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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Writers, how do you teach a budding writer?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (34202points) March 29th, 2012

Someone recently asked me about how to write a novel. I talked about outlining and storyboarding and other things, but I couldn’t come up with a succinct way to explain the process. Perhaps, there is no easy way to put it.

How do you write a novel?

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9 Answers

trailsillustrated's avatar

Read read read novels by good writers. Try Somerset Maugham

gambitking's avatar

Your question actually includes two very different questions. I’ll impart first my suggestions on teaching a budding writer.

There’s a bit of a preparation phase (sometimes lasting well into the writer’s prime) that embodies the foundation for the skill and imparts nutritious experience for growth towards being a great writer. Make sure the budding writer lays a robust foundation at the outset. Teach good habits early (the basics are important, like good spelling, grammar, things to avoid, common mistakes, strength of voice and structure).

Even in my youth, my very literature-minded mother would always say “reading makes good writing”. That’s just a golden rule that should always be followed. Read, read read. Learn new words, learn styles, expand that vocabulary. Proofread and edit other peoples’ works. There’s TONS of places on the internet where the student can get his feet wet in a community of peers with similar situations.

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is a great item in the toolbox for any writer as well. Seek out resources on the web, there’s tons of great free stuff. As the foundation builds, teach them nuances such as alliteration, plays on words, idioms, metaphoric style, rhyme, abstract, free verse and even delve into poetry, journalism and all forms of perspective.

But for the actual writing process, the writer will likely have his/her own style and methods. Basically follow the tried and true “write what you know”, choose interesting topics, try challenging exercises and infuse the idea into the pupil to be his own worst critic.

Outlining is indeed an essential tool, and should be encouraged (although I know many writers that don’t do much outlining – but for me, it’s a fantastic method).

As for explaining it succinctly and learning to write a novel, specifically; you’re right that it’s not an easy task on either account. Perhaps the most important element of novel writing is to have a compelling story to tell. We didn’t blaze through the verbose and mind-shattering descriptiveness of JRR Tolkien’s books to admire his writing style, we all wanted to find out the fate of Middle Earth, the One Ring and the Fellowship.

Start with a great story, frame it properly to a fitting scale and setting, place all the elements of storytelling there in the proper order, and the rest is supplemented by the skill and style of the writer, but those things are learned through experience, reading and that foundation I mentioned earlier.

If I had to put it summarily in one sentence, I’d have to say…

The writer is simply a conduit for an idea, the novel is a result.

Whether it’s a good novel or not is a measurement of the author’s strengths… and weaknesses.

Bill1939's avatar

I wonder how old the budding author is. As has been said, reading is a good beginning. However dyslexia made reading difficult for me, requiring at least twice as much time to comprehend as “normal” readers need. I started college at 25, and was immediately in trouble with freshman english.

What I did was to convince the instructor to mark up extra papers I would write, although they would not count toward my grade. So I wrote, and wrote, and barely earned a “C” for the course. I also discover that I liked writing. The creative writing class my sophomore year rewarded my efforts with an A+.

So my advice would be for him or her just to write short things at first, reading them aloud when finished. With practice, their writing will become increasingly clear and concise, and more interesting. Good luck to your questioner.

Bellatrix's avatar

All of the above but getting them to write and develop the habit of writing. Developing strong editing skills and the ability to critique their own work and accept and effectively use feedback from others.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

The budding writer is a young teenager and has just had her first work accepted by a literary magazine specifically for her age group. She’s got good rhythm but lacks some of the critical thinking skills that have been mentioned.

Thank you all.

Keep the ideas coming, please.

whitecarnations's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake The secret to good novel writing, is by honoring the editing process. These are my words of advice. A great writer is nothing more than a great observer who remembers and is obsessed with what happened.

ro_in_motion's avatar

Here are some of my tricks:
1. read the story out loud. If it sounds ‘funny’ it means I need to fix something.
2. Get them Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.
3. Have them take a book they really like and have them dissect it. Identify what happens on what page and the like. Use this to help them see where all the ‘extra words’ go. Hunter S. Thompson, I believe, would type out a Hemingway story just to get a feel of what was going on. I always thought that was brilliant.
4. Don’t worry about writing a novel. Write about anything you want and get rid of unnecessary words. If it’s anything from a short-short story to a novel, that’s the perfect length.

The single most important bit of advice is to write every day. With time, you’ll really find your inner voice. Find that first before writing the novel.

ro_in_motion's avatar

You don’t teach a budding writer anything beyond the basics. A budding writer will write and keep writing no matter what.

1. The Basics: Read and memorise Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. No, really.
2. Write your first draft as if it were your last draft. Robert Heinlein promulgated this rule back in the days of ‘penny a word’ publishing. However, it holds true regardless of the pay.
3. Submit every story you write and keep submitting it until it is published. In the 70’s, George RR Martin showed me a file of his rejection letters for one story that was several inches thick.
4. Never talk about what you’re writing unless it’s in the absolute most general manner. You are telling a story in print. Talking too much about it means the story was told conversationally.
5. Keep multiple copies of your work. Not just on backup disks but store them printed out. Obviously, don’t keep them in the same place you work.
6. Tell them that it takes 10,000 hours at anything to be an expert.
7. Go to writing workshops run my the writers you admire.
8. Avoid community-based workshops run by amateurs.
9. Write as if your livelihood depended on it.
10. If you are blocked, don’t talk about it, don’t watch tv until you feel like writing again, and don’t start something new. Be silent and go for a long walk until you sort it out. Gene Wolfe gave me this advice when I started out.
11. Read your finished story as a newcomer might. Read it out loud as well.
12. There is no such thing as a paragraph that can’t be rewritten. You might have gotten it right the first time, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed.
13. Be commercial. Learn your markets and meet the publishers if you can. Get an agent once you’ve sold a few things (presumably short stories). Talk to other writers in your field and learn from them about which publishers are the best (and the worst!).
14. Almost every writer has to start off supporting themselves by having another job. Get one that has fixed hours and doesn’t require you to work extra hours or that requires you to take work home with you. If you do this, you can then go home to your ‘real’ profession and write for however many hours a day as works for you.

@Hawaii_Jake is right: It was Hunter S. Thompson who wrote out Hemingway’s work to learn how he told a story. Excellent advice.

Finally, remember this: “Writing is a wonderful thing to talk about doing, it’s a wonderful thing to have talked about doing, but the writing itself is the toughest job in the world’. I believe that advice was from Heinlein as well. he also said: “Write every day but wash your hands when done.”

Good luck!

cevennes's avatar

Do it. Do it every day.

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