Sunday, March 02, 2014

Five Things Writers Can Learn From Wattpad

A couple years ago, I looked over the shoulder of one of my friends and observed that she was reading a book on her phone. "Oh you can get kindle apps for androids too?"
She looked up. "This isn't kindle, this is Wattpad."
And thus began the journey that lead me to create the world of The Dome but also learn a lot about a side of the writing world I didn't even know existed until then.
For those of you don't know what Wattpad is, it's an ebook community where anybody can post their original stories, chapter at a time and put them under genres for readers to find, free of charge. Readers can vote (the equivalent of liking something on Facebook), comment and add to the story's read gauge. They can follow their favourite authors to get notifications about when new chapters come out and when they start a new story.
Through about a year of reading stories on the site and another year of writing on it, I took mental notes that to this day have helped me become a better writer.

1) How not to write 

I hate to sound pessimistic or critical but there's a lot of not so great writing on this site. Because anyone can post their stories and gain a fan base for free, a lot of the stories aren't all that great. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely some gems on the site but you might have to do some digging to find them.
Some of the characters aren't very deep, villains are introduced too late, romances happen too quickly, the plot has holes and/or generally doesn't work etc. Even some of the better stories have a few minor issues that I've taken note of.
I also caught common cliques. It seemed like certain plot, character and setting elements were repeating themselves. Even the way describing was done didn't have a lot of originality at points. Many writers, for example, described eye colour like this, "He looked into my deep blue eyes with his own brown ones."
During my time on Wattpad, I read a lot of so-so stories and mentally critiqued it as I went. This, to my astonishment, improved my writing drastically. I found myself both subconsciously and consciously more aware of things that would hinder my writing. A lot of people say that critiquing helps your writing and I totally agree. To me, reading stories like these was a type of critique.

2) What readers like to read

It's easy to know what stories are most popular on Wattpad. Simply look at the votes, reads and comments of any given story. By looking more into these stories, you can see what attracts people to the them. Is it the cover? Characters? Fast pace? Unexpected twists?
And what about these elements? What makes them stand out from the others? Why are they unique? You know they have to be different from other stories to become popular so what attracts a crowd? Some stories get popular for no good reason at all in my opinion, but I took a lot away from the exceptional ones–especially by reading comments. What were the things in each chapter that stirred the emotions of the readers?
And then I compare these things to my own opinion; what did I like about the story? Does it match what others are saying?
This is one of the ways I came up with the idea for The Dome.  I noticed that a lot of stories that involved superhuman abilities were getting popular. But–going back to my first point–I knew that a ton of them were being done the same way. They all had similar setting, followed a similar basic plot line, and all the main characters seemed to have the same powers and/or multiple powers. For me, it was getting old.
Readers like fresh stuff. Any unique, well done idea on Wattpad was getting a lot of positive feedback.
So I took the superhuman ability idea and said to myself. "Where can my characters be and what can I do to their goal to make it unique. Then I found the picture above that sparked the official idea and knew I had something special.

3) Good summaries 
Speaking of what attracts people to stories, one of the things that I noticed that pulled me into a story was the summaries. A lot of well-known books on the site have great summaries to pull the readers in.
To this day the best summery I came across was one for the story Frost by Erin Latimer. It started out like this, "I froze the first boy I ever kissed. And I don't mean he got cold feet..."
That line itself drew me into the novel and I didn't regret it.
Summaries are hard. Personally, I think they're one of the hardest things about writing. If you want to get published though, you need a great one.
When I started practicing summaries, I went to Wattpad and just read a bunch. I took notes on which ones are good, which ones aren't and tried to figure out why.
Just like the actual story, I found that the first sentence is incredibly important. The best ones make me ask a question. They also give me a bit of an idea about what the book would be about, even if it's something as simple as who the main character is or where the story will be taking place.

4) Spontaneous writing 
Stories on Wattpad are posted chapter at a time. A lot of the time, writers will get hit with a blast of inspiration and just starting writing chapters, posting them as they go.
Now, this can be a bad thing. What if you decide you want to change the beginning or that a certain character actually has no use? What if a character you killed actually needs to be alive? Since you probably have readers following the novel, you can't just bring them back to life, make people disappear or suddenly change major plot details.
The thing I do like about this though, is the idea of spontaneous writing. A lot of successful authors talk about it. There's something special about reading writing that doesn't sound like writing.
While the stories on Wattpad may not be the greatest of quality, spontaneity is still present. You can almost learn something about the writer just by reading what they wrote.
This is a lesson I like to apply to my first draft. It's been said so many times over again but it's so true. Just write. Don't worry about continuity or anything, that's for editing. Focus on telling the story you want to tell. When you go back to edit, try not to take away that spontaneous sound that makes your writing unique to you.

5) Connecting with readers                                                                                                                  
A lot of wattpaders, just like youtubers, become attached to there fans. You hear the phrase "I have the best fans ever" quite often from either group.
I wondered for a long time what made fans so special. I always sort of wanted some myself but I wasn't sure why. One day struck me like lightning. Having fans is like having a huge group of people who love and support what you do. So then I thought, "Why haven't I tried to get a reader base sooner?"
This is something I didn't expect I'd learn while on Wattpad. I kind of sat at my computer in a little bubble for a long time. Isolating myself wasn't something that would help me get published and while putting myself out there may not either, it certainly wouldn't hurt me.
Some of the authors on Wattpad actually get published after they finish their books. And then guess what they get to do? Tell their hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of fans and they all rush to get themselves a hardcopy of the book they loved so much in ebook format.
So how so you get fans? Well, you can make a Facebook page, a blog, a Pinterest account, a Twitter feed, Instagram, Wattpad if you'd like, or even just join a writing community. If the whole point of fans is to have a group of supportive people, than other writers can be those people too.

Well that was longer than I expected but I hope you got something out of it.

Have you learned anything by observing other books, good or bad?

No comments:

Post a Comment