I wish you knew how my brain worked.
There’s a reason I write. It’s really the only way I can see my thoughts come out clearly. In conversations I jump around. I make up songs with no rhyme or reason and get asked to quit singing. Writing is the only way I can put my brain to use the way it should be used. Every other way just leads to trouble.
I’m a firm believer that only I can write the stories I’m going to write, but of course you will never be able to tell that by only reading one of them. You’ll have to read several to fully appreciate it. Too many great authors out there limit themselves.
How many series have you read where they follow this linear path. There is no change out of characters, and anytime they add a new character, it’s just to kill them off later. You don’t get attached, and the plot just follows this straight—dare I say, predictable—line.
I’ve come up with a few rules I plan to follow. Now seeing as that I’m not published… hell, I have yet to even finish my first manuscript (though, mark my words it’s coming)… I encourage you to read them, but take them with a pound of salt. What I like to read and want to write may not suit you. I do think I’m on to something though. Now these aren’t going to be your normal “Write Every Day” type of rules. We all have our writing processes. No, these rules are going to address your story, and hopefully improve it.
1) Outpace yourself.
Get in “the zone”. The problem with the zone is that once you realize you’re in it, you’re out of it. We can however find that flow where the words just start going and going. I’m in it right now, actually. The thing is to just keep the fingers moving. Do not… I repeat DO NOT read it until you’re done. Then you start to let yourself think about it too much. Just finish your chapter or blog post or poem or whatever as it flows. If you want to read it, fine, but do it after you have completely finished the section as a whole. Just keep the fingers moving.
2) Don’t forget the bad guy.
This is a mistake I found I have just made. I mean I didn’t really for get about him, but I did realize that my story is pretty much only from the view of my many protagonists. I mean, yes there are different POVs, but none of them are from the perspective of the bad guy. Think for a moment about all the great villains in history. They all have origin stories, they all have allies, and probably most important, they all believe they are doing what is right.Think about it. Bane, Ultron, Hell, even Hitler thought he was doing God’s work. The bad guys that are just bad for the hell out of it are one dimensional and predictable. Tyler Durden was an amazing bad guy. Why? Because he thought what he was doing was right.
Another thing you could do is to give your bad guy a good guy friend or love interest. The Departed is a perfect example. Matt Damon’s character falls in love with a “good cop” psychiatrist.
3) Cut this shit with the white meat baby face.
The days of honorable Superman are over. Even your good guys need issues. There’s a reason we like Vegeta more than Goku, Batman more than Superman, Wolverine more than Cyclops. Your good guy doesn’t always have to be good. He just has to be against evil.
Also, make them the no. 2 guy. There are few people more hungry and motivated than a character who knows he’s second best, and by a large margin, constantly getting his ass kicked by that number one spot.
Again, Anime has many great examples of this.
4) Everyone is the main character of their own story.
The story you’re telling may only be about one character and their path to whatever, and that’s fine. But do you know the stories for your other characters? Both before and after the story you are telling?
Think about the movies we love based on true stories. Sure, there is only one main actor or actress. But if you’re like me, you love those closing segments of the movie where they tell you what the other characters did and where they ended up.
Did Squints ever get with Mary Peppercorn?
You’re damn right he did. They had 9 kids. You don’t have to go on and show them having nine kids. But you should know that about your character.
Knowing the befores and afters of your characters will also help with no. 5.
5) Don’t tell a linier story. Tell a web of overlapping ones.
We all know that after x comes y and after y come z. But shake things up. Have your series, but tell other stories in that world you’ve created. And don’t tell them all the same way either.
I’m using modified 3rd with an ensemble cast for my current series, but the direct line prequel to that is an investigative journalist story told in first person.
I have a time travel book paralleling the second book in my main series. It’s main character has already made an appearance in my current manuscript, but you won’t get the full picture until that novel shows up.
I have a serial planned showing the rise-to-power of my main antagonist.
Tell stories in first AND third person in the same world. Use ensemble casts. Span genres. Follow the lives of characters no one would expect and make them the most spectacular lives ever.
6) Kill him already.
Not all great stories have happy endings. There’s a saying: “If the audience that their way, Hamlet would have lived”. Well the audience can be an indication to go off of, but they don’t always know what’s best for them. Leonidas had to die. Leo’s character in The Departed. BAM. Gone. Even Han Solo is dead now.
Do not be afraid to kill your characters off, as long as that death means something and does something for the plot of your story. And for the love of Steven King, do not decide to kill off a character just because you decided they shouldn’t be in your story. If they’re not doing anything for your story, go back to the beginning and tie up that loose end from word one. Delete that character.
Make the death memorable. But more important than that, make the character that dies memorable.
7) Pants your ass off.
I know there are those of you that absolutely need to outline. I’m not saying don’t outline. I’m saying save that outline for later.
Just try it. Write your whole first draft from the seat of your pants. It’s okay to have an idea where you’re headed. It’s okay to write down those great ideas you have for that one scene you haven’t got to yet.
You can do it. Write the whole first draft without an outline. When you’re done with that, then write your outline. Use your outline to fix any plot holes or character development. Use your finished outline on your 2nd draft. I promise you you’ll see a huge difference. You’ll have a story that doesn’t come across as cookie cutter or formulaic. You’ll have a real story on your hands that no one will predict because even you didn’t know what was going to happen.
8) Pick out an actor or actress for every character.
It’s great that you have an original character, but when you need to describe that characters appearance or mannerisms, what are you going to say. Imagine your story as a movie or tv show. Who would you cast?
I have a character named Lucas. He’s a supporting role, but damn it, every time I write for him, I get this Daryl Dixon in space vibe. And because I get this vibe from about him, I’m sure those that read it might get a similar vibe.
9) Write the book. Plan for the sequel.
Very few of us will get those amazing loyal followers writing one-offs. The best way to earn a fan that can’t wait to get your next book is to have that next book be the follow up to the current book they loved.
10) Think big. Be ambitious.
I used to think I had read good books. Then someone who’s opinion I value greatly introduced me to Ken Follett’s Pillars of Earth. That book is amazing and spans almost Seventy years.
George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series has more characters than the sky has stars, and you know each one of them. You can remember how they died, and what they were like when they were alive.
The James S. A. Corey duo’s The Expanse series has a planned 9 (10?) main novels, but they put novellas between each one for those more loyal fans that give even more information to the reader about the worlds they’ve created.
Think big. Remember: you are a writer. You can create anything, and you don’t have to release it until it’s your vision.
Those are my ten rules for writing you may not have heard. Like I said earlier, they’re my rules. They may not work for you, but they work for me.
Until next time, thank you.