Guest post: Tips for Improving Your Story-Writing Skills by Patrick Swimmerly

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of the craft of creative writing, is brought to you by Patrick Swimmerly.

Tips for Improving Your Story-Writing Skills

As a story writer, it can be too easy to focus on the mechanics of getting work submitted to editors and just forget that your story writing is also of most importance. We should always be striving and seeking ways to improve our story writing skills. When we do that, our approvals from editors will become much easier. Below are some of the things you can start doing that will help improve your story writing skills and the chances of being published.

Improved Vocabulary

All successful story writers find ways to improve their vocabulary skills every single day. Purchase a good dictionary, and learn some new words every single day. Even if you just choose one word a day, play with it by using it in sentences, descriptions and dialogues throughout the day. As you do this, keep a running list of the words you have learned. In a month or two, try to define each and every word. If you can’t remember one of the words meaning, look it up again and use it again for a month. This is a great way to get your vocabulary growing.

Read More

Successful story writers read a lot. You won’t come up with new and original ideas unless you know what hasn’t been used before. Read as much and as often as you can, both in the area you specifically write in and beyond that. If you happen to write crime fiction stories, read about horror fiction, classics, science fiction, and some of the recent blockbusters. Choose some non fiction as well in the areas of mythology, biology, astronomy, and archeology. Nothing is ever a waste to read and you will learn more and more as you read.

Deconstruct Writing

Successful story writers will deconstruct a writing that works. If you read a story that you see as a very good piece of work, or if it’s a book that has had huge success in your area of writing, read it one more time. Take notes this time around and ask yourself a few questions. What was it that really grasped your attention about the book? What did the writer do that you don’t do? What could you have done differently? You can do the same thing if you see a really bad writing. Once you do this over and over, it becomes automatic and from the notes you take, you can begin a good list of tips to follow for yourself. This is how you can make improvements in your story writing.

Edit Yourself

Successful writers will edit themselves. You need to be able to take a look at your writing without passion. Develop thick skin and be a critic to your own writing. Once you have written something, leave it alone for a couple of days, then look over it again to critic your work. Go over your spelling. Check all your grammar. Remove anything that seems too repetitive. Are the verbs the correct tense? Change the long words to short words if they will work. Continue to critic your work until you feel it is the best it can be. You need to be the first one to respect your writing before you can expect others to respect it.

All of the above tips can help you enhance your story writing skills. Get inspired, and really work hard so that you can write stories that you are proud to see other people picking up and reading with great delight.

Thank you, Patrick!

Patrick Swimmerly writes about the arts, personal finance & finding the best term life insurance.

***

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with author of science fantasy and urban fantasy for children and thrillers R.A. Jones – the five hundred and fifty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

** NEW!! You can now subscribe to this blog on your Kindle / Kindle app!

See http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B008E88JN0

or http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008E88JN0 for outside the UK **

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internetview my Books and I also have a blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

5AM FLASH 240712: 10 Questions Your Readers Shouldn’t Have to Ask

Every now and then at 5am (probably posted by my clone) I will be bringing you a newsflash, update on what I’m doing, invited guest piece, or whatever takes my fancy, and today I’d like to mention a great article I spotted online (via a Twitter tweet actually)…

10 Questions Your Readers Shouldn’t Have to Ask by K.M. Weiland.

This article starts… ‘The most important thing an author can present in the beginning of any scene is a question that will hook readers into needing to know the answer. The second most important thing is making certain that question isn’t the wrong question.’ The ten questions are… (see the article for K.M.’s explanations)

  1. What is the character’s name?
  2. How old is this person?
  3. What does this person look like?
  4. Who is this person?
  5. Where is this scene taking place?
  6. What year / season / day is it?
  7. Who is this character interacting with
  8. What is the narrator’s relation to the other character(s)?
  9. What is the character trying to accomplish in this scene?
  10. Why should I care about any of this?

These are brilliant questions that, as writers, we should be asking ourselves when writing / editing the story. We will of course know more than goes into the piece but as long as we can answer the questions from the final version then we will, hopefully, feel that the reader won’t stumble on any aspect of it and reach the end feeling entertained / educated… or both. 🙂

See http://wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.fr/2012/07/10-questions-your-readers-shouldnt-have.html for the full article.

