What’s a good science story?
One that you start reading and can’t put down. That might be because the writing style is gripping, or you’re totally fascinated by the subject, or (preferably) both. Good science stories are no different to good stories about anything else – they’re just a great read.
What do you need to know to write well about science?
I’m not sure it’s about what you need to know; it’s about what you need to do. Read stories – about science or anything else – by good writers. Think about how they reported and wrote that story, then try to do what they do. Write a lot. Listen to your editor so you can learn to be better. Don’t be afraid of your own ideas: tell someone about them. Read some more; write some more. You’ll get better.
How do you choose your opening line?
I like leads that take me by surprise. I’ve opened stories with an unintelligible line of Jane Austen; 9,000 placentas stewing in buckets; an impotent mouse; a phone call from a -80C freezer. In some cases, the opening might be the moment in time where your story starts – for example (thank you, editor), one of my stories opened with the arrival of a fax that told scientists they had found the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis. Often the opening involves a person. I love it when you’re reporting a story and something unscripted happens (eg the freezer calls) and you think: that’s my lead.
1. The author is working on too many projects to finish one. It’s far better to complete one manuscript than to go halfway on two. Most publishers won’t consider an unfinished novel manuscript from an inexperienced author.
2. The author is unwilling and/or unable to set time aside for writing. Alternately, perhaps the author sets aside a regular time, but is not consistent about actually using it. If you put aside one hour per day for writing, you can pretty easily write 1-2 pages. (Actually, I’d like to phrase that more confidently. If you can sit down for an hour and do nothing but write, you WILL write at least 1-2 pages. If you can do 1-2 pages a day, you will have a manuscript drafted within 6 months). If you’re writing at your computer, I’d recommend turning off the Internet because I find it tends to reduce productivity.
3. The author gives up on the manuscript and starts another. Moving on could be a good idea if you’re more likely to finish the next one, but are you? What will be different about this next one? (I know too many authors that switch from one to the next to the next without actually finishing any).
I feel that one of the most common reasons an author will give up on a manuscript is if the main character doesn’t seem to be working. If that’s the issue, you could probably salvage a substantial portion of the story by working in a second point-of-view character (either a new character or an interesting, preexisting one). After you’ve finished the first draft, you can opt to remove the original main character altogether or do some rewriting so that the two perspectives mesh together more coherently. (A caveat: I would not recommend lightly deciding to do 3+ points of view. If you already have two POVs and want to add a third, when you come to the end of the first draft, I’d recommend carefully considering whether one can be removed and/or merged into another).
3.1: When is the best time to give up on a manuscript? If you’re just in the brainstorming phase, I don’t think it costs very much to shelve a premise and try something else. The more time you’ve put into it, the more I would encourage you to try to salvage it rather than toss it out altogether. For example, one possibility is to consider a new main character (as above). You could also consider a different genre. For example, you could probably switch from superhero action to detective/mystery or vice versa–the story will feel radically different even though most of the plot events could remain.
5 Ways to Embrace Creative Freedom
Article and Illustration by Jeffrey Bowman
Creative freedom can, I guess, be thought of in two ways; the freedom to create what you want within a brief or the freedom you create for yourself in your practice. I’m going to look at the latter, as I think creating freedom in your practice is a fundamental part of being an illustrator.
For me, my recent move to Norway has given me a freedom I’ve long desired, the freedom to enjoy my surrounds, the freedom to experiment with my work and the freedom to no longer care so much.
1. Stop caring so much
One thing with being a creative is that we care about what we do, we put hours and hours into crafting something we care about. Sometimes we become overwhelmed by this craft and care. It becomes precious. Then we become caged in creating only work that ‘fits’ the crafter. Often the fear of judgement from working outside of this makes it even harder to do anything else but what we are ‘known’ for.
I say leave this behind, who cares what you do and when, only you. If you can learn that your not going to lose a bunch of clients because you decided to spend the day drawing bears then do it. Freeing yourself from the judgement of others is key, and if you’re really bothered then rule number 1 is; don’t put it on the internet.
2. Try stuff out.
‘Jack of all trades, Master of none’ This isn’t as negative as I often think it sounds or is portrayed in our industry. The demand for creatives that work across a broad spectrum of outputs is more common than ever. Try everything and anything out, it could be web coding, painting, it might even be using a colour palette you steer away from.
