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CourtneyC
10-22-2013, 11:45 PM
I'm starting my 2nd MS. First one got as far as a full read by one of my top agents, but she declined saying she wasn't as emotionally attached at the end as she would have liked.

So! Onward to project 2. I started it with an idea about the world/rules in which the story is set. Then I did a rough sketch of my main character and his sidekick. Then I thought of some fabulous one-liners and scene vignettes on opening, inciting incident, and climax. Then I came up with an intriguing and kick-a$$ title. Then I started to plug it into a basic story structure to work out the timeline and necessary scenes/conflict...and hit a brick wall.

I realize I don't have an antagonist. I don't have a good character arc. I don't have any subplots or side characters. This happened on project 1, but I soldiered through and came up with some wonderfully three-dimensional characters, side plots, wounds for all POV characters, a bad guy, and what I thought was a satisfying/surprise ending. But, something fell flat there somewhere. I hope my second effort will be more successful, but I'm not sure what I've learned that will help me in my second attempt.

It started me thinking what skill set one needs to do this well. I think we can all Google around and find the template/recipe for a hero's journey or basic story structure, as well as do some requisite research on geography/history/factoids to sprinkle in for realism. But there is so much more:

1. You have to write well. So, an English degree helps here.

2. You have to think up surprise twists and turns. Perhaps a propensity toward riddles, clues, mysteries. Maybe an understanding of criminal behavior?

3. You have to have lots of empathy to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Perhaps a debate background?

4. You would probably do well to have a psychology degree to understand motives and character growth and how past wounds lead to present behavior.

5. You have to have some business sense to conduct yourself professionally at conferences, writing query letters, etc.

6. You have to be able to tell a story so well that you keep your audience hooked the whole time. Doling out only enticing bits of info. at just the right time in the story. So either you are yourself an outgoing person or you are very observant of what it takes to draw and keep a crowd interested.

I've tried dissecting successful works in my genre, but I can't say that's really helped me.

What do you all think?

Karen Junker
10-22-2013, 11:49 PM
Sometimes the most successful authors are people who never finished school and are stay at home moms who started telling the stories of their hearts.

virtue_summer
10-22-2013, 11:58 PM
I think some of the skills you listed are right, though you don't need to acquire them in a specific way and the importance of some of them depends upon genre (you don't generally need to understand criminals if you're not writing about criminals, and not all genres require twisty plots, for example). I'd add:



Perseverance (especially given the lack of immediate gratification)
Willingness to risk rejection (whether from agents, editors, readers, or critics)

Alitriona
10-23-2013, 12:20 AM
As already said, many writers never finished school, never mind held a 3rd level degree. If only psychologists can write interesting stories or best sellers, why are there so many best sellers from people who aren't?

Any person in any job should be able to act professionally, that's not confined to authors. Many authors, like myself, are introverted and don't consider it a hindrance.

The only one I agree with is 3.

chickenma
10-23-2013, 12:31 AM
Alas. My have only my 65 years of thumps and bumps, loves, laughter, writing copy, reading books and going to movies. Age doesn't guarantee talent or wisdom - if you've found a shortcut, good on ya! As the I-Ching says, "Persistence furthers."

Kerosene
10-23-2013, 12:31 AM
1. You have to write well. So, an English degree helps here.
Earning the degree and hanging it on you wall will not make your writing better--it's like saying, my $300 keyboard causes me to have ssel ytpoes. The courses and curriculum might make you a better writer if you take advantage of of your time and studies, but you don't need a degree to be a writer at all, let alone a great one.


2. You have to think up surprise twists and turns. Perhaps a propensity toward riddles, clues, mysteries. Maybe an understanding of criminal behavior?
No you don't. If your story calls for it, perhaps.


3. You have to have lots of empathy to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Perhaps a debate background?
Again, no. You might need to empathize, but there's no set story that needs you to do so.


4. You would probably do well to have a psychology degree to understand motives and character growth and how past wounds lead to present behavior.
Again, don't need a degree. Studying psychology might help you there, but most psychology that is presenting in books is basic stuff that you can figure out without knowing much about psychology. Getting into the deeper paths of psychology for writing is a waste of time.


5. You have to have some business sense to conduct yourself professionally at conferences, writing query letters, etc.
No you don't. Some do, because that's the path they take. Some don't.


All of the above, just no. You don't. Period.


