My favorite guests at a writer’s workshop

Every month or so, I teach a writing workshop, and I find that just like when I coached skating, my own mastery of the craft improves as I review the fundamentals. So as I gear up for my next gig (Jumpstart Your Novel Class), I find that I’m excited to get in touch with some old friends. Those friends, in no particular order, are an eye-catching opening scene, expert character development, active description, effortless dialogue, the build-up to a nail-biting climax, and of course, the perfect marketing plan.

Let me give you their bios:

Eye-catching Opening Scene – Although sometimes overlooked as being “just the beginning,” no other element of your story will be more influential in catching the ever-roving eye of an agent or editor. So it better sparkle. Or crackle. Or sizzle. Or all of the above.

Expert Character Development – A character who doesn’t struggle with any internal demons, well, just wouldn’t be human. Although this story element can often seem a bit cumbersome, it is essential for any novel. Any and all action should stem from your character development AND develop your character further. Don’t understand what I mean? Read on.

Active Description – Taken by themselves, action and description appear to be polar opposites. Action is so, well, fast, whereas description is often slow and deliberate. Put them together, though, and you have a match made in heaven. Just think of how you take in a setting. You don’t stand in a room and note the color of the walls, the light fixtures, or the volume of the room all at once. You experience these things as you go.

Effortless Dialogue – I hate a run of dialogue followed by the perfunctory he said/she said. I also hate dialogue with no tags, making me count lines to remember who said what. Feeling that dialogue is woven easily into the story is essential for good writing, and it should exist in conjunction with action and expression (read Sarah Dessen for good examples). As a former communication major, a point that was pounded into this little brain was that most of human communication is nonverbal. It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it. That said, beware of adverbs in dialogue tags. Most editors hate’em. Just so you know.

The Build-up to a Nail-biting Climax – Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. You can deviate if you want, but just keep in mind that almost all successful stories follow this format in some way. Seem elementary? It’s not as easy as you think. Your characters will go through an arc, just as the story climbs up and down one as well. As a teen fiction writer, every scene I write builds on the last and builds toward the ending. If it doesn’t add to your story’s premise or a character’s development, you don’t need it.

The Perfect Marketing Plan – This should never be the last guest at your little writing-party. Why? Because it’s super important if you want to succeed. Before that first sentence goes on paper, ask yourself this: Who is my audience? What other books like mine are out there? Have I read these books? Can I write this subject-matter in a new, interesting way? Who will I try to sell this to? Who would publish it?

Once you have all these elements assembled, go forth and write! Just remember to circle back and review them every once in a while. It never hurts to stay on track:)

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