Essay writing skills

You might not know it, but essay skills are a core part of novel writing. No, really.

If I remember rightly, June and July is the first sitting Exam season. So it is probably no surprise that the topic of essays has come up on our Tumblr.

chimpanzee_seated_at_typewriter

Enough of this monkey business. You want to know what I mean about essay skills being vital story telling skills.

I am glad you were paying attention.

Saying what you mean

In an essay the thing that makes your essay an A+ rather than a D- is that you have something to say, know what you are talking about, and say it.

The same is true of a story.

If you waffle, go off on tangents, or include irrelevant material, then your reader will get bored. Am I talking about essays or stories, here? I’m talking about both, obviously.

In order to write a truly A+ essay, you need one thing – some fresh to say. That something fresh comes from asking interesting questions. Questions that no one else in your class has asked. Trust me, your teacher will love you for it.

If you are not addressing a question in your essay, you are wasting time. Know the topic and the questions. Then, write tightly to the questions and the essay will start to write itself.

With a novel the same is true. Know the characters, know the plot, and just sit there while everything unfolds for you.

Open with the premise

In an essay, you start by saying exactly what it is you want to talk about. It helps if you know what the essay topic is meant to be, and have gathered some relevant quotes, and lined up some relevant questions to answer.

Then you open up with a paragraph that tells the reader what you are going to talk about. Then you go on to your questions (or topic points) and you answer those questions. Finally, you conclude and wrap it all up by showing how you just talked about whatever it is you said you were going to talk about.

If the essay is about bee-keeping and there is an anecdote about your cat chasing a bumble bee, well, you probably need to cut that out. Why? Because it is off-topic and does not move any of the answers forward.

The same is true of a story. You open with a hook (or promise). Then you work through problems the characters must face (questions). Finally, you reach some sort of finish wherein the promise has been fulfilled and the character (and therefore the reader) have been on a journey.

In an action adventure where the characters spend six pages debating the relative merits of season three of Lost, well, you probably need to cut that out. Why? Because it is off-topic and does not move the plot forward.

Having a plan

Even discovery writers (pantsers) have some sort of plan. However, unless you are a genius at writing some sort of structure, some degree or direction or outline, will give your story shape. Discovery writers frequently have to cut large chunks out, rewrite other parts, and rearrange after the fact. Sometimes they realise that there is a missing scene and go back and add it.

Discovery writing is just as messy for essays.

Having a solid plan for your story or essay matters. At the very least each section should have a topic. That goes for both story and essay.

When I had to write essays of 500 words all I needed was three points, a quote and an introduction. The plan was always this:

  1. Introduction
  2. point 1
  3. point 2
  4. point 3
  5. Conclusion

Later, when there was no word limit I discovered that I could waffle like no one else and just grabbed quotes and talked until all points were covered. As expectations rose my grades did not.

It turns out that discovery writing essays only works at a low level. To get the top grades I needed a plan.

The same was true of novels. My best novel draft took 30 days and was 75,000 words long. This was because I had a plan. A long list of chapter titles. Each chapter had a sub list of things that needed to be covered. It was still sort of discovery writing but the plan gave me a shape and let me focus on the here and now.

Do you agree?

  • Do you agree with me?
  • Is story writing so similar to essay writing?
  • Can you think of more examples?

Post your thoughts and questions in the comments.

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Nathan McGrath: spam or fan?

Nathan McGrath is, by all accounts, an author. His site (to which I am not linking shows he has written 3 books. So why is he scraping out content?

I first noticed Nathan McGrath when I saw an unusual ping on another WordPress blog I write for. What was unusual was that the ping title and body were content I had written.

When I followed the link home, I discovered that Nathan McGrath (or whoever runs Nathan McGrath’s website) had taken articles from Thanet Creative Writers and reposted them on his blog. As he kept the links intact his blog pinged the links. Which is where we came into the story.

It did not take me long to realise that Nathan McGrath’s blog had a lot of our content. Some of it seemed to fit while other parts made no sense for him to have. I’ve worked with things like this before and every time it is the result of something called automated scraping. How that works is a script pulls the content and then posts it.

I’d be tempted to think Nathan McGrath was a fan of our charity had he bothered to link to the source of his article but that, of course, would ping the people he was stealing content from.

I’m really not sure what to do next. On the one hand Nathan McGrath’s books sound somewhat interesting but, on the other hand, I refuse, point blank, to support content theft.

What do you think?

Writers’ Writing Competition: Grand Winners

After much delay and some serious navel gazing, I am pleased to present the grand final tally of winners.

