Being A Newbie
When I was asked
to write an article on writing, my first reaction was "Me...are
you nuts?" You
see, I am a fairly ‘green writer’ here, a baby so to speak,
but I have come a long way from that person who sat down
one day and said ‘I’m going to write a book’. Hopefully,
some of what I’ve learned along the way will help those
of you who are also ‘newby’s’.
I’ve decided to start at the very beginning.
I know that many of you are beyond this point, but
it never hurts to review, plus this may help those out there
who are really beginners.
Like me and so many
others out there, you have decided it is about time for
you to take all that information stored in your mind, all
those thousands of scraps of paper you have compiled over
the years and write your very first story.
You are excited, enthusiastic and probably a little
scared as well, I know I was. The
creative mind is an awesome thing, isn’t it?
You sit yourself in front of your typewriter (or
computer for most of us) and you start writing a fantastic
Wish I could say it was that easy, but alas, it is
not often the case.
Most of us end up just sitting…staring at that blank
screen wondering where to begin.
Let’s take a step
back here. A
lot more than character names and a heck of an idea go into
the writing of a book. I have broken it down into eight
different categories (in order of priority): Plot, Location,
Characters, Research, Dialogue, Description, Putting It
All Together, and Those (Not So) Minor Details. You may
or may not agree this is how it should be done, or you may
not agree with the order of importance, but this is the
way I do it and it works for me. I don't pretend to know
everything about writing---far from it, actually---but I
will share with you what I do know.
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are funny things...they twist and tangle and even the best-laid
ones can turn on you, so you have to be very careful ---and
very strict---and not let them have too much rope with which
to hang themselves. I have had so many lynched plots in
my experience I don't even like to think about it. The best
method I have come up with was taught to me in creative
writing in high school. Get yourself a notebook. Divide
it into eight sections, and label them according to the
categories I've outlined above. In your "Plot"
section, write down the ten most important things that need
to take place in your story. Make another list of the ten
second most important events, and a third list of (you guessed
it) the third-most important events. Now blend them all
together. This may take some time, as you want to be very
careful to put things in the proper order, because some
things just quite simply can't happen until other things
have. The final, integrated list is actually your bare-bones
outline of your novel. Follow it closely. Whatever you do,
don't let your plot run wild or you will become hopelessly
out of control of your own story.
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are extremely important, because the feel of your story,
the atmosphere will come largely from its setting. If
a major part of your story involves gossipy townsfolk, you
would do best to set the story in a small town. Big cities
just aren't as adept at the art of gossip. Next, do some
in-depth research of your chosen location, even if you happen
to live there. This involves a lot of reading and taking
notes. Learn everything you can about your chosen locale;
obtain maps, statistics, populations, etc. If you can financially
manage a visit, do so. If not, look up the Chamber of Commerce
for that town (the local library should have phone books
from all over the world) and send to them for an information
packet. They are usually more than willing to help.
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most important thing you can do for your story (besides
having a feasible plot) is breathing life into your characters.
I can't begin to count how many books I've laid down after
only reading three or four chapters because I really just
didn't give a darn what happened to the main characters.
I dedicated a great deal of time to character development.
Here, once again, that notebook comes in handy. First off,
choose names (duh). They can always be changed without too
much trouble on down the road if they don't seem to fit
the personalities you've created. Next, give them a history; after all, they didn't just drop
down out of the sky, right? (Even if they did, you can bet
there's a history behind that!) How old are they? Are they
married? Any children? Where were they born? What do their
parents do? How do they dress? What do they like to eat,
drink, listen to, and read? It
is also very important that your characters' personalities
be able to interact with one another. If they hate each
other, it is very unreasonable to expect to believably bring
them together in romance or close friendship without a lot
of hard work and a miracle or two from God. Lay your groundwork
well before you begin.
can be one of the hardest elements of writing, although
it doesn't have to be. If you follow a few simple steps
before jumping right in there, your characters will be full
of depth. Who
said writing had to be hard, anyway?
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dreaded author's chore, but one of those necessary evils.
A well-researched book shows, as does a poorly researched
one. I don't know about you, but I don't like sitting down
and reading volumes of information in the local library
and taking notes. I don't do it anymore since I went online.
And since you're reading this, you won't have to either.
