I wrote a lot of awesome ideas as a teenager. That wasn’t that long ago really, and though my teenage years felt like they lasted forever in retrospect I can’t help but realize how quickly they went by…and how with all that time I could have finished more than three or four stories! I was a chronic unfinisher, suffering from a dreadful case of “Great ideas and no execution” beyond a few powerful scenes. There’s so much I’d like to tell myself back then, and so much more I’d like to tell all the writers making the same mistakes. So here’s some advice that I wish I’d known and internalized back then.
- Writing by the seat of your pants is great, but you will never feel accomplished until a story is done. You won’t. You’ll fill over 30 journals, teenage D, but you will always feel a touch incomplete. Some of those stories you’ll revisit in college and after, but you have to really want to finish them and if you do you can begin really engaging with your teachers and mentors as someone aiming at publishing and not just the idea of it. Stop putting stories aside because you hit writers block or lose interest even though you know you’ll be wanting to write the story. Keep trying to write even if its garbage. Write to an end point. Maybe not the one you planned by a point where it could end.
- To write by the seat of your pants effectively you have to plot. Not bullet by bullet point , though that works for some people, but you have to write out the greater plot elements: Who is involved, what are their relationships, What events effect the over all plot, and why? Answer those questions succinctly from start to finish.
- Don’t try to do this and end up writing an omnibus of lore instead of an actual book. Look, readers and younger me…I spent several months on a world building project for a story I never finished and developed not just basic elements, but the economic system over the last 200 years in the world. It was headache inducing…why did I do that? Because sitting down and writing seemed like a hassle and this seemed like it still helped my writing. It didn’t. It usually doesn’t. It can help you only if you’re writing at the same time. Now speaking of time…this next one is gonna take a minute…
- Drama doesn’t = story. I’m sorry. I know I used to love Lifetime movies and melodramatic manga. They’re great, but they have story elements. It isn’t just scenes for the sake of scenes. The element that makes the drama in those movies and manga work is that the drama between characters is woven through their lives. Most movies, books, shows, and manga fail when their love stories are one of two things…horribly cliched or the story doesn’t connect on any real level. They just sort of sit there and happen because of romance cliches, because of drama cliches, because of mystery cliches. A series of dramatic events doesn’t inherently make for a story or a plot. You don’t have to follow classical plot structure, but you should write a story not just a series of events. I used to have a habit of having stories that went: Event 1; Event 2; Event 3; Event 4; Big Event and then so on for 12 more events. The story never really ended, but it never really began. The characters didn’t really get to know each other, and in some ways they weren’t so much characters as reactive puppets.
- Drama must have meaning. This is a big one. I love fan fiction, and began reading it years ago with Sailor Moon and Xena stories. After a decade reading some of the best and worst unknown and hobby writers one thing that almost all young writers seem to do is thrive on drama without weight and meaning. Stories of sorrowful and dramatic miscarriages that have nothing to them than sorrow and no real sense of what that sorrow means. Stories of couples hating each other then suddenly falling in love without sense of what that would take or why other than…because the writer wanted it. Couples betraying each other and then forgiving not because they’ve grown but because one is just misunderstood and its excused because the betrayal only serves to make the reuniting sweeter; also this happens over one chapter. Nothing that happens hold weight. What separates the good stories from the bad is a world with weight. Pride & Prejudice is remembered because it is a story about love and marriage in the context of the socio-political politics of the regency era. The drama of Legally Blonde is situated in the context of what the world sees in Elle Woods as a blonde, rich, attractive, and overtly feminine woman. The inherent drama of Call the Midwife, True Blood, or Warehouse 13(All very different shows) is situated not just on character drama but in a world where those character dramas are inherently impacted by and impact the worlds they inhabit. The drama has weight, and so it feels reals. Being a teenager is high octane emotional drama…but those moments in-between and those moments where we’re just responding to the world define our stories . Life builds to crescendos of emotional heat. The betrayal of a lover doesn’t vanish in a chapter spanning a week. It takes something climatic, it takes an awareness that one was hurt and regardless love must be rebuilt. When you don’t take the time to understand what your drama can/should mean for your characters then your drama will mean little and leave so little impact. Your writing will feel young, and like an “edge lord” trying too hard to force everyone to feel because its a story so full of meaning.
- Don’t just try to impress people or mistake being edgy and dramatic for good writing. Edge lord, for those who don’t know, is slang for people who essentially try too hard to edgy. Some people tell funny off color jokes about, for example, assault as though to say “I’m a hard core person”. Others are constantly judgey. A desire to be edgy is very consistent in most teenagers writing. It is healthy and natural, and annoying as hell even to other teenagers. Teenage D agrees even as she loved sorrowful drama herself. You have to sit and think, and research. Read more about the world, think less about the drama and more about what those dramas mean because that will inform the feeling.
I wrote some damn good stuff as a teen, stories and scenes I’m proud of, but as you mature you learn to recognize the worst of your tendencies and that of others. These were just a few of mine and my friends. I hope you don’t take this too harshly, my teenage readers. Even if you do the things I warn against you can still have talent, but maybe my tips will help you mature your writing a little faster. Maybe you can be a bit further along than me by the time your my age as a result. I’m not old, but I definitely wish I could make more efficient use of my time and stories by going back and talking to my younger self. In the self-publishing world having stories published as quickly and as well as possible makes all the difference. If I started really focusing in on where to improve and how then I could have gotten in on the ebook boom of 2012. I could have had several books out and be comfortable saying I had some up for sale. With that said I’m comfortable where I am. My writing is better than ever and I spent a lot of time getting to where I am.
Hopefully you won’t need as much time,
Peace and tidings reader.