6. You have to be able to tell a story so well that you keep your audience hooked the whole time. Doling out only enticing bits of info. at just the right time in the story.
Pretty much... wait a sec:


So either you are yourself an outgoing person or you are very observant of what it takes to draw and keep a crowd interested.
No... no... most writers I know are not outgoing, nor very observant, and they are still able to keep the reader's attention.


The skills needed vary from person to person, from what luck you have at the time, and whatever other variables there are. There's no set path, no set skills to become a successful writer.

EDIT: IMO, if you want to a degree that might help you with your writing, take a general studies degree at your local CC. Focus on literature, sociology, psychology, public speaking, history, and anything more that interests you. Afterward, look into taking your associate arts to a university where you can specialize in a field that interests you.

DeleyanLee
10-23-2013, 12:42 AM
1. You have to write well. So, an English degree helps here.

Actually, an English degree is great if you want to analyze fiction that is already extant. I haven't noticed it helping anyone actually write better.

The best way to learn how to write well is to read a lot, then read some more, then to keep reading. By exposing yourself to good writing, you're tuning your "inner ear" so you know when it sounds right, feels right, instead of falling back on "rules" someone thought up somewhen that really don't matter when creating the work.


2. You have to think up surprise twists and turns. Perhaps a propensity toward riddles, clues, mysteries. Maybe an understanding of criminal behavior?

How about this take on it: You have to be able to ask questions in the course of your story that readers will keep reading in order to find the answers to. That only takes an awareness of what kinds of questions you, your friends, your family, people around you will go out of their way to find the answers to.


3. You have to have lots of empathy to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Perhaps a debate background?

IME, it's not a matter of empathy. It's a matter of honesty, especially with and about yourself.

A character is the vehicle by which the reader experiences the story. The writer needs to draw on their own life experiences, their history, their background, the things they know, love and fear and translate those into those of the character. Not what you think or feel a person should do in any given situation, but what a person honestly has done--for good or ill--in that kind of situation. It's that honest that makes a reader connect with that character, IMO.


4. You would probably do well to have a psychology degree to understand motives and character growth and how past wounds lead to present behavior.

Again, I disagree for a couple reasons. 1) No one can understand why everyone will do anything they might do. No psychologist is going to live long enough to do that much study. 2) It doesn't matter. Real life people are always 2000% more batshite crazy than fictional characters are allowed to be. (Fiction being a reflection or commentary on real life, after all.) As long the author sells it well, the reader will accept it, perhaps muse on it later, and keep reading.


5. You have to have some business sense to conduct yourself professionally at conferences, writing query letters, etc.

Having been to many with zero business sense or training, my experience is that as long as you're polite, have basic manners, a modicum of common sense, and don't trust blindly, you'll do well enough until you can hire a professional (lawyer or agent) to help you out.


6. You have to be able to tell a story so well that you keep your audience hooked the whole time. Doling out only enticing bits of info. at just the right time in the story. So either you are yourself an outgoing person or you are very observant of what it takes to draw and keep a crowd interested.

First thing I agree in general, though I'd say you have to be not only observant (I'd drop the very), but you ask questions to yourself and build stories around what you observe. ;)


What do you all think?

I think it depends on what you mean by "success", honestly. My personal bar for success appears to be different than yours--I don't require an agent or traditional publisher to hit that mark. But, then, I know the kinds of things I like to write are generally too "niche" for most traditional publishers to notice, so, there we go.

However, the essence of telling a good story remains pretty much the same, but I've known far too many people who have nothing of the things you've listed here and have had a grand level of success (NYT bestseller kind of success). IME, it's not the amount of education that makes the difference--it's the amount of your humanity that you put into it that makes the big difference.

Jamesaritchie
10-23-2013, 02:12 AM
The first two things you need are talent self-discipline, and a strong work ethic. But there is no doubt that everything you list gives you an advantage. Just because this writer or that writer may not have a degree does not mean a degree isn't helpful. It's every bit as helpful as the person who gets it makes it. Education always matters, and if you don't get a formal degree, you'll need to give yourself the same education informally. Few are willing to do this.

And I think dissecting works does help, but not immediately, at least for most. What you dissect needs to simmer a while in the subconscious muck, and then emerge on its own.

Which example is the wisest to follow, the way a tiny few succeed, or the way the large majority manages to be successful?

dangerousbill
10-23-2013, 03:23 AM
What do you all think?

Skill set?

1. Persistence, to push ahead with a story even on days when you have a headache and everything is telling you to take the day off writing.

2. Knowing what kind of writer you are, the kind who can launch into the unknown without a plan, the kind who must have a meticulous, thoroughly detailed plan before starting, or somewhere in between.

