My visual arts background, such as it is, is entirely self-taught. I learned how to do cover art by doing it, over and over. But my skills aren't quite to the point where I can market myself as a professional cover artist. Truth is, I don't know what I don't know yet. So here's a challenge to rectify that gap.
I’m going to wrap up this mini-series on practice with something few of you expect. Some of you might even be angry at me for bringing this up, if you weren’t already about angry about practice in general. If so, check in with yourself and try to figure out why this stuff makes you ticked. You’re only short-changing yourself by letting negative emotions dictate your writing.
The question for the week is: How do you make a story feel twisted, with lots of surprises? Surprising your reader is a practiced skill in itself, but there are some practical considerations.
You’re a reader. Go find your favorite books, and see for yourself what those authors did to pull you into their books. There’s a thousand techniques to pull readers in, you’ll discover some of those techniques when you analyze the books that pull you in. But there’s a trick to analyzing this stuff. You can’t just read, and you can’t just write your own stories. Do both, for sure. You need to also study.
Now we’re going into the nuts and bolts of how to practice writing. At this point, either you’ve bought my argument that you need practice, or you haven’t. I hope you have, no matter what your skill level currently is at.
Mystery writer John D. McDonald has a famous quote (paraphrasing a bit): You have a million words of crap in you before you can write a publishable novel. The more stories I write, the more I see how true this is. When I first started, I couldn’t plot my way out of a paper bag. I knew jack about character development. I had no grasp of voice, or setting, or pacing. Don’t tell the younger-me any of that.
So now, I’m switching focus from “NaNo-friendly” material, to stuff I really want to discuss. As an ML, there were certain topics I just never brought up unless somebody lassoed me into talking about them: politics, religion, rewriting, and practice. I’d occasionally mention practice in passing, depending on who was across the table from me, but never got into it.