HOW TO WRITE
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
The following contains "bad language" for emphasis. I do not endorse the use of such language, yet I use it anyway because that's how I roll and it can add good emphasis to the points I bring up. If you don't like it, I pity you.
Becoming an Author
If you're looking for a step-by-step "How to Write the Next Bestseller", you're barking up an imaginary tree, so if I were you I'd desist from that before people stop and point at the delirious little chihuahua. Thing about writing is...
There's no secret.
(dun dun DUUUUN)
That's right. Those of you worrying about finding the Fountain of Perfect Authoring are chasing mirages in the desert of reality. There isn't really any Rosetta Stone of how to write a great story. Don't walk away in dejection just yet, however. There's no secret temple with the Pen of Shakespeare, but there are little nuances about writing that when harnessed can help you strive to become the next Tolkien.
"But if there's no secret, how are all these people such great writers?"
I'm no expert by any means, but by using common sense and some information garnered over 6 years of writing, reading, and observation, I can try to help you become better at writing. You might become a great novelist, or maybe a script writer...or maybe this will up the grade of your next essay by a few points. Or, maybe you'll just read this, roll your eyes and move on. No two people are alike...which is one of the biggest secrets of writing. More on that later.
A lot of people have been asking me about how to get started writing or how I got to be such a "great" writer, even where I went to school to learn how to write. My answers:
1) How to get started:
Sit your ass in that chair, get a paper and pencil or a keyboard, and let loose.
2) How I got to where I am:
Writing. Reading books. Being a bitch about proper grammar and spelling.
3) Where I went to school:
Northwest Elementary, Midway Elementary, Jefferson Day School, Pine Grove, ES-M High School, Holy Cross Academy...oh, where I went to learn "how to write"? Pay attention in English class and you'll see.
It's really that easy!
(Boy, doesn't this sound like one of those cheesy infomercials!)
For those of you who want a quick read and a reference and might be too rushed or lazy to read my lecture, I'll sum up my ensuing ranting here. Use CRTL+F and type or copy&paste (CTRL+C+V) the lettered numbers in the list to jump to that part of my lovely ranting. Type BLARG and search to return here to the top.
To write well:
1a) Read books. Read a lot of books. You need to know the language and SEE how it's used. Books are better than the Internet. Go to that place called a "library" and check out a "book". If you're serious about writing, you'll be glad you did.
1b) Pay attention in English class (or your language class if you're not a native English speaker). Teachers help, believe it or not. Unless they're the kind that babysits and gives out spelling tests without talking or discussing the lessons. Then you've got a problem. Also a goal; strive to be better at English than they are.
1c) Don't be lazy. Learn how to use a spellchecker or a dictionary. (Don't trust MS Word's grammar checker though, oftentimes it doesn't know what it's talking about)
2a) "Sit your ass down and write". Don't fret over "not being ready" or whatever. Sit your ass in that chair, get your medium set up, and start chickenscratching.
2b) Be not afraid, ask for help. Ask for critiques and opinions; likewise, give others critiques and opinions. (politely, though). If you want to publish, ask for critiques and get used to it, because professional editors will tear you a new one. Guaranteed. They're brutal, and for good reason. I'd be brutal too if I had to read story after story of bad spelling/grammar/plot/etc. If you're really serious about publishing, find or hire a writing mentor, preferably a published author.
2c) Notes, notes, notes. Characters, settings, random funny ideas from your discussion at lunch, anything goes. Make references so if you have to take a really long break, you can come back and catch yourself up instead of wondering "What was I gonna have him do?". Mental notes are good and all but make a point of making a few physical backups of your ideas on paper or on your flashdrive and an external harddrive or three. Just in case lightning hits you and wipes your memory or something.
2d) OPTIONAL. Get a friend. Chain friend to a chair. Or invite friend over for a sleepover or to play games or eat lunch, since chaining friend to a chair can be illegal. In either case, preferably the latter, find someone you can bounce ideas off of. Literally or metaphorically, depends on how many notes you plan on crumpling into little paper balls. This isn't strictly necessary, but it can help a LOT, especially if you're looking to publish.
3a) Write the basic premise of your story. Yes, it's like the roughdrafts in school, but it really does help. Get your ideas down so you don't forget them; you can always edit them or delete them later.
3b) Expand. When you have the basic plot points down, you can focus on expanding them.
3d) Expand some more. Details. Readers love details. In moderation, though. Don't spend a thousand pages poring over your character's physical features or every single step and motion of a Roman gladiatorial brawl. Learn how much detail people will take before getting bored (or before YOU get bored).
3e) Finish. Try to finish your story, or get as close to the end as you can.
3f) Go back and revise. Try to refrain from doing this during the previous steps, see 4a below. Finish first, then revise, Make notes along the way if you have to -- notes on what needs changing. Read your story carefully, and if readers have left comments, USE THOSE to see what others see working or not.
3g) OPTIONAL. Re-write. Work from the ground up all over again, using your already-written work as a guide. If you're looking to publish, this is a given, but for an internet fanstory, you don't really need to do this. In step 3f you can go back and revise your internet entries.
