Writing a novel is no small task. In fact, it’s a momentous task. Some writers spend years eking out a first draft, followed by years of revisions. And that’s before they even think about the grueling publishing process.
In other words, you’re going to spend a lot of time with your novel. So you better love it. No, wait — loving it is not enough. You have to be in love with it. You have to be obsessed with it. Committed to it.
It’s normal to lose interest when you’re on your tenth revision, but if you’re losing interest in your plot or characters while writing your first or second draft, the problem might not be you or your novel. The problem might be that you tried to commit to something you didn’t love. That’s never a good idea.
For many writers, the trick to sticking with a novel is actually quite simple: find an idea that grips you.
Get in Touch with Your Passions
Before you chase every crazy idea into the ground, stop and take a breath. Think about what moves you: books you couldn’t put down, movies you’ve watched dozens of times, TV shows you couldn’t stop talking about, and songs you played so many times, you’re sure they have bonded with your DNA.
By identifying your passions, you can figure out what makes you tick, and that’s a great start to your quest for novel writing ideas that you can really sink your teeth into.
All your past and present obsessions hold the clues to your future commitment to your own novel. Pay close attention to your preferences for genre, theme, setting, style, character archetypes and above all — emotional sensibility. Make lists of what you love about your favorite stories, and soon you’ll see the shape of your own novel start to emerge.
Generate and Gather Plenty of Novel Writing Ideas
Once you’ve made some general decisions about the novel you’re going to write, it’s time to start generating specific ideas.
Of course, the best novel writing ideas come out of nowhere. You’re on your hands and knees scrubbing the floor and suddenly that big magic bulb over your head lights up. Or maybe you have so many ideas, you don’t know where to start. It’s even possible that you’re aching to write a novel but are fresh out of ideas. Your mind feels like a gaping void.
Actually, story ideas are everywhere. The trick is to collect a variety of ideas, and let them stew while you decide which one is worth your effort. Here are some quick tips for generating ideas:
Hit the bookstore or library and jot down some of your favorite plot synopses. Then rework the details to transform these old plots into fresh ideas for new stories. Try combining different elements from your favorite stories. And use movie synopses too!
Load up on fiction writing prompts and develop each prompt into a short (one page) summary for a story.
Harvest some creative writing ideas from the news.
Grab a subplot from your favorite movie or TV show — a story line that wasn’t fully explored — and make it the central story problem.
Create a stash file for your ideas. It can be a folder on your computer or a box you fill with 3×5 index cards. You can also write all these ideas in a notebook. Just make sure you keep them together so you can easily go through them.
Let Your Novel Writing Ideas Marinate
Some ideas are so enticing, you can’t wait to get started. If you’re writing a poem or a piece of flash fiction, then have at it. If things don’t work out, you’ll lose a few hours or maybe a few weeks. But imagine investing months or years in a novel only to realize your heart’s not in it. Try to avoid doing that by letting ideas sit for a while before you dive into them.
The best ideas rise to the top. These are not necessarily the bestselling ideas or the most original ideas. They’re the ideas that are best for you. Those are the ones that will haunt you, keep you up at night, and provoke perpetual daydreams.
These are the ones worth experimenting with.
Experiment to See Which Novel Writing Ideas Can Fly
There’s a reason people test drive cars and lie around on the beds in mattress shops. When you make a big investment, you want to feel right about it. You can’t know how a car will drive until you actually drive it. And you can’t know how a bed will feel until you relax on it for a while. And you definitely can’t know what your relationship with your novel will be like until you experiment with it.
In truth, the experimental phase is when you start writing the novel — just like the test drive is when you start driving the car. But you haven’t committed yet. You’re still open to the idea that this is not for you. This might seem like I’m nitpicking over semantics, but you’ll find that discarding partially written novels wears on you after a while. If you play around with your story with the understanding that you’re experimenting, and if things don’t work out, you can always walk away without feeling guilty or like you gave up. Go back to your idea stash, and start tooling around with the next one.
How do you experiment with novel writing? I’m so glad you asked. There’s a lot you can do. Start by brainstorming. Sketch a few characters. Poke around and see what kind of research this novel might require. Draft a few scenes. Write an outline. If you keep going through these motions and can’t shake your excitement, then you are finally . . .