3. A basic knowledge of the mechanics of writing: spelling, grammar, story structure, and the wisdom to know when to break the rules.

4. The ability to build characters in your head, from real people and fictional characters, and to animate them so they take over the business of storytelling.

4a. (corollary) The ability to empathize: Why did Hitler love children and dogs? Why is your relative so nasty to you? Why is the other relative so nice to you?

5. The ability to read and absorb technique from the works of others.

6. The ability to absorb critiques of your work and take from them what you want, and forgive the rest.

Terie
10-23-2013, 11:21 AM
1. You have to write well. So, an English degree helps here.

English degree courses don't teach you how to write. They teach you how to analyse and write academically about stuff you read. A creative writing degree can help, but as others have said, it's very much not a requirement.

Many bestselling authors don't have degrees at all, and those that do are often (I'd even venture to say 'mostly') in subjects other than English. Archeology and History are great for fantasy writers while Political Science is great for politial thriller writers, Police Studies is great for detective and mystery writers, and so on.

Anyway, the point is that an English degree won't necessarily teach one to write well, as that's not the point of an English degree.

seun
10-23-2013, 01:20 PM
I have no degrees and sod all qualifications. The only business sense I have comes from the 9-5 jobs (four) I've had over the last eighteen years. I'm outgoing with people I know. Put me with a group of strangers and expect me to be outgoing or even interesting? Not happening.

I've been writing for as long as I can remember and have published three books, a bit of poetry and several short stories.

Make of all that what you will.

Cathy C
10-23-2013, 03:28 PM
I can see you're trying to think about this logically. To an extent, logic can help. Unfortunately, some of your correlations are faulty.



1. You have to write well. So, an English degree helps here.

Writing well is a requirement, that much is true. But a degree isn't necessarily the only path. Continual self-study is another method. Textbooks and other learning tools aren't only available to enrolled students. ;)


2. You have to think up surprise twists and turns. Perhaps a propensity toward riddles, clues, mysteries. Maybe an understanding of criminal behavior?

Never hurts if you plan to write mysteries or crime novels. Again, study textbooks and other information on the subject.


3. You have to have lots of empathy to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Perhaps a debate background?

I can't see where lack of empathy would prevent success in the writing process. There are a thousand things I have no way to empathize with, because I've never done the job, or lived the situation. But that doesn't mean I can't write it.


4. You would probably do well to have a psychology degree to understand motives and character growth and how past wounds lead to present behavior.

Again, studying the process through textbooks or articles will give you great insight into the psychology of an antagonist.


5. You have to have some business sense to conduct yourself professionally at conferences, writing query letters, etc.


This is definitely true. Writing queries is a completely different skill set than writing fiction. But again, self-study is the cure to this.


6. You have to be able to tell a story so well that you keep your audience hooked the whole time. Doling out only enticing bits of info. at just the right time in the story. So either you are yourself an outgoing person or you are very observant of what it takes to draw and keep a crowd interested.

Learning to observe is definitely a good tool to have in any writer's cabinet.
It takes practice.


I've tried dissecting successful works in my genre, but I can't say that's really helped me.

Then you're not doing it right. Understanding successful books in your genre is the single biggest method to achieve your own success. How do you define "dissecting?" How did you learn the process of what to look for?

KTC
10-23-2013, 04:38 PM
I'm a high school dropout with no learned skill sets to really speak of. I don't plan anything when I write. I have a terrible business sense. I'm pretty much emotionally dead...or, so I've been told.

I guess I'll hang up the quill.

Marian Perera
10-23-2013, 04:53 PM
1. You have to write well. So, an English degree helps here.

No English degree here. I majored in microbiology.


2. Perhaps a propensity toward riddles, clues, mysteries. Maybe an understanding of criminal behavior?

I like reading true crime books. I don't know if that's given me an understanding of criminal behavior, but I usually don't write about criminals. I write about people who feel justified in their chosen course of action, even if that course of action is very wrong.


3. You have to have lots of empathy to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Perhaps a debate background?

I used to debate religion on the web a lot when I was younger, but that's the extent of my debating skills.

Mostly, what helped me to see matters from someone else's perspective was reading rather than debating.


4. You would probably do well to have a psychology degree to understand motives and character growth and how past wounds lead to present behavior.

Well, I took some psychology courses in college and really enjoyed social psych and abnormal psych, but it's been a while.


6. So either you are yourself an outgoing person or you are very observant of what it takes to draw and keep a crowd interested.

I'm definitely not an outgoing person.

