Sonia Dogra & Vandana Bhagra

There is no short-cut to successful writing, nor is there any comprehensive lecture. You can be guided but it is only by writing that you will learn how to write.

They say either you have it or you don’t, but then if you are passionate about writing then always have a pen and a notebook ready. There is no specific time for inspiration; it can come from anywhere – your homes, family, friends, surroundings, school, parks and outings our excursions you may take. There is a story everywhere. It is only when you realize it and how you plan your theme or plot, with all the characters and twists and mystery.

KEEKLI has been at the forefront in helping children learn and giving them a medium to express by publishing their stories online, as well as with organizing poetry and story writing competitions annually. This year too, our story writing competition was a huge success and more so since it came with a promise of a published book. The young winners, in the age bracket of 7 to 25, will see themselves as published authors, along with that they are being groomed by our mentors and judges – Ms Minakshi Chaudhary, Dr Purnima Chauhan, Neelam Bhatt and Priyanka Joshi, during the month of July. The interactive sessions will be quite interesting and during one such session few pertinent questions came up. For the benefit of our young audience we are sharing the following questions asked by our winners.

How to build a character / characters? How can I give my plots a twist and build a story?

Character building comes from observation. Writers observe, not only their surroundings, but also people around them. Their peculiar habits, their fears, the way they dress up, etc. I had an aunt who always carried a torch in her handbag and whenever she wanted to hunt for something in it (the handbag was a cobweb, a jungle of things, a sort of black hole) she would use the torch. Now this is a peculiar trait and can be attributed to a character. You can make a rough list of the characters in your story, describe their appearance and qualities, you can even draw their sketch to get a clear picture. Use all or some of these points in the story.

To give your plot a twist approach, it as a reader and think how you would like to read this story further. You can use misdirection and lead the reader in a wrong direction, only to surprise them later. K M Weiland has interesting books on plot construction and twists.

I have several plots and stories in my mind, but I find it hard to begin a story. How do I overcome this? How can I find my own unique writing voice?

The only way to begin a story is actually to begin one! Writers often have multiple plots running simultaneously on their mind. What you need to do is put down the idea on a sheet of paper immediately. Then prepare a sequence of events for your idea. How many characters do you need? Prepare a list. The beginning of any story is important. It must be riveting and pull the reader into the story instantly. Is your plot a thriller? How about starting off with the murder itself? Is it sci-fi? Well, an over-the-top adventure in space in the first paragraph itself or an attack on the world could be exciting. Basic idea is to create a compelling first paragraph that piques interest.

To find your own voice write with honesty. Having a good vocabulary is important, but more than that one must write what they feel strongly about and add their personal voice to the script. Secondly, write a lot, write every day, or at least every alternate day. It is only after you have written several articles/stories that you can discover your own voice.

How can I write brief, short sentences without going round and round in a spiral?

A good way to ensure crisp writing that doesn’t beat around the bush is by investing in a good dictionary, a thesaurus, working on your idioms and phrases. Let us look at a few examples:

The dress was made of a light, delicate material and clung to her skin.

OR

She wore a fine gossamer fabric that clung to her skin.

Certainly, the second sentence saves you a lot of trouble and sounds good! Always remember, fine writing skills come from investing in a language.

How do I overcome my impatience while writing stories? I am unable to complete my stories and drop an idea midway.

Before we answer your question, let us explain to you about two kinds of writers –

  1. Plotters; and b. Pantsers

A plotter forms a framework of their story. Pantsers usually fly by the seat of their pants and do not outline their story.

If you are impatient and tend to leave your stories stranded on the road, it is better you be a plotter. Once you have an outlined draft, you will not feel like abandoning your story and take it to the finish line.

Also, patience MUST be a writer’s most important virtue!

Apart from reading a lot, how can we boost our imagination and improve our vocabulary?

How about a game of scrabble? Or, solving the crossword puzzle in the newspaper? How about a game of synonyms? Or scrambled words? We feel that word games are fun ways to take your vocabulary to the next level.

