GUEST POST - Writing Tips by Connor

Thank you to "Connor" for writing this article with insight into his writing process and tips for writing an authentic, believable story.

Over the time that I’ve spent seriously writing, I’ve picked up a couple of things that personally help me write. Because of this, I’ve decided to share these tips with the common folk of the world. A few things before we start, you might notice a few formatting oddities. If you don’t want to sit through this whole post, the key points are in bold so that you can just read those and get a general idea of what is really important. Another thing you should note is that these are in no particular order. So without further ado, let's get into it.

  • Not everything translates into a book. Have you ever watched a TV show or movie and thought “That one scene would be perfect in my book,” and then try to write a version in your story? Don’t. The thing that makes books so unique is that they don’t have that visual component that so many other mediums rely on. Often times, trying to describe the way that the monster looks, or the scale of the action set piece completely ruins the pacing of the scene. Instead, concentrate on how that scene made you feel and why it made you feel that way. Then think of how you could achieve a similar effect, without having to describe something too much. 
  • This part is connected to a story of mine. It was a blazing Saturday afternoon and I was around 12 years old, sitting on my bed reading a book. I don’t remember which book it was, but it was probably something good because I hadn’t left my room for several hours on end. I glanced up from my book and noticed Christine and Drew watering their Grandmother’s tomato plants. They were quiet and identical twins that went to my school. They had large brown eye with those sort of thick bushy eyebrows that you only see in Studio Ghibli characters. Their grandmother took care of them, but she was so old that it seemed to me that the girls were really taking care of her. I often saw them hauling bags of laundry through the street or lugging groceries. I waved at them and they smiled and waved back before ducking back inside. I stuck my nose back in a book, vaguely aware of the moaning traffic outside and sirens wailing. There seemed to be quite a lot of them, but that wasn’t a big deal. Crime always spiked during heat waves. The wailing grew so loud that I knew they were passing right by my building. Then, completely out of nowhere, the sirens stopped. The silence was eerie. Even the traffic outside had stopped, as if time had come to a standstill. I poked my head out of my window and looked down on the street. Five police cars were lined up around Christine and Drew’s building. The car doors were ajar, with a dozen officers staring up at the sky, mouths agape. I looked too and felt the breath leave my body. A man was hanging from one of the outside terraces, 15 stories up. It was going to be a lethal fall. His hands were gripping on the iron railing, his legs dangling midair as he frantically scrambled, looking for some way to pull himself up. He raised his right leg, tilting dangerously to the left before swinging over and trying to catch a foothold. Had he tried to commit suicide and then changed his mind? Had he leaned too far off the terrace railing and fallen? It was then that a woman rushed out onto the terrace and began screeching and jabbing her hand up towards the man above her. “I’ve been robbed! That animal just broke into my apartment and robbed me!” 
“Get back in your apartment and lock the terrace door!” one of the police officers ordered through his microphone. The woman scrambled back into her apartment, and through her glass door I could see her fumbling with the locks. I looked back towards the burglar. He had managed to yank himself onto the balcony and was now tugging at the door to get into the next apartment. It was locked. For a second it seemed as though he didn’t know what to do. He turned around and glanced down at the street covered of cops, then over at my apartment building, and for one second I was convinced he was staring directly at me. Even from a distance I could see the look in his eyes. Wild, frightened, and willing to do just about anything to get out of the situation. I actually locked my door, worried that he might leap across the street and pounce at me. With an unbridled resolve, the burglar jumped again to the terrace’s top railing, and began to climb again. It was then that I noticed two small faces looking out the window on the floor above. Christine and Drew. Their identical dark eyes were scanning the street, unaware of what was happening. From their vantage point, I realized, they had no idea about the burglar that was clawing at the terrace. In a few seconds he would be at their front door. Had they locked it after watering their plants? 
“Christine! Drew! Lock the door!” I screamed at them. But their window was shut - their air conditioner must be on. They couldn’t hear me. I began to wave my arms at them and jump, but they didn’t spare me a glance. My mind churned, trying to think if there was something, anything I could do. I considered running for the phone, but I didn’t know their number. There was nothing to do. I held my breath. My knuckles were white, clamped around the book I was holding. The burglar’s foot finally caught the terrace. He hauled himself up. For a moment he paused. Caught his breath. He shoved past the tomato plants they had been watering, knocking them over, and reached for the door…