Understanding and experiencing different ways of working will give you the freedom to create in new and exciting ways. The end results might not work out how you planned but it can’t harm your working knowledge to try it out. (see point 01)
3. Get out.
A piece of advice you hear so much is ‘go for a walk’ or ‘move away from the computer, but knowing that you are not tied to the desk is important. You are free at any point to stand up and walk away and breaking that attachment is key. Feeling free in the literal sense.
4. Remember Not every second counts
Now i’m freelance this is something I’m coming to understand more; working in your own time. Being hard on yourself because you don’t start work at 8am and work into the night is common (a lot of us do this). But realistically how productive are you if you’re forcing these hours of work.
Feeling out what the day is like for you is key, I work around deadlines of course, but if it’s something I can plan out then I can take the day and catch up on life, then work in the evening, or get up early work until lunch and start again the next day. Freedom surprisingly creates its own structure or natural rhythm so take a week or a few days and see if you can naturally start and end work without the guilt, you become far more productive in the hours you work.
5. Get in your box
The great thing about freedom is you naturally come back to what you know without that feeling of pressure. Draw a box, write inside it what your comfortable with in your work, the solids. Then outside of it write the things you want to try, then go try them out, you know the stuff in the box will always be there but maybe with time some of the free floating stuff might work its way into your practice and the box gets bigger and better.
This article was written by a guest contributor, illustrator and designer Jeffrey Bowman. Jeffrey was also kind of enough to do the editorial illustration for this article. To view more of his work, click here.
Choose one of those memorable characters and write down ten things that make him/her/it memorable. Keep in mind that the character in question must come from a reading source, not film, television, on-line, or other audio-visual media.
Take a good look at what you have written. Think about how these elements have combined to make a character you believe in, one who held your interest and made you involved with his/her/its life, a character who convinced you. What made all these factors compelling and convincing? How did the writer do it? What made the character come alive for you?
Without characters, a story is nothing more than an account, requiring no argument or resolution, which are the foundations of story-telling. Developing characters who hold the attention of your readers is the first task of the fiction writer, for the nature of the characters drive their stories, just as the personalities of real people shape their actions in life. Characters are what make your story real or unreal, convincing or unconvincing, compelling or dull; without them, fiction cannot exist.
5 Ways to be a Happier Creative
We all know the tortured artist schtick. To be honest, I can be a downer sometimes myself, but I think it would be terrible for us to all perpetuate the idea that being creative and miserable are mutually exclusive.
So here’s to being creative and actually enjoying it:
1. Refuse to See Your Entire Life Either as a Success or a Failure
The idea here is to never buy into the lie that your life is either successful or failing in terms of your creative output. Think of the most successful creative person you can, if you look closely you can see a series of successes and failures.
The best way for me to look at the creative life is as a series of projects which can be successful in some ways and fail in other ways. For instance, some projects are really successful in the development of your skill but not financially advantageous.
Also, don’t believe that there is some level of success where you have now “arrived” or attained a level of success which can never been denied to you, like being hailed a “creative genius” with endless financial gain, forever. I could tell you many examples of artists and musicians who seem like they have “arrived” with one project and then completely fail the next.
2. Make Something Everyday
Will Bryant says something like, “I make stuff because if I don’t I get sad”. A silly and profound statement. Last year I did a daily drawing project where I created a new character every weekday. I found this statement to ring very true.
This practice gave me a sense of creative productivity every single day, which is a serious morale booster. Even if you don’t show anyone, it can help you feel prolific and unlimited in your creative abilities, which in turn increases your confidence.
3. Be Authentic
This is huge. Many people have done amazing things in creativity and have received many rewards, successes and prizes for them. So there is a lot of incentive for YOU to be THEM. But the trick is knowing the truth: you CAN’T be them. Trying to be something you are not will make you feel like an old sock. You already know this, but I thought I’d remind you.
4. Know Your Purpose
Shooting aimlessly into the dark can feel like…shooting aimlessly into the dark. Your purpose doesn’t have to be mind meltingly important. I like the humble yet ambitious purpose the great Debbie Millman has taken upon herself to “try to make the supermarket more beautiful”.
