It’s important to have conflict on every page. And don’t forget to always drive the plot forward. Make sure you’re always developing your characters. Use tight sentences that convey a lot of information. Write natural-sounding dialogue. Build tension throughout the book and always increase the stakes. Avoid the passive voice like the plague. Be true to your characters’ personalities. Give every person in the book a desire. Reveal enough to interest the reader, but not so much that it ruins the intrigue. Build sufficient credibility to suspend disbelief. Make the reader empathize with the protagonist.
Okay, now close your eyes.
Do you remember every piece of advice you just read?
If you said yes: (1) I hate you, (2) go be a scientist or something. If you’re like the rest of us, you probably can’t keep all of those things at the forefront of your mind at all times. If we can’t remember all of them right after reading the list, how can we remember all of them while focusing on putting words to paper, crafting a story, or figuring out what your character will say or do next?
The short answer is that we can’t, which is okay. And it’s important to understand why.
There are a ton of great books on the craft of writing out there (The Fire In Fiction, The First Five Pages, and many others), and they have plenty of useful advice. Important advice that can be the difference between a bad story and a good one, or a good one and one that will be talked about for years to come.
I’ve listed some of this advice in previous posts, and doubtless you’ve read more than you could possibly remember from various books, magazines, and articles, but the most important question that comes out of reading such great advice is: how do you implement it in your own work going forward? And I don’t just mean how to use it in your next writing session, or for the next week. I mean how to make it a habit so that you can build upon your writing skills when you read the next piece of advice, and the next one, instead of simply replacing one new technique with another.
This is one of the more important questions you can ask about writing, because it’s about constantly getting better rather than implementing one specific tip, trick, or piece of advice in your writing. It’s about implementing every specific tip, trick, or piece of advice (that works for you) in your writing.
If you ask me, the answer lies in moving these ideas from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind. I’m not going to get all scientific on you, but it really seems that the only way to bring together the hundreds of small things that make a great story is to ingrain them so deeply in your habits that you naturally leverage them without having to hold them at the very front of your mind. And this comes from two things: a constant desire to get better, and practice. The first is about reading everything you can, noticing what works and what doesn’t, reading books on writing, reading articles, reading blogs, and talking to other writers, readers, and people. The second is about going out there and writing consciously – finding something new and practicing it. Just reading a tip ten times won’t help you absorb it and use it from now until your 80th birthday, but reading a technique and consciously practicing it just might. If you’ve ever tried it before you know it’s true.
But it takes a lot of effort. And even when you’ve mastered the craft, you can’t simply sit down and shoot gold out of your fingertips with your brain at half power. Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. Even the greats have to put in 110% of their effort every time they sit down to write. And even they don’t write stories in one draft.
So go out and keep reading, keep learning, keep practicing. Never stop. It’s the only way to internalize the basics so you can focus on the intermediate, to internalize the intermediate so you can focus on the advanced; to finally write the story you always knew you could.
It won’t happen on its own.
What about you? How do you find ways to use the advice you read about writing? How do you consistently apply it to your work year after year? Do you agree with the above? Disagree? Only skimmed it so not really sure?