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I want to have training in how to write fiction (particularly science fiction). I know that I can take courses (in my case online), and that I can join critique groups. I am on a budget, however...

I did find a book titled "90 Days To Your Novel" by Sarah Domet. It looks promising, except some reviews say that it takes way more than 90 days to do the assignments; they are only supposed to take two to three hours a day. Additionally, it would be nice to have an accountability partner or a support group while working this book.

Where would a person find such a person or persons? Are there better resources than this book to learn writing from?

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    To be honest, I just learnt by actually writing – Daniel Cann Mar 20 '17 at 5:53
  • I am with @DanielCann you can try to read/listen to whatever is there on the subject, and there are hundreds of books/podcasts filled with more or less valuable insight (many are free), but first and foremost–do not forget to write, while doing that. And if someone claims to teach you how to write a bestseller in two weeks, beware. – Lew Mar 20 '17 at 15:04
  • @DanielCann But how do you measure whether you're better now than you were 1,2 or 5 years ago? – raddevus Mar 21 '17 at 20:03
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    I can easily see how I've improved. I can see that I've developed more of a personal style, techniques of using language and structure, and have developed into the writer I am today. It's apparent if I read some of my oldest work. @SaberWriter – Daniel Cann Mar 21 '17 at 20:21
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    But you see, the techniques in writing tutorials need to be practiced in. You can't get around the fact that you will have to write to become a good writer, not just read a tutorial. – Daniel Cann Mar 22 '17 at 17:19
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This is the reality of the thing: there are hundreds of thousands of people who would like to have written a novel. Many of them are willing to spend a considerable amount of money to advance their ambitions. This creates a market for writing courses and books on how to write. Where such a market exists, competition in that market will inevitably drive the development of courses and books that claim to teach you as simple formula for writing a novel and getting it published. They will offer things like foolproof systems, short time frames, and simple steps.

All of this is inevitable. Where there is a market for advice and education, works like this will necessarily spring up to take advantage of that market. Even if no one who knows or cares anything about the subject would ever write such a book, someone who does not care will come along and write it because there is money to be made. Markets abhore a vacuum. Where there is a demand, products will be created to meet that demand.

Most of these books and courses will repeat exactly the same advice. Each of the foolproof systems they propose will be essentially the same foolproof system with different names on the steps and diagrams drawn differently. Some of this advice will be reasonable enough as far as it goes. Some of it may even help you figure out what went wrong when you get stuck.

But none of it will suffice to make you a successful novelist.

And much of it is so wildly simplistic or just downright wrong that it will do you far more harm than good if you try to follow it all.

A novelist is, at heart, a storyteller. They love stories. They read stories constantly. They tell stories. They pay attention to the nature of stories. They may read intelligent books that examine the nature of story. But more than all of this, they are attentive. They are attentive to life. They are attentive to the books they read. They are attentive to the impact that stories have on themselves and those around them.

You can't learn to write a novel the way you can learn to put together flat pack furniture or cook spaghetti bolognese. You have to learn by immersion with attention. Books and courses may be a element of that, but their greatest value may be that they introduce you to the company of other writers.

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Read, analyse what you read; write, analyse what you wrote.

The greatest training I had for writing was my 'modern language and literature' degree. While studying literature, I learnt the effects that different techniques produce and then I simply wrote until those methods became second nature. You don't even have to learn the technical terms (although I had to and it's useful when discussing them with other people), simply developing the intuition for what works and doesn't work.

Try to find a guide for close reading geared towards literary texts. Make sure you've got a guide for the whole book and for excerpts (including characters; setting, both space and time; stylistic device; dialogue vs narration; everything). Then read a book. Go back and analyse it in general following the guide. Next choose some short excerpts (the beginning, description of a place or character, a dramatic scene, etc) then analyse them carefully. Don't just identify personifications, metaphors and hypallages but find out what effect they cause. If the author had chosen to do something different, how would that detract from the effect.

Also, plot out all the main events in the book and analyse how they're sequenced. See how that sequence creates (or not) tension. Why? Identify the events that pertain to the main plot and to the subplots. Ask yourself how shuffling a few events in the sequence would change the pace and the tension build.

I suggest you start with modern books, as classics of previous periods were written with different rules (e.g. in the second half of the 19th century, lavish descriptions were the thing to do). Work with one or two famous contemporary literary books then move on to the genre you wish to write on. Choose a good book and do the same. Eventually you can try to look at a bad book and actively search for what went wrong. Think how it could be improved, story and writing wise.

If you want to study dramatic scenes in particular (or the beginning, place description, etc), identify 2-4 such scenes in the same book and compare them. Then choose different books (by different authors), choose 2-4 such scenes and compare them. Alwasy ask 'what effect does this choice cause?'. Very often, you don't have bad techniques but techniques that were used in the wrong place or for the wrong effect.

On the other hand, if you want to study how, say, the weather, plays into the story, identify all the references to the weather (but don't do this on a whole novel or you'll never see the end of it; stick to a chapter or a scene).

In the mean time, keep writing. An interesting exercise my high school teacher had us do was pick a picture and describe it or use it as the starting point for a short story. Another was rewriting a scene from the POV of a different character. You can practice with writing short stories or just scenes, which is great for developing specific techniques.

