Crafting Success: Seven Writing Contest Finalists Share Their Favorite Writing Tips and Techniques

Crafting Success: Seven Writing Contest Finalists Share Their Favorite Writing Tips and Techniques

by Martina Boone

When I’m doing a panel with other authors or doing a blog, radio, or TV interview, I’m often asked whether a story begins with character, plot, or setting. The truth is, every book is different for me, and most of the time, it’s a small grain of inspiration combined with a lot of agonizing work. I’m always looking for ways to make that easier, which is why I include so many “tips” posts for both AdventuresInYAPublishing.com and the 1st5PagesWritingWorkshop.com.

Because I know I’m not alone in searching for insight, Sandra Held, Sarah Glenn Marsh, and I have asked the finalists in our recent Red Light, Green Light WIP contest at Adventures to give us their favorite writing tips and techniques.

Interested in test-driving the opening and pitch for your own WIP? The next agent-judged Red Light, Green Light contest opens for entries on 4/7/16.

Seven Writing Contest Finalists Share Their Favorite Writing Tips and Techniques

Joan Albright: The characters rule all. I can control what happens TO them, but trying to force the plot around characters which aren’t behaving never results in a satisfying scene. Instead I write the plot to the characters, letting them show me the path. This of course requires that I know the characters. Sometimes the entire first draft of a novel is about discovering who these people are and what motivates them.

Don’t be afraid to write out a long and complicated backstory for each character – but also don’t feel obligated to lay this backstory out in your novel. Like the pipes and wires behind your painted walls, those things need to be there, but it’s better if they do their job invisibly.

Laurine Bruder: I’m a sucker for fairy tales, princesses, friendships, family stories, and fantasy. It’s my bread and butter and what I grew up with. I love a richly drawn world with characters that struggle against all the odds, who cling to each other because they’re the only ones who can understand the situation, and who succeed, or not, but they do so together. In my manuscript, my two leading ladies have been described as old war buddies and that resonates with me because it implies a relationship that’s gone through hell and still come out strong. Just thinking about it now is inspiring me to write! Speaking of inspiration, I find it everywhere: music, movies, books, watching people in their everyday lives, it’s amazing where the smallest spark of inspiration can come from.

Holly Campbell: The setting is so important to the story. I try to make the setting another character. I don’t like writing about places I’ve never been–it feels like a lie. If the story doesn’t feel right in a setting I’m familiar with, or I can’t adequately research a place, I will sometimes just make it up (it’s fiction, right?). For example, my novel Foreshadowed is set in my hometown, but my other novel Without Curtains is set in a fictional farm town. In both books, the setting plays a huge part in the story.

Dan Lollis: I need a t-shirt that reads “I’d rather be drafting.” I usually cheat and do a good but of revision during drafting…I don’t subscribe to the theory that all first drafts are garbage. Maybe my finished first draft is actually a first-and-a-half draft. Then I do usually do several rounds of read-throughs where I make changes and ask myself questions. Then I ask my writing partner or a critique partner(s) or beta reader(s) to mercilessly tear into it. Their advice is often the most helpful, but it can be difficult to know what to change and what to keep. Time away from a manuscript to draft something new can be helpful. I prefer to obsess over…er…work on one manuscript at a time.

Patti Nielson: For me there’s nothing more discouraging then sitting in front of your computer screen and being unable to think of anything to write. I’ll often try to power through but sometimes even that won’t work. Lots of times I leave the word document and wander into the world of social media, but I find that never helps. Usually it leaves me feeling worse. What helps me the most is going for a walk alone. I try to find an isolated area so I can talk to myself without anyone thinking I’m crazy and work through some of the problems I’ve having on my manuscript. Invariably, I come back refreshed and energized. Last week I went for a walk and came back with three titles for a series I’m working on, which might not seem like much, but it’s a big deal for me.

Ellie Sullivan: I really love using the three-act structure to map out major plot points, and then pantsing my way from one major point to the next. It keeps me from veering too far off onto useless tangents and keeps me focused on the core of the story, but also allows some flexibility. When I’m done I put it away for a couple days, and then I’ll return to read it through. Before that readthrough, I’ll probably already have a list of things I think are problematic, and as I read, I’ll add more (probably much more) to that list! My first drafts are absolutely terrible, and usually I’ll have to scrap and rewrite about half the content for the second draft.

Cassidy Taylor: I am not a very detailed plotter. I do like to have a few key scenes in mind before I start, specifically the opening scene, the inciting incident, the “darkest hour,” the climax, and the final scene.

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