Behind “The Process”: FAQ from the Internet writing community

Answering questions on writing from the internet
Photo by Bruce Mars (Unsplash)

Hey everybody!

On my podcast, Creative Ops, I talk to…creative people. This takes all forms: art, hobbies, lifestyle, business, etc…. One of the recurring bits of advice I’ve gotten (and shared) is so simple, you’ll feel like an idiot for not thinking of it yourself. Join a community of like-minded people. This could be a real group that meets in-person. Or, since, ya know…everything, you could find online groups.

I found and joined a few such groups online for writers. As someone who has a formal education in writing and literature, it seems that I answer more questions than I ask in these groups. That’s not me saying I’m a better writer than the newbies, just that I’ve asked a lot of those questions before. But there’s a few questions that keep popping up, so I thought I’d go through some of the most asked questions I’ve seen online. The answers will be brief, but I’ll link you up to other posts if you want a deeper dive.

Here we go!

How do you start writing?

Where do writers’ get their ideas?

First of all, don’t ask a writer this question. At least, not in this way. Why? Read my post, You Should Never Ask a Writer…

Never one to take good advice (even my own), I set out to answer this question with Behind “The Process”: Where DO Ideas Come From? I’ll point you towards free-writing again. Ideas come, seemingly from nowhere, when you do this.

Here’s the kicker, at least for aspiring novelists. A single idea does not a story make. My novel (not available yet) started from one idea. But then I had a different idea I liked better. I didn’t scrap the first one. Not entirely. Instead, I incorporated it. And that is (besides a gross simplification) what makes a layered story–multiple ideas mixing together to make a beginning, middle, and end that work harmoniously. Don’t take if from me, listen to what the legends have to say. In Behind “The Process”: Where DO Ideas Come From?, I refer to a single interview with 4 of the best horror writers of all time.

I need to outline before I start, right?

No. Behind “The Process”: Plotting vs Writing goes into it further. Essentially, and this is my opinion, which you’re welcome to disagree with, plotting (or outlining) is something that can turn your story into a paint-by-numbers experience. There are terrific writers that outline every…single…thing that happens in their story. If it feels good, do it. It just doesn’t feel good to me. I like the exploration of figuring it out on the fly. You’ll rewrite and edit it, anyway. Don’t take your first pass too seriously. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is plotting.jpg
An example of how I outline an ENTIRE chapter. (And I often break from the outline.) It’s more of a mental warm-up than anything.

How do you make characters believable?

Ever read a story where complete strangers bend over backward to help the main character (MC)? I don’t know about you, but I find it unrealistic–most of the time. The answer to realistic characters is quite simple, really. The short answer: at their core, most characters should be looking out for themselves, regardless the situation. Read more in Behind “The Process” Quickie: The Simplest Trick to Writing Believable Characters. (It’s short.)

How important is dialogue?

Elmore Leonard said (not a direct quote) that people skip pages with no dialogue, so he tried to have some on every page. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this: If you have the choice of furthering the action with narration or dialogue–use dialogue.

However, you don’t want to use the same tags over and over. Tags are he said, she cried, their voices echoed. Dialogue tags let the reader know whom is speaking. I’m actually quite proud of my post, Behind “The Process”: Proper Placement of Dialogue Tags. I go much deeper into how to use them, how to vary usage, and where to put them in the sentence for maximum impact.

And if you really want your dialogue to work, use this quick tip: Behind “The Process” Quickie: Dialogue Tip

I have my first draft. Now what?

Don’t show it off. Not yet. It’s a baby of an idea that can’t quite walk on its own legs. Here is the part where you have to start questioning yourself. No, not like, Am I a good writer?, but, Is this as good as it can be?

Writing is rewriting. I think King said that. At least that’s where I heard it. I’m sure that piece of wisdom has been around awhile. It’s absolutely true. You could take a shit idea and make it a fun read, if you tool around with it enough. Think of it like an old TV set with a bunny-ear antenna–keep making adjustments until you see what you want. You might get something out of Behind “The Process”: Rewriting.

How do I know when my story is ready for its first readers?

Hopefully you’ve followed (or customized) the earlier info. After you rewrote it to the point you just can’t wait for someone to read it…

Editing.

Some people think it’s a chore, but I. Love. Editing. It’s fun. The hardest part is done. This is just cleanup.

How do you edit properly? Good question. Here’s the answer: Behind “The Process”: Just Kill Em Already (Editing). In short, be brutal. Take out every little thing that doesn’t absolutely, 100% need to be there. There’s a lot to be said for economy of words.

What’s the most overlooked writing tip?

This is easy. Absolute no-brainer. The post, Behind “The Process” Quickie: The most underrated writing tip of all time!, is so short I’m not giving you a teaser. Sorry.

I want to show my writing, but I’m too shy

OK. I realize that isn’t a question, but it deserves to be addressed. For every story you’ve seen on a bookshelf, there are millions that have never seen the light of day.

Behind “The Process”: Don’t Be Shy outlines a few things to keep in mind when getting ready to share something for the first time.

  1. You won’t write something that everyone loves, but you won’t write something that everyone hates either.
    • Not every every story is universally loved. Don’t be offended if someone says, It’s not for me.
  2. If you come across a reader who is mean about your work, they’re probably just an A-hole. Move on.
    • This rarely happens if you’re sharing with people you know. But if you put something online, remember that hurt-people hurt people. Don’t give time or attention to unconstructive feedback.
  3. Check your ego at the door when you ask for feedback.
    • Honest readers will always tell you where something could be improved, wasn’t clear, or whatever. And even the heavyweights still get and use feedback. Don’t be upset if someone doesn’t see it as a masterpiece, use their critiques to make it better!

Parting Advice

Study the craft. Read books about writing, written by people you admire. Get on YouTube and watch author interviews. I put this little thing together: Classic Author Interviews: Christopher Tallon’s All-Time Favorites.

Most importantly, keep writing as much as you can. Keep at your WIP (work in progress), write blogs, write for the fun of writing with no expectation once in awhile.

Keep writing. Keep having fun!

Nothin but love, y’all!

-CT

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Christopher Tallon writes, podcasts, and…wait a second. Are you actually reading this? High five!

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