John Mavin is a writer, a creative writing teacher and speaker, and an author. I thank him for his generosity in sharing some of his writing tips with you.
Please check out the first part of my interview with John Mavin here. It’s about his journey, his doubts, his triumphs, and hard work.
His work is adult oriented, disturbing, thought provoking, and can also be gut wrenching as he tackles darker issues of existence.
I asked John to share five tips for all writers–here’s what he wrote.
About a year or so ago on Facebook, writers were tagging each other to share their five best writing tips. In anticipation of participating, I put together five tips in the hopes someone would tag me, but unfortunately, no one ever did. Now, thanks to you, I finally get the opportunity to play along.
Here are my five tips:
I’ll start with my most contentious tip–the one I get the most pushback on, the one some of my students have shaken their heads at me in disbelief and sworn they would never do.
Do a Blank Page Rewrite
Here it is: at least once in my revision process, I believe very strongly in the value of setting my current draft aside, opening a new document file (or putting a blank page in my typewriter), and retyping my entire manuscript.
Yes, it’s a lot of work, and yes, I realize it sounds more like an exercise in self-flagellation than an effective writing technique, but for me, it’s got a purpose.
By retelling my story from scratch (as opposed to modifying an existing document), I find I make changes which not only improve my manuscript, but I usually come up with new insights that deepen my stories as well (changes and insights I’d never make if I was simply cutting and pasting).
Now, I’m not advocating doing this from memory (I find it very helpful to have my previous draft open beside me), but even if I start out by simply retyping my previous draft, I find myself deviating fairly quickly. I discover better ways to say something, see clunky passages needing to be deleted, and make plot connections I’ve missed my previous go-round. I highly recommend giving the technique a try.
Understand That Story Trumps Craft
When I first made this realization, it shocked me.
As I’ve mentioned before, I take great care in choosing the right words for my stories.
However, for me (and I suspect many other readers as well), I’m more interested in a cool story that makes me go “wow” which I can’t stop thinking about rather than with something that’s written with perfect craft that makes me go “meh.”
In part, this was my own rationalization for bestsellers which I thought were written abysmally but still achieved great popular success (their stories had either a wow factor or an incredibly intriguing premise).
Now, I cynically believe there is more at work in the creation of commercial bestsellers than simply a good story, but at the end of the day, I’d much rather read something awesome that’s written only adequately than something written with meticulous style that’s boring.
Structure Your Stories to Emotionally Satisfy Your Readers
When I was first learning how to write, I was baffled at how to put a story together people would want to read.
I could come up with openings, and endings seems to be self-explanatory, but I had no idea what to put between them.
So, I studied structure in depth, looking at work from Aristotle to John L’Heureux (including Gustav Freytag, the Hero’s Journey and Three-Act Structure, as well as myriad models from the linear to the unconventional) and have since decided Freytag’s Pyramid (or at least my modified version of it) works best for me in creating stories which satisfy my readers emotionally (regardless of which emotion I’m trying to elicit).
(Hi–sorry to cut in on John’s list but I’ve added this graphic so that readers can see the Freytag’s Pyramid. Click here for more. As noted below, John uses his own version of this.)
In a nutshell, my version of Freytag’s thoughts on story structure goes like this:
**Through conflict, complications arise which lead to a moment of choice, after which falling action brings about a resolution.
I believe every story carries these five (conflict, complications, moment of choice, falling action, and resolution) elements. Remember as an author you most certainly don’t have to present them in this order, and when I’m planning out new work, this model helps me tremendously.
This model tells me what to put in between my beginnings and my endings when creating stories I want to share.
Do Your Research
This tip comes from my seeing time and time again unrealistic elements (based on lazy or non-existent research) being perpetuated, whether in fiction or on film.
One example that always makes me indignant is the inaccurate use of silencers.
Silencers do not put a firearm into whisper-mode. Yes, they dampen the sound somewhat, but a firearm discharged with a silencer still sounds like a firearm, albeit just a slightly quieter one. You cannot get away with shooting someone and having people in the next room not notice.
Similarly, the use of stirrups in Roman period pieces takes me out of a story, too (to the best of my knowledge, the Romans never adapted the technology).
Or smothering someone with a pillow.
Or (for the most part) sound waves in space.
Every time I encounter something in a story I believe to be inaccurate, it takes me out of that story.
I encourage all authors to research the elements they use in their stories and get their facts as right as they can so their readers (who may have deeper subject knowledge than the author) stay immersed in their narratives.
Which leads me to my last tip…
Always Remember Your Reader Could be Having Sex
Never forget your reader (usually) doesn’t have to read your story–they could very easily be doing something else instead.
Like having sex. Or eating chocolate chip cookies. Or (if I’ve inadvertently offended you with the sex option and you can’t eat chocolate chip cookies for whatever reason) playing with puppies (which I hope is something we can universally agree is a pleasant thing to do).
As a writer, I feel it should be one of your goals to make your story so good, your readers never stop to realize they could be doing something else.
In other words, don’t put anything into your story which has the potential to break your readers’ immersion (like shoddy research or nonsensical plots or inconsistent characters or a boring story or technically cringe-worthy syntax).
Thank you John Mavin for sharing these epic writing tips. The one thing as writers is that we’re always learning and moving forward in our craft. Your generosity in sharing your story and writing tips is so appreciated.
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