Writing Your Novel
At this point, you’ve already started writing your novel. But suddenly, you’re not just writing a novel. You’re deeply, passionately, obsessively writing your novel. If a couple of weeks go by and you haven’t had time to write, you miss your characters. When you get stuck on a scene, you simply work on some other part of the story because you’re so obsessed. You have to fight the urge to tell everyone about how the story is coming along. Your trusted buddy, whom you bounce ideas off of, is starting to think you’re taking it all too seriously. “Maybe you should watch some television a couple nights a week,” he says, looking concerned.
This is a story that’s captured your full attention. And that’s a good sign that it will capture the attention of readers. You are ready to commit.
Many (or most) of your novel writing ideas might end up in the trash or in a bottom drawer. But every one of them will be worth it when all of that idea generating, planning, and experimenting finally pays off. Every idea that doesn’t work will pave the path to the idea that will set you on fire.
So no matter what, no matter how many ideas come and go, no matter how many drafts you discard, never give up. Just keep writing!
Today’s post is an excerpt from my book, Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing, which takes you on a tour through the world of creative writing while offering writing ideas and inspiration. This is from chapter thirty-one, “Curiosity and Creativity.” Let’s find out how fostering curiosity can increase your creativity. Enjoy!
Curiosity and Creativity
Even though inspiration abounds all around us, we writers sometimes get stumped. We search for essay topics, plot ideas, and interesting language for our poems. Unfortunately, our searches don’t always yield desirable results.
But by fostering curiosity, we can ensure a constant stream of creativity. Some of the best writing ideas come from asking simple questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
Most writers are curious by nature. We look at the world around us and wonder at it. Who are these people? What are we all doing here? Where are we heading? Why do we do the things we do? How will we move forward?
Remember how curious you were as a child? Everything you encountered spawned a series of questions because you were trying to learn and understand the world around you. Bring that childlike curiosity back, and you’ll always have a full supply of inspiration.
It doesn’t matter what form your writing takes or what genre you’re writing in. By fostering curiosity, you can create a fountain of ideas.
Below are some questions you can use to get inspired. Mix them up, change them around, and come up with your own list of questions:
Who is this about?
Who can help?
Who is standing in the way?
Who am I?
What is the goal?
What are the stakes?
What is the underlying message?
Where did it all begin?
Where have we been?
Where should we go?
Where does it end?
When did it start?
When did things change?
When will things improve?
When will it be too late?
Why did they do it?
Why does it matter?
Why take a risk?
Why are we here?
How did this happen?
How does this make people feel?
How does this sound?
How will this get resolved?
If you can keep your curiosity on fire and continue coming up with new questions, you’ll find that you can write your way into answers and constantly discover new writing ideas along the way.
As you work through your writing projects, you can also use questions to help you overcome hurdles that are preventing you from crossing the finish line. Not sure how to move a plot forward? Start asking questions. Don’t know how to begin your next poem? Ask questions. Want to write a piece that is informative and entertaining? Ask away.
Throughout time, many great thinkers have used questions to prompt creative and critical thinking. Sometimes, one question will lead to the next, and you’ll end up with more ideas than you thought possible. As long as you keep your curiosity well oiled and let those questions flow, you’ll never be at a loss for inspiration.
Open one of your writing projects, and make a list of at least twenty questions that get to the heart of your project. Be sure to include a mix of who, what, where, when, why, and how.
As an alternative, try using any of the questions from this chapter as writing prompts. Simply place a question at the top of a page, and then start writing in response to the question.
Do you have any favorite techniques for developing new writing ideas? Are there any questions you ask to get through a project or to come up with new project ideas? What are you curious about? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment, and pick up your copy of Ready, Set Write today:
I don’t know about you, but I wrote poems for years before it ever occurred to me that I might want to publish them. My poetry wasn’t written for an audience or publication. It was personal self-expression. I often used poetry to explore ideas and experiment with language. It seems that this is not uncommon. A lot of poets first come to the craft for the sheer pleasure of composing poetry.
But eventually, many poets decide to try to get published, and there are a variety of ways to do that.
