This week, I’m happy to introduce my dear friend, Chalene, for a special guest post. Chalene manages an awesome Instagram account @literaturarian full of awesome content for any book lover.
Chalene had the opportunity to attend NYC BookCon this year and has graciously shared with us writing tips she learned from two different authors.
6 Exclusive Writing Tips From NYC BookCon
When you’re sitting at the feet of literary giants, you take notes. When I saw NYT bestselling authors Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows duology and Grisha trilogy) and Holly Black (Spiderwick Chronicles and A Modern Tale of Faerie series) were joining forces to discuss “Magic with an Edge” at this year’s NYC BookCon, I made sure I snagged a good seat. And I’m glad I did! These self-proclaimed gothic goddesses willingly and wittily gave tips for nearly every stage of the writing process. Though some of their advice seems contradictory (edit as you go vs, don’t touch it until a complete draft is done), I think that just shows that every writer is different, and each will have their own style.
Here are my favorite tips I learned from each author:
Tips from Leigh:
The first tip I’m going to share was reiterated later that day when I asked Leigh during our book signing to write down a bit of writing advice. “Finish the draft!” she wrote. On the panel, Leigh talked about her “Zero Draft.” This is her first draft, and she gives herself all the creative freedom. Things don’t have to flow or make perfect sense in this draft; it’s more about getting the ideas, images, plot points, and characters in your head and onto the page. The finer moments will come during revision. (And, oftentimes, you’ll discover some really great parts to your story if you just allow yourself the freedom to explore.)
If you’ve read any of Leigh’s books, you know she loves the bad guys, and she makes us love them too. These “beloved villains” are what you may consider gray characters. No person is wholly good or wholly evil. If they were, they would be boring! The intrigue of a character comes from their gray areas. Leigh emphasized that an author should never specifically emphasize who the reader should and should not like. Don’t take away the choices of a reader.
Is it Broken?
My favorite piece of advice really cuts to the point. Is the outline broken? Then your story is broken. Is your pitch broken? (Meaning, can you easily snag someone’s attention with your story in 2 sentences or not.) Then your story is broken. Take those early warning signs to heart before you sink hours of writing into a broken story.
Tips from Holly:
Read to Write, Write to Read
If you want some great reads of dark faerie tales and folklore, then Holly is your girl! Holly spent a few minutes discussing how her understanding of magic rules and why they are important came from folklore. Folklore is riddled with magic and it’s limitations. Curse breakers, specific calibrations, and burnouts, all these things keep the magic in check. If there were no limitations how do we keep magic wielders from completely taking over the world? (Uh, we don’t.) [Side note: They also mentioned how different magics definitely set different tones, and magic can even work as an overarching theme.]
No Matter How Beloved…
Speaking of villains, Holly made sure to jump into Leigh’s praise for beloved villains and gray characters. Holly made a point of telling us that readers tend to quickly forgive mass crimes of mainly nameless characters, but they will forever begrudge a personal attack. If you want to make a villain straddle the line, stray away from too personal of affairs. Oh! And she said don’t make your “gray” villain smelly. Describing a character with pungent odor is very difficult to overcome!
Talk it Out
My favorite tip from Holly is perfect for the ‘stuck’ moments. Those times when you’ve seem to have fallen out of love with your story, your characters, etc. Holly recommends talking it out. Find a friend and just begin telling them about your story. Often times, in these moments of free sharing, you’ll begin to remember what made your story compelling enough to begin in the first place. You may even uncover a plot point or character trait that you had been missing. Talk about the story; it’ll make you excited!
As an addendum to Holly’s last point, both authors repeatedly emphasized the benefit of having a critique partner. Writing shouldn’t be a solitary experience and many times a trusted friend, family member or colleague can give your story a new perspective, an interesting angle, or even just the encouragement to keep pushing forward.
What’s your favorite writing tip that you’ve ever received? Share below!
Find Chalene on Instagram at @literaturarian.