Ha! I got you to keep reading, didn’t I? That’s the power of suspense. If you can pull it off, it is one of the most powerful forces in writing, forcing the reader to keep turning the pages. The most key element in suspense is unpredictability. Don’t be afraid to kill off a character or have a negative impact every now and then, it keeps the readers on their toes. If you’re yawning while your hero is trying to defuse the bomb with 10 seconds left, then your readers fell asleep 10 pages ago. Try to make sure your characters don’t have plot armor. I find that one of the most effective ways to do this is to start the book from the perspective of a character, and then kill that character off midway through, and pick up with the perspective of a side character. That tells the reader that even if it’s the main character, no one is safe. And oh, do you want to know what happened with Christine and Drew? Their door was locked, and the robber moved up to the next floor where the police finally arrested him, and I went back to peacefully reading my book.
  • Don’t force yourself to write. Writing, like many other things, is an art. That means that the quality of it is going to be affected by how much time and effort you put into it. If you force yourself to write, the bits where you were are going to stick out like a sore thumb. Write when you feel like it. 
  • I’d like to tell you another story, this one is completely fabricated. 7 people are stuck in an elevator 50 stories from the ground. Every hour, the lights go out and someone drops dead. The book constantly swaps perspectives around, meaning you’ve already read from the perspective of the murderer. There’s enough evidence to indict anyone. Who could it be? We finally get down to our last two people, and it turns out that end the end… It was Cthulhu. I know, really unsatisfying right? Just because something is unexpected doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. The elevator-Cthulhu story is unsatisfying because we had clues for literally anyone else to be the murderer, and it also means that the last few hours we’ve spent theorizing were for naught. If you want to make your ending unexpected, at least put in a bit of evidence before hand. My favorite example of this is from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. There’s a scene where Harry’s broom is cursed and actively trying to shake him off as he dangles 500 feet in the air. Hermione says that she has to break eye contact with the person who is cursing the broom and the broom, and they notice snape’s lips moving. As Hermione is making her way over there, she bumps into Quirrell. This is a genius way to reveal who is truly cursing the broom because A) we’re given enough information for eagle eyed readers to put the pieces together, and B) it’s still unexpected for most readers. This leads into my next point,
  • Think of your story like a puzzle. Each chapter, it doesn’t matter where it is and it doesn’t matter how big or small it is, put a piece to the puzzle. It could be something like a character has their best friend killed and that motivates them to barrel for the main antagonist, or it could be something like the character purchases the same cardigan they were when they confront their boyfriend who cheated on them. Your finale should combine an element from every chapter to form a satisfying narrative close. 
  • Be aware of the environment. The environment should always play a part of the chapter. When writing a scene, close your eyes for a second and lay out an example of the environment in your head and think about the aspects that could be used in the scene. Maybe a character angrily throws a book at another’s head or pauses to take a sip of room temperature water before continuing.  
  • Action should always move. I mean this literally. If you’re going to put an action-heavy sequence in your book, the characters shouldn’t stay in the same place. Training sequences, fist fights, and gunfights are a big no-no in books. Lacking that visual elements that makes those things interesting in movies, TV shows, and video games means that those won’t work in books.  A general rule of thumb is to plan it out in your head, and then think “If I were to remove this sequence, would an element in the story be changed?” If the answer is yes, keep it. If not, scrap it.
  • PLEASE AVOID MAGIC SYSTEMS. Magic systems when done right can be incredibly interesting and leave the reader yearning for more use of them. When done wrong, as they are 90% of the time, they leave me skipping over any parts that include them. I think one of the best amateur magic systems I’ve seen is that, well, things just break around the main character. That sounds like it would be terrible but it just works so well. Think about how your magic system has a unique idea to it. Also be sure to establish concrete rules from the very beginning, if the magic system is a focal point for your story.
  • Don’t force your characters to start crying. If you’re at the emotional climax in your story, don’t have your characters start crying. It alienates people that aren’t crying. The most powerful moments I’ve experienced in fiction that had me crying were because it happened naturally. Never has a character starting to cry made me feel the same way, in fact, it usually takes me all the way out of it. 
  • Show, don’t tell. This is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but I still see examples of it not being used. Let’s use this example. Instead of saying, “Jeremy was tall,” Say “I glanced up at Jeremy as he ducked through the doorway.” Same meaning, but less boring.
  • And finally, practice good writing whenever you can. Anytime you need to write something down, add flourish to it. Instead of telling a story through a summary, draw someone in with your story and be as descriptive as possible. 

Alright, thanks for sitting through this. These are just some of the main tips I’ve picked up through time, and I hope some of these can be helpful to you.