A couple of weeks ago I promised to share some of the tips I’ve picked up at the various writing events I’ve attended this summer. I’ve been hitting these streets hard and I feel terrible about taking so long to drop a ‘lil knowledge on y’all. Charge it to my head and not my heart. I’m a homebody by nature, and I’m past ready to have several seats. But fall promises to be just as busy, so I’ve got to keep grinding and chasing these dreams!
When I attended the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta I had the opportunity to sit in on an interview with two literary heavy weights in the African-American fiction community. Eric Jerome Dickey and Victoria Christopher Murray have both published like a gazillion books and have been in the game for decades. Victoria did the asking and Eric did the answering. Needless to say, I was beyond interested in what they had to say about the writing process.
ERIC JEROME DICKEY’S 6 TIPS FOR MAKING YOUR WRITING POP!
- Watch A Movie. Yep, that’s right. Get your popcorn, some kind of drank, kick your feet up and watch a movie. But don’t get too comfortable because you’re going to be ‘working’ while you watch. Eric suggested downloading the movie script and studying the movie from the writer’s perspective while comparing the writer’s intentions to the actor’s portrayal. Look for movies and download scripts for free at The Internet Movie Script Database.
- Minor Characters Matter. Every single person in your books needs to pop. They need to have personality, special quirks, ways of speaking, etc. No matter how minor the character, if they’re on the page, they need to be on the page. No one is allowed to have presence in your book as filler. If they’re not bringing anything to the table, it may be time to say, “Hasta la vista.”
- Move the Dialogue. If you want to speed up the pace of your book’s dialogue, have each character say no more than 5 words at a time. Couple that with each character’s distinct way of speaking and you’ve struck gold! The words will fly off the page for readers and as a writer, you’ll pack a lot of
information into a scene without a lot of wordiness.
- Don’t Slip on Setting. Eric’s novel A Wanted Woman is set primarily in Barbados. To capture the exact feel and layout of the island, he had a taxi cab driver cruise the streets while he video recorded as much as he could. Later, when he got back to his hotel, he would review the video footage and write down as much description as he could. Repeatedly reviewing the video helped make the setting authentic and real to readers, and went a long way towards the success of the book.
- Hook Up With A Writer Friend. Get your mind out of the gutter. They weren’t talking about that kind of hook up. Eric said that his book, Milk in My Coffee, came about from an improv exercise he did with a fellow writer. The exercise consists of having an entire conversation in the voice of your characters. No take backs and you have to just roll with it. Recording the conversation can be helpful, but the real premise is to step out of the way and let your character speak. You get a better feel for them, which will help when you’re actually writing the novel.
- Avoid Predictability. Plotting can be difficult. Trust me, I know because the struggle can get ridiculously real for me at times. To avoid predictability Eric suggests making a list of all possible scenarios and guesses, then don’t use any of them. Then ask your friends and critique group for possible scenarios and guesses, and don’t use any of those either. Challenge yourself to come up with new twists, new answers, new scenarios. Keep’em guessing and keep’em coming back for more.
I hope these tips help improve your writing process as much as they have mine. Getting the opportunity to soak up knowledge from people who have long traveled the path you’re starting out on is invaluable! As always, I strongly encourage you to make time to attend writing/author events. They’re all kinds of nerdlicious fun and I always walk away feeling like going was well worth my effort.
Do you have any unusual tips for writers? What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to help get you out of a writing slump? What author events have you attended that you highly recommend for others? I’m planning my 2016 events calendar and I’d love to have some input!