4a) Go back and revise the story constantly. You'll lose enthusiasm, that's almost a guarantee. Stick to the original and try to finish it. You can go back and revise plot snags or a sudden realization that you put the wrong character in a spot, but leave the menial changes for step 3f above.
4b) Give up. Sometimes a story sucks, but later something will click and you'll wonder why you didn't think of that in the first place.
4c) Let others dictate or otherwise gain control of your writing. YOU are the one in control, not your friend with his Mary Sue-ish "Lara Croft meets Sephiroth" lovechild he wants to see in your story.
4d) Uber-fy your characters. It's very, very tempting to make your character a demigod of explosive immortal awesomeness, but there's no fun in reading about your Sora-Superwoman lovechild defeating everything in sight without flinching when he gets nuked thousands of times over. This is called a Mary Sue. Don't do it. It's boring. Makes you look like a love-depraved egomaniac, or just someone who can't get enough action anime.
4e) Feel overshadowed. I know a few amateur writers who were writing stories, and then in came some guy out of nowhere with a kick-ass story that left theirs in the dust. It's discouraging, I know. I've been there. To some people I'm probably that bastard that invaded their territory and took over. When this happens, keep going. Many, MANY potential-laden stories die because their authors lose hope (and/or readers). Don't give up. It's not a race or a game on which the end of the world hinges.
4f) Discourage others willingly. You're a plague to the title of Writer when you tear someone else's work down, by rude comments or slander or otherwise. Not to mention a plain and simple bastard the world could do without. If you don't like the writing, you're part of the problem if you bitch about it and don't bother helping. If someone comes to you saying they feel bad because their story isn't as good as yours, help them. Your insight might help you spot problems in your own writing.
4g) Force yourself. If you force yourself to write, it becomes a chore, and you begin to lose your enthusiasm and enjoyment. If you're stuck, stop. Get up. Do something else for a while, then come back. It can take a few minutes, a few hours, a few days...hell, it can take years in some cases. Don't push yourself or you'll hate it. Forcing yourself to write also shows up in your writing; readers will pick up a lack of emphasis and drive from the way you write.
Handy tip: What I did here, this list, was the tip # 3a. A list, a roughdraft, a flowchart, a box of index cards, a 3D intricate model made of gumdrops, toothpicks and that box of index cards, WHATTHEF******EVER, so long as it works for you. Now I can double-check to make sure I haven't forgotten anything when I'm done being an egotistical grammar nazi.
Now...on to sculpting you lumps of clay! Muahahaha!
1a) Read books.
How did I start writing? By being inspired. How was I inspired?
I started writing on a mere whim one day when I absolutely HAD to get an idea out of my head; it was screaming to me "LEMME OUT!!!! IT'S CRAMPED IN HERE!!! That computer screen looks nice and roomy!!!"
When did I start? 6 or 7 years ago, back in 8th grade. Back then I was a plagiaristic bastard, but what fan-kid isn't really? Fanstories, fan art, taking LEGO models and re-enacting Star Wars and parts of the Lord of the Rings book trilogy...my biggest inspirations were JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) and CS Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia). I was a Narnia nerd back then. Where am I going with this, you might wonder...well, my early writing was really just unwitting plagiarism of these fantastic stories. But that's how I started. I wanted to mimic these great authors and create a masterpiece that would be used in schools for vocabulary lessons. True story. Every vocab test I had to take I'd snitch a few words and use them in the story.
Digressing I am now, but not off-topic, for those vocabulary tests really helped my understanding of English syntax. Which, coincidentally, is something a lot of people lately aren't paying much attention to. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax...a lot of it is the corruption of the Internet. Yes, that evil Internet that is bringing you this very writing. It has corroded our language to the point where you have to be illiterate in order to understand what the hell people are typing.
lol n00b u r teh suk ROTFLOLOLOLMFAO!!! i cn rite beter th3n u!! pos brb
If you understood that, good for you, have a donut. That's not writing, that's button-mashing, anyone can do that. Like this!
Yeah, good luck writing a story when you're only fluent in Buttonmashese.
If you really want to write, read first. That's another pitfall of the modern era; people don't read books as often as they should. They read Internet articles laden with improper grammar. They chat using 1337speak at any given time because it's lazy-er, convenient. Essentially, the Internet is conditioning us to poor use of language. That's where literacy comes in. Go to the library and check out Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Eragon, A Wrinkle In Time, and some other good books or series. Read them. Don't just gloss over the words; really read them, study the use of words, grammar and punctuation. How does the writer convey emotion? How do they paint a mental portrait of the character? By reading proper writing, you'll understand usage of English (or your native language) much more easily when it comes time to actually write. By understanding your language, you know how to wield it better and convey the story the way you want. Mastery of the language allows you to grab the reader and play with their minds; build a character, make them love or hate the character, absorb them in the story's world so that when you spring the climax you can jerk a few tears or make them jump up out of the chair screaming "YES!" and doing a victory dance (and then get tossed out of the library for disturbing the peace). Sounds like fun, eh? By reading, you get to know the language, and can thus use it to your advantage. All the great writers and speakers know this. Language is crucial.