The fastest and easiest path to publication is to self-publish. However, if you’re looking for clout or if you want to reach a broad audience, publishing through a more traditional route might be the better way to go. In order to get traditionally published, especially by a quality publication, your work needs to reach a high level of craftsmanship. Even if your poetry skills are advanced, each publication has its own preferences, so you’ll need to find one that is a match to your style.
Seven Ways to Publish Your Poetry
Here are some ways that you can publish your poetry:
1. On a blog
This is your fastest and easiest route to publication. If you don’t already have a blog, you can set one up in minutes (although it will take longer if you want to build a high-quality website). Be aware that just because you’ve posted your poetry and made it available to the public doesn’t mean people will see it. You’ll need to find a way to get traffic to your website.
2. Create a chapbook
There is a long tradition of chapbooks in the literary world, and they are not exclusive to poetry. A chapbook is a short collection of written works, in this case, poetry. Writers often bring their chapbooks to open mics, where they read work from the collection and have copies on hand to sell to attendees. You might also be able to get your local bookstore to sell your chapbook (or offer it for free), and you can, of course, create a digital version (a PDF or e-book) to make available online.
3. Submit to literary magazines and journals
Submitting your work to literary magazines and journals is the most traditional method of publishing your poetry. It’s also a good way to get your work noticed in the poetry world, and it increases the chance that you can eventually get your poems into an anthology or other collection. Make sure you read several issues of each publication to make sure your work is a good match, and then carefully review their submission guidelines before sending your poetry to them.
4. Self-publish a collection
If you have enough completed works, you can self-publish your own collection of poetry. There are two options here: you can publish your own work, or you can invite other poets into the mix and become the editor of a multi-poet collection (be cognizant of drawing up a contract and managing costs as well as payments to other poets).
5. Submit your poetry to a publisher of poetry books
Some book publishers produce poetry collections with open submissions (as opposed to sending out exclusive invitations). They are often looking for poets whose work has been previously published in esteemed literary magazines and journals, so be sure to check the guidelines before you submit your work.
6. Enter a poetry contest
Be careful here. There are a lot of scammy writing contests, especially those that pose as publishing houses or that collect exorbitant fees from submitting poets. However, entering a poetry contest can be a good way to get eyes on your work.
7. Slam poetry
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention slam poetry (or performance poetry). In the world of slam, poems are heard (or watched), not read. Your work should be written to be performed, and then you have to get on a stage and perform it. Some of these performances might be produced as films, documentaries, or streamed online. There are also plenty of slam poetry contests you can enter. While not a path to publishing in the conventional sense, this is a good way to get your work in front of other people.
Publish Your Poetry
Once you self-publish your poetry, a lot of publications will not accept it as a submission. Publications tend to prefer exclusive rights, and speaking of rights, be sure to check the fine print — you might be barred from publishing your poem elsewhere for a designated amount of time.
Have you ever published your poetry? Have you ever tried? Do you want to get your poetry published? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Ready, Set, Write takes you on a tour through various forms of writing, tools of the trade, and creativity techniques. It’s packed with practical tips for writing. Plus, there are plenty of writing projects and activities for you to explore as you stretch and tone your writing muscles.
Written for hobbyists and aspiring professionals alike, Ready, Set, Write is ideal for young and new writers, but it also works as a refresher for seasoned scribes.
Win a Kindle E-book
From now through May 12, you can enter to win one of a hundred Kindle editions of Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing.
Goodreads is a social media network for people who love to read. It’s a great way to share and discover books. You can create a list of books you want to read, rate and review books you’ve already read, and connect with others who are as passionate about reading as you are.
All you need to enter is a (free) Goodreads account. Once you’ve logged in to Goodreads, click “Enter to Win” below for your chance to win a copy of Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing.
The contest is open to residents of the United States.
Everybody wants to know the secret to success, and writers are no exception.
We often talk about all the things one must do in order to become a successful writer. From studying grammar to working through multiple revisions, from sending out submissions to building a platform, writers must wear many hats if they hope to succeed.
However, most of those tasks are irrelevant (and success is impossible) if a writer hasn’t acquired the basic skills necessary for doing the work. There’s no reason to worry about submissions, readers, and marketing if your writing habits and skills aren’t up to the task of getting the project done. You might have a great premise for a story, but if you don’t know how to write a story—or if you don’t have the discipline to finish a story—you’ll never be able to bring that premise to life, at least not in a way that is effective or meaningful.
