So you long to write a best selling novel, a blockbuster script, a heart stopping play? You dream of epic stories, awesome twists and gasp worthy thrills? Fortunately, before you splat years of your creative life down the toilet, or worse, give up after writing chapter one, there’s some basic writing fundamentals that apply right across the board. You wouldn’t go climb a mountain without reading a map first now would you?
1. Know your genre
If you think you have a good idea for a horror movie that involves a mad man wearing a William Shatner mask slashing people on Halloween, check first to see if it’s been done before… It if it has, tough luck, so let it go immediately and move on to the next one. If it hasn’t… you might be onto something. Also, by knowing the conventions inside out, your work will be stronger as it can play a game with the reader who wants you to be an authority on said genre so you can surprise them. This will also make your work much more commercially aware and thus more likely to sell. Which is the ultimate goal, right? Do. Your. Homework.
2. Keep an ideas book
Sometimes someone else in a better position has a similar idea to you. It hurts (even more when it turns out bad) and it’s very annoying, so keep a list of many ideas in the bank that you can develop over time. Remember, all published authors were once unpublished. Your ideas are your currency, so nurture them and keep them safe.
3. Temper your expectations
Our myopic media only tends to report the extreme 0.01% of monster success stories like Gone Girl, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Da Vinci Code. James Patterson earned 86 million last year. The galling reality is that there are over 184,000 books released every year in the UK alone by many, many other talented writers. The average person perhaps buys ten books a year, maximum, and there’ll be some absolute gems amongst those that sadly got lost in the rough. Do the best you can do, enjoy it, but don’t expect millions (yet). This excellent article recalibrates these sky high expectations.
4. Aim for grey areas
If you aim for simple black and white topics, you may struggle to find conflict. And without conflict there’s no drama and without drama…. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. You’ve lost momentum and already by then the audience. So look for interesting themes that give your heroes and villains plenty of conflict, internal and external. It’ll give you tonnes to write about. For an example, look no further than Dan Brown, who’s staggering success depends partly on intense debates with religion vs science.
5. Understand structure
This is one of the most important. Most people typically have a great character idea, or first act. After they write it, the story then grinds to a halt and they then dump the project, disillusioned it hasn’t all come together at once. You must understand structure and how to throw curve balls at your characters, to keep the momentum moving, keep people reading. Try this: next time you’re watching a movie, watch what happens around 10 minutes in, 30 minutes in, an hour in… Something always causes our hero to struggle, change. Their dilemmas worsen and worsen until at the last moment, they save the day! You must do the same for your writing too.
6. Don’t give up the day job
This is normally used in the derogatory sense (i.e. you suck) but it’s also important not to be reckless with your life too quickly. Because of the 0.01% examples mentioned earlier, people tend to do crazy sacrifices both personal and financial with no guarantees of any return in pursuit of the millions reported by the media. So take it slow, and when you’ve earnt those millions THEN think about it. This isn’t negative, but a healthy dose of reality can stop you making big mistakes later on.
By using these top 6 tips, your fledgling idea will have the chance to emerge in muscle bound glory, with a real chance for success and make you a much better writer in the long run.
Be kind to yourself too. These things can take a long time, but ignore these tips at your peril…