Why do we write?
This is the question we need to ask ourselves even before we begin pouring out words into a blank paper. What drives you to keep on writing pages per pages? What do you dream when you finish your book? Some write because they want to sell, such as guidebooks sold in eBook forms. Some write because they want to express themselves, such as poetry. Some write to share imagination like J. K. Rowling and some write to come in terms with his purpose of life like Trevor Noah.
Why do people read, then?
Again, many answers to this. People might want to learn something new, they might want to know more about the writer, they might want to escape from harsh reality, or they just want to have a good time.
Then the ultimate question comes to this: how can we as writers engage readers?
This writing guide will layout the important pieces of both fiction and non-fiction. Keeping in mind, that writing is an art and therefore, there’s no guarantee of success for you even after you follow this guide.
A story comes from an idea. You get this either from the shower, or from a writing prompt, or from reading a book and get inspired by it. Now, what is a good idea? I want to argue that anything is a good idea, as long as you can write about it and you have potential readers. What actually matters though, is that you are motivated to write based on that idea. Click image for further reading.
Here comes your chess piece. If you want to make a move, you need a character to move. Shape your character in detail: what does he or she look like, what triggers him to get mad, why is he love-able? The better you understand your character, the better you can write about him.
This is good practice for you. Ask what are your character's inner values? As my friend mentioned, people are like layered onions. In the beginning, you know your character by what they like and dislike to do. But as you dig deeper, you get to see why the things they like and dislike matter to them.
Let’s pretend we have a character named Onyx. Onyx fears bungee-jumping. Readers might assume he’s not an adrenaline seeker. But let say we write that Onyx once fell from a tree and thus, fear bungee-jumping. Readers will think he’s an adventurer who has a trauma. But then we disclose that Onyx was watching the sunrise from the tree. Now, the readers are wondering. Why was he watching the sunrise? Was he with a friend? Was he escaping from home? How did he fall? We can go further and further, eventually to the values of family and freedom Onyx has.
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This is when things get real. In any story, you need a conflict. That’s right. For both fiction and non-fiction. Without conflict, you can’t understand the character better. Without conflict, your story doesn’t have motion.
There are different types of conflict. The way Now Novel puts it: Person vs Person, Person vs Society, Person vs Nature, Person vs Technology, Person vs Self, Person vs Supernatural. Click image to go to the source.
I would actually divide conflicts to two: External vs Internal. You can play around with these types in your story. But I suggest, to begin with, external conflict and aim to go to internal conflict at the end.
Let say Onyx meets an attractive girl, Amethyst. She is outgoing, lively, and like challenges. One day, Amethyst lost her job and felt frustrated. Onyx asked what he could do for her. At that point, Amethyst asked to go bungee-jumping. This is where Onyx has conflicting feelings: he wants to cheer Amethyst up and potentially impress her. But at the same time, he has fears.
Now, let’s skip to later chapters. Apparently, Onyx managed to build a relationship with Amethyst. He wants to introduce Amethyst to his family. But he remembers the accident. He remembers why he never contacts his family again. Onyx needs to reassess his feelings: why he felt hurt, why he can’t forgive. It’s a conflict of values and ego.
The next thing you need to consider is your authentic voice. Keep this in mind: no one else can tell this story as you do. You have a voice, you have a writing style, you have an understanding of the story. Even when you pass it on to another person to re-write it, they would use a different voice. And so, no one can tell the story as you do.
Elements of a voice could be in pacing, in lyrical prose, and in format. Ernest Hemingway is known for short and impactful sentences. Alice Munro writes compassion and realistic short stories. Find your writing style and stay true to who you are. Show your personality through your writing.
Delivering a message
At the end of the day, you want to deliver a message through your story. It can be as simple as ‘keep smiling’ or ‘stay alive’. Or it can be complicated, such as ‘instead of trying to be someone else to please others, embrace who you are and take charge of your life.’
Finally, my advice to you is to be as honest and candid as you can in your writing. Sure, you might prefer writing fantasy with fictional characters rather than a biography. But it shouldn’t stop you from being honest in your writing.
Writing is an opportunity to relate to readers. The only way you can do that is by showing them that “Hey, my characters have flaws” and give a realistic view of your story. Be vulnerable. Open up about the mistakes your characters did. Share the things they regret.
Writing is a privilege. Not many people can tie words together to create a story – some are skilled in directing a movie instead! Treat writing with passion and respect. It is a journey, not an endpoint. Writing is forever evolving.
Last words from me, try to share your story (even if it’s a story idea) to friends and family. Try to get feedback and brainstorm on how things can be better.