I learned many lessons about writing the ‘near-Mission Impossible way’ through trial and error with no help or advice at all from anyone else, and I’d like to help give other writers a ‘Quick Start Guide’ for writers who are ‘starting out’, so they can learn from the trial and error I went through, particularly earlier on. Here are my ‘pro tips’:
– Decide on Genre before you do anything else – or start writing first, see what develops from ‘early work’, then decide on Genre.
– Research other things in the same genre and avoid clichés and overused/recycled tropes where possible (visit the TV Tropes website for examples). Aim for originality in a particular genre where you can (e.g don’t make a ‘zombie’ story full of clichés that adds nothing new to the zombie genre just because zombies might be popular). Also, read plenty of books to get a handle on writing.
– Consider the relationship/balance between factors such as originality, execution, and delivery (examples: a brilliantly original plot can be let down by melodramatic delivery and/or poor dialogue, a moderately original/slightly unoriginal plot with excellent execution and a unique delivery can become something ‘fresh’) – think ‘gestalt’ (the whole being greater than the sum of its individual parts)
– If you’re aiming to incorporate spiritual elements/spirituality of some kind, they should ideally be as accessible, relevant, and relateable as possible (and if possible/where applicable, contemporary as well). While they can be ‘made up’ (i.e not based on existing information, beliefs or concepts in spirituality circles), they must make sense and must be consistent in their internal logic – and ideally something the audience can easily grasp (i.e not ‘New Age-y’ or esoteric in any obvious way), or you’ll alienate a wider and more mainstream audience and your work will only reach a niche audience. You must find a style, presentation and genre that are suitable for expressing those spiritual elements – if it doesn’t come across as overtly spiritual, you’ve done your job.
– Make an effort to write every day; 1-2 hours minimum, and ideally longer. Having a rough idea or plan what you’re going to write or work on before you start writing rather than trying to figure everything out on the spot while you’re writing means your writing will be easier, quicker, more efficient and better quality.
– Always keep a notebook handy to record ideas, or type up notes on computer if you don’t like handwriting, and keep regular, up-to-date backups of your work via USB stick as well as an external hard drive.
– Avoid unnecessary ‘throw-away’ scenes that have no dialogue (or at least no significant dialogue) and where virtually nothing happens (e.g 1. a character on the street walking to the entrance of a building before meeting (a) person/people inside, 2. a character is sitting in a waiting room 3. a character walks up to their car and enters before starting to drive) unless they have importance to the overall plot, or are part of a subplot (e.g 1. the character is attacked, meets someone or receives an important phone call or text 2. something significant or unexpected happens in the waiting room 3. something important happens in the car park, or an important sign or visual clue in the car park of later importance needs to be revealed), and learn to ‘cut’ to locations/interiors of locations seamlessly.
– While dialogue is generally the least essential aspect of writing, having intelligent and clever dialogue improves the overall quality – even a brilliant, innovative plot can be tarnished by awful dialogue. Practice writing song lyrics (or poetry, if that works better for you) to improve your ability to write succinct, high quality dialogue which requires fewer words/sentences yet conveys more meaning – see how much meaning you can fit using as few words as possible.
– Quoting a well-known expression doesn’t usually count as originality, as some of these expressions have been quoted so often in TV shows, movies, books, even video games in some cases, that they are considered cliché (e.g ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’). If you can bring originality to a well-known expression by adding a twist to it, or a pun, etc, this is better than simply including well-known expressions word-for-word to give a false impression of a character’s or writer’s wisdom.
– If something can be reworked or tweaked, particularly to allow the introduction of new characters, plot elements, subplots, locations, humour/jokes, backstory, etc, then do so and work the new material/ideas around your existing work – try to avoid scrapping work you’ve already done and starting over from scratch or scrapping whole projects entirely. You can revise, edit, etc as much as you want but once (or if) something’s been produced it usually can’t be changed (esp. movies, books, and TV shows). Sometimes something as simple as changing or tweaking a project’s title can give you more freedom with that project.
– Depending on genre or plot, if a particular country or culture is involved, buy a language dictionary (Can’t emphasise this enough! Especially if you can find one for cheap!) and see what you can use – this can either be dialogue where they speak that language (e.g a historical drama set in Russia), or sometimes a specific word, phrase or expression in a particular language will ‘jump out at you’ and you feel you need to find some way to use it.
– If creating (an) original culture(s) and/or constructed language(s), consider purchasing The Language Construction Kit, and The Planet Construction Kit, and later the Advanced Language Construction Kit.
– Find your ‘style’ – different creative people have a particular style that makes them unique, and are influenced by different things. Find out what these are and ‘work to your strengths’. If particular things were an influence, try to incorporate those influences in a way that fits with your creative style, but differentiate your project(s) as much as possible from what they were influenced by and give your project(s) as much distinctiveness as possible rather than create an obvious knock-off of something else. Feel free to experiment with things such as: acronyms whose initials form a complete word; clever (and importantly, original) portmanteaus; self-aware humour.
– Be patient with ‘getting your work out there’ and hearing people telling you (repeatedly) to ‘get a ‘real’ job as opposed to a ‘fake job’ (because obviously being ‘creative’ counts as a ‘fake job’ in some people’s books) and don’t give up if you get rejected again and again – someone eventually will be able to tell if you have potential! It’s meaningful even if some people are ‘time burglars’. If you have a passion for writing or find it fulfilling, ‘Just Do It’!
– Take regular breaks – have something to eat/drink, meditate, listen to music, whatever you need to do to keep focused.
– Don’t feel you have to rush to ‘get things done on time’ whatever your definition of ‘on time’ is – take as long as you need to avoid a ‘rush job’: “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” – Shigeru Miyamoto (Though the quote is about video games, the same logic can be applied to many other creative mediums)
– If you’re an English speaker, invest in a comprehensive (and up-to-date!) English dictionary and keep it on hand in case you come across a word online or in a book that you aren’t familiar with, especially if it’s a long or obscure English word.
– If you’re ‘into comedy’, watch comedies you enjoy and get an idea of what YOU, not ‘other people’ define as ‘good comedy’. Also, don’t rely on puns on their own for humour – most of the humour from puns comes from how they’re used, not so much the puns themselves.
– Identify and update obsolete information in your own files – “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” in loose terms.
I hope these help! Best of luck with your writing career!