***

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

To re-read or not to re-read

Last Friday’s edition of my e-newspaper featured a tweet from Guardian Books and quoted Harold Bloom‘s incantation “Reread Shakespeare. Reread Shakespeare. I always reread Shakespeare” which got me thinking…

I have re-read some books (my favourite being Kate Atkinson‘s anthology ‘Not the end of the world‘) but I have hundreds (literally) of books that I’ve not read for the first time so wonder whether I will indeed read any books more than once. If I love a book I certainly keep it (if I don’t it goes to my local British Red Cross shop – where I volunteer sorting their donated books) but it may sit there gathering dust.

I must admit I listen to audiobooks more often than I read paperbacks (and even rarer hardbacks and eBooks) because I rarely stay still for long enough. Listening to an audiobook (the latest being the 7-hour Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which I’m looking forward to seeing at the cinema) at least leaves me free to… do housework, walk the dog, walk to / from work and so on.

I also admit that I’m not a fan of Shakespeare. I did Macbeth and Midsummer Night’s Dream at school and enjoyed seeing them acted (in Stratford Upon Avon and London respectively) but given the choice (which since leaving school I now have) I wouldn’t read Shakespeare for the first time let alone a second (sorry, Shakespeare fans amongst you). I don’t know whether it’s because history was my worst topic at school but give me contemporary fiction any day.

I love films and have a season ticket to my local cinema (usually a double showing after my Red Cross stint) and ultimately get the DVD (invariably for a pound or two from a car boot sale some months later) and can watch films over and over. Having learned the plot from the first viewing it’s easy then to relax and I love spotting things I didn’t notice the first time because I was concentrating too much. And surely the same can be said for a book; if I enjoyed it the first time, would I not enjoy it even more the second… third?

I do plan to read more next year, as leaving my job at Christmas will free up more time, but for the foreseeable it’ll be first reads of the rows of books around my bedroom walls… dining room cabinets… lounge and bathroom bookcases… toilet windowsill – you name the room, it’s got books in it. Most are novellas and anthologies so fairly quick to read and maybe I’ll love enough of them to let them stay once they’ve been read. Will they be thumbed again? As the saying goes, ‘time will tell’, but reading is such a pleasure that I need to not feel guilty if that’s all I do of an evening (other than posting new blog content of course) and as many of my interviewees have said, “you have to be a reader if you want to be a writer” and there’s nothing I’d rather be.

Guest post: ‘It’s all about readers’ by Rosie Cochran

This evening I welcome back interviewee Rosie Cochran for this guest blog post on the topic of readers.

It’s All About Readers

As writers, we can’t help ourselves. We have to write. We’re amazed as we watch the randomness of our thoughts and ideas flow from the pen to the paper, begin to sort themselves out, and finally reach a point of clarity. We write to bring clarity to our lives.

By putting our fears, dreams, and goals into the written word, we begin to sift through them. We distinguish between the realistic and the unrealistic. We write our way from undecided to a clear conclusion. Writing grounds us.

We also write for the pure joy of it. Writers are born with overactive imaginations. We get an idea in our mind that just won’t go away. We mull it over and revel as the idea grows into a story. The fun begins. Writing is our outlet for creativity. We receive much satisfaction from a story well crafted.

But what would these creative masterpieces be without an audience? What would a riveting novel be without readers? Without readers, where would we writers be? We need readers. We love readers. There will always be a relationship between readers and writers, and that’s the way it should be.

And so we writers take this moment to pay tribute to the readers of this world. Thank you for supporting what we writers love to do. Thank you for reading! Thank you for your input, the good and the bad. As much as a great review is sweet music to an author’s ears, constructive criticism grows us in our craft, the benefits sifting back down to you, the reader. And really, when it boils down to it, it is all about you, the readers.