So it’s essential for young and new writers to develop beneficial writing practices to ensure not only that the writing gets done—but that it gets done well.
Essential Writing Practices
There are many writing practices that you can cultivate. Some will make you a better writer. Some will help you write more or write faster. It would be impossible to incorporate all of them into your writing habits, so you’ll need to choose which ones are best for you and your goals. However, some practices are more useful—and more essential—than others. Below are the writing practices that I have found to be most important for improving one’s writing and producing good work—the practices that are essential for all writers:
I’m always surprised by aspiring writers who don’t read. I mean, if you don’t read, then why would you want to be a writer? Reading is, in many ways, even more important than writing. It lays the groundwork for everything you’ll write. You’ll learn a tremendous amount of the craft from reading, and if you don’t read, it will show in your work, which will never move past a beginner’s level.
It should go without saying that if you want to be a writer, you need to do the writing. But many writers spend more time talking and thinking about writing than actually writing. Force yourself to do your writing, even when you don’t feel like it. Allow yourself to write badly, and accept that sometimes you’ll write garbage. Even a short, twenty-minute writing session each day will keep your skills sharp and your writing muscles strong.
Study the Craft
You can learn a lot by reading and practicing your writing, but you can’t learn everything. There are aspects of the craft that you’ll only learn through more formal study. That doesn’t mean you have to run off to a university and take college courses, although doing so will certainly help. You can learn the craft through local or online classes and workshops, by reading books and articles on the craft, and working with other writers (or an editor or writing coach). There is a lot to learn, and the sooner you start, the better.
Revise and Polish Your Work
As you make your way through the writing world, you’ll hear this advice over and over: Writing is rewriting, or writing is revising. A lot of people have the misconception that we writers sit down, place our fingers on the keyboard, and the words magically flow out perfectly. That’s not how it works. The first few sentences or paragraphs are often a mess. The first draft is garbage. But with each revision, everything gets better. That’s how you produce polished work.
Getting feedback can be emotionally challenging to young and new writers, who have a tendency to take it personally. Harsh criticism, no matter how constructive, can be a bruise to the ego. But you are not your writing. The criticism is not about you; it’s about your work. And without feedback, it’s almost impossible to get an objective view of your skills and the work you’re producing. Separate yourself from your writing. Take the feedback seriously and be appreciative, because it will help you become a better writer. Apply it to your work.
More Useful Writing Practices
Each writer needs their own practice. Another writer’s daily practice of freewriting for an hour at dawn might not be your ideal writing practice. But as long as you’re willing to try new practices, you’ll find what works for you. Here are some suggestions for writing practices that might boost your skills and productivity:
Warm-ups: Many writers find that everything comes out awkward at the beginning of a writing session. A ten- to twenty-minute warm-up can get words flowing.
Look it up: When you come across a question, such as a question about grammar or the meaning of a word, look it up, especially if it will only take a few minutes.
Network with the writing community: Other writers will keep you motivated. You’ll learn from them. And they can offer support and advice.
Freewriting is a good way to warm up at the start of a writing session. It’s also a good daily writing practice during times when you’re not working on a particular project. And it’s a fantastic way to generate raw material that you can use in various projects.
Set goals and create a five-year plan, and then revisit your goals and plan annually.
Collect inspirational and motivational quotes about writing and post them around your writing desk, or jot them down in a notebook. Review a quote or two before every writing session, or when you don’t feel like doing the work.
Study poetry (or literary devices and techniques): These tools are the tricks of the trade, and they will take your writing to another level, from methods for structuring language to using devices like metaphors, this is an excellent way to enrich your work.
Finish a project before starting a new one: If you prefer (or need) to work on multiple projects simultaneously (I do), then always keep one project on the front burner until it’s complete. That’s your primary (or priority) project. See it through to completion.
Step away from drafts for a while before revising to clear your head so you can return to them with fresh eyes.
What Are Your Writing Practices?
What do you consider your most important writing practices? Are there any essential or beneficial writing practices you would add to these lists? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
Are you a storyteller? Do you want to be a storyteller?
