Writing tips

Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation. In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand. Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed? ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’ It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true. Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!” Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’. Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure. Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’ Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience. Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people. If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Pick a good book and read it

You should read good books, says Nieveen, with an emphasis on good. Your writing’s only going to be as great as what you’re feeding it. So read. “You’re absorbing ideas. You're absorbing grammar. You're absorbing sentence structure and rhythm and prose,” she says. “Read books with description or dialogue you admire. Read the books that are classics—they are classics for a reason—and read the books that are bestsellers and read the books that are award winners. Read and read and read, and you'll start to see your own writing improve.” To take specific action, Nieveen suggests picking the 10 books that you most admire. Then, it's just a matter of re-reading them and noting strengths in their plot, dialogue, characters, and scene structure. Learn from the best — and then go forth and tilt the arena again yourself.

Don’t introduce all your characters all at once

Ever want a corkboard just to keep the characters in a fantasy book straight? The number of characters in many fantasy series are so infinite, it turns out to be a mad scramble to keep track of them all — especially when the reader’s still trying to differentiate between Boldon, the protagonist, and Bolgon, the shrewish elf from Book 2. So don’t make it even tougher on the reader by dumping all your characters onto page two. It’s one of the most common mistakes that Nieveen sees. “Fantasy writers try to introduce too many characters on one page, or there’s an info dump to reveal how the magic system works,” she says. “They make the reader sit and memorize their world or their characters before they actually introduce the story. But you end up dropping readers that way.” And finally…

Interview your characters to know them

Good character creation and development in fantasy is no different from fiction, or any other genre. Take a minute to think of your favorite characters of all time. Walter White. Jon Snow. Hermione Granger. Mr Bean from Love Actually. What do they all share? “The best characters are complex and original,” says Foster. “They possess very real motives and weaknesses, and they change over time due to events and supporting characters in the story. Take your character and interview them. What do they fear most? What are their ultimate goals, and where are they willing to go to achieve that goal? Do this with all your characters when you're writing fantasy: craft a questionnaire and get your answers from them. Your publisher will thank you.” Looking for the definitive character questionnaire? We got you covered. Here are 8 Character Development Exercises That Will Help You Nail Your Character.

Have the mindset of a cinematographer

Sometimes writers get so caught up in their world that they write block paragraph after block paragraph (after block paragraph) of description. This is a mistake. “Don't tell your reader what your world appears to be,” says Young. “Give them scenery when it relates to the story by getting your characters to interact with their surroundings.” Did we ever get an ultra-wide shot showing the whole of Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy? Absolutely not! That would be boring to the viewers, not to mention meaningless. Young observes: “Instead, cinematographers carefully plan each shot to give you a view of where the actors are. This is exactly the way you should show your world.”

Ask questions while worldbuilding

And guess what? Your #1 most powerful weapon when you’re worldbuilding isn’t a sword — nor is it a pen, or even Daenerys’ fabulous dragons. The most powerful tool in your world building arsenal is, instead… the question. “Where do big cities pop up?” wrote Patrick Rothfuss, author of the Kingkiller Chronicles, once. “At a confluence of trade routes. That’s influenced by rivers. Where do rivers come from? There’s aquifers and stuff. I ask these questions. I go, ‘Why, why, why, why, why?’” This will make sure that everything is rationally thought-out. “Fantasy works when you can read it like it is real, if that makes sense,” says Kendall Davis, an associate editor at Penguin Random House. “You want readers to read the story knowing there are stories and adventures and a world that exists far beyond the story they are currently invested in.”

But don’t go breaking your own rules

That said, these rules aren’t ones that are made just to be broken. “I often see first-time fantasy writers breaking their own rules, and it really takes the reader out of the story,” says Bowman. Let’s say, for example, you’ve made it clear that using magic is supposed to sap energy. Well, then, don’t make your protagonist go rip magic spells left and right in the final battle without tiring at all. Ultimately, this internal consistency matters much more than realism. To ensure this consistency, Bowman suggests that you always jot everything down. “When do the suns come up?” she asks. “Can only children under the age of 10 fly? When casting a spell, does it transform the object or create an object from nothing? Know the rules of your world (what we call physics!) when you're writing fantasy and don’t break them — unless, of course, it’s on purpose.”


Looking to read more fantasy before you write? Check out these 12 epic fantasy series, hot off the press.

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