Writing your Novel
WHY BOTHER WRITING?
“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” (Oscar Wilde)
Everyone has a great novel inside them, based on imagination, true life experiences, nightmares and phobia etc. In modern times, getting that novel into ‘print’ is a combination of practice, hard work, dedication and time management. (Not so long ago, it involved finding a publisher as well, but that is so last century now.) Don’t worry if you haven’t got the writing skills, find a friend who will act as ghost writer for you (scary). If your story has substance, you can get it written and published, with none of the begging round the traditional outlets you would normally have to do. I have found no feeling of achievement to exceed the satisfaction of seeing a completed work on the Internet. Who cares if anyone buys it (I do - really, I’m starving to death here, so please get out your pennies), finishing and publishing a novel is like coming back home from the best of holidays; the great memories stick with you… and then you start planning the next one of course (it is cheaper than a holiday too; and you don't come back with some exotic tropical disease). If you need help, contact us. We are a non-profit group of like-minded authors willing to help you and comment on your ideas.
THE TECHNICALITY OF WRITING FICTION
According to some, a story should have plot and character, and every story will be delivered with some or all of the first seven elements:
Φ Overcoming the Monster
Φ Voyage and Return
Φ Love affairs
There now seems to be increasing focus on the following as society changes in modern times:
Φ Torture and general nastiness
Φ Culture and discovery - vampires etc.
If you can think of any others, please let us know and I’ll add them in.
THE BLANK PAGE
So you want to get started, then remember the author's mantra: "Five friends have I strong and true; they are WHAT, WHY, WHEN, WHERE and WHO"
Use these to set a scene. Answer each question in the first few paragraphs or the reader will be lost from the beginning and doze off. Think the introduction out in your mind’s eye, visualise the scene and describe it... Briefly.
Φ What is happening?
Φ Why is it happening or why are the people there?
Φ When is it happening - time of day, decade, century etc?
Φ Where, in a barn, up a mountain, down a pit?
Φ Who is there? Introduce your first characters.
There is your introduction - was it gripping? If not, make it so. Now, keep up the pace; remember your reader who is dozing away in bed - you want to keep them up all night don't you?
GENERAL IDEAS TO GET YOU STARTED (AND KEEP YOU GOING)
Φ Read a lot – particularly the genre you want to write. “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King.
Φ Research – authors like Sharon Penman and Robert Harris spend 9/10 of their time in research and 1/10 writing.
Φ Use a word processor - it is so much easier to correct and rewrite.
Φ Work out your plot using Post-it notes or a large blackboard (storyboard) or even a project planner.
Φ Practise – the more you write the better you should become.
Φ Stick at it – like the gym, you get fitter the more you go - but don’t overdo it, despite what Earnest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Φ Find space. You can’t write if you have continuous distractions, so have a room where you can lock yourself away.
Φ Go on holiday. Take a camera and make notes of your adventures.
Φ Have a schedule – e.g. write for a fixed period every day, even if it's only 30 minutes. Enid Blyton could knock out a story in 6 weeks, on a typewriter, but then she did work an 8 hour day. Not everyone has that much time until they become professional.
Φ Believe in yourself. "Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind." Virginia Woolf.
Φ Sometimes, setting a daily word limit can help, but if you get writer’s block, or are on a roll, this is counter-productive. I was usually able to write some 2000 words a day, but on one, the ideas kept coming, and I put down nearly 7000 - incredibly satisfying, but very tiring.
Φ Know your characters. You can write much more convincingly if your character is there in your mind. Base them on combinations of people you know, and the character traits will then be easily identifiable and your reader will ‘engage’. This is hard, and believable characters do not appear very often in sci-fi. The story might be excellent, but if your characters are good as well, they will be remembered. “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” J D Salinger.
Φ Don’t worry about getting it right first time – get the ideas down as fast as they come; you can sort them out later.
Φ While you are still practising, get someone to proof-read at various stages, and feed back to you honestly.
Φ Don’t pay for anything, except a professional editor when you have the completed work. You will need to be lucky to get the big break, and very few writers make a living wage. If you make it, so do everyone who have helped, and you will recommend them to others!
Φ Take criticism on the chin. Learn from it (or ignore it, because people’s views are all different). John Irving has some valuable advice. "Avoid clichés - As old as the hills, fit as a fiddle, without a care in the world, brave as a lion, lasted an eternity… you know what I mean."
Φ If certain words such as ‘Indeed’ can be removed without changing the meaning on the sentence, avoid them, and if you find yourself using ‘Very’ then find a better word to describe the verb or noun. Mark Twain said “Substitute 'Damn' every time you're inclined to write 'Very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Φ Avoid ‘purple prose’ – overburdened with long words or fancy descriptions. For examples of this, just have a look at some of the 19th Century works, and compare the descriptions therein with those by Zane Gray.
Φ When finished, read your work out loud to yourself - it should flow smoothly without any awkward sections. This will also confirm that you have your punctuation in the right places - Arthur Ransome was a master at this; his stories are meant to be read out loud - find some children to read ‘Swallows and Amazons’ to, and you will see what I mean.
Φ Get your readers’ attention in the first few paragraphs. Those first few words that people will read for free will make or break the rest of the work, so get the hook out there first thing. Books on Amazon have the first 10% available for everyone to read, so make it memorable.
Φ Read it through again and again, and make changes until you are happy. Then draw a line, publish, and move on to your ideas for the next one.
Φ Design your cover (or get a professional to do it for you). Have a look at the guidelines on the cover design page.
Φ Once you have finished, have a real holiday or break, and then get started on to the next one, before the ‘high’ of completion is replaced by the emptiness of doing nothing. Back to top of page.
Φ Market your work. Use the facilities offered by Amazon, tell your friends, get them to tell theirs, make business cards, use Facebook, Linked-In and any other medium you can lay your hands on.
Φ Experiment to find the method of writing that suits you, and use it!
Φ Pray for the break - no matter how good you are, with so much competition out there, you won’t get anywhere without a good slice of luck.
This is not something you have to put your head on when you write libelous stories, but the problem everyone gets at some stage in a story. You sit and stare at the page and your mind goes blank; you would rather go and make a cup of tea, or put the TV on and watch daytime television (surely the most desperate of situations); or you load up Skyrim and wile away the hours in an alternative universe. So, how do you get past this point? Here are some suggestions:
Φ Go back to your storyboard and start looking for patterns - add in extra notes.
Φ Go back to the start and read through from there. Make notes and amendments as they come to mind.
Φ Think about illustrations for your work - sketches or photographs can help to trigger the mind. Otherwise do something else unrelated but creative.
Φ Search for photographs on the Net - sometimes just looking at these can trigger new ideas or old memories.
Φ Talk to people - outline the story so far. Explain what is happening, and often they will come back with suggestions as to how it should progress.
Φ Look at where you have skimmed some details. You might say that you met a strange character who told you something. Expand on the meeting. Often, as you imagine the details, other ideas will come through.
Φ Have a look at this list of words fading from the English language and try to work some of them in to your text. Defocusing your mind from the immediate block will help to stimulate new thoughts.
Φ Start at another place in your story. You can link the chapters together later.
So there you have it. Take up your keyboard and write, and if you need any help, advice or motivation, please contact us.
Robert Wingfield - January 2019