It was only way after I finished my first draft of a short story collection that I truly understood that ‘help’ and ‘resources’ were not a bad thing. I’d always thought of writing as a very solitary, isolated experience. That you came up with an idea, wrote it down as a story, revised and edited it to perfection, found an agent, and published it (or died trying) all on your own. To be fair, that’s not even the worst of it. My ‘solitary’ writing experience was quite extreme in that I did not even look up any reference material or research already published books similar to the one I was writing.
Oh, I vaguely knew of the general specifics of writing. My master’s in English Studies taught me how to look at and understand texts and narratives of all kinds. Theoretically. Hero’s journey, three-act structure—all these are terms I know but don’t really know how to apply. In my mind, I simply had to figure it out all on my own. I did logically know that there were courses on writing out there and that a lot of authors have in fact been through them or other similar things like writers’ retreats. However, it still hadn’t sunk in me that, like all crafts, there are things you can learn about writing. That there are tools you can use to either get started or to improve something you’ve already written.
I’m sure there are other people out there who are in a similar position, struggling to find the right kind of help or even unaware that there are such tools out there. So, here’s my toolbox of the resources I have found and used so far that I think are extremely useful.
The Thesaurus Description Database dons many hats. Want to brainstorm how your characters express certain emotions? Emotion Thesaurus. Want to figure out obstacles for your characters to overcome? Conflict Thesaurus. Want to incorporate your character’s job into the plot more? Occupation Thesaurus.
Masterclass is known for their excellent video-based lessons taught by leading experts from various fields. I find the membership to be quite expensive, however their articles on writing are very informative and are available for free. Specifically, this one on literary archetypes helped me reimagine my characters and give them more life.
TV Tropes is a massive wiki of tropes used in all sorts of media like television, movies, graphic novels, anime, radio shows and more. Just type in a book title, and you can see a list of all the tropes that have been used in that book. You can even type in an author’s name, say for instance Agatha Christie, and check out the common tropes used in her works.
Writers can employ several amazing literary devices to leave clues or layer in deeper meanings in their stories. Litcharts presents a comprehensive list, with several examples for each of the devices as well as other helpful resources separate from the website itself.
The Three Act Structure is quite vague. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Dan Harmon’s eight-part story structure is much easier to work with when visualising your story. The fourth section in this tutorial provides detailed descriptions as well as examples of each of the steps mentioned.
The 27 Chapter Method popularised by Kat O’Keefe is a more detailed version of the Three Act Structure. Each of the three acts have nine blocks (or chapters) which act as a useful guide for writers struggling to outline a novel. An example outline is also provided so you can understand the method more clearly.