A friend who’s in the middle of drafting his first novel just emailed me asking for a few writing tips. I fired off a response and then realized it might be worth sharing here. Now that I’m working on my fifth novel, I’ve found that fiction is mostly a “learn by doing” craft. Prescriptive advice can only take you so far. That said, here are a few things I try to keep in mind:
- Only write the important/exciting/dramatic/conflict-filled bits. A story is just a series of extremely brief snapshots into a character’s life, the reader fills in the rest in their head. So skip the boring parts, even if they feel necessary.
- Think of your characters as friends, not fictional figments. They’re real people with real lives that extend far beyond the confines of the story. If you drop occasional random details from the rest of their lives, we realize they’re humans rather than dramatis personae.
- Pour your whole self into your writing. It’s tempting to try to save your best work for a key moment or future scene. Instead, pack your pathos into everything. The more you give, the more you make yourself vulnerable, the more the story will resonate.
Finally, write. Novelists are in it for the long haul. Writing when you feel inspired is easy. Writing when you feel uninspired is what distinguishes novelists. When you look back on your own work later, you probably won’t even be able to tell the difference between pieces you wrote with the muse whispering in your ear and those where inspiration abandoned you.
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