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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GUTGAA Meet and Greet

This week the “gearing up to get an agent” contest kicks off- it’s a huge contest with great opportunities to get your work in front of agents. The first part of the contest and blog hop is a “meet and greet” post. If you want to check out the contest itself, go here!

Questions for the Meet and Greet
I live in the midwest but love to travel. Currently I’m in Alberta, Canada, actually, for a friend’s wedding. I love Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice and anything by John Green, can’t live without music, and tell my friends more than they want  to know about writing and publishing. I am finishing the first draft of my 2nd novel this week (fingers crossed- I’m visiting friends and helping with a wedding!). I write adult and young adult fantasy and contemporary. I’m also an editorial intern with Entangled Publishing and an English teacher. I blog here and over at YA Stands.
-Where do you write?
 Usually I write in my library- a tiny half-bedroom upstairs. I do a lot of writing on my ebook, however, when forced to leave my library.
-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
 Well, I’m in Canada right now, but if I were in my library, to my immediate left is my Keurig. I love it because then I don’t have to stop writing and go downstairs to get coffee. I push a button, and keep writing.
-Favorite time to write?
I teach full-time and year-round, so I don’t really get to pick when I write. Usually it’s from 6:30-8:30 most nights. I’ve been writing a lot later for the past month because I’m marathoning my current WIP.
-Drink of choice while writing?
 Coffee. I wish it was something more exciting, but then I get distracted from my writing. 🙂
-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
Usually I play a mix of Switchfood, Brandi Carlile, Mumford and Sons, and Florence and the Machine. But for really tricky scenes, I need quiet.
-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
 Some of my growing up experiences contributed to my current WIP, but mostly the story just came to me as a big “what if?” one day.
-What’s your most valuable writing tip?
 When you read, find the scenes that make you feel something intense. Get a notepad and jot down how the author did it. Figure out why that scene affected you. Also read good books on writing. One of the tabs up top has a list of ones I have read and recommend, so check them out. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, and good luck in the contest if you’re entering!