfully unexpected places.
I still don’t do extensive plotting. Though it is something I plan to experiment with later this year. But I know now I’m not a pure pantser, and that’s okay. So if you believe you’re a pantser, but you’re not finishing projects, you frequently struggle with looming plot issues, or your work requires extensive rewrites, experiment with plotting. It just might transform your writing process.
What are your block breakers and plotting saviours? If you have any tips for writing success, please share below in the comments or on social media #TheWriteThing. We'd love to know!