Hello, readers! Welcome to 2016! We hope the year has been treating you well. It’s been a mixed bag for the Ferrets so far, it seems. But life is life.
I started out as a writer by writing fanfiction.
That’s not necessarily strictly true – I wrote a few scattered stories (even poetry!) and chopped up bits of a novel as a kid and younger teenager, and I started writing (and sharing) fanfiction seriously during my first NaNoWriMo, which means during the time I was also writing my first completed original first novel draft.
But I have spent a lot of time writing and reading in the realms of fanfiction, and I did fall into it at around the same time I was beginning to seriously start writing. I think that has in some ways changed or broadened my perceptions (or even simply my vocabulary) when it comes to writing even in the arena of original works.
I off-handedly describe things I’m writing via the fanfiction-standard (more or less) terms, explaining that it is fluff or angst, or H/C – crack, WAFF, PWP, UST. Sometimes these are easily understandable outside of the fanfiction realm and sometimes they require a bit more explanation, but to some degree it is where I think first for definitive words.
I have discovered over the years that I have two settings when it comes to writing – I can write very short, or very long. (This holds true in the a smaller degree when I write short stories – I can do drabbles, or little shorts of a few thousand words, or wind up with a ‘short story’ that is pushing 45,000 words. Not a short story any more.)
Today I’m talking about the short side of things, obviously. (I don’t have such an easy explanation for the longer side of my writing habits.)
Really, though, I am very fond of short fiction, both reading (bite-sized pieces of story? Yes please!) and writing. I think it can be a very fun look at things.
One reason why I like writing short fiction, and why I think it’s done so much for me as a writer (I’ve written a lot of tiny stories), is that it makes me think about words. Now if you know me – or, heck, if you’ve read much of my rambling on writing in the past – you might be given pause at this point, because no, I never think about words ever, nope nope nope.
I’ve done… er… a few blog posts on outlining in my time, to put it mildly. (I’ll link them all at the end of this post.)
If you’re new to the writing scene, let me warn you now: you are going to hear a lot about why outlines are bad, or why outlines will solve all your problems, or why if you’re doing anything other than writing the actual story, you’re wasting your time.
Ignore all that.
If you’re an outliner by nature, you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. Your stories will likely wander otherwise, and there won’t be a visible plot in your story if you just ‘wing it’, even if you started with a specific plot in mind.
But outlining your story does not mean that you’ve lost all chances of improvisation, or letting your characters ‘come to life’.
So you’ve seen me talking (at length) about stories that get away from me, and NaNoNovels that are over 100,000 words and still don’t include all the plot points they’ll need (and will need to be cut down extremely). . .
Obviously, I tend towards long forms for writing. My novels are usually 100k or longer, and often part of larger worlds with either prequels/sequels or companion books. My ‘short stories’ can push closer to novella lengths if I let them. (Sometimes even if I had no intention of letting them.)
Indeed I do. Because on the flip-side, I also write a ton of teeny-tiny stories, and I think that they are a fabulous form of practise in a lot of ways for a writer, no matter what your preferred length of story to tell may be.
That one phrase may almost entirely encapsulate my style of preparation for writing. Of all the Ferrets, I think I am the one most likely to leap into a new story with no preparation, plotting sessions – or outlines.
Indeed. I do not outline.
That is to say, I’ve tried, once or twice (and it is definitely a possibility that it might actually be helpful for me to come up with at least a loose, easy version of outlining I can and will use reliably – I will never be on the level of Rebekah, our Queen of Outlines, of course) but it never settles for me.
When I start a new story or novel, most often what I have is a scene. A single scene. I may not even know when or where it is. I may not even know yet what kind of world it takes place in. If I’m lucky, I will also know a few more things about the characters participating in the scene, and even a few of the other characters around them.
I value vivid imagery in books I read, and strive for clarity as I write. As a result, the style tips I value most involve cleaning away dead wood to reveal the heart of the story. What do I mean? Ruthlessly replacing dull verbs, and breathing life into dead words.
Up for the challenge? See if these sound familiar.
Eliminate “that” and “this”We fall back on “that” and “this” when we’re not sure where to draw the reader’s attention.
Be specific. What is “that” really? Could you replace the imposter with a real noun? How can you make the passage clearer?
If you pen foggy lines, you risk setting your audience adrift.
It’s time for my (first?) writing style post, and I’m so excited! We’ve already read Michelle’s post on non-scary outlining.
Michelle explained how she first creates a loose outline for her first draft with the beginning scene, a couple of middle scenes, and the story climax. She continues to add to this loose outline as she writes.
Then she reads her first draft and makes a detailed outline from there to see how the story needs to change to be told better. (Rest assured, no matter what type of outlining you do, you WILL be rewriting your story. Likely several times.)
I’m the other true outliner of the Ferrets. I learned this the hard way in 2009, during NaNoWriMo. I finished the month with 50,000 words (for the first time ever!), but they sucked. And they rambled. There was no plot – even though I’d had one in mind when I started writing. Even four years later, I… still haven’t had the courage to re-read that mess.
The next year, I did a loose outline much like the one Michelle does for her first draft. The writing went much smoother, but still rambled too much. So, in 2011, I finally caved to my true desires. Continue reading