Tuesday, September 16, 2008

20 Things I've Learned Since Getting Published

Dear Fellow Americans. Actually, blogs are international, huh? So, scratch that. Dear Fellow Earthlings:

THE MAZE RUNNER has been turned into my editor, the wonderful Krista Marino. 2 months of hard work is complete. I am a very relieved and happy man.

I won't have much of a break - I leave for San Francisco next Monday to start 6 straight weeks of touring the country. I also need to begin working right away on THE 13TH REALITY Book 3. As well as a proposal for my next book with Random House. But for now, I shall breathe.

This past weekend at the annual League of Utah Writers conference was AMAZING. I'll blog more about it later, but it was easily one of the best conferences I've ever been to. I had such a fun time and felt so welcome. To all those responsible, a very hearty THANK YOU.

For now, I will post the brief notes from my workshop presentation and then go to bed. Thanks to all those who requested it in the comments. Well, here you are! Remember that I did a lot of expounding on these topics, and they're kinda random, but it's the best I can do without coming to your house and terrorizing your entire family. (The formatting is kind of weird, hope it looks okay.)

1. Differentiate your characters.
o Know their background.
o Think of something horrible that happened in their past.
o Something that makes them happy when they remember it.
o Give them a dirty secret.
o Make sure all your main characters don’t sound exactly the same!

2. Plot – at least a little.
o I challenge you to know how it ends before you begin. It will make all the difference in the world.
o This doesn’t mean you should be stagnant. Anything goes—you can change whatever you want, whenever you want. But start with a path.

3. Always think about the Five Senses when describing a place.
o Don’t forget smells!

4. Avoid one-dimensional villains.
o Create empathy for them.
o Make the reader feel somewhat guilty for hating the villain.

5. Try to eliminate as much of these as possible:
o That
Bad: He knew that he needed to kill her.
Good: He knew he needed to kill her.
o Was xx-ing
Bad: He was standing in the road, glaring at me.
Good: He stood in the road, glaring at me.
o Would
Bad: Every few seconds, a blade would pop out of the robot’s chest.
Good: Every few seconds, a blade popped out of the robot’s chest.
o Seem
Bad: Everything about him seemed to be hard and cold.
Good: Everything about him was hard and cold.
o Same word close together

6. Semicolons. I love semicolons!
o Okay: His back struck a hard metal wall. He slid along it until he hit the corner of the room.
o Better: His back struck a hard metal wall; he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room.

7. Chapter structure can do wonders.
o Short, but not too short. My rule of thumb: 1500-2500 words.
o Intriguing endings, but don’t do cheap tricks.
Bad: She opened the door and gasped.
Good: She opened the door and gasped. There, lying in a pool of dark liquid, sat a lumpy bag with her name scrawled across the front.

8. First lines. You must have an awesome first line. First page. You must have an awesome first page.

9. Set writing goals and track yourself. Be nerdy about it.

10. Dialogue. Read it out loud. Have focus groups read it. Make sure it sounds natural and true to each individual character. Use dialects if it makes sense. Maybe a character has a quirky word or phrase or way of speaking. But no matter what, your dialogue must be strong.

11. Take your time. Develop things. Describe things. Give lots of internal thoughts. Envelop the reader in a journey, not just a step by step narrative.

12. Be original in your similes and metaphors, and use lots of them. As you go through the day, look for things that make an impression on you, write them down, then use them in your writing.

13. Read like crazy – don’t let writing lessen your time reading, AT ALL. I’ve learned more from reading Stephen King than any class or workshop I’ve ever taken.

14. Do research or people will catch you.

15. Story. It’s all about story. Make it compelling, make it exciting, make it terrifying, make it full of conflict. Have your characters suffer sacrifices before they win. Have surprises and plot twists. The writing will come, and should always improve. But first and foremost, make sure you have an AWESOME story.

16. Be creative in how you create mysteries. Even simple events and revelations can be tweaked to turn them into mini mysteries that help intrigue the reader and keep them moving through the story.
o Mom’s revelation in Book 2. Cool, but I made it better. Added scene in beginning where she runs toward Tick, saying she has to tell him something. Revelation comes at end.

17. Avoid cliché like the plague (get it?). Don’t write a book about a farm boy in a fantasy land trying to obtain a magical object to save the kingdom. Just don’t do it. Come up with something the world has never seen before. Not an original idea, per se, but your own twist to it.

18. Rewriting. It takes work. A first draft is not publishable. Neither is a second draft. Maybe not even a third. You have to devote yourself to working hard on revisions if you want to make it.

19. Don’t write the same way you’d tell a bedtime story. It’s totally different.
o Avoid: this happened, then this happened, then this happened…
o Write cinematically.

20. Make your characters strong. Act, instead of react.
o However, give them flaws. Make them do things that will cause the reader to dislike them momentarily.


Q said...

Excellent! Thank you!

Don said...

"Envelop the reader in a journey"

This is now taped across the top of my monitor. It's what I've been trying to do. I will use this as my mantra.

Jewel Allen said...

Great advice, James. Thanks! And congratulations on finishing The Maze Runner!!

Anna said...

Thanks very much for posting this James! I'll always remember that James Dashner said to have a solid ending, and despite the thousands of doubts I still have about my story, I'm really looking forward to working on it a lot in the next few months. Maybe I'll even finish it. I'm getting excited about reading The Hunt for Dark Infinity.....when does it come out?

Peggy said...

Thanks, James! That's great stuff! I love that you are always so willing to share your knowledge.

Cheryl said...

Thank you, James! This has already helped me in many ways, and I can see a finished manuscript in my hands within the next...decade? Okay, kidding, because this really did help me. I really appreciate it! Great advice. Great, great advice.

P.S. Congratulations on the finished book, the tour, and everything else!

Worldbuilder Robin said...

I know I didn't go to the conference, but...

Could you expound a bit on #11, the one about enveloping the reader in a journey instead of a play by play narrative? I'm not sure what the difference is.

Anonymous said...

On semicolons: most editors I know hate them with a fiery passion and delete them whenever they get a chance. I personally prefer the em dash, if you're going for faster pacing, though a period would be just fine, too.

P.S. I'm in Orem now! I've been meaning to email everyone with contact info, but it will have to wait until I send out the housewarming party invites. Which sadly won't be this weekend, and you'll be on tour. Hm. But if you have time this week before you leave, email me and we can get together for lunch or something.

J.N. Future Author said...

wonderful! Iv just started writing and i need to learn some of thoughs lessons...I really wish i could have been there on saturday but i had previous engagments.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Fabulous and entertaing advice, thanks James!

And congrats on the completed book and all the exciting things you have on the horizon.

Anonymous said...

Great info! Now go to sleep! (After you read the email I sent you) ;)

Venom Sepluv said...

Hey James! I met you (thanks to Suzy) at the Roundup this weekend! And I am so happy I did, you are a great person!

Thanks so much for doing that awesome workshop. It has already helped me so so much, it's astonishing!

Congrats on turning in The Mazerunner, too. I hope the editing goes well after you worked so hard. Two months is an accomplishment of huge proportions. I can't wait to read it myself.

Lillian J. Banks said...

Awesome stuff, James, have fun on tour. :)

Dedee said...

That's an awesome post. Too bad I don't write fantasy!

Rachelle Christensen said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I was sad to miss the conference, but am looking forward to next year.

Anonymous said...

Wow, excellent advice. Thank you! Wish I'd attended the conference.

Frank Cole said...


I have to thank you, pal! Although I missed the conference I got a ton out of your post and already applied the edits to one of my manuscripts. Great advice!

Anonymous said...

Love these notes James!