Writing Tips: Q&A

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I received a few questions on writing from WolfHusky88 on Wattpad, and I’m going to do my best to answer them here! I’m only an aspiring writer, just like everyone else on Wattpad and in the world in general, but a lifetime of writing books means I’ve figured out what works for me, and the least I can do is share it here! I love talking about writing, although I find it insane that people actually want to hear advice from me. If this post helps anyone then it will all be worthwhile!

Just to emphasise: my methods work for me but they might not work for you. You might think something completely different, and that’s okay. I’ve read a lot of “Writing Tips” and thought “I can’t relate to any of this… but I still somehow end up with a completed book? How does that work if I’m not following these rules?” There are no rules. Just do what you think is best! Everyone is different.

How do you properly write and structure dialogue?

Honestly? I don’t think about it. I don’t plan dialogue, I just write it in the moment, as the story is happening. Make sure it’s natural, make sure the conversation flows as if it was one you’d just had with a friend.

How do you avoid repeating certain words?

If you’ve noticed you’re repeating a word a lot, you’re halfway there! Look up a list of synonyms to replace it, or maybe cut out the phrase all together. The biggest hurdle is realising what you’re doing.

How do you accurately portray action?

This is tough to explain. I used to do karate, so I know how it feels to be in a fight – not a proper one, obviously, but I can describe getting hit. I focus on emotions and how characters might feel physically. When you’re in a fight, your adrenalin has kicked in, your heart rate increased, for example. It’s similar with other action scenes, like a chase or running away. Try to visualise how you’d feel if someone started chasing you.

How do you avoid telling too much all at once and not risk telling too little?

When writing fantasy or historical fiction, there’s this whole other world you’re excited to tell the reader about, but you can’t just overwhelm them with a paragraph of it. Try to weave it in as naturally as possible. Show, don’t tell. Get a character to talk about an important event, or politics, for example, and you can expand on the world while also showing your character’s opinions.

How would you nicely input humour into your work without it seeming too out of place?

It’s all about your own sense of humour, I guess. I tend to have a lot of dry, sarcastic jokes in my books, ones I write without thinking too much about and then cackle at when I reread. I have no idea if other people will find it funny, but I do. Your characters’ personalities all stem from some part of your own, remember.

How do you create a world that is unique and how do you describe it?

This is… a very loaded question. I might have to write an entirely separate post about it…

My language used when writing is simple. Is that alright when it comes to writing or would I need to change it to be taken more seriously/improve my work?

Sometimes the simplest way of describing is the most effective!

During the process of editing your work should you make multiple copies just in case? Is there anything specific to look out for and how do you start and ensure that you edit effectively?

Create new drafts, don’t delete anything! You might regret it if you ever want to look back. Editing is another big topic I might have to write a separate post about…

How do you create realistic characters that the readers can relate to?

Give them flaws, show their weaknesses. No-one can relate to an invincible, beautiful Mary Sue.

How do you carry out smooth character development and changes?

Make it happen gradually, throughout the events of the book, which should all affect the character in some way. People change, but not all at once. Do certain plot points weigh on a character’s mind? Do these scenes change their outlook on life?

I hope this helps! I could easily write an entire post about each question. If anyone has any more, please let me know! This was fun to write, and I might return to some of the topics mentioned for a more in-depth discussion sometime.

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What I’m currently reading: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Mythology fact of the day: In Norse mythology, the god Loki had three children with the giantess Angrboda: Hel (ruler of the realm of the dead), Fenris (a giant wolf), and Jörmungandr (the Midgard Serpent).

Brew of the day: (‘cup of tea’ for any non-British readers) Yorkshire tea! As pictured below.

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Book Review: In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

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If I had to summarise the atmosphere of In the Kingdom of Ice through sound, it would be this:

Surf lapping against ice. Crashing waves. Bowhead whales spraying water. Gulls squawking. Boots crunching snow. The groan of a ship held in winter’s clutches.

I finished this book almost a year ago, and it still plays on my mind. At first I thought it was slow, difficult to get into, but then I came to appreciate the rich, vibrant backstory Sides paints behind an epic tale of human survival. A real one. The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette is a true story, meticulously researched, and told in narrative style.

I’d never read a non-fiction book told in narrative style before, and I loved it. I’ve always preferred fiction to non-fiction; although the latter can be extremely interesting and informative, my heart lies with stories. Using letters written by the men (and women) involved in the expedition, Sides manages to create a narrative as intimate as if you were there with them, battling snowstorms and sickness, madness and starvation.

I found the captain’s wife’s letters very touching – some of what she wrote was included in the story, interspersing the voyage so the reader gets a sense of what it was like for those the crew left behind. Even though she had no way of sending them to her husband, they were a symbol of hope and love throughout the book.

One aspect of the writing I loved was the way Sides described the people. A few photographs had been included halfway through, and as I kept flicking through pages to look at them, I realised I could immediately tell who was who without even reading the names beneath the little black and white portraits. Sides imbues characters with life – he doesn’t just describe their face shape or hair colour, he weaves their energy into every descriptive sentence, and their personalities shine through clearly.

It was one of the many reasons I grew attached to the characters. Even though I knew the voyage took place in 1879, even though I had a vague idea of how the story would end (from the word ‘terrible’ in the title)… reading this didn’t feel like staring into the past through a grainy telescope at a tiny, blurred, monochrome picture. It felt like these men could have lived and breathed and dreamed only a few years ago. And that made everything even more real.

This wasn’t a distant thing. Even though in the 19th century it was widely believed that there was a warm ‘Open Sea’ at the North Pole and breaking through pack ice guaranteed smooth sailing, it wasn’t that long ago at all. I grew so attached to the crew that when tragedy befell them, it hurt. I read faster, skimming the pages, biting my nails as I tried to find out who made it out of the Arctic alive… and who didn’t.

I started reading this book for research, as I wanted to write a fiction novel set in the Arctic. I wanted to see what it was like to brave the elements. I finished reading with a profound sense of loss, as if I’d known the crew personally, as if I’d suffered with them along their heroic, heartbreaking journey which was full of all the twists and turns of an action movie.

And I’m so glad I picked this book up. I plan on reading many more of Hampton Sides’s novels in the future.

Because of the snowy weather recently, it seemed fitting to write this review as my first blog post! More will be coming soon, along with my thoughts on the writing process, how I write books, and possible mythological or historical posts. Because history is fascinating.

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What I’m currently reading: On Writing by Stephen King

Mythology fact of the day: The Inuit god, Agloolik, is a spirit which lives under the ice and is a guardian of seals. Agloolik provides game for hunters and fishermen to feed their families while protecting the balance of nature.

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“There was something peculiarly haunting and powerful about the raw prehistoric landscape – ‘this grand wilderness in its untouched freshness,’ as Muir put it.” – Hampton Sides, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, page 263