We’ve already covered tools to help you get words onto the page, but not just any words will do. We need to raise our craft to the next level because we need characters readers will care about as well as a cohesive plot that wraps up nicely with a happily-ever-after ending sure to make Hollywood cheer.
Tool #1 – Create an overview of the story. Whether you start with index cards, post-it notes, or scribbles on a giant white board, the key is to sketch out the basic story elements. You could even go so far as to tell yourself the story in a page or two because that will help you spot any plot holes or things that don’t make sense. Bonus? Those few pages are a great head start on the dreaded synopsis. Then when you start to write the story itself, use all those craft tools like showing, description, active verbs, specific nouns, dialogue, action beats, and internal thought to create a multi-sensory masterpiece. But since we all could grow in at least one of those areas, that’s when we pick up the next tool.
Tool #2 – Invest in a few key books about the writing craft. When I first started writing, I devoured James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure because of his practical focus on the LOCK (lead, objective, confrontation, and knockout ending), a basic three-act structure, and multitude of idea starters. I later discovered Susan May Warren’s series of books recently rebranded as How to Write a Brilliant Novel, Advanced Brilliant Writing, and How to Write a Brilliant Romance. Imagine a super-practical virtual checklist of essential scenes to include in your story to create believable character change through a tension-filled plot with plenty of romantic tension too.
Once you’ve got the basic story structure in place, there are countless books out there about specific elements to improve upon including dialogue, character development, settings, and opening hooks. Pick one thing and once you’ve learned, practiced, and implemented that skill into your work, then start to work on another weaker area in your writing.
Tool #3 – Join a writing a community to grow and get feedback. Writing is such a solitary pursuit that we sometimes forget to interact with real people. And finding people who “get” us is even more valuable. I’m a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) where for a relatively small annual fee I have access to critique groups, free monthly courses, Novel Track accountability groups, local chapters, writing contests, an annual conference, Fiction Finder website for promotion, and email loops to stay up on the latest industry news or marketing opportunities. The best part of ACFW is that it’s online so I can “meet” writers from all over the country and world.
I’m also a part of Front Range Christian Fiction Writers, a local group of Christian writers who gather monthly to dissect a chapter of a craft book and celebrate successes together. There are several other writing groups within an hour or so of where I live so it’s pretty easy to find face-to-face time.
Because I’m such a fan of Susan May Warren’s writing craft books, I also joined My Book Therapy (follow the links for MBT Live at LearnHowToWriteANovel.com) for weekly webinar/chat style peptalks and a huge archive of past lessons on every topic you could possibly imagine.
In addition to these, there’s always Romance Writers of America or other specialty organizations. But the most important thing is to get involved with other writers somewhere so you can keep growing in your craft.