New Writing Tips Catalogue

Here I will talk a little bit about writing. Writing is hard. So hard. It's amazing we do it at all. But since it is also so fulfilling and wonderful, how could we resist?

Let me start with the obvious. There are all kinds of stories. You've got your big stories. Your little stories. Your stories that go so fast, and stories that go so slow. You've got happy stories, and sad stories. You've got stories that make total sense, and stories that make no sense. Sometimes you don't have any stories at all.

The point is, we are here to write whatever stories we possibly can. We aren't here to write the best story, or exactly the story we thought we would write, or not the story that Cathy wrote that gets all those reviews. If all you can seem to write is sad stories, don't think you've failed. Whenever we write, it brings out things we didn't guess; and that's a very good thing, because if it didn't, stories would be so boring.

We often say that writing is 'expression'. Well, just like your facial expressions, people can tell when you are faking it. But here is where it gets interesting – how about actors? Are they just faking it all the time?

No! Actors learn how to express feelings, even if that's not what they were feeling the moment before they stepped in front of the camera or on to the stage. They do it by summoning those feelings up. If you want to write a happy story, no matter what, you can summon up the feelings of happiness. You can do this for every feeling and that is why characters have consistent feelings. If we could only express what we feel at the moment, wouldn't all novels be entirely inconsistent, where the characters suddenly get sad for no reason?

This is hard to explain, but you have to be intimately in touch with how you feel, if you want to feel other than how you feel. If how you are feeling right now is an enormous blob, you have to go through the blob to get to all those other feelings. If you just refuse to touch the blob in the first place, that is when you are faking it.

If you can really feel something about your characters, their situations, the world they live in, well, your story will be valuable, one way or another. The stories that no reader cares about are born uncared for. You know those slash plots where the boy is born and is uncared for, so he doesn't know how to be loved? And then someone comes along to mend his heart?

Well, you are the only one who can teach your story how to be loved, so you better do it well. And you do that by feeling things as the characters, not for the characters. It's easy to tell the difference. It's this difference:

Malik was very tall, and had long eyelashes. This morning, he put on his converse sneakers, and pulled up his sleeves to hide his gory gashes from where he cut himself last night.

"Going to school?" slurred his mother. She slumped into the room from the kitchen, where she'd passed out drinking last night. "Be sure to bring me your tips after work tonight; I'm really stressed out since they fired me from my job for incompetence, and I need to go relax some place tonight."

"Yes, mother," Malik said. He put his earphones in and walked to school, where he had no friends, and never expected to bump into the love of his life, the skateboarding astronaut-in-training, Marco.

Okay, compare that to this one:

Malik reached down to put on his sneakers. His wrists chafed, reminding him about what he'd done last night. The blood had circled down the shower drain, the razor in his hands. The cuts reminded him when he'd rather forget.

"Going to school?" slurred his mother. She slumped into the room from the kitchen, where she'd passed out drinking last night. "Be sure to bring me your tips after work tonight; I'm really stressed out since they fired me from my job for incompetence, and I need to go relax some place tonight."

"Yes, mother," Malik said. He put his earphones in and walked to school, where he knew nobody would talk to him, and hardly expected to bump into someone new who could change his life.

Okay! So I may have gone a little overboard, and I've thrown in a bunch of different things together. But in the first snippet, Malik is outside of us. The writer has given him their favourite shoe brand and activity (putting headphones in), as well as exciting pass-times, like self-harm and caring for an alcoholic mother. These are all here so we can relate, because we like converse too, and nobody wants anyone to suffer through things like self-harm and an alcoholic parent. But these are all outside things. It's clear that the author really likes Malik, because they have spent so much time writing the story, and maybe even made Malik as sympathetic as possible. But as long as these are feelings for Malik, the deepest thing we will feel is pity – it's too bad that's happening, isn't it?

On the other hand, in the second snippet, Malik's feelings become ours. We feel his problems as our own problems. There are specific ways I did this, if I succeeded. Firstly, I wrote the things as he would feel them, not as we might see them on TV; of course, this only works if you want first-person or close third writing, but it's very effective. It seems obvious that, yeah, cuts on your wrist aren't just outward markings, it would feel a certain way to have them and to have made them yourself. But there are many writers who wouldn't make that connection at first.

And suddenly, once there is an emotional connection, then the things I put in to be hilarious become deadly serious. That ridiculous speech the mother makes is still a little funny, but now we are asking, "How would it actually feel to have a mother like this?" And that's feeling as the character. Malik doesn't need your pity. He probably doesn't even want it.

Once you have taught Malik and his story how to be loved, you are in a good position. Whatever kind of story you have written, it is your story, one you wrote from a deep and genuine place. People will really respond to that; and even if they don't, you will feel much better for having done it.

Of course, what I am teaching is how to write like I write. There are other ways of doing this. But I think this technique is not mine along; I think a lot of people do it. Hopefully it helps you.

This emotional connection thing is not easy to do. Doing it is what makes writing so hard, really, although it's not the only thing.

Okay, that's it for today. That's only one thing, but if I went on forever, then I don't think too many people would read this. I may update more if people find this helpful.