Janice Hardy: So You Wanna Be a Writer?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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Azuranna is pleased to welcome her first guest speaker to the library: Janice Hardy from The Other Side of the Story, who will be giving us some suggestions about developing as writers. Tea, coffee, and cookies of many varieties are in plentiful supply, so feel free to help yourselves. (I don't recommend the troll biscuits; they aren't really to a human's taste.) Pull up a chair, rock, or cushion whenever you're ready.

Now that everyone is comfortable, the cavern is yours, Janice.

So You Wanna Be a Writer?

There’s a ton of information on the web about writing, querying, submitting, fixing your weak spots and improving your strong spots, but what do you do when you want to write, but have no clue how to get started? Or you’re not sure what to work on next to get to the next skill level? How do you turn it from a hobby to a possible career?

How much writing you’ve done and how solid your fundamentals are will determine how much work you might need to do to reach the professional level required for publishing. Here’s a general outline for gauging your ability and things you can do to get to the next level:

Beginner: You’re not sure the proper use of punct
uation, your grammar is iffy, and you’re not totally sure what the difference is between an adverb and an adjective. The only writing you’ve done is work or email related, maybe a few creative pieces here and there. It’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ve done nothing yet to improve your skills. Work on developing those basic skills as your first step. Read a few books on grammar and the basics of writing. Practice your writing so it’s formatted properly and the technical aspects are correct. Write about anything you want, but try to get in both dialog and exposition to get a feel for how it all works together.

Novice: Your fundamentals are good, but when people talk about things like POV and narrative drive you’re not sure what they mean. It’s time to learn the lingo. Writing has its own terminology, and advice is going to come in that language. To benefit from that advice, you first have to understand it. Familiarize yourself with the common terms and what they mean, as well as how to use them. Then try writing a story that utilizing these aspects. Pick one at a time if you’d like to make it easier and allow you to focus on how it’s done. The goal is to understand all the pieces so you can start using them to your advantage.

Apprentice: You understand the common terms and what they mean. Your writing skills are solid. You’ve written stories, but your feedback often contains phrases like, “nothing happens,” or “what’s the point of this story?” This might be a good time to work on story structure and plotting. Read up on things like conflict and character arcs. Explore the components that go into a story, such as how scenes and acts work, what sequels are and how they all string together to form a novel. Study what makes a good beginning, what happens in the middle, and how you resolve the story in the end. Try writing stories with complete story arcs that start somewhere, fulfill a plot, and then end with a resolution of some kind.

Intermediate: Your writing’s pretty decent and you know how stories are put together. You can
create plots and finish a story, but sometimes things feel a little flat. Feedback includes comments like “There’s too much backstory” or “you’re telling too much,” or “why are they doing this?” Try digging into your characters more and studying POV. Read up on character development, motivations, goals and stakes. Understand why they’re doing what they do and why they see things as they see it. Study how characters advance plot. Try writing stories that strive for clear goals and stakes, a solid plot, and character growth of some kind.

Advanced: You write well, can craft a good story and get compliments on your skills. But not every story is wowing folks, and you know you have a few trouble spots here and there to work on. Work on your weak spots, those things that are getting mentioned in any feedback you receive (or the nagging doubts you feel about your own skills. Trust your instincts). Try looking at your pacing and how you feed information to the reader. Study what makes a good story, and not just the mechanics of a book. You have the technical skills, now it’s time to develop your storyteller skills and find your voice (if you haven’t already). Write the types of stories you enjoy and keep writing them. Learn how to revise and polish. Study books on editing and crafting compelling stories.

Naturally, not every writer will fit into this exactly, and some folks will be better at one area that’s higher on the list, and worse at others, but hopefully it provides a general guide to help you decide what you might need to focus on next. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to work on the things that you feel need work. If your plotting skills are strong, work on character development or storytelling. If characters are your thing, work on plotting. The goal is to have a well-rounded skill set that you can use to get those stories down on paper.

Each writer will find their own way of doing things, but every one will still need good writing skills and an understanding of what makes a good story. Don’t feel you have to do it all at once. There’s a lot to learn, and taking it step by step will allow you to develop strong skills at every stage, so when you’re ready to go pro, you have all the tools you’ll need.

Thank you so much for visiting us today, Janice. You are welcome back anytime.

Blue Fire Blurb
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

You can buy this book at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon. If you haven't checked out The Shifter or Blue Fire yet, you should. They are amazing.

Janice Hardy Bio
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.

Her website and blog
The Other Side of the Story Blog


Jai Joshi said...

Great guest post from Janice! I liked the breakdown of the different levels of writing. Very true.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hey Jaleh! I saw your comment on DL's site. I'd be honored if you gave my science fiction book a try.

Brad said...

Excellent advice!

Janice Hardy said...

Thanks! I've run into a lot of writers who say they wish they knew "where they were" so they knew what to focus on to improve.

Jaleh D said...

Welcome, Alex. And I'll see if I can find your book. :)

The library denizens all agree that we'll have to do this again. Thanks, for sharing your guideline with us, Janice. And remember, next month, we have Juliette Wade coming.

Dario said...

Just discovered this post--Janice scores yet again with her usual laser-like insight! Thanks, Janice and Jaleh!

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