Thank you Rosie – lovely to ‘see’ you again. 🙂

Welsh-born Rosie Cochran and her husband, Matt, served as missionaries in Venezuela for eighteen years with New Tribes Mission. Currently Rosie is enjoying her varied role as pastor’s wife, home-schooling mom to their youngest two sons, and full-time secretary at their former home church. Rosie is the proud mother of four sons.

Rosie holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Intercultural Ministries from NTM. She holds NACPB Certification in Bookkeeping, QuickBooks and Microsoft Excel, and is a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Her hobbies include writing, blogging, and website design.

Rosie has written three books: Betrayed, Identity Revealed (a sequel to Betrayed), and A Murder Unseen; available from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Amazon.co.uk. You can also see what Rosie is talking about on her website, blogs (Rosie Rambles On and Writing to Marketing), Facebook and Twitter.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat smiling!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with children’s author Alicia L Wright – the one hundred and sixty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

Transcription of Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast episode 21 (Jan 2011) – reading

The twenty-first episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 10th January 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (which I originally put on my website http://www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twenty episodes (see https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast for earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities and songwriting. This podcast has a focus on reading.

Reading

Reading greatly improves your writing. Some people worry about being influenced by other writers’ styles but in most professionals’ opinions that’s a good thing. It’s when you take chunks of their actual writing that it becomes plagiarism. When you’re reading, think about how an author’s style could benefit your writing; how they build their characters (do you like them?), plot the story (does it have a strong start or does the action happen some way through the story by which time you may be getting bored?) etc.

  • Jasper Fforde once said “If books and reading were invented tomorrow they would be hailed as the greatest technological advance known to mankind. No batteries, simple, portable, durable. Why bother building sets or creating convincing computer effects when the images are already there in the reader’s mind? Think about it. A collection of letters and figures inputting images direct to the reader’s own imagination.”
  • According to writing guide guru Michael Legat, there are five basic plots: Cinderella, Family, Historical, Revenge and what he calls the Save-the-World-Single-Handedly and says to readers seeking ‘the magic key’, that “it’s there inside you already”.
  • If you don’t read much or don’t have the time to read novels, then short stories, novellas or anthologies are a great alternative. Fowler’s Dictionary explains ‘anthology’ comes from Greek for a collection (logia) of flowers (anthos). There’s no doubt that reading enhancing writing – the worry of copying another author’s style is highly unlikely as most (if not all) authors have their own ‘voice’ and unless you consciously lift passages from another author’s work, then your writing will be your own.
  • Charity BookTrust launched Bookbite (www.bookbite.org.uk) in February 2010. Aimed at, but not exclusive to, the over 60s, “Bookbite is here to help you get more out of reading and writing. Whether you always have your nose in a book or just flick through a local paper; whether ‘writing’ to you means penning stories, keeping a diary or a note in a greetings card. Join our reading group or writing club, take part in competitions, browse book lists, tips and more”. You can browse the site or read / print / download a 40-page magazine. Note though, it’s a very glossy document so will either take a while to look through and lots of ink to print.
  • And/or you can set up your own! http://www.bloomsbury.com/readinggroups/list has some great information as well as reading group guides which includes questions to ask. www.bookbite.org.uk/resources/activity-sheets/reading-group-discussion-guide also has some pointers that you might like to follow.

