In December 2019 I wrote an article entitled Writing Stability. In that article I mentioned keeping a writing binder for the writing project you’re working on. It really doesn’t matter if you write by the seat of your pants or plan your novel out in advance, a binder to keep all of your information straight can only serve to help you.
Possible Sections to Include in Your Binder
Characters— This section will include everything about each of your characters. Possible types of information include: physical features, likes/dislikes, occupation, their role in the story, fears, character arcs, just to name a few. You could even create subsections for each character if you like.
Settings— Included here can be maps, setting descriptions, list of places and their significance, etc.
Story— I have a section in my binder with this label. What I use it for are ideas for my novel. Sometimes I’ll do a free write or I’ll write a quick plot summary for an idea.
Style Sheet— Here I keep a style sheet to keep the technical details consistent. For example, are you going to write your numbers out or not, make a list of words that MUST be capitalized consistently throughout, names and dates of events (It’s easy to lose track of this information when you’re writing). This is just a small list. What you decide you need to go in this section is up to you. When you’re editing later, this section will be your friend.
Doodling— This would be where you jot down any revision ideas or play around with language (If you’re writing fantasy, making up words can be fun).
You can always add to the above list. It depends on what kind of story you’re writing. I write urban fantasy, so I have additional sections such as, realms, fantasy creatures, photos, and questions. I love my binder because it frees up room in my head (kind of like a memory extension for my brain, LOL). If you don’t want to use a binder, a journal works well too. I’ve used both.
Whether you know it or not, you leave tracks of yourself in places. No, I don’t mean visible tracks. Although, I bet that’s what many of you were thinking after you read that sentence, LOL. Seriously though, when we write and others read our work, something from you is left behind. It could be a mental picture, an emotion, a thought(s) or opinion about the story or stories, a yearning to read more (or less). Whatever it is you leave behind, a mark is left, and it’s a mark no other writer can leave.
Each writer has his/her own mark that is indigenous to them. No other writer can replicate it no matter how hard they try. It’s all in your word choice and expressions you use. When someone edits your work, be sure they don’t alter the YOU you put in it. If they do, then they’re putting themselves in it, and you don’t want that. I don’t think they do this on purpose. It’s something that happens and we need to be aware of it. But hey, you might like what they did with it and keep the changes they made.
Leaving a mark also means giving of yourself, so others can take the good you pass on and use it. Maybe it will inspire them to become a writer. That happened with me. When I was in middle school, I read a short story my older sister wrote about a young girl who goes and stays with her grandpa for the summer. It was a very heart warming story, and it left me wanting to write like that too. Although, I don’t write like her. I write like me, and I write fantasy fiction. That’s the only story she ever wrote, and I wish she wrote more. She’d make a great children’s author. But I was inspired by her because of the MARK she left by her own writing.
We all have something to say, and how we say it is unique to us. No one else can say what we want to say in quite the same way. Let’s say for example there are two different people writing on the same exact topic, and they don’t put their names on their paper. They give them to you (you’re blind folded when they give them to you so you don’t know who gave you what), and you read them. Will you be able to tell which paper came from which individual? One’s personality comes through in their writing. If you don’t know the writer personality, would you still be able to tell? Whether or not we know someone doesn’t take away from the fact that their writing is still unique to them.
This uniqueness is your voice, your light. Who you are comes through on the pages. Whether you’re writing in one character or in more than one, your words are the words that are bringing the story to life. Don’t hold back for fear someone might not like it, because, truth be told, there’s always someone out there who won’t. That’s part of life. Put your all into your work. Put your light into it and let it shine.
As a side note here, if you are editing someone else’s work, be careful to not change too much because you run the risk of inserting your unique style into their work, then it won’t be theirs. You don’t want to take away from their voice/style. A better idea would be to suggest the type of change that’s needed, and let them to the changing.
What do you bring to your writing? This question has an answer, but it might not be known to us right away. It’s something we may need to think about. I believe it’s subconscious, and on that level something goes into our writing that we aren’t aware of. I call this our unique inner signature…. a writing signature.
Now you might call this style. And you’re right. It is our style. It’s a writing style DNA. About a year and a half ago, I took a class called Keys to Effective Editing. In this class the instructor discussed how, when you’re editing someone else’s work, you have to be careful not to alter the meaning/style of the author. In other words, don’t make it your own. In a nutshell, when you are editing someone else’s writing, edit with great care.
As a beginning writer, you might not know your style, or uniqueness, yet. It’s something that you grow into. The word flow might not be there yet. Not to worry, it will come with time and practice. Something you could try is to write down what makes you, you. Spoiler alert, this may take some thought on your part. We are good at critiquing others, but when it comes to ourselves, it isn’t as easy. To save time, ask someone else what makes you unique. Ask someone to critique your writing style. This is how I learned more about myself as a writer because it allowed me to reflect on their words, then look at my writing, and then grow from there. You can too.
Is there one correct way to write a novel? I say no…….there isn’t. Are there elements of a novel that must be used? Yes…….there is. How do these two entities go together? It’s simple. You take the required elements and use them in a way that suits you and your writing style. Everybody is different, so the way in which we go about writing our book will be different. If you don’t know how you yourself would write a novel, then learn the different methods that have worked for other writers, try them out and go with what suits you. It’s a learning process and might take you a while to figure out what works for you. But it might not take you long at all.
A very important aspect to know is whether or not you are a “pantser” (you make the story up as you go along with no planning) or an out-liner/planner. Now, I’ve come to discover that you can be a little of both. I’m a little of both. I didn’t know this of course until I tried each style and found it difficult to use just one. The one I use at the time I’m writing depends on the part of the story I’m writing. When I get stuck, then I go to planning and thinking, which gets the wheels turning again. Then I’m back to pantsing.
Another important part to note is setting. People like pictures. When we were little, we started out reading picture books and many of our children’s books have pictures. Gradually as we get older, the pictures in the books become less and less. Eventually, all we have are words and it’s up to us to create the pictures in our minds as we’re reading. BUT the author plays a huge role in this part because they are the ones who are creating the pictures for us to see. They’re just not doing it with pictures, instead they’re doing it with words. HOW they do this is up to them. It’s their style of creating that contributes to creating the settings depicted in their novels. You will figure this out as well. I can’t tell you how, but I can give you ideas about how I go about do it. But that’s for another blog post.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on the creation of characters. I know how I do it, but I only figured out how to do this by reading how others did it, and used what worked for me. I combined that with a few of my own ideas. So much goes into the creating of a character. We are complex individuals and so are your characters. They have to be complex if they’re going to be believable. In my mind: who a character is on the inside + who a character is on the outside (actions and what they say) = a believable and complex character. See my earlier blog post from May 12 entitled Character Building for more information on this topic.
In the end, it’s YOUR story. Make it yours. Write it YOUR way, but by all means learn from others. Through it all, you will find your style and what works for you.
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