Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Experienced fantasy author Daniel Arenson offers writing tips

Daniel Arenson, author of the Song of Dragon fantasy series and several standalone novels, offers the following tips for aspiring writers:
  • When your novel is written, revise it. Polish the writing, reorder scenes, rethink characters, cut out boring scenes, write new ones, rewrite where necessary. I repeat this step several times. For an hour I spend writing, I can spend a day revising. 
  • Great fiction depends on great characters.

    That epic fantasy you’re writing might have the world’s most brilliant plot, setting, and writing... but if your characters are dull, your story won’t soar. The reason is simple. Readers need to care about the story. They want to invest their emotions in your work.

    Readers will care about a story if they care about the characters.

    You might think your story is the most exciting story ever told. “My epic fantasy has chases, battles, wars, torture, and action that never stops,” you say. Shouldn’t that be enough to keep readers turning the pages?

    Well then. Why did we care about the battles in Lord of the Rings? (I know you’re surprised I chose such an obscure book as an example, but bear with me.) Sure, all the orcs, knights, swords, and monsters were exciting, but we only truly cared about the battles because they were about the characters. We wouldn’t care if a million orcs and knights battled it out, unless we cared about those little hobbits caught in the middle.

    Why was Dragonlance so popular when I was a kid? Those novels were full of action, battles, dragons, and armies, but all the action centered around the characters, their stake in the outcome, and their emotions during the wars. Sure, the dragons were exciting, but the main reason we kept reading was because we loved (and hated) Raistlin.

    Even if you’re writing grand scenes of epic battle, they should focus on the characters involved in the conflict. Make those characters so real and important to the readers, that they’ll keep turning the pages to see what happens to them. 
  • Let's talk about outlining novels. How do you plan your novel before writing it?

    Here are three methods I’ve used.

    The Detailed Outline

    I used this method for my fantasy novel Firefly Island. In the Detailed Outline, I will outline every scene in great detail. This outline might be fifty or more pages long, all outline, no actual writing. Before writing a single word of manuscript, every scene will be planned. I’ll have a good idea of how the pacing will work. I’ll know where every plot event occurs. The outline will be a complete blueprint.

    For Firefly Island, my outline was so detailed, it contained the important lines of dialogue. For some chapters, it even detailed every paragraph!

    An example would look like:

    Paragraph 14: Describe the ogre’s cottage. Broken roof. Vines. Lizards run across the ground and the sky is cloudy.

    Paragraph 15: Aeolia enters the cottage. Rotting furniture, dank smell. Aeolia thinks about her brother.

    This is similar to the way moviemakers will create storyboards before shooting any scene. The point of this method is: Before actually writing anything, I’ll know exactly how this novel will look.

    When it comes to the writing stage, since I already know the entire story, I don’t have to write chronologically. I can decide one day to write scene 3 in chapter 8, and the next day go back and write scene 2 in chapter 3.

    The outline will be so detailed, that I’ll write my copy right into the outline--in the same document. Thus, the outline will grow fatter and fatter, scenes coming into more and more detail, until one day it’s no longer an outline. It’s a manuscript.

    This is the same method I use when painting. First I paint a rough sketch on the paper. Then I’ll fill in the basic tones. Then I’ll add another layer of color. Then I’ll add a layer of detail. With every layer, the painting comes into life. Same with the Detailed Outline. At first my document is a sketch. With every layer it grows and grows, until it turns into a novel.
See 2 other outlining methods at Daniel's website, and host of additional tips for authors. While you're there, take a look at his fantasy novel, A Dawn of Dragonfire!


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