Try to clarify what you want to achieve overall so that everything you do has a sense of purpose. Purpose equals meaning, and to most creatives I know, a sense of meaning is why they want to make art and why they DO NOT want to work in a factory.
5. Address and Defeat Your Fears
That dreadful fear is a bully that is killing your soul and it should be stood up to. Listen to it, don’t ignore it. Hear what it’s actually saying and then dismantle it. Talk to someone about it openly, if the fear is tied to reality, then face it and take it down with integrity. If it’s all lies, all smoke and mirrors then let it disappear in the cloud of smoke that it is. If you are doing super boring unadventurous work, you won’t have any fears at all…but who wants to do that?
Hope this makes you a bit happier today.
People love to read dialogue. It is, after all, human interaction, and we are all humans. It carries knowledge, emotion, humor—the whole gamut of what one’s mind can produce.
But newer, unpublished writers often get carried away. I’d estimate that, in half the manuscripts I’ve edited for others, dialogue passages are at least twice as long as they should be. In some cases, they become actual speeches, a way to pass on a lazy writer’s research. The woman I critiqued above was at the extreme end, to be sure, but she wasn’t alone.
How long should dialogue be? That’s an unfair question without knowing the story and circumstances. But I’d say most passages should consist of four or fewer lines, with many just one line long. Generally, if your dialogue runs longer than that, you should edit it, break it up into smaller chunks, or both.
Your Secret Weapon Against Story Coincidences
Coincidences may be charming enough in real life, but in fiction, they’re a fast track to wrecking your readers’ suspension of disbelief. A clever rule of thumb is that it’s all right to use a coincidence to get your character into trouble, but never to get him out. This not only rules out deus ex machina in your endings, it also eliminates convenient appearances of characters—allies or antagonists—un-foreshadowed secrets suddenly popping out at the right moment, and even just suspiciously handy knowledge and skills on the protagonist’s part.
Writers are a traditionally unhappy lot, always moping around and crying into their manuscripts — the tears streaking the title page and soaking through the first few chapters. And so it seemed a good time to look at how writers can choose to be happy, too…
From “25 Ways To Be A Happy Writer,” at terribleminds.
Warning: You may encounter some opinions.
Writing Myth: You have to start your story off in the middle of the action, or “In medias res”.
It is said (as I have heard from a number of English and Creative Writing teachers) in order to catch your reader, you must start in the middle of the action, or else it will not be interesting enough to get your reader to continue on. They will set the book down and look for another if you do not do this.
Is this true? No.
Although opening in the middle of the action is commonly used and can be very effective, it is not the only way to open, and other ways of introduction are not automatically going to lose your reader. In fact, it matters very little what type of opening you use as opposed to how you use that type.
Success is not determined by starting off in the middle of the action. There are many ways to open a story. Whether people will be interested is based on how you execute it more than what type of opening you’re executing. And there are several ways to open.
1. Introducing characters. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is a good example of opening by introducing characters.
It starts off by giving information, in this case, about the characters. Not just any information, but interesting information. It shows the quirks of the characters that make them stand out among any other characters you as the reader have already been exposed to in other stories.
Important note: It also makes the reader wonder, how will this information play a part in the story? Don’t just give your reader an interesting fact about your characters and do nothing with it. That’s misleading and could make the reader lose trust in you as a story teller.
2. Introduce the setting. Setting is defined as the surroundings or environment of anything (X). Which means you are able to describe what the landscape looks like, or what the environment is like. What are the beliefs or traditions in the setting that will affect the character(s)? An example of this is seen in Diana Wynne Jone’s Howl’s Moving Castle.
Not only does it imply right off the story takes place in a fantasy land, but it states a belief the people have that will directly affect the main character. It could be interesting to know a belief that affects the fishermen, for example, but it focuses on what will play a part in the story over and over again.
Whatever you decide, take in to account what Neil Gaiman said.
“You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different.”
3. Withhold information. You could start off by giving your reader a taste of what’s going on, what the setting is, who the characters are, while giving a hint that not everything is as it should be. Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, is a prime example of this.
At first glance, it seems like a normal day in a normal village. But as you read, you start wondering what the lottery is for. It’s not a typical one, because you would just have everyone get numbers and announce it. Why would it take so long and why is it taking place in individual villages? By taking something that’s recognizable and changing a detail about it, it makes the reader wonder what’s going to happen, or what’s off about the situation.