Publications

  • ‘book time’ is a free magazine available from some book shops. Prolific columnist / author Jane Wenham-Jones mentions the mag on www.janewenham-jones.com/Booktime.htm.
  • www.booksforkeeps.co.uk is an online children’s book magazine.
  • Writers should also be readers and short stories are a great way to do this if you don’t have much time (they’re my favourites). Take a Break’s monthly Fiction Feast and / or the six-weekly Woman’s Weekly are available from most newsagents or direct subscription. I get both so can give you more information.
  • ‘Who else writes like this’ is “a readers’ guide to fiction authors’. As the title implies, it’s an A-Z list of authors with compared authors listed with them, followed by genre, character, prizes and reference listings. As well as seeing you’d you also like to read if you enjoyed a particular author, it can help with touting your own work as you can say that you would like to be the next… whoever it may be.
  • Published by Geddes & Grosset, The Literature Lover’s Companion is a 700+ page book which tells you “who wrote what when”.
  • Bloomsbury’s Good Reading Guide is “what to read and what to read next”. Again it’s an A-Z by author.
  • A similar book to Chambers’ book of Literary Characters is ‘The Originals – who’s really who in fiction’ by William Amos, published by Sphere. Rather than an author A-Z it’s packed with hundreds of fictional bods.
  • Steven Roger Fischer’s book ‘A history of reading’ starts from the Bronze Age and ends with modern e-mails and e-books. This and his ‘A history of language’ and ‘A history of writing’ are by Reaktion Books.
  • The OUP’s Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles is another A-Z book but this time by village / town with its literary associations. Ideal if you fancy a cultural holiday without straying too far.
  • A book on a similar theme is Margaret Drabble’s A Writer’s Britain – landscape in literature. Unlike the OUP’s book, it’s not an A-Z of where to go but is split into six sections: sacred places, the pastoral vision, landscape as art, the romantics, the industrial scene, and the golden age. With the help of poetry extracts, Margaret tells the reader of places mentioned by authors, their favourites and areas of association accompanied by 121 black and white and 31 colour photographs and illustrations.
  • For nearly 40 years John Cowper Powys lectured on the great writers of the world and his book ‘The Pleasures of Literature captures many of them; from Dante to Shakespeare, Hardy to Dostoyevsky.
  • ‘Reading like a writer’ by Francine Prose (wonderful surname!) received a mixed review from the Writing Magazine (June 07) but sounds like a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys reading and wants to write.
  • Lady Antonia Fraser has been in the news recently with her biography of Harold Pinter ‘Must you go’. She’s edited a great A4 book called ‘The Pleasure of Reading’. Instead of being A-Z by name, the authors are listed in chronological order from Catherine Cookson (born 1906) to Jeanette Winterson (1959). The author summaries are accompanied by some delightful drawings and the book is a pleasure to dip into.
  • Bradford Library produced ‘Opening the book – finding a good read’ written by Rachel Van Riel & Olive Fowler with a foreword by Alan Bennett. The book shows you how to “explore your reading personality, develop confidence in your own judgement, open up your reading choices (by dissecting the differences in genres) and enjoy finding your way round the landscape of information.
  • Tony Buzan has written many books on improving your memory but he’s also written The Speed Reading Book, helping you improve your study skills, mental literacy, concentration and inspiration!
  • www.scarletmagazine.co.uk is the website of the Scarlet magazine. Apparently it’s available in Tesco, WH Smiths, Asda etc. but I’d not heard of it until I read about it in Mslexia.