1b) Pay attention in English class.
Now, lemme straighten something out before I start ranting again -- or maybe this will be a rant. I just made a big deal about understanding the language by reading, correct? ("Yeah, you just bored us to death talking about staying away from our chat clients and pointless web surfing") Well, you can also learn to use the language through writing. However, this is trickier and riskier. It's more effective because it's hands-on application of the language and what you know of how to use it...but some people don't know enough before they pick up that pencil or set their fingers to the keyboard. What sets you apart from me and other writers (be that good or bad) is how much you know of the language. You can start writing to learn a language, but be very careful; by writing, you develop habits, and if those habits include improper grammar or spelling, those errors will continue to haunt you even if you become an expert in the language. They'll sneak up on you and jump into your documents when you're rushing or distracted. Little bad-habit ninja bastards. Nip 'em in the bud and learn what you can before you start writing, and make sure that when people correct you, you exercise that correction frequently to ingrain it in your mind. If English isn't your native language it's very easy to fall back on your native use of language, which often doesn't jive with "correct" English. (Like in Danish; translated, you can say "I can danish", meaning you know the language and can use it. The word "danish" is used like a verb. However, English requires a verb. "I can ___ Danish.")
That's all well and good but many of you reading this are obviously speakers of English. You, though, are not immune to the ninjas. I constantly have to fight "The One of Long Sentences". He's a tough little snake that likes to slither in when I'm flying in my writing. I get into a sort of trance and my fingers pretty much move on their own, typing out exactly what's going on in my mind and just going on and on and on without end until I have to take a break and look up at the screen because I've never been able to type without looking at the keyboard. Arg, he strikes again. That sentence could have been broken up and made easier to read. Depending on how much you know of how to use the language, your personal habit-ninjas will vary in both number and severity and can be defeated or cut down with practice. To write "well" you need to know how to use commas, periods, colons, semi-colons, hyphens, exclamation points, question marks, and quotation marks. You also need to know when to break up a sentence.
Let's take a quick example. Think about when you're talking. A comma is like a quick pause, while a period is where you take a breath. This also applies when reading something out loud.
"I think IceFlame's going on too long he's writing too much I'm bored"
Gee, thanks. Anywho, let's look at that sentence. If you were to read it out loud, where do you stop? Where do you put emphasis? You can't really, there are no cues there. Sounds like one of those high-school chatty blondes on a cell phone you see in cartoons and TV shows.
"I think IceFlame's going on too long, he's writing too much I'm bored"
When you read that, you should have briefly paused at the comma, since my writing and your opinion of writing too much are two separate but related ideas.
"I think IceFlame's going on too long, he's writing too much. I'm bored."
Reading that, you should have stopped entirely for a brief moment, maybe even taken a quick breath, at the period. Your opinion and your state of being are entirely different, thus, they are separated by a period. When writing, write like you're writing a speech. You don't write on and on and on, just like you wouldn't try to crunch as much of your speech as possible into one breath. Using breaths and pauses, periods and commas, give a mental break and make the reading that much easier for the readers. The eye looks for places to stop; if not given a place, the mind becomes tired and loses focus on the reading.
1c) Don't be lazy. Learn how to use a spellchecker or a dictionary.
It also helps to know your way around a dictionary and a thesaurus, and how to operate a spellchecker if you're on the computer. Too many people tell themselves they don't need a spellchecker or a dictionary. And then they mess up words and have to drag themselves back into the writing and hunt down the elusive tidbits and change it to stop people from constantly asking them what it's supposed to mean. Don't be lazy or prideful, that's a sure way to "epic fail". Take your time and do it properly, and use your resources to make sure you get it right. More people will read your stuff if you make it look like you know what you're doing. I'm cheating while writing this because Notepad doesn't have a spellchecking system; however, MS Word freezes my computer quite solid, so when I drag this into the submission box via Firefox, I use Firefox's checker. Look for little red squiggly lines. Those are infectious red worms you need to squish or else your writing will suffer from Badspellingitis. However, not all spellchecking dictionaries are complete, nor can they tell a name from words, so be careful. When in doubt of a word, use a dictionary. You can exert some effort and get a large book, or you can be ultra-lazy and use Google. Also be aware that in some cases, you might have a word spelled correctly, but it's the wrong word for its purposes. "Than" is for comparison, whereas "then" is for time references. "If...then" not "If...than". Spellcheckers will not catch this, and some of these occurrences will be overlooked if you use a grammar checker.
Which segues quite well into my next tip: don't use Word's grammar checking function. You can if you want, but technology is still too basic to fully grasp English syntax, and as such when you use the grammar checker, sometimes Word will trap itself trying to correct grammar in one place. It'll offer a suggestion, and you think "Oh, okay," and click to accept it, then sit there going o_0 when it catches that exact same spot and suggests what you originally had (or something similar). In short, don't trust it, only use the spellchecker for spelling errors. If you're fluent in English you can wrestle with it and use it to catch places where you slipped up, but if you're still learning English grammar, it'll more likely trip you.
