There are lists published on the Internet and in many how-to write fiction books stating the biggest mistakes new writers make. Some lists deal with storytelling, others craft elements, and others are wish lists by editors and agents on what mistakes they wish novice writers would stop making.
I have my own lists, but in this blog post, I want to address the three things I see as handicapping new writers and the self-published writer. They are:
1) Illusion vs. Reality. The illusion— just because a writer got A's in English or praised for their writing in school, that qualifies them to write and publish their work without needed input from editors or beta readers or even other, more experienced writers and authors.
The reality is this— becoming a storyteller, not just the average writer, means finding out and learning precisely what the rules and guidelines are for writing fiction that sells.
Here's another reality check— By my last count, there are one hundred and forty-four (144) aspects to writing good fiction and telling a story well. How many do you know? How many have you mastered until they appear naturally a you write?
Another reality— too many writers would rather write then learn fiction techniques and devices. Yet, here's the thing— talent will take a writer only so far. It is craft that enhances talent and liberates creativity. Best of all, craft can be learned.
Oh, right, the reality— Learning is not fun, it's hard work. Writing is the fun stuff. Look at it this way: if you wanted to learn to swim, would you go and jump into the deep end of a pool?
Not a good idea you say? Well, you're right. You're more likely to drown then learn to swim. Instead, you would start in the shallow end of the pool with people who know how to swim and who would coach you, or you would take lessons from professionals at the pool's facility. You'd start off learning to float, advance to swim strokes, and if you really liked swimming and were good at it, you would take more lessons to learn breaststrokes and butterfly strokes. In other words, your talent for swimming would be boosted tremendously. Why, you might even be good enough to swim with the big guys in the Olympics.
As a writer, it's the same thing. Don't jump into the pool of writing, floundering, drowning in the sea of millions of other writers publishing on the Internet.
Here's another reality check, a statistic. A few months ago I came across a statement that 4,500 books are added EACH DAY to the 15 million already out there. How is your book going to stand out? I likely won't unless it is a well told and well written story that appeals to readers.
So, make it your mission to become that special someone who has mastered fiction writing to become a true storyteller. Be that special someone who can grab and hold a reader's attention and take them on a fantastic journey.
2)Failure to understand what a story is and where a story actually starts. In a nutshell, a well-told story is about an interesting character in an interesting setting, facing an interesting problem. That interesting character is, of course, the protagonist and by the end of the tale he or she has solved the problem and learned a life-lesson or have achieved something valuable.
Unfortunately, it's not easy to get to the point of a story (the plot's theme). Stories tend to come in bits and pieces, what-ifs, and so on. There's figuring out the setting, who's who in the story, ad infinitum.
Rarely are the first words written down the beginning of the story. In actuality (the reality), ninety-percent of what the writer knows won't go into the story. That's right, only ten percent of all that information a writer has to know to figure out the story ends up being what is necessary for the reader to know to enjoy the story.
However, the story can't be distilled and knitted into a tale worth a reader's hard earned money without the writer's explorations into plot and extrapolations of characters.
Think of it this way— writing is like looking at an iceberg. Ten percent floats above the sea. The ninety percent below sea level supports the visible.
Or, you might think of it as the writer writes a snowstorm of words but a storyteller is master of sculpting that snow, compacting it, into brilliant worlds of wonder and awe.
3) Failure to join a writer's group before attempting to publish (be that traditionally, self-publish or independently published) and to understand the quality of fiction writing needed for a story to appeal to readers (including editors and agents).
The reality is that only another writer knows what a writer goes through from the idea that sparks a story to the finished, camera-ready or digital-ready copy. In the current publishing world, it's also necessary that writers market their own work, regardless of who publishes the book.
And again, drawing on the analogy of learning to swim from earlier in this post— it's a lot easier to learn to swim with others who are learning and from those that have already mastered how to swim.
In addition to joining a writer's group, a writer can teach themselves about the various aspects of a novel or short story. However, to test that knowledge or to figure out the full impact of an aspect, it helps to know people who have successfully used it, understand the pros and cons of it, and why and how to tweak the "guidelines" or "rules" because there is a valid reason to do so.
Another reality check— a writer should be a voracious reader. This helps avoid cliched or tropes that are unsalable.
In addition, reading helps learn things by osmosis. That is, by reading good storytelling, the subconscious mind better understands the underpinnings of a story or a character's arc (even if the conscious mind doesn't).
Another aspect is to fully understand that words have weight, connotation, denotation, and a sound. There are even degrees, like pique is not the same thing as wrath (the two are extremes of anger). Same for love, hate, etc. In other words, a storyteller is a wordsmith.
Some reading this will keep their blinders on because the fantasy of writing and creating is what gives them a life-high. Reality burst such bubbles. And yet, reality is the key to success. Learning can be fun. And nothing beats the fireworks-burst of joy when readers crave your stories.
NEXT UPDATE TO THIS BLOG: October 1 — Structured Creativity Liberates
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