The biggest thing that I have learned on my novel-writing journey so far is that successful storytelling is equal parts craft and creativity.
Yes, a lot of creative writing is intuitive. There is no mathematical equation. No magical incantation. No specific set of rules that will produce a good scene or a good story. The premise is either compelling or it isn’t. But equal to the idea itself, the story needs to be told the right way. A good idea isn’t enough to carry a badly written story.
Time and time again I’ve encountered simple stories, where very little happens, told in the most compelling ways. These stories, to me, are incredible examples of what honing the craft of writing can achieve. That is where I aim to be with my writing. On the flip side, I’ve also read amazing ideas written badly, and they left me cold, and very, very sad.
When I started out on my path as a writer, I didn’t like to think of writing as a craft. The idea that something so magical as a story should be corralled and imprisoned in structure and rules was horrifying to me. The concept that good prose should be constructed: words like dull, grey breeze blocks, placed precisely one on top of the other until the prose is structurally correct. Uniform. Proper. All the spontaneity and life and spark sucked out of it. All the colour and shape of a Bauhaus building.
I’d like to think that was the main reason I hated the idea of writing rules, but actually, I suspect, it’s because I have a terrible lazy streak.
I recognise now that writing is a craft. I think it can only be learned through experience, and, yes, studying hard. Studying the work of authors who have mastered it. And reading the advice given by people who have studied it. What I’ve read about it, though, has shown me that though writing is like architecture, and though there are basic rules of construction that must be obeyed, we all have the freedom to build something completely unique, and the laws of physics don’t apply.
Most of us won’t complete an MFA. Most of us have come from different careers to end up here. Where can we go for instruction on how to construct a good story? Where can we learn from people who know their stuff? As well as studying a number of books, I consulted numerous writing websites and blogs while writing my novel. There are hundreds of websites out there, but these are the websites I found the most useful, and some of the posts that have been the most useful to me in terms of craft:
Harvey Chapman is the creator of this website, and the content on it. It really is an incredible resource for people attempting to tackle the challenge of writing their first novel. I wish I’d discovered it earlier. The articles are listed in an order that makes sense, like chapters of a book, and are formatted in a way that makes them really easy to read. There are too many good articles to link to here, so I’ll just leave one as a taster. 9 Rules For Writing Dialogue was a piece that I found particularly good.
This is a website mostly focused on the art of the short story. A lot of what is here, however, can be applied to novel-writing. The 5 Elements of Storytelling is a great article on the fundamental elements of a story, which is universal no matter what type of story you are writing.
This is a website which is absolutely packed with useful information for all kinds of writing projects. The content will help you along your way at each stage of the writing process. As well as practical advice and webinar links, there are writing prompts and marketing tips. Many of the columns are contributed by guest writers and a number of big writers have written for this website. You will get an insight into how novelists work, and it will make you feel less alone in terms of your experiences. An article I found helpful was Create Powerful Imagery in Your Writing .
K.M. Weiland is all about examining the structure of a good story. She has a load of good stuff on her website. One article I particularly liked was this one: Common Writing Mistakes: Flat Plots . It tells you what mistakes you’re making in your storytelling, and how to inject some serious oomh into your story. K.M. Weiland believes that there’s a formula to weaving a gripping tale, and explains this in her article The Secrets of Story Structure . She makes a compelling case through her analyses of various famous movies and novels in her Story Structure Database .
This is Suzannne Lakin’s excellent website, which contains thoughtful and well-written articles which will definitely help you along your way. One of the ones I found most useful was 8 Steps to a Perfect Scene. The article includes a worksheet to make sure your scene remains on track.
This is a good- looking website, and I have to admit, I’m a complete sucker for gorgeous photography. This website has both beauty and brains, and it contains a lot of practical advice for novice writers as well as motivational advice and tips on how to get the creative juices flowing. As this post is on craft, here’s an excellent article on point-of-view which includes a cheat-sheet.
Again, this is an excellent website. It focuses on getting you across the line with your writing project. Here is a great article entitled How to Write Better: 7 Instant Fixes.
If anyone knows a thing or two about a good novel, it’s a big publisher like Penguin Randomhouse. Their website features a number of helpful articles. Here is a good one on settings Constructing Worlds and Setting Scenes: The Online Masterclass.
Over to you:
What online writing resources do you recommend? What is the best article you have read on an online resource (please provide a link)? What areas do you feel you need to work on in your craft? What are the most difficult areas to master in terms of the craft of writing? Leave your responses in the comments below.