2a) "Sit your ass down and write".
Now that I've just ranted about linguistic power and you've spent some good time in the library away from the eye-burning back-curving computer with a literary classic or five, it's time to get started.
"But how did you get started?"
Good question, maybe I should start there and expand my ego a bit more. I started by following a piece of advice I didn't hear until two years after the fact. "Get your idea in your head, sit your ass down, and start writing."
...Really? That's all there is to it? Believe it or not, yes. That's all there is to it. Many authors have started because they sat down at the keyboard or typewriter or desk and just started writing. A paragraph, a sentence, a few random nothings about King Arthur's crown being stolen by a time-warping robotic samurai...writing can start from just about anywhere. I know many of you out there have done this...just, probably not about King Arthur's encounter with the future. But you've discussed things with your friends, yeah? You finished a game or a book and said to them "This or that could've been better" or "It would be cool if...". Those are perfect starting points for writing.
I started writing just out of the blue; I sat down at the computer and started writing my damn heart out every night. I didn't have any idea what I was doing, I just started and kept going. In hindsight, about a third of my "book", my original manuscript, was a conglomerate of Narnia, LotR, and Legend of Zelda, but back then I was new to writing. Now I can't even stand looking at the original manuscript, it's so childish! But that's evolution of personal style, one of the big components of writing and the main reason no two writers are exactly alike on their own...and hence why there's really no Holy Grail to being a good writer. By sitting your ass in that chair and writing what comes to mind, you're already developing your own style of portraying things as they translate from your mind to your hand and ergo the paper or screen. You don't need to research the writing styles of the most successful authors; some of them use painstakingly detailed reams of every single character in the book and their family histories down the color hues of the eyes and the unseen ingrown toenail, others write several stories at once without much organization.
"Whoa wait, several stories at once? That's overkill!"
Not really; when I write, I usually have 5 or 6 stories open at once and I skip around between them at random. Some people can't do that, and for good reason; in order to do that, you have to be able to immediately switch your mind between the stories. Some people can't do that; they end up confusing characters and mixing things between the stories. I'm able to click on the document on my taskbar and immediately place myself at my last stopping point in the story, and continue from there as if I'd been writing it all day. Within an hour I usually end up writing a paragraph in each story, and thus far I've only confused characters/plots twice (which hasn't happened for about three years), so for me, this method works amazingly well with my short attention span and overactive mind. People with steadier minds may find themselves able to plug away at their story for hours without a break or switching to something else. Find your flaws and comfort zones and use them to work out your own style of working. But, you'll never start this until you actually sit down at that computer or desk and get something written. You can do all the research you want on how to write, but it doesn't help one single bit until you plant yourself on that chair and grind out your ideas.
"But it's so hard to start!"
I have that problem too. Just jot ideas. Make yourself start. It's like pushing a car in neutral. It's really hard to get moving, isn't it? But once it gets going, it's a lot easier to move, right? Same thing with writing. You have to overcome that initial potential energy and turn it into kinetic energy. Once you get yourself started, be it on a ten-page essay for school or a spur-of-the-moment fanstory, you'll most likely find that you can keep going quite easily. Don't spend hours of research on how other authors take notes or model their stories on flannelgraphs; you're not them, you're YOU. The more you try to be like another or think you're not ready, the longer your story goes without being written and the longer you'll sit there staring at the keyboard or paper in a stupor because you're nervous. Take the dive, dammit! You're holding up the line! Green light! You're sitting at an imaginary stop sign! GO! Fame doesn't go randomly picking people because they WANT to write, you hafta get those fingers moving and that mind working ASAP!
2b) Be not afraid, ask for help.
If you're not sure about something, ask someone! Don't be afraid to ask for advice, be it for plot, characterization, or just random odd assorted trivia facts you're tossing into your story. Google things, ask an expert, locate a book in the library, study your cat playing with a string, do what you need to in order to be as correct as possible. If you're not sure about how something will work in the story, like if people will like the idea, look to step 2d below: Find a friend. Or post a journal/poll and ask what people think about a particular idea. If you're not sure how it'll look, don't solo it. When YOU are unsure, it's probably time for outside assistance. Two sets of eyes are better than one, because each sees things the other either cannot see or is overlooking.
On a side note, if you're serious about writing, make a practice of writing a "for-fun" story and posting it where others can read and comment on it. I can almost guarantee that by monitoring the responses, you'll learn what works and what doesn't, unless all of your readers simply say "cool, i liek this". Learn to accept critique and use it to your advantage. It also really helps to be able to critique others effectively; read someone's story and tell them what jumped out at you, what seemed awkward, what could have been improved to make that fight scene more fluid, et cetera. By helping to point these things out to others, you also gain the ability to see these things in your own writing. Do not be afraid to ask for help or opinions. Do not shy away from negative lashing; if someone says your work is a pile of shit, laugh at them and politely ask them why they say that. If they reply with something like "because it is" or "you're a moron", they're a lost cause and should be ignored. Most likely they're jealous or just trying to piss you off. "Smile, nod, walk away." If, however, they tell you what's wrong with it, you can use that to improve your writing. If it's something like "you're wrong, Christianity was founded after the second coming of Christ" or "that's not really correct, whales really are fish, scientists are wrong" or something contradictory and you know you're correct and can give reputable solid facts in your favor, ignore the idiot, that's not a fight worth picking.
