Writing Tips

First Love, First Time

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT WRITING

If you’re interested in trying your hand at writing (either by helping to continue First Love, First Time or by writing one of your own), here are a few tips you might want to consider.

Think about some stories you’ve read over the years. Try to write down what you liked or disliked about them. That should help as you begin doing your own writing.

Know how your story will end before you begin writing. That’s because whatever comes before the ending should be pointing the reader in the direction of the ending without giving the story away. Some authors even start their stories with the ending, using the rest of the story to explain how that ending came about. That isn’t how I do it. But I have written prologues and epilogues to some of my stories that either set the stage or provide an explanation for what eventually happened. I’ve also considered writing a prologue, for example, that would have taken place at the funeral of one of the main characters years after the events in the story took place. I saw that as one possible way of setting the stage for the story that followed. In the end, I didn’t do that because I wanted the story to end on a positive note. Most people would have seen the funeral as the ending and funerals are not exactly the most uplifting things. But you do need to have a good idea about how your story will end before you begin it.

Chapters, like stories, should have a beginning, middle, and end. Start slowly, build toward some kind of emotional climax, and then try to bring the reader back down in a way that leaves him or her wanting more at the end of the chapter.

Set some kind of informal word limit for your chapters that you want to aim for, but don’t obsess about it. I try to write chapters that are between 4000 and 5500 words, but you can set whatever limit you want. Keep in mind that you can’t get to 1000 words until you’ve written 500 words first. Whatever informal limit you set for yourself, don’t obsess about it.

Stories are about a lot of small details. Does your character find himself in a classroom? Spend some time describing the classroom so your reader can visualize where the character is; and since you’re going to be describing things, pick things you are already familiar with (your neighborhood, your school, your church, the lake you live near, whatever). You don’t actually have to say explicitly that this is your school or your community. You can give those things different names. But you’ll be able to visualize things you are familiar with better than things you’ve only heard about.

Plant seeds along the way as you write. In the first story I posted online, Connected, I knew one of the main characters, Nolan, was going to be active politically late in the story so I tried to plant some of the seeds for that in Chapter 1 (but I also tried to avoid overdoing it as well). I knew the story was going to feature an anti-war theme so I laid a foundation for that by having the two main characters in Part I, Nolan and Josh, attend the wake for an older boy named Anthony killed in the earliest stages of the war. Think about the seeds you want to plant with the reader, but use a soft touch, not a bludgeon to make that happen.

Start simply, add complexity later. For example, suppose you are writing about “a boy who was hurt.” That hurt you’re talking about could be physical, emotional or psychological; or even all three. Consider a story about a boy who likes playing the violin. He spends a lot of time practicing and trying to become better. But then he makes a mistake at a recital and the audience laughs at him. There is no physical injury involved, but there could be a big emotional and psychological one. Alternatively, consider a boy who loves playing baseball. It’s the one thing he lives for above everything else. Then he’s hit by a fastball while batting. There is a physical injury for sure and a good writer will spend time explaining how he recovers from that. But the injury this boy suffered may have been more than just physical. Perhaps he’s scared about standing up at the plate because he’s afraid of getting injured again. You’ll need to address both the physical injury and try to document exactly what the emotional and/or psychological injury is as well. How it manifests itself, for example, and how it is finally overcome. That can be harder. As a general rule, I think it’s easier to write about physical injuries. Capturing emotional and psychological injuries in words is harder. On the other hand, sometimes a physical injury is a convenient way of symbolically portraying something emotional and/or psychological. For example, a boy hurt by his father’s (or mother’s) rejection can be symbolically portrayed by a boy who is benched by his coach. The point is you need to think about the nature of the hurt the boy is suffering: how it manifests itself and the nature of the struggles he undergoes to deal with it, and how you can portray all of that in words. It isn’t easy.

Is your story going to be true or imagined? about you or someone else? You don’t have to tell anyone the answers to those questions, but you need to understand that the answers will make a difference. Writing what you know about is easier than writing about what you have to imagine. But sometimes you know more about something than you think. For example, you may never have been a wife, a mother or a daughter. If you try to write about such a character, it may seem hard. But you are a son. You have a mother who is married to your father so you’ve had the chance to see how she behaves as a wife and a mother. If your mother’s parents are still alive, you may also have seen how she interacts with them. Writing about her from your perspective may be easier than trying to write about it from hers. Similarly, if you lived the story, it will be easier to tell in some ways. On the other hand, you may not want to tell it exactly how it happened because that might be too revealing or emotionally difficult. One way of disguising a true story is by hiding it within a larger story or by portraying it symbolically. If the story is imagined, try to build it around something where you have some personal experience you can draw on. Perhaps you’ve never played baseball but you like writing songs. Draw upon what you know from personal experience (like those hobbies of yours) to help flesh out your story and make it come across as more real.

It has to be something you like doing. If it starts becoming a chore, stop! It’s not something you’re ready to take on right now. Keep in mind that there are lots of things you like doing. Is writing one of your favorites? On the other hand, you can write at whatever pace works for you and you don’t have to write if you’re busy with other stuff. I find it helps to take a break from a story from time to time. When I come back and look at it with a fresh set of eyes, it’s easier to see how I can make it better. In other words, you don’t have to rush.

2 thoughts on “Writing Tips

  1. I wish i had the time and patience and most importantly the GIFT you have to write the amazing stories you do. I wish I could offer some guidance and opinion to where I’d like to see the story go but I just haven’t the slightest clue! All I can do is hope that you continue and try to help assure you whatever direction you go in, I’m confident will turn out great, feel good ending or not! Keep up the great work! Thank you for writing and sharing! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Jordan. Flattery will get your everywhere 🙂

      Or maybe not; we’ll have to see.

      I’m pretty much down to eating my seed corn now. In other words, I’m running out of ideas … and words as well. If I do go forward, this may be it. I’m tired.

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