Editor’s picks

These are a series of winners picked out by me for special attention. With so many awesome entries it was not always possible to award a prize to all the posts that deserved it. This is my last opportunity to make up for that and dish up some more prizes.

Editor’s pick for a really good entry that didn’t win but should have done

This is a section that I have been thinking about since week one. There are so many entries that I wished I could award a prize but, for one reason or another, I did not. Of all the competition participants there was one who got the short end of the stick.

Of all the competition participants there was one who got the short end of the stick. As a member of our board of trustees, this entrant was often tied for the first place and to avoid any appearance of favouritism I let slip back to second place. She was the only writer to only win one prize. Even so, she never once made a fuss and was a good sport about it.

Thus I want to honour Laura with this special editor’s pick prize both of being a good sport and for writing a post that should have taken a prize.

Why do I write in my genre, by L. L.. Winder is a fantastic reflection on the drive to write and why we write what we write.

As I said in the “best post” section of the winner’s post for that week, every single post was a contender. Laura’s just happens to be the one I singled out for some overdue praise.

Editor’s pick for a post that made me laugh out loud

We asked “What stops you writing” and Artimis Blake wrote the following:

I’ll finish this later….

That made me actually laugh out loud. Imaginary high-five my friend, imaginary high-five.

My pick for a post that packed an emotional punch

There is one post that sticks in my memory, even now. It took the subject of time travel (one of my all-time favourite topics) and made it into one of the most emotionally memorable short stories I have read in a while.

Stories from the edge had this post: If I had a time machine. I swear you’d wish it as hard as the character does.

After the deadline: A post made after the deadline but before the grand finish.

This prize is for getting things finished even when the main thrust of the competition was already past. It is awarded to encourage that dedication to writing where better late than never is the rule of the day. A rule I live by.

This prize goes to L. L. Winder (BraidySpice) for her reflection on Plotting vs Pantsing.

Editor’s pick for most ambitious blog

Most folks were content to set up on a  free platform like WordPress or Blogger. But one entrant set up a custom WordPress on a custom domain name. Despite having never done anything like that before and after a few false starts, Ben J deserves some serious love and respect for not only sticking with it tot he end but doing so on a brand new and unfamiliar platform.

Not only is this likely to become the most useful of all foundations for an author platform, it contains some really good writing. For example, with no bias at all, this post on what he loves most about Thanet Creative Writers. Like many of his posts, Ben has found the most interesting ways to subvert the prompt.

Editor’s pick for a blog that carried on after the competition

The Kentish Rambler carried right on blogging (as did some of you others). The Kentish rambler caught my eye for simply having the most amazing and pretty pictures.

Pretty pictures count for a lot.

Take a look at April Ramblings.

Reddit Grand Vote

The initial plan for the big finish was to use Reddit as a quick and easy source of both traffic and a voting booth. It turns out that Reddit is deeply unpopular which I was not expecting. Nevertheless, you guys rallied on anyway and so I am going to award prizes here anyway. Not the original prizes but good ones nevertheless.

The sticking with it regardless prize

This prize recognises the willingness of the writers who took part to jump through some strange hoops and do it all anyway.

It is shared Jointly by Neil and Jess who posted a lot of their stuff the Reddit vote. Because the Reddit vote turned out to be something akin to last week’s zoo leavings, and all votes were about the same, I have randomly picked two good posts to make the “winners”.

Take a bow you two hard working writers. You deserve it.

The Grand Winner

In the grand tradition of Time magazine, the winner of the competition is you.

We are all the richer for the great writing that has been put forward during this competition and everyone who took part is a step closer to building an author platform.

Well done, you.

Time youcover01.jpg
By Source, Fair use, Link

What are your picks?

Which posts would you pick as the winners? Tell us in the comments.

I was destined to save the world but I overslept

Like the person who refused the call to be the chosen one, you were the chosen one but you were too busy sleeping. Now what?

I was destined to save the world but I overslept

  • In what way did the world need saving?
  • How did you manage to sleep through that?
  • Did you try staying awake all night and then nod off?
  • What will happen now?
  • Can someone else save the world?
  • Can you still make things right?
  • Are we all doomed?

Let us know if you write something to this prompt. We would love to read it.

Platform building starter prompts

Earlier this year we had a little competition. Twelve weeks, twelve prompts. While we are still making a new plan regarding picking the final winners the topic of “what were the prompts?” has been asked in our Facebook group.

While we are still making a new plan regarding picking the final winners the topic of “what were the prompts?” has been asked in our Facebook group. That got me thinking that 12 prompts to kickstart your platform might be a good topic to post about.

So here they are.

12 prompts to kickstart your platform

What other prompts would you add?