A writer’s super power is observation. Observe your surroundings and it will help you to boost your imagination. And imagination is a wild goose, isn’t it? Take it wherever you want, even down the famous Alice’s rabbit hole in wonderland.

Having said that, we cannot deny that a writer must be a reader first. Read 100 books and you may be able to write one. That is what they say. A non-reader can never become a writer.

How can I get better at editing my own work? How to overcome writer’s block?

To be able to edit your own work, return to it after a few days with a fresh perspective. Detach yourself from your writing and read it like a reader. Do you like what you’re reading? You must have a keen eye for grammar, and should be able to easily strike off superfluous or unnecessary words. How about taking up some editing exercises online?

There are two reasons for writer’s block. One, you fear that your writing will be judged. Two, you keep looking for perfection. To overcome writer’s block, practice is the key. Remember, not everything you write will come out well. Write nonetheless. Rather than perfection, look at it as a passion and work towards it.

Is it okay to use dialogue and description while writing a book? Do you advice working on two ideas / stories simultaneously? Is it okay for teenagers to write horror?

Dialogue and description are an integral part of any story / book. When you read a book, observe how the writer brings out a balance between all aspects of writing including dialogue, setting, descriptions, movement of plot, etc. Try reading popular authors / books to understand the craft better.

Several writers work on more than one story simultaneously. They usually have two WIPs (Work in Progress) running. Which is fine because you cannot let go of an idea because you are already working on one. But as you move along, gradually one of your pieces is likely to take precedence over the other. And that will be a natural process.

Why not? Nothing or nobody should clip the wings of your imagination and certainly you mustn’t allow public opinion to stop you from writing horror. Let me put it thus, horror is a very popular genre.

I would like to experiment with genres but not sure whether I will be successful. What advice would you give me? How can I restrict the number of words I use in prompt based competitions without restricting what I want to write?

You will only fail, dear Ishani, if you give up without trying. A writer must write with passion. If you wish to experiment, please do so by all means. It is only once you have written something that you will be able to know whether you can carry it off or not. Thinking of failure / success without trying is only like, you know, saying that the grapes are sour!

Which is better to start with – Fiction or Non-fiction? Request for some book suggestions to improve my writing.

Choosing between fiction and non-fiction is completely a personal choice. It depends on your taste. We recommend a good balance. Young readers must read an assortment of books ranging from fiction to non-fiction to poetry. Also, you mustn’t restrict your reading to one particular genre.

Please look up the following few books on the writing craft:

  1. On Writing by Stephen King
  2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  3. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King
  4. Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose
  5. Save the Cat! (Series): Original on Script Writing by Blake Snyder and Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

There are countless books on the craft of writing actually. We suggest joining Writing Classes before moving to these heavy books on the writing craft.

I find certain elements missing in my stories. How do I fix it? How can I decide on a title for my story?

It is a good idea to have a writing buddy. A friend who writes. Someone who can be your beta reader and point out the missing elements and offer advice. You do the same for them. Writers must work in pairs or groups. It always helps to be part of the community.

  1. Keep it short.
  2. It should fit well in the genre.
  3. You can use a character name like Harry Potter
  4. The title could refer to the setting of the story. (Tintin in Tibet)

Which publishers to contact if I want to publish a novel?

If you wish to get published traditionally, you will have to find out which publisher publishes the kind of book you have written. It is good to go through a literary agent in case of traditional publishing. You will find several contacts online. But traditional publishing takes a long, long time.

You can opt for self-publishing but in this case the publisher will charge you to publish your book. There are several packages available and you can choose one for yourself.

A third route, which is gradually gaining popularity in India is e publishing on Kindle, Pothi, Wattpad, etc.   

Finally, children, the only answer to all your questions is write, write and write. As you must practice lots of sums to get the hang of mathematics, so must you read and write extensively to be able to get the hang of the writing craft. There is no short-cut to successful writing, nor is there any comprehensive lecture. You can be guided but it is only by writing that you will learn how to write.

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