If you’re interested in writing flash fiction, short stories, or novels, then you’re going to need lots of ideas, especially if you want to write professionally.
Some of us have too many ideas; others don’t have enough ideas. Maybe we have a solid idea for a story, but something’s missing. We need to spice it up by adding subplots or characters. Maybe the setting or story world isn’t rich enough. Perhaps your story lacks theme.
Story starters are a great way to get ideas for writing stories, but they can also be used to generate ideas for improving stories that are already in the works.
Today, I’d like to share twenty-five story starters. You can use these story starters to inspire a new story or to breathe new life into a story you’re already working on. Use them to write whatever you want — flash fiction, short stories, or a novel.
We all know about conspiracy theorists. They believe the moon landing was a farce. Come up with a new conspiracy that theorists rally around. The public thinks they’re crazy, but are they?
The world is run by politicians, but sometimes, ordinary people get caught up in political drama and intrigue. What happens when a bike messenger, a restaurant server, and a daycare teacher get unwillingly drawn into the affairs of state?
Technology has developed at a splitting speed over the past century. Before we know it, every house will be equipped with a robot and a virtual reality system. But what happens when a couple of kids venture into the wrong area of the virtual reality and get stuck there?
Witnesses to crimes can find themselves in grave danger, which is why there are protection programs for such persons. But what if the witness decided to join forces with the prime suspect? What does the witness get in exchange for false testimony that acquits a terrible criminal?
Take a look at the world we live in. In some places, life is pretty good. But in other places, life is difficult for most people, especially where there’s a lot of inequality, poverty, and oppression. What if an oppressive culture used war or the media to spread itself around the globe? What would that look like, and would we ever overcome it?
After a family moves into a new house, one of the kids looks for a hiding place to stash some secret belongings and discovers a panel at the back of a closet. Assuming it leads to the attic, the kid removes the panel only to find a window that looks into a world populated with magic and monsters.
Two politicians are in a heated race to win a critical election (governor, president, etc.) and through negative campaigning have become arch enemies. But their kids go to the same college and have fallen in love. What happens when the relationship is revealed in the media?
All the evidence in a brutal, premeditated murder points to one primary suspect, including footage from security cameras. The problem is that there’s no motive, and the alleged killer insists on his or her innocence. Who committed this heinous crime?
While working on a more fuel-efficient space shuttle that will transport tourists to and from the moon, one engineer stumbles into a way to make faster-than-light (FTL) engines a reality.
A stranger comes to a small town that hasn’t seen a new resident since the town’s youngest child was born sixteen years ago. The stranger rarely leaves his or her formerly abandoned home except to buy groceries and strange supplies from the local home improvement store, and the townspeople think something’s not right.
Step back in time hundreds — or perhaps thousands — of years. The leader of a small tribe is butting heads with the tribe’s healer. Meanwhile, a powerful neighboring tribe is infiltrating their territory.
Inspired by Jurassic Park, a biological engineer is committed to recreating dinosaurs. While researching ancient dinosaurs, the scientist stumbles into evidence that fire-breathing dragons once soared over the land and decides to recreate those instead.
While representing an accused killer, the attorney falls in love with the client, partially because he or she believes the accused is innocent.
Teenagers love to rebel and experiment. But what happens when one teenager’s antics end up on video and go viral? Bullying and humiliation ensue.
After working hard for decades, the main character has finally managed to retire and purchase a condo on a small, tropical island, where he or she intends to write a novel. But strange things start happening — things go missing, there are creepy noises, and our character feels like he or she is constantly being watched.
For centuries, humans have wondered if we are alone in the universe. The answer finally comes when aliens arrive. But it’s a time when tensions are high between the nations of Earth. Will humanity unite, or will some nations form an alliance with the aliens?
A young couple believes their fairy tale has finally come true and they will live happily ever after. They are recently married, have good jobs, just bought a home, and there’s a baby on the way. But the fairy tale seems to unravel as secrets and lies begin to surface.
When a foreign operative embedded in the CIA disappears with loads of government secrets, all hell breaks loose. But is this operative truly a foreign spy, or is it a citizen intent on blowing the cover off of government corruption?