2c) Notes, notes, notes.
You may think that you don't need notes for writing, but oh contrare, they're all the difference in the world. Notes are my writing life. Some people can just go through like a train and write, write, write without needing to stop or backtrack to remember an idea, while others have to constantly check back and forth between their compendium of detailed notes and the sketchy roughdraft they're composing. If you're confident in your mind, go ahead and write the entire thing off the top of your head. If you can't remember worth crap (guilty), take notes. Jot down anything and everything that comes to mind.
Notes can make the difference between a good and bad character. Know your characters. Really, know them. Don't just write names. In your head, you should be able to clearly picture them. On a sheet of paper, write out their likes, dislikes, their eye color, height, maybe a sibling or two. Take notes on their history. Give them an attitude. Detail as much as you can, and you'll find that you can write about them much more effectively. Giving all your characters a history makes them deeper to the reader and easier for you to write about. And yes, I mean detail and write. Physically write or type out these details. It's pretty much proven that writing things helps commit them to memory; that's why you have to take notes in school.
Take notes on your story's history. Give it a background. Write up trivia facts from a few wars or previous events like someone slipping on soda at the school prom (not from the real world though, unless you're using real-world bases for your story). Really get to know your story's beginnings, trust me, it'll help you set things up and make things more believable. It's hard to describe, but to successfully convey the story, you should know it inside and out like some rabid fan. I say "Chapter 13 paragraph 15", you immediately shoot back "Christine narrowly dodges the robber's car by a mere 3 centimeters and nabs their license plate number." Something like that. Not as extreme, but you should know your story inside and out. If you don't know it, how can your readers? Notes can really help you understand your own thinking, as well as offer a physical (or electronic) backup, just in case of some random life occurrence, because life's funny like that.
You can also write using blocks of notes themselves instead of keeping the notes and story separate. This is what I do, since all I have to do is scroll up or down and locate my notes, then scroll back to my spot and continue. I even use the notes themselves as the story. How do I write using notes? My notes usually end up becoming paragraphs or even whole chapters. I can't go from point A to Z straight through; I jump to X, then all the way back to B, progress to C, D, E, F, then jump on over to M, backtrack to J...basically, I skip around and write different points as they come to mind. I canNOT go all the way through in a straight line. Even as I'm writing this article I'm stopping practically mid-sentence to jump to another area before I forget what goes there. When I write, I write small segments, then expand those segments until they fit together. Usually, when I start, I can write the first three or four chapters in a row, but after that I get bored, so I jump ahead by making a line of Return marks, like so:
and then jotting the idea down here.
Then when this idea is expanded, or the idea up there grows until it reaches this point, I just clear all those Return marks and join the two sections.
This is pretty much what my story documents look like.
----I also jot down a few brief reminders and notes here and there...
(and once in a while use a parenthetical summary of an idea that needs to be developed in-depth at a later time)
Find your own style and develop it. It's YOUR story, not mine or that guy's. Find your personal workflow and use it. What works best for you might be clunky or ridiculous to another person, but what matters is that it works for YOU and gets the job done for YOU.
2d) OPTIONAL. Get a friend.
"A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure."
A friend or literary confidant is an invaluable asset, especially if you're wanting to publish your story. Your partner is a second set of eyes that can catch errors you've seen so often that you can't see them anymore. They can offer suggestions on how to improve something; things you would have never thought of doing on your own can be revealed. Invite your friend over for a round of Super Smash Bros. Brawl or for pizza or something, and chat about your ideas. Discussing ideas helps them evolve into something even better. Show them your manuscript and ask for suggestions. When you're writing on your own, you become so used to your idea that you lose the ability to see potential flaws or trip-ups. Having someone help you will assist in smoothing out those nasty wrinkles.
3a) Write the basic premise of your story.
"What, you mean roughdrafts again?!"
Mhm. Very few authors get it right the first time, so your first rendition of the story is inevitably your roughdraft. This doesn't matter so much if you're writing for fun, but if you're looking to sell your story, what you get after step 2a will always be a roughdraft that can be vastly improved.
What I mean by writing the basic premise is just go through the idea and write down the basics. Make short notes of what happens in the beginning, what events happen in the middle, and how it gets wrapped up at the end. You can do this any way you want. A flat-out roughdraft like those millions of essays in school. A flow chart. A timeline. A model made of LEGOs and index cards. Sketches. Whatever works for you. Plow through the story off the top of your head like I do with a few intermittent notes. Make an elaborate plan of what happens when and where in the script. Just get the backbone down, from there you can add the details. Writing a story is like trying to build a car, essentially. You start with the main frame and then add the big essential pieces like the motor and exhaust system, then the steering wheel, and keep going into finer and finer details. Add the doors and seats, then the dashboard frame, then the controls, then polish everything and give it a nice shiny coat of paint. Writing the premise is like forging the metal and shaping that first main frame everything fits onto.