More examples can be found of how stories can start without beginning in the middle of the action. There are many other ways to introduce a story, and if you want more ideas or tips, you can go to these sites:
How to Start a Story (Used for the “Withhold Information” example)
The point of this is, you do not have to start a story in the middle of the action. Many successful, as well as some of the most interesting, stories do not begin this way. It is not by any means a bad way to start, it’s just not the only way. What is important to capture your audience’s attention, is to introduce character and conflict in some way.
Also, when writing an introduction, do not try to get it right in the first draft. You have revisions for that. You can start writing a story where ever you want and come back to the introduction later. Just don’t focus on it so much that you forget to write the rest of your story.
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” ~ Jack Kerouac
Many respected writers have dabbled in short, humorous writing. Mark Twain may be quoted as frequently as Will Rogers or Bob Hope. In fact, people probably read more of Twain’s short, clever observations than they do his novels. Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward both are known for memorable one-liners. Herman Wouk, who authored The Caine Mutiny and Winds of War among other revered novels, actually began as a gag-writer for radio comedian, Fred Allen.
Creating short humorous sayings can be not only a pleasant diversion from more serious writing chores, but it can also enhance many writing skills
Short, pithy one-liners have a structure just as longer forms do. Most witty sayings have a beginning, a middle, and an end—a form familiar to all writers. Spending a brief amount of time composing witticism can be excellent practice for all sorts of story telling.
5 Red Flags Your Story Needs Revision
This week, we’ve talked a lot about some fundamental errors that can weaken the writing. Most all of us make one or more of these errors, especially when we’re new. Hey, that’s called “being NEW.” No one is born with the natural ability to write brilliant, perfect novels coded into their DNA. It takes time and practice, so give yourself permission to make mistakes…then learn, suck it up and back to work.
It writes the words or it gets the hose *pets fluffy white dog*
Today I’m again donning my editor’s hat to give you a peek into what red flags agents (and even readers) see in those first five pages.
Read the rest.
How to Figure Out the Worst Thing That Can Happen to Your Character
Writers are always being told to think of the worst thing that could happen to their characters—and then to make it worse. Being something of a literalist, the first time I heard that, my original thought was something like, The worst thing? You mean like kill him? With maybe a few interpretative exceptions, death is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to any of us. But if every author took that advice literally, every story would have to end abruptly with the death of its main character. Something tells me that’s not quite what the pundits had in mind with this line of advice.
by K. M. Weiland.
Have you ever read something you wrote or viewed something you created – be it a blog post, a painting, landscaping, or anything that was meant to be creative – then realized it’s more typical than unique?
You followed a proven formula. So your creation should be attracting attention. But it’s not. It’s part of the collective.
The Myth of Writer’s Block
If you write one page a day you will complete a 365-page novel in a year.
You are crippling yourself by not starting to write. If it seems an overwhelming task to write a whole book, start with an opening paragraph, then a page, then a chapter. Your first sentence is the first step to being published. Most people who want to write have the belief in their creative success systematically driven out of them – by the business world, by their family, their ‘friends’ and their life experiences.
If you were told you were going to die tomorrow, would you regret not having written?
These are the most common excuses we hear at Writers Write:
- Family: I have children. I’m the family taxi. I have to be there for my husband/wife.
- Work: I work long hours. I’m too tired after a day at the office. I have to work overtime so that we can afford a new car / bigger house.
- Time: I’m too busy. I’ll do it tomorrow / next month / next year. I can’t write late at night / early in the morning.
- General: I’m not inspired. I’m too old/young. I’m too tired/depressed/sick.
- Our Favourite: It’s not what you know but who you know in publishing
You can have your book or you can have your excuses. You can’t have both.
All of the above are obviously important but don’t fool yourself, writers write; pretenders to the throne make excuses. The reasons for not writing are laziness and lack of self-discipline.
Do you really want to become a writer?
Writing is lonely. Writing is hard work. Writing is discipline. There is no quick fix and there is no one to applaud or to criticize you. You will be your own boss and you will have to motivate and reward yourself. And after all of this you will face the possibility of rejection – the dedicated writer will not stop here.
Remember: You have permission to write badly. (In your first drafts, of course)