Now I'll get back to writing.

bearilou
10-23-2013, 05:21 PM
Understanding of story structure
Read widely
Write regularly
Watch and listen with a critical eye/ear
Perseverence
Persistence
Grounding in your strengths and weaknesses as a writer
Ability to make figures out of pipe cleaners and googly eyes
Set of 120 color crayons

EMaree
10-23-2013, 05:24 PM
I'm a high school dropout with no learned skill sets to really speak of. I don't plan anything when I write. I have a terrible business sense. I'm pretty much emotionally dead...or, so I've been told.

I guess I'll hang up the quill.

High school drop out here, too, and I can still spin a good tale. Award-winning UK YA writer Keith Gray is another drop-out.

The education system isn't a one-size-fits-all affair. If it works for you and degrees improve our life, that's great, but plenty of people can't afford degrees or don't mesh with the social atmosphere.

Her are the skills I think you need to be a writer:

1. Willingness to learn and improve.
2. The ability to finish what you start.
3. Perseverance.

LBlankenship
10-23-2013, 05:45 PM
The way I see it, writing comes down to being a student of human nature. Innate curiosity, a gut-level understanding of grammar, and the courage to speak your mind & heart fill out the skill set.

IMO.

quicklime
10-23-2013, 06:04 PM
1. You have to write well. So, an English degree helps here.
I am not even being hyperbolic when I say some of the most god-awful writing I have ever seen, complete with a passage about "lapping the nectar from my female flower," came from an English major. It did. Some of the best writing I have seen also came from English majors...but some also came from doctors and guys who worked in warehouses and soccer-moms.

You have to write well. An English degree does not assure that, and a lack of one doesn't preclude it.

2. You have to think up surprise twists and turns. Perhaps a propensity toward riddles, clues, mysteries. Maybe an understanding of criminal behavior? depends what you're writing....and there's always a caveat (or six)....in this case, that an over-devotion to twists and turns, at the expense of a story, can make you a far worse writer instead of a better one, until you manage to harness that.

3. You have to have lots of empathy to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Perhaps a debate background? or to be able to fake it....I'm not sure debate equals empathy regardless, but have you ever heard of Ted Bundy? He was a well-liked up-and-comer in the Florida Republican party, among other things, a charming guy....who also liked to kill people. Ted knew all about darkness, but he could fake the light. I'd take Ted to write a story over any of the dozens of very sweet bleeding hearts I can find on State Street here any given day who are plenty empathetic.....but unable to understand entire slices of humanity, or pretend that they do.

4. You would probably do well to have a psychology degree to understand motives and character growth and how past wounds lead to present behavior. some understanding of human nature is always helpful. but this is like the english degree.....cops know people. Salespeople know people. Moms know people. Psych majors don't have a monopoly on understanding human nature.....and some with the degree still don't, which is how you can get actual medical "professionals" running camps where they fully believe they will "cure" homosexuals, for example.

5. You have to have some business sense to conduct yourself professionally at conferences, writing query letters, etc. no. You have to conduct yourself as a professional. That's all. And sadly, even that isn't always a requirement, alhough it certainly helps.

6. You have to be able to tell a story so well that you keep your audience hooked the whole time. Doling out only enticing bits of info. at just the right time in the story. So either you are yourself an outgoing person or you are very observant of what it takes to draw and keep a crowd interested.

I've tried dissecting successful works in my genre, but I can't say that's really helped me.

What do you all think?


honestly, and with all the red above you probably just think i'm a contrarian, I think the list is flawed. To be a good writer, you have to write well. To write well, you have to have a sense of pacing, of human nature, and if I was going to suggest any one thing, you have to be willing to EDIT. Ruthlessly. But yeah...to be a writer you have to be able to write well, and finish well.

Will the above help with that? they may, but in many cases they may not....and in most cases, the attributes don't promise the payoffs you seem to think they do.

Just write. And be willing to be critical about it. You don't need two degrees, a bunch of extracurriculars, and time in a business. You need to write, and to learn as you go.

Phaeal
10-23-2013, 06:24 PM
I like thinking about the "good signs, the marks of a true vocation" for novel writing that Christopher Derrick notes in his Reader's Report (The Writing of Novels):

1. Staying power, the ability to do sustained work over a long period; the ability to keep at it in sunny moods and black, not relying on flash-in-the-pan enthusiasm.

2. A habit of fascinated attention to the human individual.

3. A habitual particularity of attention. He should be interested in the isolated case, the unique happening, rather than in general abstractions and broad principles -- he should be obsessed by the unique and astonishing qulaity that resides in everybody and everything.

