Writing Q & A: Vol. 1

Over the last few months I’ve had people reaching out to me looking for advice. Sometimes this advice is about using a platform like Wattpad, but for the most part it’s just about writing.

Now, I don’t consider myself an expect in anything, especially not writing. But when people reach out, I don’t want to leave them hanging (I mean, they’re asking me for a reason, right?) I’ve spent a lot of time crafting thoughtful responses for these people and, after answering a handful of these community questions, I thought other people might find them handy too.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to start an informal writer’s Q & A series here on my blog. Whenever I get a new batch of questions (through Wattpad, Twitter, e-mail, whatever) I’ll put together a new post. Hopefully someone finds this information useful!

Q – I love like LOVE your stories and I wish you would add more faster. But overall I wish I could write like you. any tips for writing LGTBQ (etc.) stories?

A – While everyone has their own way of learning and improving their writing, here are a few things that have helped me over the years:

  • Write often. Even if it’s just a hundred words; the more you write, the better you’ll get. It doesn’t even have to be stories! Before I started writing fiction I kept a personal blog for years. Writing regularly makes it easier to translate the ideas in your head into words. It will also help you write like yourself instead of forcing yourself to write the way you think you should sound.
  • Read! Good books, bad books; short stories, long novels; fiction, non-fiction. It doesn’t matter what you read, it just matters that you do. This will help you understand how to tell stories, what works, what doesn’t, style, etc.
  • Write the story you want to tell. A lot of people get hung up trying to tell the story they think other people want to read. I didn’t think many people would want to read a fantasy story about two girls who fall in love, but the story was important to me so I wrote it anyway. When you’re passionate about the story you’re telling, it shows!
  • Be authentic, especially when you write queer stories. If you identify as queer, write what you know and what you feel. Your experience is valid and if you write your truth, the reader will be able to feel it. If you don’t identify as queer, take the time to do some research first. Talk to people who identify as the characters you’re trying to write, read non-fiction articles about those identities, and keep an open mind. If you’re not sure where to start, there’s a lot of great resources on Wattpad’s official LGBTQ profile!
  • Finally – and this is important – be open to feedback. In September of 2016 I was almost half way through The Star and the Ocean when I decided to take the whole thing down and rework it based on feedback I had gotten from readers on Wattpad. Constructive criticism is hard to take, no matter how nice the person who’s giving it is. But you need to ask yourself: do you want your story to be as good as it can be? If the answer is yes, the listen to your readers and try to see things from their perspective. Not every bit of feedback is going to be valid but some of it will be! Just remember: first drafts always suck, feedback on your story isn’t a personal attack (unless the person is just trying to be a jerk), and working on making your story stronger is part of every writer’s process!

Four more Q&As under the cut!

Q – I was wondering if you could pass along pointers on getting featured [on Wattpad]?

A – Wattpad changed its Featured List system this past summer. I was able to get The Star and the Ocean featured under the old system, which required having a completed book that you needed to submit for consideration.

These days, Wattpad’s content curation team combs the site for stories to feature on their own. A story no longer has to be finished to be considered – which is helpful – but there are other things you can do to help get noticed, including making sure your story is stylistically clean, the plot is unique and interesting, and you update frequently. You can also add #featured to your tags, which can help put it on Wattpad’s radar.

Q – What can I do to get noticed? I feel with the million stories that are on Wattpad, it’s very difficult to be seen.

A – It is very difficult to get noticed on Wattpad! One strategy that seems to work well is writing whatever’s in vogue (i.e. fanfiction, bad boy romance, werewolves, etc.) but if you’re not about that life, you’re going to have to be a bit more strategic. I first started getting reads when I joined a few book clubs. These clubs require time and effort, as you’ll be asked to read and comment on the books of other participants too. But what’s a community without a bit of give and take, right? In the same vein, leave comments on the books you read outside of clubs as well, and respect your own readers by responding to their comments and updating regularly.

I saw a big jump in reads once I was featured – first by the official LGBT profile and again on Wattpad’s hotlists. Look into genre-specific profiles and, if they feature books, submit yours for consideration.

Finally, if your book is marked as ‘Mature’ you’re at a bit of a disadvantage. Wattpad hides Mature stories from underage readers or users who don’t identify their age. I got around this by creating two versions of my story: a ‘clean’ Wattpad Edition, and the complete ‘NSFW’ edition.

Q – What can you do when you run out of ideas?

A – I find that planning the entire book out in advance helps a lot. I like to start with the big, over-arching plot first and then break it down chapter by chapter. I also spend a LOT of time imagining the story playing out like a movie in my mind. It helps me better understand everything that is happening or that needs to happen.

Q – I have read so many of the books with the same genre as the book I am writing and they all include some romance. Not good, because I want my book to have nothing to do with romance, just pure mystery/thriller… Any advice?

A – I think if you’re having trouble writing a story that doesn’t include romance, it’s probably because you need to get to know your main character a bit better.

In real life there are LOTS of reasons why a person isn’t in a relationship: it’s not the right time/place, a romantic/sexual relationship doesn’t fit with their sexual identity, they’re focused on other things, etc. These people are still multi-faced, well-rounded people in real life – so the question you need to ask yourself is, why doesn’t your character feel the same way?

The best place to start is to really dig deep and get a better understand your character’s motivation. What are they trying to accomplish in the story and in life? What is standing in their way? Why do the stakes in this story matter to your character? Having a solid understanding of what matters to your character and why they make the choices they do will make them more real, and when a character feels real, it’s easier for them to have a story that doesn’t rely on a romantic crutch.

Something to keep in mind though: if you make the reason your character isn’t romantically involved into a ‘problem’ like, “something traumatic happened to them and now they don’t believe in love” or “they think relationships are a waste of time” or “they’re perceived as ‘unattractive’ for some reason and therefor no one wants them”, change it. Your reader will feel unfulfilled if you present a narrative problem that you have no intention of resolving before the end of the story.

Ko-Fi May

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