Book-related websites

  • www.abebooks.com is Advanced Book Exchange’s website.
  • www.benbellabooks.com is a print publisher specialising in sci-fi, fantasy and popular culture.
  • www.bookbrowse.com – read interviews with authors as well as the opinions of multiple reviewers and browse the books themselves.
  • I heard about www.bookcrossing.com some months ago. The idea is a very simple one. Once you’ve finished with a book, you leave it where someone else will find it e.g. a park bench or on a bus / train and someone else gets to enjoy it. I’ve only ever found one but that was at a charity shop so sadly doesn’t count. You can buy stickers to put on the book(s) you intend to leave or register BCID numbers so you can track the books you leave, assuming whoever finds them updates the site.
  • www.bookgroup.info/041205/news_newsletter.php is the latest newsletter from The Book Group. You can sign up to receive emails advising of their latest issue or go to www.bookgroup.info and / or www.bookgroupinfo.co.uk for more information.
  • www.book-in-a-week.com is a similar venture to www.nanowrimo.org except it’s designed to help you write a… yes, a book in a week. 🙂
  • www.edbookfest.co.uk (mentioned below) recommends http://curiouspages.blogspot.com an interesting website which “recommends inappropriate books for kids”.
  • www.faberacademy.co.uk is the website of 1929-founded publisher Faber & Faber’s Academy. You can read news and events, buy books and find information on reading groups. The academy section shows various courses that they are running.
  • www.find-book.co.uk compares book prices between UK retailers. In a similar vein is www.find-dvd.co.uk and www.find-cd.co.uk.
  • www.firecrest-fiction.com is the website of FireCrest Fiction. Launched in Spring 2007 they “print new, highly original novels and reprint some neglected masterworks from the 20th century”. The site is worth visiting for the ‘Books we love’ and ‘Books we hate’ pages. They love Peter Carey’s Oscar & Lucinda and Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo (amongst others) but hate James Joyce’s Ulysses, Salman Rushdie’s (twice Booker winning) Midnight’s Children and DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, so take their opinions with a pinch of salt!
  • www.freebooks.com does what it says “on the tin”.
  • www.ibiblio.org is “home to one of the largest “collections of collections” on the Internet”.
  • www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books is the books section of the Independent newspaper.
  • www.infinityjunction.com is a publisher, bookseller, writers showcase and more.
  • www.librarything.com, according to Mslexia, is a book lover’s voyeuristic paradise. You can catalogue your books, search other people’s libraries, read their suggestions or chat with them on the forum.
  • I’ve mentioned www.lulu.com before but it’s recommended by Writers’ News magazine so worth a second (or perhaps third?) mention as a free self-publishing service which gets paid when you do!
  • www.onelook.com combines a dictionary search, word history, translation, punctuation and spell-check capabilities all in one site, with extra goodies like a Reverse Dictionary (I have the Reader’s Digest’s – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_dictionary explains how it works).
  • Brighton’s www.permanentbookshop.com “is a not-for-profit collector, promoter and retailer of artist’s books and other printed items”.
  • www.poetrybookshoponline.co.uk is the Poetry Book Society’s internet bookshop.
  • www.psbooks.co.uk “is a long-established mail order company specialising in good quality publishers’ overstocks and remainder books at discounts of up to 80% off the published price”.
  • Thanks Aminder from Birmingham, UK for the links to the www.quickreads.org.uk website. I love Quick Reads because, although they’re designed for readers of low ability, they don’t talk down and can be read in an hour or two. Perfect for anyone who says they don’t have time to read.
  • www.readbookonline.net “contains about one thousand books from hundreds of authors”.
  • www.readitswapit.co.uk does what it says on the tin. Once you’ve read a book you can swap it.
  • www.readysteadybook.com offers independent reviews, articles and interviews with, about and by contemporary writers. Keep an eye out for opinions on your favourite books.
  • www.theshortreview.com “reviews 10 books each month and interviews as many of their authors as possible”.
  • www.thelocalbookshop.com, owned by Great Yarmouth-based Martin Blackwell, offers “books specifically connected to a particular county or locality.”
  • www.thunderburst.co.uk has links for writers inc. recommended poets, collected interviews and details of over 750 internet magazines and other useful resources.
  • www.trashionista.com highlights the best and worst books, authors, genres, blogs, websites, radio shows, magazines, publishers etc.
  • www.wordia.com sounds similar to onelook and wordplayer.

There are a variety of writing- and reading-related online forums and these include:

Ideas

Here I provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts which are listed on my ‘sentence starts’ blog page; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • Write a book review, find somewhere to submit it to and send it; and/or
  • Write a story about a character who reads a book and it changes his/her life

The podcast concluded with On This Day in History and a piece of flash fiction which I wrote in one of my recent Monday night workshops which had to include four keywords: ‘lemon’, ‘hundred’, ‘cockerel’ and ‘years’:

Lemon curd tart had always been Ernie’s favourite. “Can’t beat a tart.” he used to say whenever Nora made it – which, over the years, was less and less thanks to his incessant remarks. A hundred times she’d had to listen to that. Said as if new. Lemons grown in the garden of their retirement villa – what else could she make apart from lemonade, jam and Ernie’s tart? As he opened his mouth to say it for the 101st time, Nora crept up behind him and squeezed the dog’s toy cockerel at full volume. Ernie clutched his chest, gasped for breath and slumped to the floor. He’s now buried in the garden, right by the lemon tree, and my, they’ve never tasted so sour.

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other episode transcripts and summaries can be found at https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast.