The Art of Writing Explained

writing explained

This post was written by Ronel Janse van Vuuren.

I read a lot of books, in various genres and from various authors. Like many other readers, once I find an author I like, I’ll check out all of their books (read: I’ll procure them and read them until my eyes resemble that of the undead).

As an author, I would like devoted readers like that.

But how do you make your stories addictive?

I’m sure you have a killer idea: it’s kept you fueled through your first draft. And if you’ve done NaNoWriMo, that great idea of yours had you write through all of November and fifty-thousand words or more.

But writing – good writing – involves a lot more than just having an amazing idea for a story. Especially if you want readers coming back for more.

The only way to truly learn how to write is to actually write.

Doing writing courses to learn technique (there are plenty out there for every genre and pocket) is a good way to get feedback on your writing. If you want feedback on your story, join a critique group.

There are excellent sources (some of them free) for you to learn the craft. Quite a few writers blog about writing and are willing to answer your burning questions.

Sometimes just reading about how to write will spur you to try out the techniques mentioned. After I’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing, I eliminated as many adverbs from my writing and used stronger verbs.

I also took a course on grammar seeing as English isn’t my first language. Totally worth it.

I can hear you now: I don’t like grammar/I don’t know how to use grammar properly/who cares about grammar?

Never make your reader work to understand you. It will kill your book, no matter how good the story.

Rewriting is your friend. (Well, so is plotting, editing, proofreading…)

texture-handwriting-sutterlin-vintage-99562.jpegWhich means that you’ll have to learn how to spell. Do not rely on the built-in spellchecker in your word processor. Get yourself a proper dictionary (there are even free e-book ones you can download). Trust me: once you’ve learned how to use your dictionary properly, it will become a lifelong friend.

Another way to make sure your writing is clear and accessible is to acquire a style guide. It’s your quick go-to friend who will help you with everything from tone to reminding you to write in active voice. My trusty companion is the evergreen The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (yeah, the guy who wrote your favourite stories from when you were a child).

You’re probably asking why you can’t just write your story and then send it to be edited. Go for it. It will cost you a lot more than a handful of writing courses, an awesome dictionary with more than seven-hundred-thousand words and a style guide. But hey, it’s your money to spend. On one novel. Without rewrites or structural editing…

Back to the craft: the more you write, the more you learn.

To learn economy and brevity: try your hand at flash fiction. There are plenty of free online competitions where you can write your piece and share it with other writers.

To find your voice, your genre and what comes naturally: try your hand at short stories. There are several online platforms where you can publish your stories and get feedback from other writers and from readers. I like to try out my crazy ideas on Wattpad by entering it into competitions there that include critiques.

I’m a novelist first and foremost, but these other genres truly help with practising and perfecting my craft. And it’s always better to try new things on anything but that precious novel. Figure out if you’re going to take the advice of one writing course to omit certain punctuation (e.g. full stops in E.B. White or EB White) or the advice in another on which quotation marks you’ll use (single ‘ or double “). Keep what works and discard the things that don’t. Stay consistent.

Your novel will shine. You will have lifelong friends (and knowledge). In a slush-pile of thousands of novels, yours will stand out.

And you’ll probably want to fix everyone else’s mistakes with either spray-paint or a permanent marker – especially that billboard that says: children’s party’s.

Practice the art of writing. Learn the craft. And be awesome.

Anything about the writing craft that you have trouble with? What’s your favourite part of being a writer?

Author: Ronel Janse van Vuuren

Ronel writes dark fantasy filled with mythology and folklore, some of which can be read on Wattpad and on her blog Ronel the Mythmaker. When not leading her Rottweiler pack or arguing with her characters, she’s writing award-winning fiction.

6 thoughts on “The Art of Writing Explained

  1. With the Internet, we have become global rather than just local. As you (Ronel) mention, English isn’t your first language. As someone who write fan fiction, I often see stories written in English by non-native speakers. And that’s fine. For a professional, though, one bit of advice I would add is to make sure to let an English-speaking person read over your story to catch any word choice issues.

    For instance, in one story I read, the author indicates a brother and sister have a strong fondness for each other. Someone who has fallen in love with the woman is watching them from afar, and the writer indicates that he is “jealous” of their relationship. From a thesaurus standpoint, ‘jealous’ and ‘envious’ are similar, but there is a slight nuance of difference in the meaning. ‘Jealous’ usually implies someone else has something and you want to take it away from them so you can have it for yourself. ‘Envious’ only says that you like what someone else has and would like to have something similar yourself.

    It was an easy mistake for a non-native English speaker to make, but one reviewer quite rudely jumped on her for it, instead of taking into account her native language. I know if I tried to write in any language other than English I would surely make similar usage errors. English-speaking authors writing in English need to have someone check their work, but non-native English-speaking authors writing in English probably even more so.

    1. The words we use come from a place of intent: what do we wish to convey with what we’ve written?

      To use the word “jealous” could show various things – not just the relationship of the siblings as viewed by a third party (which could be interpreted in many ways), but also this character’s education, level of envy (possibly so blinded that they’ve become delusional), social status, age (in high school you’ll be shoved into lockers and other awful places for using a proper vocabulary with a certain crowd) or even something as simple as flow of the sentence. Depending on the other words surrounding “jealous” the context should be clear and either “jealous” or “envious” should be fine – because it isn’t one word that describes a situation, it takes a few to create a story.

      Which means, if someone jumps on a writer for a word they’ve used, it rarely has to do with what the word means, and more with what they felt when they read the story…

      For example:
      “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

      Each word means something on its own. But taking this flash fiction piece by Hemingway, these simple words evoke strong emotion and an entire story.

      We all need beta readers and proofreaders if we’re going to publish our work online – having an entire community of writer-friends to support each other is a great way to go – but in the end we’ll never make everyone happy. And those who yell the hardest usually felt the strongest by what was written; perhaps it hit too close to home…

      Thank you for commenting. I hope you found the piece informative.

  2. My favorite part of writing is letting my stories start themselves. Nothing is more magical to me than watching as the perfect beginning falls into place, with much of my own probing of course, but rewriting it helps me feel like all the pieces are ready for take off. Then I have a story that feels alive. Great post!

What are your thoughts on this?