3b) Expand. When you have the basic plot points down, you can focus on expanding them.
Exactly as it sounds. When you have your main plot points down, you can add smaller, more intricate points and begin to inflate them. Work your way down the line. Add the doors of your car, and the seats.
Again, exactly as it sounds. Go back into your plot points and refine them even more. Maybe even tie things together; foreshadow a bit. Add the windshield mirror and the cupholders to your car.
What do I mean by "foreshadow"? Aha. A very critical device that is the basis of suspense in any story. This is why it helps to outline (step 3a). Foreshadowing is hinting at things to come. "Teasing" the readers by giving them a little smell of the delicious surprise coming up later in the story, making them more eager to read and find out what happens. Foreshadowing is tricky in some cases but when used effectively it hooks readers, even casual readers who browse through your story in half-sleep mode will sometimes remember that story they glanced over because of a hint that caught their interest about the future of the story. By creating a physical outline through notes and the preliminary writing, you know what to expect will happen in your story. Let's say chapter 13 contains an epic fight scene where the main character finds he's the king's son. You want readers to wait anxiously for that fight. So, in chapters 5-9 you'd have villains snicker at the MC and say something like "You don't know who you really are, do you?" and then vanish or die off or w/e without giving the answer. Have one of the villains promise a battle and information on the MC's background, but don't give too much away.
Foreshadowing is a useful trick, but in order to do it well, you need to really know what your story is about and what will happen so you can drop clues amid the chapters. The clues can be anything, and the foreshadowed event can be at any time. It can be a few sentences further ahead, it can be at the end of the story with a few clues at the very beginning...you can drop clues in dialogue or by having the characters find an item, or even with the setting like a crack in the wall that slowly grows, the event being the wall falling apart to reveal a secret room behind it. Subtle hints work effectively too, in fact they're often better to use than blatant hints (like saying the character noticed the crack in the wall but didn't pay much attention, rather than someone saying "The wall's cracking, is something behind it?" The latter would ruin the suspense quite a bit.)
3d) Expand some more.
Wait, more?! Yup. You still haven't painted the car or given it the complimentary air freshener hanging from the mirror! Details. Readers love details. Details help to paint the image in the mind and make it more mentally visual, which lets readers see what's going on better. Can't like something if you can't see what's going on, can you? However, don't go too deep into detail or you'll bore the readers. You don't need to outline every single minute of the MC's boring workday or the exact angle and velocity of the arrow that just missed the villain's girlfriend's right ring finger. Detail, but in moderation. Which one reads better?
"He threw a snowball at Mike."
"He knelt in the snow and scooped up some of the soft fluffy stuff, then craned his arm and sent it flying at Mike with a resounding paff on impact."
"Jason Tyburne kelt on his left knee off to the side a bit in the late January blizzard remainder and scooped up some snow, his fingers going numb as they scraped along the tiny ice crystals and gathered enough snow into his hands to make a snowball. He swiftly straightened his legs and stood up, measuring the distance to be about 10 feet and craning his arm slightly behind himself, his muscles tensing for the throw and release of icy fun. Jason took a quick breath and in the same motion stepped forward and swung his arm over his head slightly to the side, the snowball flying in a perfect parabolic arc and hitting Mike upside the face, slush and bits of the snowball flying all over his friend's stunned expression."
Some of you might say that the third one is the best. If this is beginning a story, then yes it is, but in the middle of a paragraph, no it's not; it's too much information. Something like the second sentence is generally what you want, maybe more detailed...but it flows easily, gets the point across, and doesn't drag out something that doesn't need to be dragged.
3e) Finish. Try to finish your story, or get as close to the end as you can.
If you're like me, you'll get some kick-ass progress with the bulk of the story, but when it comes time to wrap it all up with a pretty little bow...you start fumbling. What kind of knot do you use to get the right curls of the ribbon? Many people have a hard time starting, and an equally hard time actually drawing a conclusion. Sometimes it's hard; you want to keep going, but you know your story has lost its steam and needs to roll into the station. Don't worry, this is a roughdraft after all, so you don't necessarily need to make the perfect ending. All the same, try to wrap things up. Make sure all your plot twists are resolved as fully as possible unless you're planning a sequel. Make sure all the characters have been resolved the way you want; it's fairly easy to forget someone and leave them hanging a few chapters before the end. Don't push yourself to finish; when you progress to the next two steps, by doing this step you'll have a backbone to expand at a later time when you've had time to reflect while looking over it all again. Usually, reading back through the story will help you find ways to end the story.
When finishing, be sure you're applying gentle pressure to the brake, don't slam the pedal on the readers. If the story simply stops, their reading flow stops and they go "wtf?". Readers saying wtf ain't good. Avoid it whenever possible, unless you're good at jerking them around and know enough to resolve everything so they go "wtf? ... OH! I get it now!". Try not to leave any hanging strings, readers are good at spotting them. Which is a trick to drawing people into sequels.
3f) Go back and revise.