4. The gifts for large-scale structural engineering in words. (A keen sensitivity for language at any scale, a drive toward Flaubert's infamous mot juste, is also important, but applies to all literary production, from the aphorism and haiku up.) These gifts are those of a craftsman, who doesn't just SAY something but MAKES it.

5. A lively and interesting mind, without which one's productions may be technically sound yet dead.

These are traits of temperment and intellect, innate though capable of strengthening through education and practice. Number Five is the tough one, addressing a distressingly ineffable problem the reader and editor sometimes encounter: Well, I can't say exactly why this story doesn't do it -- technically it's okay -- but I'm just not excited or invested. Some kind of spark is missing. Hence that staple of the slush pile reader: This didn't work for me?

Something there. But 1-4, I'm totally with.

jimmymc
10-23-2013, 06:40 PM
Ala Lawrence Block, the prerequisite for being a great writer, is to be able to tell convincing lies. I'm impeccably qualified.

keston925
10-23-2013, 08:08 PM
This scares me. I am terrible at English. I barely graduated from High School (barely, because I hated English and could care less about the subject at the age of 17!).

I never ever wanted to write a book, I never dreamed I could.

The circumstances in my life compelled me to want to touch other people with my daughters story, maybe save lives in more ways than one and at least make people think twice. I was the only one who could do it.



So I sat down on my computer and the book literally flowed out of me in a matter of weeks. It was like someone took over my body and brain.

CourtneyC
10-23-2013, 08:55 PM
Thanks to you all for weighing in.

I was feeling pretty dejected when I posted that, mulling over how much it takes to write a book. Some of the skills come easy for me, and others I wrestle with. I actually had an epiphany last night when I realized my story has no antagonist because the conflict of my main storyline is man vs. self.

Then, later I was watching a reality show on TV and one of the players had a chat about his feelings of guilt with someone, and that gave me an "AH HA!" moment about what might be driving my character's arc. Having an idea about that helped me nail down his motivation and how he then hurts others and gave me some kernels of ideas on subplots and minor characters which I've spent this morning fleshing out. I'm already in a better head-space on what was frustrating me.

Other than the English degree, I don't have the other formal education or background myself. (Quick, I hearby issue an apology on behalf of all English majors for the female flower nectar analogy.) But, it seems a little imagination, and willingness to continue to wrestle with those missing pieces--and heck, watching a bit of reality TV--seems to have gotten me past the mental block I was having.

bearilou
10-23-2013, 09:34 PM
But, it seems a little imagination, and willingness to continue to wrestle with those missing pieces--and heck, watching a bit of reality TV--seems to have gotten me past the mental block I was having.

Don't forget your pipe cleaners.

ArachnePhobia
10-24-2013, 06:09 AM
Understanding of story structure
Read widely
Write regularly
Watch and listen with a critical eye/ear
Perseverence
Persistence
Grounding in your strengths and weaknesses as a writer
Ability to make figures out of pipe cleaners and googly eyes
Set of 120 color crayons


I find this essential. I'll have to try the pipe-cleaner thing, though. I'd used creepy rag dolls.

oakbark
10-24-2013, 09:55 AM
1. You have to write well. So, an English degree helps here.

2. You have to think up surprise twists and turns. Perhaps a propensity toward riddles, clues, mysteries. Maybe an understanding of criminal behavior?

3. You have to have lots of empathy to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Perhaps a debate background?

4. You would probably do well to have a psychology degree to understand motives and character growth and how past wounds lead to present behavior.

5. You have to have some business sense to conduct yourself professionally at conferences, writing query letters, etc.

6. You have to be able to tell a story so well that you keep your audience hooked the whole time. Doling out only enticing bits of info. at just the right time in the story. So either you are yourself an outgoing person or you are very observant of what it takes to draw and keep a crowd interested.

I've tried dissecting successful works in my genre, but I can't say that's really helped me.

What do you all think?

I disagree with the need for any of this.

Here's my list
1) Be able to read and write.
2) Be somewhat observant about how people behave and curious about the why of it - without ANY judgement.
3) Be stubborn
4) Read a lot

Unless you are writing stuff like hardcore techno SF, you don't really need any education at all.

NR 2 in the list is what I consider the most important. Studying people is something that can be practised.

A favorite exercise of mine is if I spot a person (on tv, downtown, in a mag, whatever) that makes some form of impression - could be a moondancing alley drunk, a stressed mother with 5 kids and a dog, a fat cop, a smiling politician on a billboard.. yes all of those exists all over.. if one of them gets my attention I keep that fleeting image and try to visualize what their life really is like behind the superficial impression.

