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Neil Gaiman, the Author of the Sandman and American Gods, Shares His Writing Wisdom (part 2)

1. Neil recommends the following to help your world-building skills

— Create a map of your world.
— Avoid clichés and rip-offs.

— Combine fresh ideas with old and already known ideas to create something unique.
— Use your own life as inspiration.
— Do research.

2. There are two basic types of narration that makeup exposition:

— Scene narration — depicts characters in action or having a conversation. Use this method if you want to speed up pacing.

 Dramatic narration — you describe what the character/s did while the events occurred offstage. Use dramatic narrative if you’re going to describe things or move over the action.

3. For creating the descriptive prose, Neil uses the following techniques:

— Focus on your character’s sensory experience.
— Choose memorable details.

— Make your description do more than one thing.
— Reveal less.
— Consider withholding information.
— Do a cold open (open your scene in the middle of the action.)

— Follow your character’s natural attention and see where that is going to take you.

4. Humour can help you set the tone for your story. Humour relies on twisting a cliché, transforming or undermining it. You set up the cliché and then provide a surprise outcome.

5. Genre stories always have to hit specific expectations for that genre. To make it feel fresh, it often happens with new characters, settings or twists.

6. Writer’s block is often a feeling of being stuck. Neil thinks that this happens because of the decisions you made at the early stage of your writing.

7. Neil’s advice when you feel stuck:

— Work on a different project for a while or do something completely different than writing.
— Take a break from work to review your draft fresh, when you come back to it.
— Return to your project with a fresh eye and pretend you are reading the story for the first time.
 Backtrack your steps. Most likely, your problems began much earlier than the place you got stuck at.
— Listen to your characters. Perhaps, try writing a conversation with your characters and listen to what they have to say to you.
— Try creating a deadline for yourself; the time pressure may help you make decisions you have been avoiding.

8. A lot of blockages come from forcing a situation or a reaction on a character. If your characters have stopped “talking” to you, write whatever is next in your story. You can always go back to that point you feel stuck at later.

9. When you get stuck, going back to your story structure will help you get unstuck.

10. Learning about basic structure will give you the relevant tools to carry on writing, and in the long run, it can save you many re-writes.

11. There are two types of writers:

— Plotters — they outline every book before they write it.

— Panthers — they set off to write without a clear map.

12. Plotters get stuck when all of a sudden, their characters decide to do something unexpected. The tendency is to force the story forward. (to get unstuck the plotters often rethink their story structure.)

13. Panthers often get lost in the middle section of their story because they are not clear enough where they want to go. (to get unstuck panthers should build some architecture the story needs)

14. Before you sit down and start editing your project, it’s essential to take some time away from it. So you can come back to it with a clear and fresh mind. Don’t focus on perfection. Try to read your story like a person who has never read it before.

15. You can share your story with a trusted reader but keep in mind that you don’t need to accept their advice and suggestions.

16. To maximise your editing strength, Neil advises:

— Pretend that you are a reader.

— Take notes while you are re-reading.
— Ask yourself what the story is about.
— Always be sure your story provides satisfying answers to major dramatic questions.

17. To create a longline (50 words to less) try to answer the following questions:

— How does your protagonist get involved in the story?
— What conflict arises to move the story forward?

— What is the world of the story?
— What makes this story different, interesting, or suspenseful?

While working on your longline, try not to use your character’s first name; instead, give a short description of what does that person do or is.

18. How to create a one-page synopsis:

— Paragraph one: main character introduction + conflict + what the world of your novel is.
— Paragraph two: what happens to your hero (pick only the major plot turns) + include mention of your secondary characters
— Paragraph three: how are the major conflicts resolved + reveal the ending.

19. Keep in mind that your reader will have certain expectations when it comes to the genre of your story. You have to follow the rules of that genre to keep your reader immersed and interested in the story. You’ve made the promise to your readers, so you need to stick to that promise.

20. Think about the following elements while writing in a specific genre:

— What type of protagonist is your hero?
— Who is your antagonist? How evil is your antagonist?

— Who are your secondary characters?
— What are the tone and the mood of your story?
— What is the setup of your scenes?
— What is the catalyst in your story? (What kind of conflict will begin the change in your main character?)
— What type of resolution your story’s genre will have in store in the climax of the story for your character/s?

21. A “set piece” — a moment in the story that the reader or the viewer can see coming.

22. Neil advises every writer to study each novel they read in their genre thoroughly and analyse the structure of those novels.

23. Always try to give your readers something they are not expecting.

24. Your antagonist is a vital part of your story, and no story can move forward without conflict, which means that your antagonist should be at least as well developed as your main character.

27. Neil’s character development approach:

— He listens and trusts his characters, which requires flexibility and acceptance of the fact that the character’s wants may move the story in the direction the writer didn’t expect at the start of the writing process.
— Neil does the character research by going out and meeting people.

As a writer, you should know which of those approaches to go with and when.

29. Writer’s job requires them to discover a space that will help them to understand the character/s they have created.

30. Try to make your minor characters distinctive by giving them different traits:

— Physical quirks
— Verbal style

— A memorable name
— Extended metaphor
— Past event
— Last appearance in the story

31. Short stories allow you to take a risk and come up with ideas that maybe wouldn’t have worked in a whole novel.

32. While creating a short story, what you want to do is to head the climax of the story, while still conveying enough information for the reader to understand the story.

33. When you start writing your story, it’s important to write freely and not pay attention to your inner critic. You will have time to edit your story later.

34. In traditional storytelling, each scene has a turn, which means the emotions of the scene change to its opposite from positive to negative, or from negative to positive.

Read Neil Gaiman, the Author of the Sandman and American Gods, Shares His Writing Wisdom (part 1)

Filed under: writers, Writing, writing tips

About the Author

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Magda Olchawska is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer and screenwriter. She writes not only about making films and writing but also about financially independent and sustainable lifestyle. Her current projects include Ecotopia Universe and School Runs.

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