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On Craft and Rewriting

This week we have another installment of what I learned at the writing conference I attended. This talk was given by Dan E. Johnson and covers craft and revision.

  1. Read widely and read deeply. Our first job as writers is to be good readers. And not just to read, but to read critically. Read a ton in your genre to understand the expectations and hallmarks of your genre. But don’t stop there, read widely. Read other genres. Learn pacing from thrillers, love subplots from romance, and world building from fantasy. Read beloved books with a critical eye. What works and why? How can you incorporate that into your own story? Read chapter by chapter and summarize the plot and each scene.

  2. Write better. Take classes, go to workshops, join a writing group, read books on craft. And most importantly practice. The more you write, the better you’ll write. If you do join a writer’s group, make sure it’s actually helpful. You don’t want people’s critiques to simply say they liked your work. You don’t want them to be too polite or afraid to say what they think. You need honesty to get better. And you have to have a thick skin. You need to be able to take the criticism if you want to improve. It’s all to make you a better writer.

  3. Write characters your readers will care about. An interesting character needs to want something. Content characters are boring. You want to fully develop your characters unless they are just placeholders, then you can use simple stereotypes. Write people, not characters. Real people are full of complexities and contradictions. And real people have flaws. Flaws shouldn’t be as simple as they seem at first. A character is what a character does, or more correctly, what they mean to do. The reader has to relate to your character’s motivation.

  4. High stakes. You need conflict to make a story and character motivation is king. Put your character up a tree and throw rocks at her.

  5. Character arcs. Readers want to see your character change and grow.

  6. Plot and setting complexity. Your story is a part of a larger world, so you’ll have glimpses of the greater world behind the story. Subplots are also important. There’s always something going on and you need to create a rich world for your character. Weave the different subplots together. Subplots can increase or slow down your pace as needed and can emphasize something about your character.

  7. Immerse your reader in the story. Details make all the difference. Sensory detail and small setting detail will flesh out your story. Load up on the five senses.

  8. Good writing is rewriting. Focus on characters first. Do all your characters make sense? Are they consistent throughout? Then look at plot. Does it work with the character? Does it develop the character or move the plot forward? Then do the highlighter trick. Use a different color highlighter for each of the five senses to see what you need to incorporate. Finally, focus on language. Read your story aloud. You will hear the problems in your prose.

Do you agree with these tips? Share below and happy writing.


Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

#craft #rewriting

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