Obviously, the politician can't be smiling all the time. The mother with 5 kids - deep down, underneath the brave facade or the endless FB twittering superficiality of my feet hurt I'm so tired.. what is her life really like? what was it, and what might it be in 20 years?

What really separates humans from all other beings is our incredible ability to bury stuff and willfully "forget" all about it. Squirrels may forget a stash here and there - that is nada! because we know how to easily file away emotions.

Life is tragedy. There are different levels of it, but even the most perfect life, full of love, compassion, fulfillment, contains at least equal amounts of dashed hopes and buried stuff.

There is a story everywhere and in everyone. If you need a antag, pick the first passerby you see and give them secrets that bump into your protag.

Anyway.. in choosing between introspective and outgoing, the former probably makes it easier to be a writer.

Ken
10-24-2013, 02:25 PM
... successful writers vary so much.
There is common ground, but differences are still vast.
Odd combinations work that shouldn't.
Great combinations fail that shouldn't.
Not to say some sense can't be made out of it all.
Cool you made an attempt. Your list seems sensible enough.

EMaree
10-24-2013, 02:31 PM
Thanks to you all for weighing in.

I was feeling pretty dejected when I posted that, mulling over how much it takes to write a book. Some of the skills come easy for me, and others I wrestle with. I actually had an epiphany last night when I realized my story has no antagonist because the conflict of my main storyline is man vs. self.

[...]

Other than the English degree, I don't have the other formal education or background myself. (Quick, I hearby issue an apology on behalf of all English majors for the female flower nectar analogy.) But, it seems a little imagination, and willingness to continue to wrestle with those missing pieces--and heck, watching a bit of reality TV--seems to have gotten me past the mental block I was having.

Glad you're in a better headspace and that this thread helped you out. :)

BethS
10-24-2013, 06:22 PM
1. You have to write well. So, an English degree helps here.

It may help, but it's certainly not any kind of a requirement. One of my top favorite authors--who can write stunningly lyrical prose--has degrees in the hard sciences.




3. You have to have lots of empathy to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Perhaps a debate background?


I don't think the ability to debate has anything to do with empathy. It does require the ability to argue a point from any side of a given issue, but that's not the same as having empathy.

Rather, I think the ability to role play is what's crucial to writing. ETA: This is where Bearilou's pipe cleaners come in handy...



4. You would probably do well to have a psychology degree to understand motives and character growth and how past wounds lead to present behavior.


You don't need a psychology degree for that. Just eyes in your head and the perception to see past the obvious.



6. You have to be able to tell a story so well that you keep your audience hooked the whole time. Doling out only enticing bits of info. at just the right time in the story.

Now this you need. But the most introverted of introverts can be a good storyteller on paper, which believe me, is a different skill set from being a raconteur.

Perhaps taking some workshops or reading some good books on craft would be helpful to you. From the sound of it (at least, based on the agent's remark), character arcs may be at the heart of your problem. For that, I highly recommend Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

James D. Macdonald
10-24-2013, 06:25 PM
There's only one skill set: The ability to sit in a chair and type 'til you're done, then actually submit the thing.

Christyp
10-24-2013, 06:54 PM
Sometimes the most successful authors are people who never finished school and are stay at home moms who started telling the stories of their hearts.

I thought I asked you not to talk about me. lol Just kidding. You're right, though. JK Rowling, and Stephanie Meyer are too such success stories! (regardless of how you feel about Twilight, homegirl made a poop load of money from it)

I'm a high school dropout (yes, I got my GED) but not because I sucked at school (top 15% of the nation). I dropped out because I had to work and help my mom pay the bills or we would have been hungry and/or homeless. I've been telling stories/writing since I read Charlotte's Web at six years old and have no degrees. While my books may sometimes not be the best prose or have perfect grammar, the stories are what are in my heart!

BethS
10-24-2013, 06:56 PM
Understanding of story structure
Read widely
Write regularly
Watch and listen with a critical eye/ear
Perseverence
Persistence
Grounding in your strengths and weaknesses as a writer
Ability to make figures out of pipe cleaners and googly eyes
Set of 120 color crayons


Especially the crayons (http://thestoneriver.blogspot.com/2008/11/color-your-world.html)!

Norman D Gutter
10-24-2013, 06:58 PM
To correctly answer this question, you would need to define success. But setting that aside, I would say only three skills are necessary for a writer to produce material that is capable of success.