Put to use one of the search engines (Metacrawler is my
favorite) and surf the net in search of what you need to
know. I have a stack of info three inches thick that I gleaned
off the net (and when I stop and think about it, that's
really kind of a scary thought, since my book has to do
with Astral travel, the spirit world, witchcraft, supernatural
legends and mind control...). It's important that you know
what you're talking about. If you don't, you're going to
look like a jackass, and what's even worse is you're going
to feel like one too. The extra effort spent chasing down
knowledge is time well spent. If you develop your characters,
plot and location and do your research, your book will practically
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is where so many books bite the dust. Nothing is worse than
hokey, rambling or dull dialogue. You don't like it in real
life, do you, so don't put it in your book! When I come
across a novel like that, I want to choke the author. Unfortunately
there are a lot of them out there, too.
Dialogue is very hard for some authors. It isn't
that they aren't adept at conversation; it's just different
when you're putting that conversation down on paper and
controlling the subject, the replies, and the outcome. It
is very easy here to lose control and go off on a tangent
that misses the point by a mile, and a runaway conversation
is just as fatal as a runaway plot. Another little tidbit I picked up along my journey: Go ahead.
Write that dialogue! Just the dialogue. I have seen brilliant
conversations down on paper that were only lacking in accompanied
action. Once you have the conversation down the way you
want it, find a willing, unselfconscious friend and give
them a copy of it. Act out your dialogue. I know it sounds
stupid, like one of those things they have you do in psych
therapy, but it works, trust me. Don't just read the parts,
act them. Notice
your own and your friend's facial expressions and body language.
No one just stands around like a stick person and talks.
Hand gestures, bodies shift, eyes wander. Once you've acted
it out a few times and have a good list of movements, go
back and add the motions. The conversation will spring to
life, I guarantee it.
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is the area where I used to, quite frankly, suck. My characters'
conversations could be brilliant; my plot amazingly free
of snarls, but the setting was like one of those bizarre
empty worlds on an episode of The Twilight Zone or something.
Get out that notebook again! It is time to visualize! For
every location your character is going to be in, even different
rooms of the house, write down a list of everything (and
I do mean everything) that is in that room. And don't just
write down "a blue vase". That will win you the
not-so-highly coveted "Wow, Big Deal" award. No
ordinary vase here, it's "a cobalt blue vase, gracefully
slim, with gold trim around the lip, gold etchings on the
side, badly in need of dusting". That not only tells
the reader something about the vase, it lets them see it,
and tells them something about the room it's in, or the
person to whom it belongs (and it very well could be in
my house, with a description like that; my version of dusting
is blowing the dust off the mantle with my hair dryer, then
vacuuming). Some authors are so good at description that
I feel I am in the room with their characters, and that
is the ultimate goal, to put your readers into your story,
to make them live it. Slowly weave your lists into paragraphs
and read through them. Are they stilted? Add a few "ands"
and some commas (you don't want a four line paragraph with
twenty sentences, do you?) Too much descriptive all at once?
Work it in amongst your dialogue: while the characters are
talking, have one or both wandering around, taking in the
sights of the room.
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Putting It All Together
is actually the easiest part. It's kind of like making a
Betty Crocker cake: the hard part's already been done (the
grinding of wheat into flour, the raising of chickens for
eggs, etc). All you need is to keep your plot reigned in,
mediate the characters' conversation, and start writing!
Following your outline is about the best thing you
can do; it keeps the control in your hands and you're less
apt to go off down the wrong path. If you get to the end
of your book and find that, gee, there seems to be a few
skimpy parts here and there, don't worry-easy to fill in.
Just add a paragraph or two, or even a chapter. The wonderful
thing about word processors these days is it's so easy to
just throw in a new chapter and it takes care of those sticky
page numbering problems with just a few keystrokes from
you. And by all means, let someone read it as you write
it. They can
let you know when something is unclear or when something
just downright doesn't make any sense, and also give some
very good suggestions. Go on now, don't be shy, there has
to be someone you trust enough to help you along. Lean on
them shamelessly, because lemme tell ya, no one writes a
book alone. There's always someone behind the scene somewhere.
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Those (Not So) Minor Details
darn many details, so little brain capacity left to remember
them... It's very easy to forget about a vague reference
that's meant to become a huge turning point in your plot
(I do it all the time). Once again, your handy-dandy notebook
comes to the rescue. Write them all down!
If someone in Chapter Six dropped a gold coin that's
meant to give another character in Chapter Twenty-Five a
major revelation, make sure you remember that gold coin.
Your reader will. The minor details are important even in
sub-plots and if you don't tie up all those little threads
you will drive your reader to the brink of utter frustration
(What about the gold coin in Chapter Six? The GOLD COIN
YOU IDIOT, WHAT ABOUT IT?!?!) I am assuming (hoping?) that
isn't your objective. If it is, by all means, leave those
loose ends dangling! If it isn't, be sure to check back
through your Minor Details section in your notebook to be
sure you've swept them all into the plot.
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