This article will guide you through the process of getting started with writing and help you grasp some of the most valuable tips for beginners and seasoned writers alike.
In writing, your instincts need to come first. You can learn how to write perfect copy, but creativity is something nobody can teach you. On the other hand, you can develop some great habits to stimulate your creativity. This would ensure you don’t miss out on any great ideas that may spontaneously pop into your mind.
Famed best-selling author Stephen King often stated that he makes a point to write at least 2.000 words of content a day. It doesn’t matter what comes out of it, as long as something comes out. When writing happens as a creative flow, without any preconception or pre-defined thought, one word leads to another. Even if you are never going to use what you came up with, you might still come up with an inspiring phrase or a cool concept to develop into something else.
In short, the best thing you can do is to…start writing!
At this stage, you shouldn’t worry about perfect wording. Simply track down your ideas and start developing a story concept, a character or any other thing that might pop out of your imagination.
It’s All About The Story
Whether you are planning on writing fiction, biographies, plays or news articles, the key thing to understand is that everything needs to focus on the story.
Once you are set on a particular topic to write about, it is essential to plot out the details of the narrative. Drafting a timeline of the events to be portrayed in your writing can help you create an outline of your story. Having said that, you don’t need to write linearly: Many excellent books start from the end, tracing their steps back to the beginning. However you decide to arrange the timeline in your story, it is necessary to understand that every story is a timeline – a sequence of events that readers can follow while reading.
By understanding your story/timeline, you are going to be able to make it more exciting, perhaps even to add some new plot twists.
If you are looking to practice this particular aspect of your writing, you could start by coming up a short story that develops over the span of 3 to 10 pages. This way, you will be able to practice with building your timeline. As mentioned earlier, your story can evolve in many ways. Let me show you what I mean with a practical example.
This morning, Mike woke up feeling very hungry, but he didn’t want to cook breakfast at home because there were too many dirty dishes in the sink from the previous night. He quickly dressed up and headed to a bakery, where he ordered a hot bagel.
The short sentence above is a story in itself and it has a timeline which can be deconstructed in various segments, as shown below.
(1) Mike woke up, he was hungry
(2) He did not want to cook because of the mess in his kitchen
(3) Went to the Bakery
(4) Bought a hot bagel.
The first text tells the story in a linear way, following a 1-2-3-4 pattern, just as shown in the deconstructed timeline above. Why not trying a different approach?
A hot bagel was in Mike’s hands, as he was walking down the street. He woke up really hungry that morning, but he didn’t feel like cooking at home, because the kitchen was too messy. Instead of cleaning it all up, he went to the bakery.
As you might notice, the “story” is exactly the same, but the timeline has been switched around in a more interesting way. Instead of following a linear 1-2-3-4 structure, the story is now following a 4-1-2-3 pattern.
Come up with a timeline and start messing around with it – there are many ways to tell a story and make it more interesting!
A good story is essential, but it is also imperative to have strong characters to drive the narrative. People aren’t going to waste their time reading about characters that aren’t interesting or relate-able, so you need to work to make your characters appealing.
The best way to add some personality to a character is to focus on the details. Make them “human” and give them some unique, personal quirk that adds some complexity.
Famous literary characters, like Sherlock Holmes, are well-known for their unique idiosyncrasies.
It is also interesting to give deeper emotional texture to your characters to add realness. For example, imagine you are writing about a soldier on a battlefield. The character is fearless and always ready to face danger without hesitation. On the long run, this kind of character writing can become a bit corny, almost like a caricature. To make the character more real, write fear into him. The soldier is brave, but he is afraid of war like most people would be. He is sad when he loses his friends and, maybe, cries at night, haunted by all the enemies he killed, even if they deserved it.
Emotional texture is the key to more realistic and interesting characters that are never one-sided. If you let the audience peek into the heart, mind, and soul of your characters, they will surely be more keen on following their story.
If your writing is all about characters doing things, it might get a little dull. Unlike watching a film, reading requires people to create the world with their imagination. A good writer can help them “see” more details that add more depth to the story. Do you remember Max and his hot bagel from the earlier examples? Let’s take the same story, and enhance it with some additional setting details.
This morning was a fairly cold one. Trees were shaking outside the window, as Mike woke up feeling very hungry. He didn’t want to cook breakfast at home because his kitchen was an absolute mess: dirty, greasy dishes had been left rotting away in the sink all night long. Flies were feasting on the leftovers from a party held the previous night. It was not a pretty sight to behold, and it certainly not one that would make you in the mood of prepping up a meal! Tired of the situation, Mike quickly dressed up and headed to a bakery down the street, where he ordered a hot bagel.
As you may notice, the extra text doesn’t change the story, but it makes it a lot more interesting. The new information gives readers an insight into Max’s mood and personality, and makes the whole thing a lot more interesting to read!
Show and Tell
For the most part, the above writing examples tell the reader what is happening instead of showing them. “Showing” the reader what is happening takes a bit more creativity but it makes it exponentially more immersive.
Instead of telling the readers;
Mike woke up feeling very hungry
Mike’s stomach growled
Proofread, Proofread and Proofread!
This guide does not focus on grammar, but on the relevant elements of creative writing and storytelling.
However, good formatting and proper grammar can be essential to the experience of the reader.
Always make sure to proofread your work, or even better, have someone else proofread it. If you don’t have the money to hire a proofreader, ask a friend or family member to check out your writing and give you honest feedback about the clarity of the text.
If your work is hard to read due to grammatical inconsistencies, the story will also suffer, and the reader might not be able to grasp the full value of your content.
As I mentioned earlier, you could do some proofreading on your own, but an external opinion might help you notice things you might miss on your own. As the author, you are probably going to be fully engrossed in your own work, and an outside perspective might improve your writing.
Read our Advanced Guide to Writing next!