- Good language usage. Education required, but not necessarily a degree.
- Good storytelling. Understanding stories required, but not necessarily a degree.
- Wordsmithing ability. Depends more on experience, obtained from reading, assimilating, and writing, than from education.

I see wordsmithing as different from language mastery. Language mastery is knowing the rules of the language required to communicate. Wordsmithing is another level up, the ability to say in ten words what others need paragraphs to say, and to say it more descriptively.

NDG

Wilde_at_heart
10-24-2013, 07:13 PM
Number 1: The ability to construct coherent sentences.

Number 2: Discipline to get something actually written. I've met a lot of 'writers' in writing groups who said they had ten chapters fleshed out and when I asked to see it, they pointed to their head and said 'it's still up here'. No. You are only a writer if you actually write.

Number 3: Problem-solving skills and an ability to think laterally. The old (blargh!) thinking outside the box.

Number 4: An ability to edit for grammar and spelling beyond just making it coherent, and a wide, flexible vocabulary and a willingness to cut-cut-cut to avoid being repetitive.

Number 5: Being able to engage people and hold their interest (i.e. story-telling). Being able to do it in person helps, but isn't necessary.

Number 6: Willingness to take risks. Everything from taking chances within a story to putting it 'out there' even if someone might hate it and think you're a terrible person.

Number 7: An ear for dialogue and rhythm in language. An ability to describe something or have characters hold a conversation that doesn't prompt the reader to chuck the book across the room.

Number 8: perseverance

Number 9: Balancing critical feedback that is necessary for you develop into a better writer with trusting your own vision of how something should be.

Number 10: Being able to admit you're not perfect or an instant genius and other people might actually be right about something when they point out some flaw or something that needs work.



Understanding of story structure
Read widely
Write regularly
Watch and listen with a critical eye/ear
Perseverence
Persistence
Grounding in your strengths and weaknesses as a writer
Ability to make figures out of pipe cleaners and googly eyes
Set of 120 color crayons


THAT's what I'm missing. Of course! Crayons. Off to Target.

TheNighSwan
10-24-2013, 09:18 PM
I kind of wonder about the "read a lot" advice; I know it's a very common one to the point of being cliché, but, when I picture someone who "reads a lot", I imagine a person who grabs every single book they hear about (so generally the most popular/current ones) and read them all, the good, the average, the bad, and the dreadful ones alike.

But if everything we read influences our writing, it means bad books influence it badly.

My personal experience is that I don't read a lot (for a writer, compared to an average person, I do read a fair number of books), simply because I can't (I'm a slow reader and reading quickly makes me tired); knowing this, I select the books I read *very* carefully, taking my reading advices from a very small number of select people; if I pick up a book that wasn't advised by someone, it's generally a classic I heard about on multiple occasions. I read very few contemporary authors, and those are generally people whom I first heard about and learned to know through other media, people that have convinced me through what they had to say that they could indeed be good writers.

So this way, I mostly read (or at least I believe I do, of course I could be deluded) very good books, and I see this having a *substantive* impact on my writing —because of course I compare my writing to theirs, and I can say "this is not enough, I can do better", and struggle to do so.

So I spent the better part of last year reading a 1300 pages novel written in the 40s. And not only this was awesome, but I feel like this contributed more to my own writing than all the fantasy/sci-fi books I've read during my teenage years [not saying these books were bad, saying this one is really awesome].

Ok so I'm just rambling, but yeah;

TL-DR: I feel it's more important to read a high proportion of very good books than it is to read a lot of books.

oakbark
10-24-2013, 11:27 PM
I kind of wonder about the "read a lot" advice; I know it's a very common one to the point of being cliché, but, when I picture someone who "reads a lot", I imagine a person who grabs every single book they hear about (so generally the most popular/current ones) and read them all, the good, the average, the bad, and the dreadful ones alike.

But if everything we read influences our writing, it means bad books influence it badly.

I read a lot and as you say, the good, the average and the dreadful. If I'm reading something I feel is good I will usually read slower and savor it. If the book sucks, I'll skim it. In both instances I will take note of what it is that creates my reaction. The bad books are often quite easy to tell why they suck.. the good ones are quite a bit more difficult to analyze.

I do not agree that bad books offer bad influence. As long as you can tell that they are bad - the effect should be good :D

gingerwoman
10-24-2013, 11:27 PM
Can people please stop saying that an English degree isn't a requirement. I have two (M.A.) so I'd like to fantasize that they are useful for something.

