What It Means to Think Like a Writer, and How It Can Help Perfect Your Practice

The average manuscript is somewhere around 80,000 words in length. If you're like me and, even in your thirties, are still measuring every length of writing against the 700-word essays you were made to write in high school, that's a little over 114 poorly referenced essays on topics you didn't really care about.

If those essays had anything going for them, however, it was that the subjects were well defined, and you didn't have to pull everything out of thin air. But with an original work, you're entirely on your own. Even with a pretty good outline of what you want to write, there's a world full of details to fill in along the way, and it's gotta come from somewhere.

Taking a subtle cue from Writer's Connect issue 87, here's how a small change in perspective can make filling in the blanks a breeze.

Woman with notepad thinking - What It Means to Think Like a Writer, and How It Can Help Perfect Your Practice
Pen, meet paper.

This post brought to you by guest blogger Tyrone Couch.

Look for Opportunity in All Things

However boring or mundane you might think your everyday life, it is teeming with sources of inspiration. It doesn't need to be something that happens directly to you; it might be something you overhear on a train, a thought you have in the shower, the exploits of a coworker or family member, or something you see on TV.

With a little poking and prodding, anything can be turned into a good story ... but only if you're paying attention!

Let's say someone you know is going through a bad separation, and the other party is giving them hell. You're a confidant of theirs, and they're keeping you up to date with all the latest in their ex's nonsense. He's calling her friends, showing up at her workplace, and  always coming up with cruel and unusual ways of making her life difficult.

Of course, this is terrible, and you wouldn't wish it on anyone ... but you've gotta admit, it's interesting. It's the kind of drama that made those vapid Hollywood housewives millionaires. If you've got your writing cap on, then it just might occur to you to incorporate some of what's happening into your manuscript.

Now, this is a friend of yours, and this is their reality, so you're going to want to be delicate about how you approach it. Depending on how true to life your depiction is, you might want to consider asking for their permission to tell their story. However, as is the nature of working from inspiration, the end result needn't look anything like the inspiring event.

In your story, perhaps your friend is a princess with a persistent and conniving suitor. Maybe the genders are reversed, and it's a woman harassing a man. You might start at the beginning of the relationship before everything went bad, only for it to go much, much worse.

If you were to reduce what's happening to your friend down to a kernel of an idea, it could be as simple as 'man bothering woman', and you could build it up from there. It could be as big as the entire premise for your story, or as small as an interaction between two side characters.

The idea here is to look at everything with an appraising eye, and consider how it could be leveraged into a story. Whether you strip it back to its most basic or embellish it beyond your wildest dreams is entirely up to you!

Ask Why

If your characters are to have any depth, you'll have to know what makes them do the things they do. Why does the hero care what happens to his world? Why does the villain seek to destroy it? Heroism and villainy for their own sake are, frankly, uninteresting. Real people don't do anything for no reason, so why should your characters?

Note that not every motivation has to be good, and shallow motivations can be just as interesting as ones that run deep. For example, a character might offer their assistance to the protagonist purely out of spite for another character, or because they're an enthusiast of people with a particular combination of hair and eye colour. Simple motivations can make for fun and chaotic characters, while more complex ones typically result in more serious archetypes.

Another factor that can greatly influence a character's overall presentation is how forthcoming they are. They might be upfront about their intentions, or have an entirely different set of goals they keep hidden from the cast (and maybe even from the reader!).

Once you understand your characters' motivations and personalities, you can play to them, and it becomes a lot easier to imagine what they'd do. If you know that, you'll know their next move ... and your next plot point!

Dive Down Every Rabbit Hole

As writers, our imaginations are one of the most powerful (and essential) skills in our repertoire. We need to be able to not only visualise, but describe the events in our story to others in an engaging and logical way. And just like in life, there are many different ways that things can go.

Have you ever wondered how your life might be different if you'd never met a certain person, or decided to stay home on a day you went out and had something happen to you? Thoughts like these are a writer's bread and butter. We need to imagine everything that happens in our story from every character's perspective, and everything that might happen as a result. People react to situations differently, and what's good for one character may be disastrous for another.

The better able we are to break down a scenario into all of its possible outcomes and their implications, the more likely it is that our stories will continue on an interesting and believable trajectory. This is something we can practice alongside the first tip: take inspiration from an everyday situation, spice it up a bit, throw it at your characters, and then imagine how they (and the world you've built) will respond.

Leave no stone unturned, and you'll always find an engaging way forward.

Eyes and Ears

In all of these things, there are two common threads: active observation, and critical thinking. Keep a close eye on the things happening around you and how they might be repurposed to serve your story. Life is full of stories, big and small—you just need to be on the lookout for them!

If this is something you'd like a hand with, sign up with one of our book coaching & writing programs: it could make all the difference.

For more tips in your inbox every fortnight, be sure to subscribe to Writer's Connect (at the bottom of the page).

Word of the Day

belligerent (adj.)

When referring to a person, group, or nation, belligerent marks the entity as hostile, aggressive, and/or engaged in conflict. It is often used colloquially to refer to someone who is hard-headed, and can be deployed as a noun to characterise such a person as 'a belligerent'.

He'd been belligerent all morning, making everything take twice as long as it needed to.

Quotidian Quote

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen."
~ John Steinbeck

Get Competitive!

A selection of current writing competitions YOU can enter!

Periscope Open Fiction Award

Format: Short fiction
Theme: Identity
Word Count: max. 1,500
Entry Fee: £10
Prize: £1,000
Closes: 15/08/2023

Click here for more details

Periscope Open Fiction Award - What It Means to Think Like a Writer, and How It Can Help Perfect Your Practice

Fosseway Writers Flash Fiction Competition

Format: Flash fiction
Theme: Mistakes
Word Count: max. 300
Entry Fee: £5
Prize: £50
Closes: 19/08/2023

Click here for more details

Fosseway Writers Flash Fiction Competition

Louise Walters Book 100 Page Competition

Format: Novel
Theme: Open
Word Count: min. 20,000
Entry Fee: £5
Prize: Full manuscript editorial report
Closes: 28/08/2023

Click here for more details

Louise Walters Book 100 Page Competition

Summer Short Story Award for New Writers

Format: Short story
Theme: Open
Word Count: max. 6,000
Entry Fee: $20
Prize: $3,000
Closes: 27/08/2023

Click here for more details

Summer Short Story Award for New Writers


Look over the fine print to make sure that your submission qualifies and you're happy with the terms of engagement.

The Australian Society of Authors has a highly informative post on their website called 'What to look for in a writing competition's T&Cs' .
To locate the article, click on 'Home', then 'News'.

Photo credit Mikhail Nilov, Pexels

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