Writing: Getting Started

I’m going to start a series of short articles on writing tips for aspiring authors, mainly focused on spec-fic (i.e., fantasy and science fiction). As an aspiring fantasy author myself, I feel that my own experience in learning the craft, world-building, character-building, and plot-building may be helpful to other aspiring authors. Of course, some may sneer saying, “Bah! He’s self-published. Why would I want to read his mindless drivel on the subject of writing?” And if you’re a world-famous author contracted with a major publishing house, then fair enough. But if you are an aspiring or independent author who wants some tips from a fellow independent author, then read on.

To get started let’s begin as all great stories do: at the beginning. If you are setting out to write fantasy, science fiction, or any other genre you must be familiar with and well-read in that genre . I will simply assume this is the case already. After all, you probably would not be looking to write novels or short stories unless you also enjoy reading.

If you have never written anything before, do not jump right into writing a novel. You will waste your time. Instead, you should start by going through a series of writing exercises. Create a short scene (a “vignette”), put two or three characters in that scene, and have them resolve some conflict or problem. The scene does not have to be relevant to the story you are planning to write. The point of these exercises is simply to learn to write, to work out dialogue techniques, and to just practicing the craft of story building one step at a time. You could, and probably should, write dozens of such vignettes to hone your skills in the craft. Here are some short scene ideas, which could also be short story starters:

  • Three jovial craftsmen (tailors, blacksmiths, what have you) are kicking back in a cottage bantering about their customers when a wounded mythical creature comes knocking at the door.
  • A gladiator is prodded out of his cell and into an arena only to face a small, innocuous looking box and the hushed silence of several thousand breathless spectators.
  • Two people are fishing in a boat in the middle of lake. There’s a scream, and a splash, and one the men says, “Looks like another god just fell. Think we should haul him up?”

After that, you should try your hand at some full length short stories. Short stories typically run between 2000 and 6000 words, and should at least follow the basic plot structure of Beginning, Rising Action, Climax, and Conclusion. If you feel these stories are good enough, you can even submit them to various science fiction and fantasy magazines.  Who knows, you might get lucky. But the main reason I suggest this is so you can both familiarize yourself with the submission process, as well as harden your soul for the inevitable deluge of rejection letters you will certainly endure.

Also consider joining a local writer’s group or writing critique group. Obviously, I can’t tell you how to find one in your area, but you could start with a few queries through Google and search on Facebook. If there are any local sci-fi and fantasy conventions near where you live, consider attending those as well. Not only are such conventions great fun, but you can meet lots of local fans. Many such conventions also have “writer’s tracks” where you can meet fellow aspiring authors.

My final piece of “getting starting” advice is this: Write. Just write. It really doesn’t matter what you write if you are just getting started, it only matters that you write. Don’t set out from the beginning to write that great epic novel you have planned. Just as an apprentice blacksmith must first begin by pounding out nails and horseshoes before becoming a master swordsmith, you must first begin pounding out words and scenes to hone your writing techniques before you dive into any work that you intend to submit for publication, or to self-publish on your own.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, for only fools fancy they are without fault. But practice does make you better–and the more practice, the more better. (More better…? I think I need more practice…)

Here’s a few links to help you getting started writing:

Also be sure to read all my articles on Writing Tips as they come out.

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