1. Interview your character. Imagine sitting down over coffee with a character in your story. Come up with a slew of questions and write out your character’s answers. Make up your own questions (e.g., What is your favorite movie? What is your best childhood memory?) or Google Marcel Proust’s Questionnaire for juicy ideas (e.g., If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? What is your greatest extravagance?). Not only find out the answers, but describe how your character reacts during this exchange. What are their gestures, facial expressions, sounds, and other movements? If you prefer, have a character write a letter to you, answering the same questions.
Column by Kara Storti, author of debut novel TRIPPING BACK
BLUE (April 2016, Carolrhoda Lab TM). Kara knew she wanted to
be a writer when she decided to skip her junior prom to attend the
Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vermont. In the years
following she spent most of her free time writing short stories, novellas,
and poems, and composing pop songs. In 2006 she graduated from the
University of Southern Maine with an MFA in Creative Writing, where she
fell in love with writing novels for young adults. Kara has been a singer,
songwriter, pianist, and flautist since she was a child and has performed
throughout the world. Follow her on Twitter.
2. Have another talented author you trust rewrite a scene, a first chapter, or dialogue in your project. Not for the faint-hearted, for sure! However, when I witnessed this kind of rewrite, I saw an outsider bring a spark to the story the author lost in the throes of writer’s block. The re-writer saw a better first sentence for the entire novel that was in the middle of the first chapter, infused dialogue with a touch of humor, reordered phrases, and added missing information. It takes some steeliness to allow another writer to fuss with one’s work, but sometimes a fresh take is a launch pad for progress.
3. Participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). On November 1, participants work towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 on November 30. It allows you to focus on word count and the completion of a novel, even if the writing is (at first) complete crap on the page. You can worry about making it pretty later. As part of the program, there is an online community to encourage and hold you accountable to meet the deadline. Draw energy from your fellow writers, tap into your competitive spirit, and enjoy the process. I know many people who have finished their first published novel using this strategy.
4. Write everything your character might see. Does your main character live in a down‑trodden town? A bustling city? In the middle of nowhere? Visit a similar place and observe everything you see. Write about the sights, smells, textures, and feelings. Document your experience through taking pictures, sketching, or painting. What would your character remark upon if they were present next to you? Or, if you’d rather, choose one object from that setting and describe every detail of it.
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5. Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She encourages the writer to craft a story one sentence at a time. Don’t focus on the long game; it’s the short game that matters. Sketch out what you’re going to accomplish in the first chapter, not in the first hundred pages. Find what excites you the most and write towards it full force, even if it means taking your sweet time on a single scene. Assign yourself a small portion of the story, whether it’s a paragraph or a pivotal moment, then go on to the next and the next. Compartmentalizing the process can be a great jumpstart towards excellent writing.
6. Consider the 'why' of your character's actions. It is no doubt important to consider the “what if” when beginning your novel or short story; however, considering the “why” regarding a character’s actions can make for an even juicier plot. For example, what if a seventeen-year-old boy chose to fund his sister’s college education by selling drugs, even though he’s struggling with a heroin addiction? But, even more importantly, why is this character using illegal means for a good cause? Is it out of selflessness to help his sister, or does he lust for danger and money? Does this “selflessness” provide him with a good excuse for self-destruction and almost fatal drug use? Delve into the emotions behind the motivations of your characters. One helpful phrase from a writer’s conference that has always stuck with me is “write hot, edit cold.” Let the why fuel the heat in your writing.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 20, 2017: The Writing & Publishing Workshop of San Diego (San Diego)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- July 8, 2017: Cleveland Writing Conference (Cleveland)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Agent Anna Olswanger puts out a call for new queries and submissions.
- 5 Easy Steps to Conquer the Heartache of Rejection.
- Why a Writer Can't Listen to All the Feedback They Receive.
- Writing steampunk? Hear the story of how author Richard Preston got his agent.
- How to Write a Novel in 22 Easy Steps.
- Writing sports nonfiction? Agent Brian Wood specializes in this area.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.