5 bite-sized writing insights from Patrick Ness

At a recent Barnes & Noble event for his beautiful and extraordinary new novel RELEASE, Patrick Ness shared some great writing insights:

  1. It’s always interesting hearing writers talk about writing… but ultimately, no two writers write the same way, so find the way and the process that works for you.
  2. Everything in writing is world-building, whether you’re writing sci-fi or contemporary YA. The things you’re writing about don’t have to be true, they just have to be convincing. You just have to create a world in which those things could logically happen.
  3. A book is not a song. A book is a performance of a song. It’s how you sing it that counts.
  4. You can write about anything in YA as long as you earn it. The only time things are harmful is if they’re cheaply handled.
  5. He doesn’t outline, but he usually knows the last line, and some general story beats. Everything else is discovery. (But see tip #1 above — he was very clear, that’s just what works for him! It may not work for you).

There you have it! 5 things to think about when you’re daydreaming or outlining or drafting or editing. Ness also shared on-set Chaos Walking photos of him with Tom Holland and Nick Jonas… by quickly holding up his phone so no one could really see them! Anticipation in the room was high for the movie, it’s fair to say! Ness was also super-focused on the audience — he grabbed a bunch of huge medical textbooks to put on his chair for him to sit on so that the folks at the back could see him. The man is a legend. So, absorb his insights, then make them your own—and kick some serious writing ass!—so that one day your thoughts on writing are the topic of a blog!

Release cover

Advertisements

Get Writing! Characters…

Luna, Dudley, Fred, George, Cho, James, Lilly, Viktor…

You know them instantly. Even though it wasn’t their name on the cover. And we’re willing to bet you can name at least a dozen more of the characters that shaped Harry’s world. (Go on, do it! At least 12. Go!) Another roll of the dice says you know each of those characters’ histories, their arcs, their quirks, and the roles they each played in Harry’s life.

Luna

A good story has a leading character (or more than one) that you can root for, and supporting characters that you can relate to. But how many books or movies have a whole cast that you feel are part of your family? That you’d really want to be part of your family?

Dobby spark

Moment of silence

Of those few that come to mind, how many are some of your favorite books of all time?

Characters play a pivotal role in every good story. Or, at least, they should. This is why you have to go through your work and make sure that every character is memorable; for those characters who are there just to advance the plot or provide exposition, give them something real to do, something to feel, something that makes us feel, or laugh, or recognize something of ourselves in them.

Weasleys

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready. Because our exercise this time is more like an exorcise…

Remove the least significant character in your work.

SPN Adam

Maybe one day Adam will come back to Supernatural.

If they are truly insignificant, removing them will quicken the pace, give another more meaningful character something more to do, and avoid any confusion the reader or viewer may have in keeping your cast straight in their mind.

This should be challenging. If it’s not—and you George RR Martin-ed one of your cast with zero hesitation—then jump right back in there and do it again with the next least significant character.

Be ruthless.

Keep going until all you are left with is your very own Weasley family. (Except Percy)

Percy

Harsh but real. Sorry, Molly.

Get Writing! Find the fire…

Sometimes you throw a log on the fire and it surges; flames reach for the sky and you’re basking in its glow. Other times you throw that log at the wrong time or wrong angle and suddenly you’ve extinguished the flame. It gets dark. Real dark.

GOT dragon dark

Dark, and scary

The same is true for writing. Some ideas send your word count skyrocketing and others have you TBD-ing all over the place. You get lost in the darkness and find yourself ending every paragraph with the dreaded ellipses.

No wants that. No one…

This is where you have to look hard at each of your characters. After all, if plot is the blood of your story, then characters are the heart that keeps it moving. To get momentum, you need the heart to start racing. You have no choice but to turn up the pressure. Basically, you’ve gotta ask yourself: What would George RR Martin do?

GOT Ned

Wait, come back! Don’t kill ALL of your favorite characters!

Whatever your characters are most scared of, make them face it. Give them a moment that will change them, haunt them, motivate them or dissuade them.

A moment that will define them.

GOT zombie

Maybe you’ll realize… they’re a zombie! Or not.

Write that moment, every detail. It’s okay if you feel terrible, or even shed a few tears. Sometimes—actually, a lot of the time—writing is emotionally painful. But the more you feel, the more your reader will feel. The tension should make your actual heart race.

Once the scene is done, you’ve caught your breath, and your character’s shadows have been illuminated, you have to decide if that moment stays in the story. We know, we know—you bled on the page and now we’re saying you might not even be able to use it?! Yep. That moment may not make it into the finished product, but it’s almost certainly going to be a key part of your character—who they were before they became part of the story, why they were that way, etc. This moment could be a critical part of the path that leads you to the greatest version of your story—be ready!

Whichever way it goes, all the tension you created should generate the friction you needed to get the writing fire surging again. Be the mother of word-dragons you know you can be!

GOT dragon fire and khaleesi

 

Get Writing! Attack the block…

Writing is awesome. Of course it is. But it can sometimes feel like heavy lifting—of complex emotions, intricate plot, grounded characters—so it’s always good to keep those creative muscles warm.

SPN Chuck

Even if you don’t have a project you’re working on at the moment, keep writing. And if you are working on a project but you’re having trouble lifting (AKA… writer’s block), here’s a fun exercise that should help keep those muscles loose. In either case you might think that you don’t want to write something random. But here’s the thing: you never know when those small scenes could develop into something larger, or even solve that pesky plot hole.

Your mind is constantly working on story, behind the scenes of your everyday thought processes—that’s one of the cool things about being a writer, everything you do counts as part of the writing process in some way—but in order to make it real, you have to put it down on paper, or get it on screen.

So here’s a way to stay loose, or attack the block:

Try writing a couple of characters you know and love—either your own, or some from your favorite TV show, movie or novel—and make them argue about something. Anything. Debating the merits of a Caramel Macchiato vs. a S’mores Frappuccino (too close to call, right?), who’s the best superhero/YA heroine/character in Star Wars Rebels (Hera, obvi), who would win in a fight between C3-P0 and TC-14 (trick question, they’re classic droid OTP material)… you get the idea. Characters you love, arguing about anything.

Whoever and whatever springs to mind RIGHT THIS SECOND…. go!

image4

 

Get Writing! Warming up…

The winter weather was brutal at times this year. It felt like the clouds would never part, the sun would never shine, the dirty snow piles would never melt… But, finally, the sun started to peak out more and more, and spring finally arrived, bringing with it new buds and greener landscapes.

Spring 2

Spring is the season of birth and revitalization, and that doesn’t just apply to your garden. The air is full of ideas and inspiration, all you need to do is take the time to look for them. But ideas, like your garden, need tending to.

garden

Since writing requires talent, skill, and constant practice, we’ve decided to launch a new series of posts for inspiration and cultivation.

So throw open the windows and let the fresh air and inspiration in, as, first up, we have a warm-up exercise…

Spring 1

Write a conversation between two people, where they each find a way to tell the other one they love them, without actually saying anything that could be found in a Hallmark card.

Couple

No “I love you”s, no generic flattery. So, although, yes, this is probably the greatest love you scene in cinema…

I love you I know

… you have to do it without using those words! Just make sure your characters know by the end of their conversation that they are truly seen and cared for like no one else has cared for them.

Get writing!