The Bard is one of the most quoted writers to have ever existed. But unlike a lot of modern day authors, he never shared his wisdom on writing. Until now.
It takes a pretty close reading of his plays to realize that good ol’ Bill is really talking about writing in many instances, just a few of which I share below.
1. Know thyself.
Know what makes you the best writer, what you excel in, and what you love. Don’t attempt to write what’s “popular” or the newest fad, because your readers will be able to tell that it comes off forced and that your heart isn’t really in it. Write what you love, and accept that as yourself.
2. What is past is prologue.
Use prologues with extreme caution. A prologue is all too often a place for an author to dump a lot of information that has no place in the story to follow. I.e., a backstory dump. If yours tells the entire history of your epic fantasy setting, reconsider. Is there possibly another way to share that information? And, really, honestly, truly, is all that history needed?
3. Brevity is the soul of wit.
Be concise. Now even though I break this rule a lot in my own blog and writings, it’s a good reminder for everyone. If you can say something in four words yet you choose to say it in ten, why? Consider cutting those extra six words. Perhaps they will be the difference between gaining new readers, keeping the ones you have, or losing one.
4. We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
Calling all pantsers and plotters! It’s vital to have some idea of where you’re going with your novel before you get there. Outliners, you may know where you’re going, but maybe not the exact path to get there. Pantsers, you may not know where you’re going, but you’ll enjoy the journey there, and perhaps you have a loose idea in your head of the ending you want.
5. Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
All writers depend upon their readers for support. Even if you never share your writer with anyone except your spouse, a writer writes to share. You, as the author, should love everyone who is willing to read your book to completion. You don’t have to love all their opinions–that’s a different beast–but you should love them each for taking time to read your work. So love them, but don’t take all of their opinions as gold, they are going to disagree–with each other and with you at times. But don’t challenge them on its–after all, it’s their opinion.
6. The course of true love never did run smooth.
Conflict, conflict, conflict. Ahh, writers, the course of your plot should never be smooth. Your novel depends up on conflict, and your characters should never get what the desire too easily. They should struggle for it, be thwarted, and have to dust themselves off to try again. Rinse and repeat as desired.
7. Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.
Make your plot more exciting, rather than too little exciting. If you’re unsure about where a plot point should fall, err on the side of too early rather than too late. A reader is more likely to forgive a rushed plot than a slow plot.
8. A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
Once your novel has been completed, consider yourself a fool concerning it. The reader knows best in some instances–and trust your beta readers to show you where you can improve. This is why editors and beta readers are so important to authors–we are too close to our work to see the flaws and ambiguities; we need a fresh set of eyes and a fresh mind for the characters and plots in order to see the truth about them.
9. Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good-night till it be morrow.
Foreshadowing is a great thing in a novel. It creates tension that drags the reader further into the novel’s pages, making them turn the page when they know they should be sleeping, or washing the dishes, or picking up the kid from school. You want your reader to keep turning pages, and tension (i.e. conflict) does that in many ways. Yet this tension also creates a desire in your reader to not want to say good-bye. Book hangover–ever heard of it?
10. This above all: to thy own self be true.
Write what you love, not necessarily what you know. This is a biggie. Everyone has a subject they know that they can write about–but that doesn’t mean that they should write about that subject. Instead, ask yourself what you love, what you would be doing if you could do anything in the world (other than writing), and write about that. Write about the world you wish you lived in, rather than the one you do. Write about your heart’s desires; they are the desires of another’s as well.