A mid-sized tourist plane crashes on a remote deserted island, killing all but a handful of survivors. Rescue is on the way until a devastating storm arises, barring access to the island. Now these urbanites must learn to live off the land and with each other.
After serving a ten-year sentence for a heinous crime she didn’t commit, a former college student gets a new identity and becomes a private investigator intent on exonerating herself.
A group of teenagers spends a summer day on a scavenger hunt in the woods just outside of town. When they reconvene to name the winner of the hunt, one of them doesn’t show up and cannot be found.
When a kid finds out both parents are out of work and the family might have to move in with the grandparents, he or she decides to solve the problem by starting the modern version of a lemonade stand — an online enterprise.
One couple’s nasty divorce leaves their two young children in the custody of their grandparents. Will the couple put aside their differences to get their children back?
Dreams come true when a foster child is finally adopted. But the child’s new family is filled with secrets, and he or she begins to suspect that it wasn’t a chance adoption after all.
The main character receives a strange inheritance from an unknown deceased relative: a key ring with no keys on it. Unusual events occur whenever the key ring is present.
Have you ever used story starters or writing prompts? Where do you find inspiration for writing fiction? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
When I was a little girl, my mom used to sit, curled up on the couch, with a thick paperback novel in her hands and a big bag of M&Ms in her lap. I’m still trying to quit my candy habit! But books are forever.
My mom taught me to read by the time I turned four. The rhyming stories of Dr. Seuss were among my early favorites. Soon I was devouring Charlotte’s Web and Little House in the Big Woods. Later it was the Narnia books and A Wrinkle in Time. I constantly checked out Where the Sidewalk Ends from my school library. Whenever I asked for new books, my mom would take me to the used paperback store and let me pick out a few. Whenever the Scholastic newsletter came, she let me order a few books from the catalog. And whenever I asked to go to the big public library, she drove me there.
When I was about thirteen years old, something changed. After years of reading other people’s words, I started putting my own words on the page.
They were poems or songs, inspired by the music that I loved and informed by the books I had read. I composed these pieces in my spiral-bound notebook, which was intended for schoolwork. I remember marveling at the words I’d written. I had created something—and I had done it with nothing more than a pen and paper and some words. I was elated. I wanted to write more.
Around the same time, one of my teachers required our class to keep journals. We wrote in our journals for a few minutes every day, and when the semester ended, I continued writing in mine throughout the summer and for years afterward.
I filled many notebooks throughout my teens and early twenties. I wrote about my thoughts and feelings. I explored ideas. I wrote poems and personal essays. I composed song lyrics. Later, I started to tinker with storytelling.
I sometimes hear people talk about what it means to be a “real writer.” Occasionally, someone will say that a “real writer” loves to write, needs to write, or gets paid to write.
I’m a real writer because I write. Sure, sometimes I love it, but not always. Other times, I need to do it, but not always. Sometimes I get paid to write, but that didn’t happen until many years after I’d started writing. There are times when writing is frustrating, exhausting, or just plain difficult. I’ve experienced writer’s block. I’ve struggled with doubt and dismay about my work. I’ve taken long, unplanned breaks from writing.
But I always come back.
Writing is part of who I am. It’s what I do.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer, too. At the very least, you’re an aspiring writer. That doesn’t mean you intend to get your name on a best-seller list (although you might). It doesn’t mean you plan to get paid for your writing (although you might). It doesn’t mean you will submit your work and get it published (although you might).
It just means you want to write.
And so you should.
About Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing
As the title implies, this book is a guide to creative writing. It isn’t a book that delves into grammar, spelling, or punctuation. It doesn’t tell you how to become a professional, published author. It does one thing and one thing only: shows you what you can write and how you can write it.
You’ll start by creating a space in which to write. Then you’ll explore various forms of writing that you can experiment with in your new writing space. You’ll answer some questions about writing. You’ll try some writing activities. You’ll learn techniques to help you stay motivated and inspired. Finally, you’ll put together your own writer’s tool kit.
You’ll find questions and activities to prompt a writing session at the end of each chapter. So get your notebook ready.
Get Ready to Write
The more you explore and experiment, the more fun you’ll have and the better your writing will become. Try different forms and genres. Use a variety of tools and techniques. Take risks, and don’t expect everything to come easily, but know that your efforts will be rewarded.