Ken
10-24-2013, 11:39 PM
... would really like to take an English class in grammar.
Maybe a two-part one: basic and advanced.
That would be beneficial I believe.
It must be so neat to be able to deconstruct sentences and name all the
different parts like some here are able to do.
So I, for one, admire your dual degrees, Ginger !

Wilde_at_heart
10-25-2013, 12:01 AM
Can people please stop saying that an English degree isn't a requirement. I have two (M.A.) so I'd like to fantasize that they are useful for something.

I took a few English courses in University? :Shrug:

bearilou
10-25-2013, 12:30 AM
TL-DR: I feel it's more important to read a high proportion of very good books than it is to read a lot of books.

And it's this bit of advice that has me stumped.

What is a good book? Can you give me an objective list of good books? Can anyone? Where is this list of 'good books' that everyone can agree on?

Meaning, while sometimes good vs. bad is pretty obvious, sometimes it's not. What is not good for me is someone else's good.

Wilde_at_heart
10-25-2013, 12:47 AM
And it's this bit of advice that has me stumped.

What is a good book? Can you give me an objective list of good books? Can anyone? Where is this list of 'good books' that everyone can agree on?

Meaning, while sometimes good vs. bad is pretty obvious, sometimes it's not. What is not good for me is someone else's good.

Exactly. Any search of 'most over-rated' will bring up differing lists of literary classics that some people absolutely loathe. I read fairly broadly yet quite often I'll see people mention seminal works or authors of this or that genre that I've never even heard of.

Some people find reading 'great' books discouraging, or they find reading 'crap' books is what motivates them to try, thinking they have to be better than that, at least.

I don't see reading as a skill set anyway, unless you're reading critically. And who wants to do that, constantly? You can even parse the basics of story-telling by how well (or badly) someone tells a joke.

Jim Riley
10-25-2013, 01:25 AM
My two cents:

1. Discipline to keep writing
2. Discipline to learn
3. Discipline to write more

TheNighSwan
10-25-2013, 01:26 AM
Well as I said, my method to get a lot of good books (good for me, of course) is to be very picky and to read almost exclusively the favorite books of my favorite writers.

I'm not saying everyone should do that, and only that, but so far this method of chosing my books has proven extremely rewarding for me, and has lead me to discover some obscure but great writers I wasn't even aware of the existence, and that I would never have found about if I had taken the simple route of just reading everything that happens to fall toward me.

Ninja-edit: and you'll notice this method is completely independent of genre and official lists of literary classics; some of my favorite authors, although not recent, are hardly considered classic either.

virtue_summer
10-25-2013, 03:08 AM
I kind of wonder about the "read a lot" advice; I know it's a very common one to the point of being cliché, but, when I picture someone who "reads a lot", I imagine a person who grabs every single book they hear about (so generally the most popular/current ones) and read them all, the good, the average, the bad, and the dreadful ones alike.That's interesting. When I hear "read a lot" and when I say it, I imagine someone who reads often. And I don't make any assumptions about what kinds of books they're reading. I say I read a lot because I spend a lot of time reading (especially now that I don't own a TV). Meanwhile I don't read all the most popular books. I'm not interested in all of them. And I don't read every book I see. Again, not all appeal to me. Yet I rarely run out of things to read.


I feel it's more important to read a high proportion of very good books than it is to read a lot of books.
I agree that reading good books is important (and I'm defining good as books that appeal to your own sensibilities in terms of what you enjoy) because as a writer it helps you zero in on what you enjoy and study how authors you admire did things. But I think it's also important to be open to trying new authors and stories, and in order to do that you have to be willing to accept that sometimes what you're reading might not be so great. And then you can at least figure out what you didn't like about it and avoid doing that in your own writing so you don't annoy your own readers the way that author annoyed you. And the more stories you're exposed to the more you see the possibilities in terms of what can be done.

BethS
10-25-2013, 03:31 AM
Can people please stop saying that an English degree isn't a requirement. I have two (M.A.) so I'd like to fantasize that they are useful for something.

Sorry! :) I have a degree in English myself and I credit it with broadening my horizons and teaching me to think analytically about fiction and poetry.

Useful, definitely! Necessary? No.

Girl Friday
10-25-2013, 09:31 AM
The only 'skills' I think you need are:

1) Read a lot
2) Finish what you write
3) Want to learn and improve
4) Don't give up

And to be a great writer, I think you need:

5) A way of looking at the world that is uniquely your own

redsoxboy123
10-26-2013, 07:40 AM
^^^^ Agreed