Tip Cauldron Writing Advice by Jane & Mari

Welcome to a brand-new edition of our agon- I mean, advice column! Today we’re tackling a few seasonal topics, like pantsing and #Preptober (how’s your NaNoWriMo going, by the way?), along with a couple more general ones, like writing numbers and starting a book. Read on to find out which juicy secrets we’ve brewed up in our Cauldron this time – and remember, the tips provided may or may not work as advertised…

What do you need before writing a book?

That is a question you could be writing literal books about, but I’ll try to keep it short and simple based on my (Mari’s) ten-year experience as a hobbyist writer. This is what’s worked for me but please keep in mind writing advice will never be universal!

Now – in order to figure out you need, you first have to figure out where you wanna get. I’d say a writer’s biggest goal is finishing a story once the initial idea hatches in their brain. So, how do you finish a story? This depends on each individual’s process, but what I’ve found works best for me is structure, a modicum of discipline and an overflow of inspiration.

  • 1. Structure

Once an idea begins to take shape in your mind, it’s important to take stock of all its potential ramifications and decide on two things:

A) where does your story begin?
B) where does your story end?

Your story then essentially becomes getting from A to B. ‘A’ should give you the bare bones of a setting and the spirit of a protagonist. ‘B’ should give you a goal that needs to be achieved.

Personally, I don’t like planning too strictly because I feel a story is at its best when you let it develop a life of its own, but once I have a starting point and a finish line, the rest is a matter of arranging puzzle pieces. This is where discipline comes in…

  • 2. Discipline

With your basic outline ready, now you must begin to fill in the middle. If you’re a notebook addict like me, whip one out and start jotting down notes. Or just open up a separate document and do it on your device. Whatever works. The main point is to keep track of your ideas.

You may come up with a lot of things that you want to include in your story – that’s fantastic! Write them all down, but remember your goal. Does that really cool scene really help you reach your goal, or does it just bog down your narrative? Killing your darlings sucks, but sometimes, it’s necessary.

Also falling under ‘discipline’ is a schedule, which you’ll apply once you actually start writing, but before you do, try to figure out when is the best time for you to write. Evenings after work? Mornings before school? On your lunch break or during weekends? Pick a time slot and try to stick to it. Even when inspiration is not that generous…

  • 3. Inspiration

The final and perhaps most important (and elusive) aspect of starting a book – and finishing it – is probably inspiration. Or motivation. Inspovation. Yeah, sounds about right. Whatever you call it, we all know that feeling – an invisible force deep inside that makes your fingers itch.

Inspiration is a fickle beast, but you mustn’t let it control you. Once you have structure and discipline, inspiration can adapt. Pro tip: observe the world around you and examine your own feelings closely. Listen to music and watch movies and read books. Keep an open mind. Anything can serve as a springboard for your next great idea, so keep your eyes peeled and take notes.

Remember: you can always edit a bad page, but you can never edit a blank page. Just power through that first draft once you’ve got your outline and the puzzle pieces starting falling into place. Try to stick to your schedule, despite running low on inspovation. You got this. You just gotta start somewhere.

How to pants?

Pantsing, like plotting, is something I (Jane) consider ‘nature’ rather than ‘nurture’. You either have it in you or you don’t. You can try to learn it and learn to do it well, but you might never enjoy it as much as the type of writing that is your nature.

Now, pantsing isn’t one set way – it’s a spectrum. I’m on the more extreme end myself. When I start a story, I sometimes don’t even know my main character’s name. All I know is a basic concept. Everything else – side characters, worldbuilding, plots, and sideplots – comes as I go.

For example, with my current WIP, all I knew at the start was that my main character’s name was Xaray and that he is a hero who would be wrongly executed. I had no idea I’d get another narrator, a love interest for the both of them, a whole range of gods doing sneaky plans on the background, and a plethora of cool races I made up on the spot. And I love every word.

It’s important to note that I use the rule of cool to the max. It’s about the only rule I consistently follow and more or less worship. What is the rule of cool? you may ask. Well, it comes down to, ‘Do you think something is cool? Do it. Find a way to fit it into your story. Make it awesome.’ By doing this, I make my worlds and stories increasingly more exciting for myself. It keeps my love for worldbuilding flaming up, too.

So, how you pants? Just write. Let the words flow. Let them run like the wind without you hindering them. See where your imagination takes you and trust that it’ll be fine. After all, you can always edit afterwards. But the true freedom? That’s letting all the words out that want to be out.

When writing high fantasy, do you have to mention the entire world?

The answer to this really depends on the kind of story you’re writing. If your story takes place in a handful of close-by villages who have no contact with the outside world, not mentioning it is fine. In fact, mentioning it in detail would be weird. However, if you’re writing a story that takes place all over the world, the characters routinely travel, or the plot has to do with the entire world, it’d be strange not to mention the rest of the world.

Simply put, is it important to the plot and the story that the entire world is mentioned? If the answer is yes, go for it! If the answer is no, then don’t.

How to write numbers in dialogue?

Whether you’re writing dialogue or narrative, writing out numbers – or not! – follows the same rules. This set of rules differs per style guide, so the most important thing is to choose one and stick with it until the end of your book. The style that was taught to me is one I quite like and teach anyone who asks because it’s so simple and easy to remember.

The way it works is like this:
1-20: Completely written out
20-100: Every 10 written out
100-1,000: Every 100 written out
1,000-10,000: Every 1,000 written out
10,000-100,000: Every 10,000 written out

From here, you can guess how it works and where it goes. That’s why it’s so easy to remember and implement. Using this method, it’d be fifty and 55. However, if you like to go for it, you can write everything out, but this gets quite difficult in the thousands. And remember, consistency is key!

As for terms like “3D”, it’s an official name like “3DS”, meaning that you write it as it is. Now, if you were to write out the full name (three dimensional), you’d be writing out the number. The same goes for titles of songs, such as Summer of ’69. It’d be strange to suddenly change it to Summer of Sixty-Nine.

What is your Preptober process?

Perfect timing for this question, as this is the first time that I’m (Mari) doing NaNoWriMo! Well…unofficially – I haven’t signed up on the NaNoWriMo website – but I am trying to motivate myself to finally get my novel done in November.

Being new to all of this, I didn’t even know what Preptober meant – apparently it’s that pre-NaNoWriMo time of the year when you’re planning your novel. Convenient, or what?

I was determined to sketch an outline and everything for my novel’s third draft, but our teammates Ink and Ash did me one better and started a Preptober support group (now a NaNoWriMo Support group) which I’ve been trying to keep up with. So my process has been…that.

It essentially covers everything I’d been thinking of, and more. I need some semblance of structure before I start writing, so figuring out an outline was my first step: starting point, finishing line, some story beats along the middle.

Moreover, the prompts provided helped me ponder and deepen the idea of the conflict I had in my mind. I explored the whys and the hows to figure out which scenes go where – I mostly do out-of-sequence storytelling so even if I don’t set a plan down in stone, I need to keep track of major plot points and themes and their organization.

So, to sum up, my process has been:

  • figure out a beginning
  • figure out a (potential) ending
  • zoom in on the underlying conflict
  • brainstorm scenes that can drive said conflict home
  • arrange puzzle pieces of disjointed timeline in a way that is easy to follow

How do you uwu-ify your writing?

Glad you asked! Because, as it happens, we know of a valuable resource…Cwick hewe owo.


That’s all for today, folks! Thanks for tuning in and make sure you subscribe to our mailing list so you don’t miss our next column, going live December 4th!