If I wanted to just relax on my vacation, I would look for a house with a circle door to rent in the Shire. I would talke long walks, mix with the local hobbits, sample the regional cuisine, and do research on the area.
But if I was looking for adventure, I would book passage to London 1895 and join Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and solve a mystery.
How to Write Anything: a Complete Guide by Laura Brown is not really about how to accomplish every kind of writing there is. It’s a guide to what I call technical writing. Ms. Brown covers personal writing, like holiday newsletters, wedding announcements, and complaints, school writing which includes everything from note-taking to lab reports and essays, and business writing. She also discusses writing online.
What does this great book have to do with creative writing? Ms. Brown states in her introduction that all this technical writing can be accomplished by dividing the process into six parts: purpose, reader, brainstorm, organize, draft, and revise. I think those six sections work for creative writing, too.
Purpose — Why are you writing a particular piece? Is it to entertain yourself? Share a message with others?
Reader — What reader is your writing aimed at? Yourself? Friends? If you want to be published, you must know the audience you are writing for. Publishers expect you to know that information and tailor your work to your readers.
Brainstorm — Everybody knows what this means. I will add I sometimes think of great ideas and then believe I will remember them. When it comes time to write them down, I forget what they were. So write down your brainstorming ideas.
Organize — This may take many forms when you are writing creatively. Some people work best with a detailed outline and others may need to jot down just the significant plot points and write to connect those dots.
Draft — Pull your brainstorming and organization together in a first draft.
Revise — Always review and rewrite. Even if it’s just a cute poem for a friend to celebrate her birthday, review and rewrite. Very, very few writers, and I’m definitely not one of them, write something great the first time.
This process will serve any writer well for any kind of writing. If you need examples of technical writing, check out How to Write Anything. I found much of the advice about writing online especially helpful.
Ms. Brown writes in Chapter 2 that a person doesn’t have to use the process in the order listed above but should consider all the parts sometime during writing, if he has the time. I think creative writers should always consider all six parts for every piece of writing.
Does this process sound like it would work for you? Maybe you already have a productive writing process. Let me know what it is. I am always ready to learn!
I think this is great advice if you are brainstorming for some kind of story, or if you are stalled in a scene of a larger work.
This is espeically helpful to me because I am a character-driven writer. I develop characters first, get to know them inside and out, and then try to concoct a plot for them. When I really know my characters — and some I have known longer than my husband — scenes sometimes just write themselves.
One Sunday I sat down to write fiction just for the fun of it and used characters from my novel. I had had a scene in mind for a long time. Like many of my scenes, I knew how I wanted it to start and how it should end, but the journey between those points was completely unknown. That’s when the fun began.
The scene consisted of only three characters in a conversation. Once I began writing, my regular characters took over. I found myself writing dialogue that surprised me and yet I was thinking, “Yes, that’s exactly what Mike would say.” It felt like, as Mr. McManus writes, I was “eavesdropping on my own characters.”
If you like creating characters and writing dialogue, get your characters yakking. You could find a new approach to your writing. Or just a lot of fun.
My favorite was hunting for seashells at Shackleford Banks, North Carolina. My family took a ferry to a barrier island whose only inhabitants are wild horses. Shackleford Banks is nine miles of beach and scrub and one building containing a restroom.
We crossed the the island from where the ferry dropped us off to the side that faces the ocean. During low tide, we wore masks and, holding hands, floated on the sea looking for shells. When we spotted a good candidate, we reached for it.
The thrill of discovering a complete shell, six-inches longer or longer, never grew old. The vacation combined several things I love — the sea, treasure hunts, and family. That day was pure joy.
If you are prompted to write something, please share it. Keep your writing fun and friendly. If you have written a long piece, just submit the first hundred words. Hope to hear from you!
“Why do you give your characters and places such odd names?”
Mr. McManus explains that naming his characters Retch or Rancid or the Troll immediately tells the reader something about those characters. He adds, “Because of the brevity required for short humor, one must continually look for way to save words. Comically descriptive names for characters and places are one of mine.”
Descriptive nicknames can work in longer fiction, too. In the mystery A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard, FBI agent Serena Jones catches two men peddling stolen art. Since she doesn’t know their names, she calls them “Baldy” and “Sidekick”. The main character in Marissa Shrock’s The First Principle, a dystopian Christian fiction YA novel, overhears a conversation between two women who are strangers to her. Based on their appearances, she calls them “Puffy” and “Pudgy”.
In both examples, the main characters nickname minor ones because they don’t know their names. The nicknames tell readers something about those minor characters and it’s more concise for the author to write “Baldy” rather than “the bald man” or Puffy rather than “the woman with the puffy face.”
I have a special affection for nicknames because I use them for family members. In my novel, I have character who nicknames almost everyone. He calls his nephew who is a drummer “Sticks” and another nephew who wears a cowboy hat “Cowboy”.
Nicknames not only tell you something about the character with the name, but also about the person who invented it. If a teen calls his math teacher “the Fuhrer”, that reveals qualities about the teacher and the teen.
I think having a character hand out nicknames and giving them to major characters make all your characters seem more real. Many of us have nicknames, sometimes tied to our family relationships, hobbies, jobs, or physical characteristics, and those nicknames highlight different aspects of our life. They can do the same for your characters.
Keep nicknames in mind for humor, brevity, description, or character development.