It’s important to get the first draft out as quickly as possible. If it’s a short story, aim to finish the first draft in one sitting. If it’s a novel aim for 3 months (a season). Your job isn’t to worry about plotting or outlining, it’s to get the story penned. Like Stephen King said in On Writing, “Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground … Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.” Your job is to be an archaeologist, to excavate as much of the story as you can.
Characters drive stories, stories don’t drive characters. You can have the greatest plot in the world, but, if you don’t have good characters, you still have nothing.
Like Kurt Vonnegut said, “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
Verbs come in two types, active and passive. Avoid the passive voice like the plague. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence. The subject is just letting it happen. You should avoid the passive voice.
Your characters need to have their own unique voices. Each character needs to sound different. If your characters sound similar or exactly the same it’s time to do some rewriting.
Also, as you should avoid adverbs most of the time, when it comes to speaker tags avoid adverbs at all costs. You should aim to only use “he said” and “she said.”
People die, that’s life. So it goes. Good stories often involve death so don’t be afraid to kill off a character or two.
The rewrite is where your story really comes to life. Don’t underestimate the importance of rewriting.
Like Stephen King said,
“If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
If you’re writing is to be honest you’re going to have homophobic, bigoted, murderous, and even psychopathic characters. Don’t be afraid to write the characters your story needs.
Don’t wait for the muse, just write, the muse will come. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. Or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.
When you share your writing, you face the possibility of failure. This will force you to write the best possible story you can. Knowing someone you care about is going to critique you will make you focus twice as hard on writing well, and remember, you shouldn’t ever come lightly to the blank page.
Until next time, write on!