We who write all begin this journey with a story we think would make a great book, and a certain amount of natural talent for storytelling. However, unless we have an exceptional memory for the obscure and boring lectures we endured in grade-school grammar, authors who are serious about the craft must learn how to write.
This means they must learn how to construct a sentence using accepted rules of grammar. They must also learn how to construct a story, so it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The core features of a great story are:
- Plot arc
- Character arc
- A satisfying end
Within those pages, we want to see:
- Unique characters
- Well visualized settings
- Compelling dialogue
- Tension and pacing
- Hooks and transitions that make a reader want to turn the page
Knowledge of grammar and writing craft is crucial if you want a reader to stay with your story. As I’ve mentioned before, commas are to clauses what traffic signals are to streets—they govern the flow of traffic, although, in the case of sentences, the traffic is comprised of words, not cars.
The opportunity to learn writing craft is out there on the internet, and it costs nothing.
Education in America is under fire at all levels. The determined learner can still get that education simply by going to the library and asking questions. Start there and use the information you glean there to lead you to other places to learn writing craft via the internet.
This is why it is crucial for us to support the libraries in our towns, both financially if possible, and with our patronage. In places where the education system is broken, libraries are the last bastion of opportunity for both children and adults with limited funds and unlimited curiosity.
If you are fortunate enough to have a secondhand bookstore in your town, purchase secondhand books on writing craft, and invest in technical manuals detailing different aspects of writing.
For the financially strapped author wanting to increase their knowledge, an amazing resource is the website Writers’ Digest. They are also for profit, but they offer an incredible amount of information and assistance for free.
So here are several sources of online information about the craft of writing (and I’ve listed them before):
- Quick and Dirty Tips, by Mignon Fogarty
- Purdue O.W.L.
- The Creative Penn
- Creative Writing Now
I’ve also mentioned before that Harlequin has one of the best websites for teaching authors how to develop professional work habits, which is critical to being productive. I highly recommend you go to websites that specialize in writing romance novels regardless of what genre you write in.
I say this because the romance publishers have it right: they want to sell books, and they want you to succeed:
- They get down to the technical aspects of novel construction and offer many excellent tools for getting your work out the door in a timely fashion–something I need to work on.
- They also offer tips on marketing your work.
Many authors are able to get a degree in creative writing. But many talented authors don’t have the money or education to get into a program like that. They are working day jobs to support their families and money is tight.
However, an education can be obtained at little or no cost–but it takes effort and determination. Though we may not have the money or time to get an official degree, many of us will become knowledgeable the craft of writing by obtaining information in bits and pieces over time. This is the method I have used–a combination of some college classes, writers’ workshops, and many hours of reading books on the craft of writing.
If you only have two books on your desk, one should be the Chicago Manual of Style, and the other should be the Oxford American Writers’ Thesaurus. Besides those two books, these are a few of the books I keep in hard-copy and refer to regularly:
Story, by Robert McKee
Dialogue, by Robert McKee
The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler
The Sound on the Page, by Ben Yagoda
Rhetorical Grammar, by Martha Kolin and Loretta Gray
You may not be able to afford to take writing classes or have the time to go to college and get that degree. But you may be able to afford to buy a few books on the craft, and it’s to your advantage to try to build your reference library with books that speak to you and your style. You will gravitate to books that may be different than mine, and that is good. But some aspects of our craft are absolute, nearly engraved in stone, and these are the basic concepts you will find explained in these manuals.
Reading is the key. Read widely, and you will begin to understand many different forms of literature. We all know that reading widens your horizons and opens your mind to possibilities in your own work that you otherwise wouldn’t consider.
Most importantly, you must lose the fear of being stuck reading works you don’t enjoy.
An essential skill for you to gain as a writer is the ability to clearly identify what you don’t like about a given work.
By reading widely, you will become less inclined to make broad statements, such as “I don’t like sci-fi.” You will be able to identify what it is that you don’t like about a given novel rather than dismissing an entire genre.
So much can be done at no cost financially, but it does require a desire to learn and the willingness to try.
If you have some funds to dedicate to learning the craft of writing, you can take online classes or attend seminars in your local area.
Look at the calendar of your local library and see if they are offering any FREE seminars on writing craft. If you check in your local area, you will be surprised just how many opportunities there are to learn about the craft of creative writing.
IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons, accessed Feb 26, 2017
The Chicago Manual of Style, University of Chicago Press; Seventeenth edition (September 5, 2017) Fair Use