Writing Non-Fiction posted July 12, 2021

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Handy Hints for Writing

by giraffmang

It’s okay to not know where you’re going, but you should know how to get there…

This adage is applicable to works of both fiction and non-fiction. If the ending surprises you, there’s a damn good chance it’s going to surprise someone else, too. However, if you want your piece to be tight and not a meandering mess, it’s probably a good idea to outline. This can be as loose as you need it to be. Personally, I note down the story beats, the major points I need to hit and then work my way through them in order.

The other thing to consider when outlining is to allow for some flexibility. You don’t need to be a slave to your story. An intricately plotted outline can be super-tight but can strangle the flow of a piece of writing. Sometimes, if the plotting is too rigid with little leeway, you can get stuck, and the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ may raise its ugly head. Building in a bit of flexibility can help stave this off.

All that having been said, it’s a good idea to start off with knowing why you’re writing the piece in question. You should know the overall themes you want to address and if there’s a larger point you’re wanting to make. Deciding on these things early on will give a clearer perspective on what should be happening in the narrative, and when.

Don’t be afraid to end at the beginning -

The beginning of a story is definitely one of the most challenging aspects. There’s a lot written about the importance of first lines and opening paragraphs; of making sure you have a good hook to pull the reader in and to set things up early on.

This is your first point of contact with the reader, and you want it to be good. But, if you overthink it, you’re liable to end up with something that is stiff, staid, and overwrought. So why start at the beginning? That’s a lot of pressure.

Many times, when we begin a piece, the idea of the story isn’t necessarily fully-formed, and neither are the characters. By the time you write ‘The End’ on a first draft, the clarity is there. Once the big picture is revealed and is crystal clear, it can be more beneficial to go back then and write that opening (or rewrite).

It is so much easier to craft a compelling opening which introduces the characters, setting and storyline once you know what they are!

Do your research -

Check out any books you own. Did you notice there’s an acknowledgement section where authors thank scholars and staff who helped with their research? This goes to show that it’s difficult to do it all on your own and that the process of writing is a long, involved endeavour. Whilst good old Wikipedia can help, it shouldn’t be your only source.

Most importantly for writers is to read a few books on your subject or genre. I often hear writers say they haven’t got time to read… nonsense. If you have time to write, you have time to read. The best way to learn about something is to experience it. Watch programmes about the subject matter. Make contact with specialists (I have a contact in NASA who helps me with my sci-fi writing). Look at as many different sources as you can, doesn’t matter if they’re bad; those ones guide you in what not to do!

It also doesn’t matter if your work is in the fantasy genre. You can still (and should) do the research. You want to root your work in as much reality as possible to make it a believable place. Every world needs to have rules, laws of nature and physics no matter how fantastical.

I have heard people reason that they’re writing fiction, so it doesn’t matter. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s embarrassing to have the mistakes pointed out. While you may not be an expert in certain areas, rest assured some of your readers are likely to be and will call you out on it, especially in this age of social media and it can affect your standing and reputation.

Know the rules… before you break them -

I go through the submission process a lot and it can feel like editors and publishers only want work which is a bit out there, experimental stories, something new. So, what happens is, writers push themselves to run before they can walk, resulting in work they consider profound but come across as just plain messy.

You need to master the basic rules of style, form, and grammar before you play around with them. If you don’t know them, the work will appear messy and ill-formed as the rule breaking (or bending) won’t be consistent.

Furthermore, you need to know the standards and be capable of reproducing them before you can achieve anything new. It doesn’t matter if your early works seem too basic. Every writer begins using the common tropes of a given genre. Concentrate on a decent narrative, even if somewhat cliché, then play around.

Formatting is more important than you may think -

It doesn’t matter how good a story is if it doesn’t get read. Editors and publishers know that if the basics aren’t right, the big things won’t be either, and they won’t waste their time. If you don’t follow the guidelines, your story will get deleted, unread. They know that if a writer hasn’t put the effort into formatting correctly, the same will apply to their own manuscript.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s for a big house publisher, a small independent press, or a competition on FanStory – give your story the best chance it can have. Read the guidelines and follow them.

Accept criticism -

One of the most difficult things as a reviewer is to be honest in the assessment of a piece of work, especially on FanStory. You may be opening yourself up to a world of pain! But it’s an important part of the process.

Many writers do take the critique personally, as if it’s a personal attack. Guess what? It isn’t. Everyone gets criticism levelled at them no matter the skill set. Even best-selling authors. Writing is a learned skill and as with all other learning experiences, there is always room for improvement. This is why you need to listen to criticism and respond appropriately and professionally.

The flip side to this is that you shouldn’t let that criticism or rejection kill your drive. It can simply be about your mindset. You don’t need to assume someone is saying your work isn’t good enough, it can be seen as saying your work is good enough to keep tweaking at until it’s perfect.


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