Study Books to Improve Writing

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of book discussion groups and have discovered that by looking at a book carefully you can learn a lot that will help with your own writing. I like to go through a book a chapter at a time. Sometimes I’ll include trivia questions about the book for fun; especially groups for kids and teens.

When reading a book for a discussion, I like to summarize the book chapter by chapter. After each chapter I’ll write a few sentences summarizing what happened. By doing this I’ve discovered pacing, flow, plot, and character development. The length of a chapter can enhance the pace of the story. Good books have chapters where the last page makes the reader keep reading to find out what happens next. How does the author build curiosity and suspense in each chapter? How can I do that with my writing?

When making up trivia questions, I’ve found that the more tiny details an author packs into a book, the better. But it has to be done well otherwise too many details slow down the story and bore the reader. The books I’ve read where I can only come up with one or two questions of interesting facts or details per chapter usually aren’t my favorite reads. By contrast, when the author includes many tight but pertinent details, I find that the book reads well, holding my attention and imagination. The reader absorbs these details without effort.

I recommend that you make a note of the page numbers in order to go back and look things up; especially if you are doing trivia. You will be amazed at how many details some readers remember!

Take one of your favorite books and study it to learn more about the craft of writing. Let me know what you discover.

Catching Up and Getting Organized

The last few weeks have been crazy busy but I won’t give any excuses for not posting. Instead I can report that I have cleaned my desk and gotten my writing projects organized. This gives me a game plan to move forward with my writing. As of today I found that I have the following to work on:

  • 4 short stories ready to submit
  • 2 short stories to revise and then submit
  • 1 new story to finish the first draft
  • 1 novel to dust off and see if it is ready to submit

This doesn’t include blog ideas that I have notes for all over the place, so I guess I should add organizing those as a project.

And this doesn’t include the things I need to do for the Wordwrights Writing group.

At least I feel like I have an actual course of action instead of just looking at an overwhelming disorganized pile of folders and notebooks.

I consider this progress.

How about you? Do you have any organizational tips? How do you prioritize your writing projects?


The Importance of Names

When reading a story, have you ever been jarred out of it because of a name? I have and it’s annoying. If a name is hard to pronounce and I’m constantly trying to figure out how to say it, even though it’s in my head, I’m distracted from the story. And that’s not a good thing.

How about when a name doesn’t go with the character? Sometimes a writer can have fun with that and make it work. I remember one story where there was a bodyguard and his name was Pony. The author played with that and it was funny and added to the character actually making him seem stronger and more daunting.

I obsess about names in my writing. I feel that names have power and meaning. Sometimes characters arrive with a definite name and personality. When they don’t I feel that I have to get to know them. Once I know them I want to make sure I give them a name that matches who and what they are.

While I’m working on the first draft of a story and if a name hasn’t clicked with a character yet, I just give the character a place-holding temporary name, like xxx or zzz. Then when I find the perfect name, I use the find and replace feature in my word processor to fill the permanent name in wherever it’s needed.

I’ve found names by looking through baby name books. I’ve found a couple of sites online that give the meaning of names. There is one site that lets you play around with the meanings of names. Every now and then I will base a character on someone I know but I find that can be tricky and limiting so I don’t do that often.

It can be fun making up names. Since I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction I wonder how the authors come up with names.

There are great suggestions in the links below.

How do you name your characters? Do you name your characters after people you know? What are some of your favorite character names?

Writing in Scenes

I write by the scene. When writing short stories I can usually just follow the little movie going on in my imagination. When writing longer pieces I write the scenes that are making the most noise in my head and get them out as fast as I can. Often there isn’t an order to the way they get written but somehow I know what order to put them in once I get the first draft down.

We’ve talked about this a few times in my writing group and it seems that some people have to write everything in the exact chronological order that it happens in the story. These are also the writers who like to make detailed outlines.

I don’t seem to work this way. I find it too restrictive. I also find that I end up having to fill in the gaps and sometimes that gets tricky. In the long run, I think my way of writing takes longer but it seems more fun. I get to discover the story as I go. Sometimes I’ve written myself into a dead-end and have to back track but it’s an adventure of discovery.

 Do you outline? Do you write in chronological order? What works for you?