The three acts are the most basic structure in storytelling.
Today’s storytelling exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills, which is filled with fiction-writing exercises that impart basic techniques of storytelling. Today’s exercise is from chapter forty-five. It’s called “Three Acts.” Enjoy!
The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective ways to outline or analyze a story and its structure. The three acts are as follows:
In the first act, the plot and characters are established, and we learn what the central conflict is. It’s roughly 25 percent of the story, but this is a guideline, not a rule.
The second act is the longest of the three acts, usually about 50 percent of the narrative. In the second act, the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits a boiling point.
Finally, the third act resolves the conflict. The third act is usually about 25 percent of the story.
Choose five stories you’ve read, and break them into three-act structures by identifying the setup, conflict, and resolution for each one. Summarize each act in just a few sentences.
Create five story premises, and quickly draft three-act outlines for each one. Use a single sentence to describe each of the three acts. A couple of examples are provided below.
Act I: A natural disaster is impending.
Act II: The natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. The other half struggles to survive.
Act III: Earth’s survivors rebuild.
Act I: A teenager from a prestigious family falls in love with someone from the wrong side of the tracks.
Act II: The couple tries to hide their relationship, but eventually they are outed.
Act III: The teenager is forced to choose between love and access to the family’s wealth and support.
Why do you suppose the three-act structure is universally applicable to almost all forms of storytelling? Would it be possible to write a story with no setup, or with the setup at the end or in the middle? What happens if the three acts are rearranged? Can any of the acts be left out of a story?
I’m excited to announce that a new book in the Adventures in Writing series is now available.
Ready, Set, Write:
A Guide to Creative Writing
Ready, Set, Write takes you on tour through the world of creative writing.
You’ll discover tools of the trade and creativity techniques as you explore various forms of creative writing. Learn how to stay motivated and inspired, and put together your own writer’s tool kit packed with everything you need to do your work.
Plus, get tons of ideas for projects and activities to help you write more and writing tips to help you write better.
Created for hobbyists and aspiring professionals alike, Ready, Set, Write is structured to be used by individuals or in the classroom. It’s ideal for young and new writers, and it works as a refresher for seasoned scribes.
Lots of jobs pose health hazards, and writing is no exception. Whether you write professionally or as a hobby, spending hours hunched over your keyboard or notebook can have detrimental effects on your health if you don’t take the proper precautions.
From muscle cramps and eye strain to getting bogged down in the mental clutter that writing produces, there are health risks at every turn. For example, the Mayo Clinic reports the following:
Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The good news is that you can ward off the health hazards of writing. Here’s how to keep health problems at bay if you’re a writer:
Good Posture and Ergonomics
Bad posture can cause a variety of health problems from headaches to breathing problems. Ergonomics is really about creating a work space and body alignment that are conductive to a good posture. Basically, your back should be straight, and your knees and elbows should be positioned at ninety-degree angles. Avoid carpal tunnel and other pains that afflict the wrists and arms by ensuring that your wrists are positioned above your keyboard (not resting on the desk). Investing in an ergonomic desk, chair, keyboard, and mouse or trackpad can prevent the aches and pains that result from sitting at a desk for hours on end. Print out an image of good sitting posture and pin it near your writing space as a reminder.
Avoid Too Much Sitting
Don’t sit at a desk for too long. Take a short break once an hour, even if it’s just to get a drink of water or go outside for a few breaths of fresh air. Consider investing in a standing desk. You can find desks that are permanently fixed at standing height; desks that can be raised to standing height or lowered to sitting height; and (a most affordable option) computer stands that you can adjust for standing or sitting.
Alleviate Eye Strain
Eye strain can result from reading, and if you’re a writer, hopefully you’re doing a lot of reading. Eye strain can also result from spending too much time staring at screens, something else you’re probably doing a lot if you’re a writer. Keep in mind that you probably spend time staring at screens even when you’re not writing, such as when you’re using your phone or watching television. There are a few things you can do to avoid eye strain. First, make sure your monitor is arm’s length from your face. Your computer’s settings also offer some options: you can enlarge the font-size settings and decrease the brightness. Invest in eyewear that filters blue light and/or reduces glare. Finally, take regular breaks to give your eyes a rest from the stress of the blue screen and long spans of reading.