One thing you should do is write different versions of the same scenes, descriptions, whatever. Then compare the different texts and see the different effects. For example, my high school teacher gave us photos of people from magazines then had us describe the same person in different ways: one paragraph of general description; a set of paragraphs of detailed description worthy of the 19th century; description of the person's actions (could be invented) with minimalist insertion of the two most striking physical features; description by a fashion-obsessed person (focus on clothes and hairstyle); and so on. She would also make us do similar stuff for describing places, weather, or describe a person's personality through her possessions, bedroom or actions.

The objective was to widen our horizons: there is no one way of doing things, you must choose the one that creates the right feel for the story or scene you're writing.

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We could all just say, "well, sit down and write."

Learn to Multiply Two Numbers

However, that feels a bit like telling someone to simply learn how to multiply two numbers by sitting down and staring at numbers until they've determined they've multiplied them right.

The student of this kind of multiplication could simply say,

"Yes, 5 times 3 is 53 and 3 times 5 is 35. I'm sure I've got this."

Of course, the student is entirely wrong.

Writing Creatively Cannot Be Measured

That's what the novices tell you. You cannot measure creative writing because you cannot define good writing.

Redefine Writing Success

Okay, let's then re-define what you are attempting to do. Having a target allows us to measure what we're doing. Let's say that successful writing as we are defining it here is either:

  1. Writing well enough that a publisher will buy it
  2. Writing well enough that you can convince 100 people to read the entire thing

A bunch of people will probably say,

"Those terms of measurement are bogus! Good writing may not be bought by a publisher and great writing may not convince 100 people to read it."

I know.


But, do you want to learn?


If you do, we need one of those two targets.

I'm going to assume that you've picked one.

Here Is the Training You Requested

Here are the steps you can take:

  • to write an entire book
  • make your writing an order of magnitude better

Steps

  1. Find a book you like.
  2. Read only the first page.
  3. Determine the over all feel of the page (shocking, happy, discovery, action, etc) What sense do you get from reading the page?
  4. Count the words in each sentence and write them above each sentence in the book.
  5. Find every verb in that first page and underline each one.
  6. Find every noun on the page and circle it.
  7. Find each adjective and put a light squiggly line through it. Read the sentence again without the adjective and see if the sentence works.
  8. Find each adverb and see if you can create a stronger verb to be used in place of the adverb and verb you find. For example if you find angrily picked up replace it with grabbed.
  9. Finally, and most importantly, take a shot at writing something that sounds quite similar to the original authors. This allows you to see what great writing might sound like. I call this shadow-writing. All the great artists in the pasts (Da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc.) copied the masters before them to learn. You must do the same.

Here's My Example

Here's my example using one of my all-time favorite novel beginnings, The Partner, by John Grisham. I've shortened up the example as to not take too long. learn to write steps

Sample Analysis

sample analysis

Finally you do your shadow-writing.

Shadow-Writing Example

He discovered it before anyone else in the sleepy town of Philsbruck, Minnesota had even opened their eyes for the day. He discovered it buried under a wagon, behind Tom's house in a large field where he and Tom had ridden motorcycles, when they were younger and still friends.

Mine isn't exactly the same, but it is similar. There is some repetition. There is some mystery about what he found and who he is. You see, you begin to learn by doing this kind of deep analysis. You learn and then you transform this into your own writing.

These are specific things you can do that will make your writing an order of magnitude better.

Finally The Test

The test is:

  1. Can you convince 100 people to read your book now?
  2. Can you convince a publisher to buy it?

If not then you find out why and you re-write with that target in mind.

You can do this. But, you do have to be interested in working at writing.

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Repeating what I've said elsewhere. Writing Excuses is a podcast that specializes in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. They have a master course, that I mentioned earlier (season 10) on how to write a novel. It's free. It's my only recommend, but it won't be enough.

Writing a novel is "easy". You just have to have a sufficient piece of writing that's long enough. Writing a good novel is something that takes years of practice. You can get that practice in many ways. Analyzing the work of other masters. Having someone teach you the basics. Engaging in discussions with your peers.

You've asked specifically for things that "teach" you how to write a novel. Well, here it is: Sit down and write every day until you have enough words to constitute a novel. If your end goal is to have a novel; you will have to do this at some point. Writing is one of those things you learn more by doing.

Certainly, pick up one or two books. Certainly, read a few blogs. Certainly, attend a writing class. All of these things will give you perspective, but at some point you just have to sit down and write. When you finally do that, you can take your work to a local writing group and they'll help you figure out where you need to improve.

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An excellent boiled-down guide is: THIS YEAR YOU WRITE YOUR NOVEL by Walter Mosley. As a first time novelist wannabe, I found it very helpful.

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    Hi Damani, and welcome to Writers.SE! I wanted to ask if you might expand a bit more -- tell us what's good about this particular guide, and in what way it was helpful to you? That would make this a more helpful answer; users would learn what to expect from each suggested book, instead of just getting a list of names. – Standback Mar 22 '17 at 12:31

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