Try to refrain from doing this during the previous steps, see 4a below. Finish first, then revise, Make notes along the way if you have to -- notes on what needs changing. Read your story carefully, and if readers have left comments, USE THOSE to see what others see working or not.
After finishing your story, take a break. Maybe two or three weeks or months. Don't look at the story, don't even think about it. Then when your determined time limit is up, go back, sit down and read it. If something sticks out at you like a sore thumb, revise it. Iron that wrinkle. Paint that fence! Anything that seems out of place, redo it. Fix it up. Oil those squeaky hinges and tighten those loose screws. The less bumps, the happier readers will be when they're cruising along the path of your story. Re-read your story in depth, leave no sentence unchecked. Make notes of things and cross-check; maybe a certain plot point would work better in a different area than where you originally thought it should go. Maybe King Arthur shouldn't fight that time-warping robot halfway into the story, but rather about 2/5 of the way in, maybe that would help set things up a little more effectively before he meets the dazed kid from the baseball field 5 centuries in the future.
3g) OPTIONAL. Re-write.
Okay! Your car is finished!
"Okay Mr. Editor! Take a look!"
*epic car crash*
Lol. Nice try. Hey, the Wright Brothers didn't take off their first try either. If you hand your finished story hot off the computer press, there's a 99% chance it won't survive the editor's crash-test. Unless you're a freakin' savant when it comes to writing. You need to go back through and rewrite your story, not just revise. If something makes you cringe when you re-read it, chances are the editor will drop the story and move on to the next when they come to that spot. Write your story back up from the ground, using the original roughdraft as a guide. You can take chunks of the original, but chances are that when you re-read your story, a lot of it will make you go "What...the heck?". If you're WTFing your writing, there's a good chance your editor will too. Editors are rough, but which would you serve to a party: a half-baked cake made by a first-time baker, or a professionally baked cake? Editors are a filter of sorts, the ultimate food critic judging your cake, and you want to make sure you give them something good. Your first roughdraft, no matter how seasoned a writer you are, will have clumps of flour here and there in the batter that the editor will grimace at and move on to the next person in line. By rewriting, you're taking your original recipe and weeding out the problems that caused those clumps of flour to not be mixed well with the rest of the batter.
4a) Go back and revise the story constantly.
It's okay to re-read your story while you're writing, and it's very tempting to go "Oh! Maybe I should move that a little further ahead" or "No, these guys should meet up later..." Don't do it, I speak from experience. If you keep tinkering with your story, you lose sight of your original idea and thus lose the drive to write it. My first manuscript flew because I rarely changed stuff before finishing, but my more recent stories have been suffering from indecision and revision. Very, very rarely can writers succeed in finishing their story with a sense of satisfaction when they constantly go back and change stuff. Stick to your original idea and let it flow as much as you can. Going back and changing things constantly ends up confusing you because you've lost sight of the original idea.
However, you can change major flaws, no one's stopping you from that. Draw the line between "major" and "minor" though; Mr. Duncan's first kiss being in the wrong spot isn't as major as someone reappearing after you scripted their untimely and horrific death. If you spot small things, make a note to change it and then go back to step 3f above when you're done with the story.
4b) Give up.
Do not give up on a story easily. It's easy to do; you put it online, it gets very few views, not as many comments as you want, so you say "Screw this, it's not worth the time..." Hold on there. Don't hate your story just because it seems like others hate it. After all, it's yours. Try to tough it out with an open mind. However, don't force yourself to write it or you'll hate it. If you find you can't continue, don't. Take a break, save the story and file it away somewhere and go on with life. I like to say "Let it go. If it was meant to be, something will click and send you scrabbling back to the computer. If it wasn't meant to be, it was at least a bit of writing practice." Let your story go, but don't delete it. Just about anything can spur a sudden idea that will make you go "OMG that's PERFECT for that story!!", and if that happens, you'll be glad you kept the story. Even if those brilliant moments never see the light of day ultimately, don't scrap your stories at all if you can help it. I know from my own personal writing that an abandoned story can sometimes be a "savings account" of ideas; you can go back and steal ideas from it and adapt them to one of your newer, more radical and fluid writings. Whatever you do, don't throw down that pencil or smash the keyboard through the wall and give up on your creative endeavors.
4c) Let others dictate or otherwise gain control of your writing.
Oftentimes, especially with fanstorying or when you write characters based on your friends, you'll get people (maybe even those friends) who start saying "Oh! You should have Mr. Somewho do this and that!" or something along those lines. That's all well and good, but be careful; some people will try to control your story. They might not mean to, they might not realize it...or maybe they're being underhanded so that when you publish it they can come in and say "Hey that was my idea, where's my share of the money?" Some people will even go so far as to tell you to include their character and have him be invincible or whatever; the star of the show, essentially. That's their ego speaking, and it can kill your story. If they want their character to be the next Superman-x-Lara Croft lovechild with uber powers, they can write it themselves, no matter how badly they want your "awesome writing skills" to portray their character. You can take suggestions from friends, but ultimately YOU are the one in charge of your story. Don't let them butt in and try to grab the steering wheel, or your car's headed for the ditch.