Get Some Exercise
This goes without saying: exercise wards off many ailments. Most of us know we need to exercise more. You don’t need to trudge down to the gym for an hour a day. Remember: a little exercise is better than no exercise. Take a five-minute stretch break. Do ten minutes of yoga. Take a twenty-minute walk around your neighborhood. Play with your dog for fifteen minutes a couple of times a day. Even when you’re immersed in your writing or swamped with work, short breaks that include movement are good for your health.
Use Breaks Wisely
You might have noticed by now that breaks from reading and writing are good for your health; they alleviate eye strain, give your body a break from sitting, and provide some time for exercise. Instead of one long break to eat, exercise, and walk the dog, plan several shorter breaks throughout your writing day.
Consume Healthier Food and Beverages
It’s easy to sit at the computer, slurping on coffee all day, and lots of writers like to keep snacks at their desks — especially snacks of the junk food variety. Keep the Doritos and M&Ms in the pantry (or leave them on the shelf at the grocery store) and stock up on healthy drinks and snacks that you can munch on while working without damaging your health. Place a big glass of water on your desk, keep it filled, and drink from it frequently. I use a 32-ounce old-fashioned milk bottle on my desk, and it’s always filled with cool water. I try not to eat at my desk, but I do keep sugar-free hard candies in a jar nearby. Look for snacks that are healthy and not too messy. Some good, healthy desktop snacks include grapes, carrots, and nuts and seeds.
Sleep and Rest Well
A lot of writers carve time for writing out of their sleep time. But getting sufficient sleep is essential to good health. Sleep deprivation brings on a host of health problems, including bad mood, poor eating habits, and weak recovery. The Mayo Clinic recommends at least seven hours of sleep each night. Getting a good night’s sleep has been one of my lifelong struggles, as I’ve been afflicted with insomnia since childhood. The good news is that there’s a wealth of techniques that you can use to get good rest. Sleepytime tea worked for me. Do some research on how to get a good sleep and try different methods until you find the one that works for you.
Cultivate a Healthy Mind and a Happy Heart
Writing can be lonesome, and many writers struggle with self-esteem. A variety of mental illnesses afflict the general population, and writers are not immune to them. Many of the bad habits that writers can acquire can lead to poor mental health, especially bad posture, poor diet, lack of exercise, and not getting enough sleep. Maintaining a positive attitude will keep your mental and emotional health intact. All the other recommendations above will boost your mental health, and you can add other activities like positive thinking, meditation, and keeping a gratitude journal to the list of things that will help you maintain your well-being.
How to Implement These Health Tips for Writers
Of course, staying healthy is easier said than done. Have I incorporated all of these good health habits for writers into my daily life? Not even close. But I’m working on it. Here are some suggestions for creating a healthier writing lifestyle:
Set a budget for investing in your health over the next year or two. Maybe you need an ergonomic desk or perhaps you want to take a meditation class. Make a list of what you need, put it in order of priority, and then set a budget to invest in your health.
Set reminders on your phone to prompt you to stand up, rest your eyes, drink some water, and do some stretches. Just five to ten minutes every hour can be beneficial.
When establishing your workout routine, choose exercises that relieve writing cramps. I work and write at a computer all day (and usually well into the night), and I often wrestle with pain in my right arm and the right side of my neck. I try to do light exercises and stretches every day that keep neck and arm pain at bay.
Get a nice, big drinking vessel for water, and make a list of healthy snacks that you’re willing to eat at your desk or during breaks. Add these to your grocery list.
Incorporate one new habit every three months. Set goals, and find ways to motivate yourself to adopt these habits permanently.
Start a health journal to keep track of your reading and writing time, breaks, diet, and exercise. Tracking your behavior is often an excellent way to build better habits.
Is all of this easy? No, of course not. But you’ll find that some of these habits are easier to acquire than others. For example, I go through periods during which I’m good about stretching or exercising every day, but sometimes I fall out of the habit. The important thing is that I always get back on it!
What health problems have you experienced from lots of reading and writing? Have you been able to alleviate the effects of these problems? How? Which of these health tips for writers do you think would benefit you? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, stay healthy, and keep writing!