The Writer’s Toolbox
by Katie Oliver
There are a great many “how-to-write” books out there. If you’re a writer, whether aspiring, published, or self-published, you’ll find shelves of reference books offering advice on everything from plotting and characterization to how to create realistic dialogue. They’re excellent resources on the craft of writing.
The problem is that one size does not fit all. There are those who swear by notecards, storyboards, scene-by-scene details. Others wing it with nothing more than an idea to get them started. Some write the ending first; others make it up as they go.
And really, any way is fine…as long as it leads to a finished, well-written book. What constitutes a well-written story, you ask? That’s where the writer’s toolbox comes in.
A book needs an inciting incident, a couple of major turning points, a dark moment of the soul, a denouement, and (for all but literary fiction), a happy ending. It needs compelling characters. Conflict. Emotion. It needs that certain something that sets it apart from all of the other stories out there. This is particularly true of genre fiction.
While a book needs a great cover, an enticing blurb, and a savvy marketing campaign, it’s what’s inside that determines whether readers will turn those pages and buy your next book, or put it aside and never pick it up again.
Some writers chafe at restrictions. They want to give free rein to their imagination and write. Which is fine for a first draft.
But study any beloved novel – Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, Madame Bovary – and you’ll find theme, symbolism, emotion, plot, and subplot (often more than one). But you’re not writing a fusty old classical novel, you counter? Doesn’t matter. The same principles – plot, theme, characterization, etc. – are present in modern published novels. Films, too. You simply cannot write a good story without utilizing these tools of the writer’s trade.
That said, here are a few tools EVERY writer should use.
Start in the middle of things. Something major and life changing is about to turn the protagonist’s life upside down. Things will never be the same again, and neither will your main character. It will take him or her the length of the story to figure things out, to grow and change along the way as a result.
Avoid clichés. Don’t begin a story with an opening we’ve seen a thousand times before. Make your situations and characters unique and fresh.
Limit backstory. This relates not only to openings, but also to information dumps throughout the story. Details of your protagonist’s childhood, previous relationships, family background, etc. may be helpful, even necessary, to you the writer. But the reader will quickly grow bored. And you don’t want to bore your reader. Only provide background information that’s absolutely critical to the story.
Limit flashbacks. Use them only where necessary and keep them brief.
Build in conflict. In fiction, there’s no story without it. Conflict can be internal (I’m terrified of heights but I have to rescue my child from that high tree limb), external/nature (the road is washed out, I can’t get to the tree), or external/antagonist (my ex-husband disabled the car and stole my phone so I can’t call for help). You get the idea. Don’t ever make it easy for your main characters.
Consider theme as you write. It can be something as simple as “Love lost, love found” (The Great Gatsby, Gone With the Wind) or “absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Animal Farm,Macbeth).
Build in emotion. This is one of the first lessons I learned as a professional writer. Readers need to care about your characters, and without experiencing the highs and lows of their emotions, they won’t.
Establish a writing platform. You’ll need a platform to share your book on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram. Social media is your best friend if you use it wisely.
And finally, promote your book. But do it the right way.
A greatmany writers Tweet an endless stream of book links on their feeds. They rarely interact with followers. They don’t express gratitude to followers for retweets. They don’t support indie published authors. They Tweet to the same readers, the same bloggers, without ever widening their scope. Big mistakes.
Be supportive, and others will support you. Reach out. Talk to people (and not just about books!). Thank them for retweets. Be interested, and they’ll be interested in you. I set aside an hour each morning to respond to Tweets, Facebook posts, and to post to Twitter and/or my author page.
Being a writer is exciting. It’s amazing, exhilarating…and sometimes, exhausting. It can also lead to burnout.
But despite the ups and downs, despite the occasional setbacks and disappointments, there’s still nothing else I’d rather do.
Katie Oliver is the best-selling author of Prada and Prejudice and the Dating Mr Darcy/Marrying Mr Darcy series. She loves romantic comedies, characters who “meet cute,” Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that order). She currently resides in South Florida with her husband.
Facebook Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/KatieOliverWriter
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/katiewriter/ – @katiewriter
Jane Austen Variations Author Page: http://austenvariations.com/aboutold/katie-oliver/
AMAZON UNIVERSAL BUY LINKS:
DATING MR DARCY series:
Prada & Prejudice – myBook.to/Prada
Love & Liability – myBook.to/LoveandLiability
Mansfield Lark – myBook.to/MansfieldLark
MARRYING MR DARCY series:
And the Bride Wore Prada – myBook.to/ATBWP
Love, Lies & Louboutins – myBook.to/LoveLiesLouboutins
Manolos in Manhattan – myBook.to/ManolosinManhattan
JANE AUSTEN FACTOR series:
What Would Lizzy Bennet Do? – myBook.to/WWLBD
The Trouble With Emma – myBook.to/TroubleWEmma
Who Needs Mr Willoughby? – myBook.to/WNWilloughby