4d) Uber-fy your characters.
This is the flip side of the idea presented in 4c above, the "all powerful ultra cool super character", IE a Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is an ego-character basically. Everything has happened to them, they're oh-so-tough, the one everyone wants to date, the one who can take a bullet to the heart and laugh it off, no weaknesses, jack-of-all-trades, yadeyada. Boring. Everyone strives for perfection, but reading about "the perfect character" is dull. With perfection, there's no room for growth, which is what attracts the readers. Readers are interested in development, in the evolution of the story and its characters. If the main character doesn't evolve and learn new things and overcome personal obstacles, it tends to get pretty damn boring after the first few chapters. Superman is invincible (for the most part), but he doesn't just land in enemy territory and defeat everyone with the mere awesomeness of his presence because he's just that cool; he has to figure out how to deal with the situation, fight past enemies delaying him from his goal, and ultimately pull off what he went there to do. The delays he encounters, and what might happen during those delays, are what grips readers/viewers. Will he save Lois in time, or will the flood of robots delay him too long to keep her from falling into the molten metal? Many inexperienced writers tend to create an ultra-awesome character, usually their own persona, but in a good 99% of cases that character is only cool to them; to others it's annoying. Yeah, it's cool if he has laser beam vision at level 5, but not if he has Death Star beams as a starting skill. Would Pokemon be any fun if all Pokemon had their ultimate attacks at level 1? Maybe for destructo-maniacs, but the game would be boring if you just walked through from point A to point B with no competition.
4e) Feel overshadowed.
I know a few amateur writers who were writing stories, and then in came some guy out of nowhere with a kick-ass story that left theirs in the dust. It's discouraging, I know. I've been there. To some people I'm probably that bastard that invaded their territory and took over. When this happens, keep going. Many, MANY potential-laden stories die because their authors lose hope (and/or readers). Don't give up. It's not a race or a game on which the end of the world hinges. You're not writing to gather attention to yourself so you feel accepted and wanted (if you are, that shouldn't be the goal of your writing), you're writing to express yourself. "Do not care about what others think of you, or you will be shackled by concern." If you care about what others think of you, if others compare you to another in a bad way and you take it personally, you're only imprisoning yourself. Unlock yourself and shrug off these little setbacks. It may be hard to do, but it takes some self-control and willpower. If you lack those, you won't make it far in writing...or in any part of the real world really. To be an author is to be yourself, your own little island. Don't bind yourself into a group or you won't get anywhere. The whole point of writing is to stand out, not to copy others and add to a gray area.
4f) Discourage others willingly.
"YOUR STORY SUCKS!!!!"
"Writing just isn't your thing dude."
"Wow...I've got better ways to use my time."
These kinds of things are the last thing anyone wants to hear after they've poured their heart into their work. Would you want to spend hours struggling with something and then have this slapped in your face when you show it off? Probably not. If you don't like it, why are you doing it to others? You hippocrite. You're a plague to the title of Writer when you tear someone else's work down, by rude comments or slander or otherwise. Not to mention a plain and simple bastard the world could do without. If you don't like the writing, you're part of the problem if you bitch about it and don't bother helping. If someone comes to you saying they feel bad because their story isn't as good as yours, help them. Your insight might help you spot problems in your own writing.
4g) Force yourself.
Almost done, just a little further!! I can do this, I can finish this...must...keep...going...the end is in sight!!
Literally. This is the last of my little tirade here so just bear with me.
Do not force yourself to keep going with your writing. Don't make yourself sit at the computer and grind out those ideas. You don't run a car when it's low on oil do you? The engine will seize up. Your mind does that too. If you're tired or running out of ideas, don't force it. Doing so will frustrate you because you're not getting anywhere, and the mind tends to make a note of frustration sources and thus you'll begin to subconsciously fear writing. When you're low on oil, don't drive a hundred miles with your story or you'll start sputtering. Take a break, eat, take a jog, rest a few days, play some video games, go to the movies, talk with friends, whatever. Just don't make yourself write. Writing is supposed to be enjoyable for you, but making yourself meet deadlines turns it into a chore. Such forced writing is apparent to readers; they can see where you flowed and where you struggled. You might not see a difference, but "an artist is their own worst critic".
(note: this step does not apply to schoolwork. Get the damn stuff done so you don't look like a nonchalant moron. Make yourself get the work done ASAP so you have time to goof off and write or hang out or whatever you would prefer to do.)
Wellll, I'm done with my rant. Get out there, read books, sit your ass down, and write. Build your car and avoid those little bad-habit ninja bastards.
People have asked for it, and here it is. This is a conglomerate of how I write, along with my own little blatant views of how things are, with a good dose of observations and random facts. Take it as you will; I hope I helped in some way. Maybe I've helped someone, maybe I've just proved myself a self-confident jerk. If you were offended in some way, I'm not sorry; I don't play political kissassing-er, correctness. I congratulate those of you who suffered through the whole nine yards of this. Thank you, come again, have a nice day, get out there and write. I might have forgotten something but this is the basic gist of it all.
You asked me for instructions, here they are