Don’t Expect Shortcuts
I visit a lot of online writing forums. It’s an opportunity to network with writers and authors, and a lesser number of readers. Sometimes I learn something, but it’s also an opportunity to share what I’ve learned from my experience as an author and, to a far more limited extent, editor. It’s probably the teacher in me seeking another avenue to do what I enjoy (I’m also a high school English teacher).
Some of the common questions posted by writers early in their writing career include:
How to write combat scenes.
How much description is too much (or enough)?
What’s the right length for a chapter?
In truth, there are no shortcut answers to those questions, and many others frequently asked. But I think the writers asking them are hoping for short, easy to implement answers. Unless they’re looking for very general responses, what can be provided in a forum post reply, they’re going to be disappointed.
Each novel in progress, each situation within it, is unique. Genre and subgenre, POV (point of view), progress within a story’s plotline, writings style, and more, would all have a bearing on the answer.
So, what is the answer to those and similar questions posed? It bears repeating: It isn’t a short one, or at least the process isn’t.
To answer such questions, writers should seek out published works, ones similar to what each writer is attempting to complete, especially genre, subgenre (if appropriate) and POV. Generally I recommend choosing several authors whose works the writers enjoy reading since the process requires several reads, especially over sections relevant to the concerns, while taking notes.
My ‘go to’ authors include Roger Zelazny and Steven Brust, especially since much of their work is written using first person POV, which I tend to use. Other authors I study and learn from includes Laurell K. Hamilton, Harry Turtledove, John Ringo, Stephen R. Donaldson, Michael Moorcock and Sandra Kring. They all offer aspects of writing characters, dialogue, action, plots and twists, and more, that have provided me with solid examples to learn from.
Once a writer has gathered information and specific examples that address the question or concern, he should apply what was learned to his own novel/story and writing style.
There are “How to” books out there, but they can only offer general answers and non-specific examples, similar to what a questioning writer might expect to receive on a forum. That doesn’t mean that the “How to” books or forum questions lack any value, just that the answers to certain types of questions are limited.
While what I suggest is a lengthy and involved process, what is learned, and once applied, can be used and developed and refined as an author moves forward. Maybe other writers will use that author’s published works as a resource in addressing their own questions.
Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction.
His First Civilization’s Legacy Series includes FLANK HAWK, BLOOD SWORD and SOUL FORGE, his newest release from Gryphonwood Press. Terry’s debut science fiction novel RELIC TECH is the first in the Crax War Chronicles and his short stories have appeared in over a dozen anthologies and magazines. The genres range from SF and mystery to horror and inspirational. GENRE SHOTGUN is a collection containing all of his previously published short stories.
To contact Terry or learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website at http://www.ervin-author.com or his blog, Up Around the Corner at