When you’re writing, whether it’s a short story, a novel, or a poem, do you pay attention to what is going on around you when you aren’t writing? Sometimes I’ll write down what I hear/see in my journal for later use and sometimes I don’t. Most times I remember. I know what you must be thinking. “How can you remember all that?” Well, I don’t. It isn’t until I’m writing a scene, and what I’m writing triggers a memory of something I saw or heard, then if it fits the scene, I use it. But, most often it’s only snippets of a conversation or something I saw that I end up using. Journals are a wonderful thing though and can contain a treasure trove of useful info. Take what you can from real life and mold it like clay.
The pictures below of are my journal for my novel The Triunix of Time. As you can see from the warn tabs and such, it’s been used quite a bit.
That moment before you start. Your mind is filled with so many thoughts. How do I begin? I know what I want to say; but how to write it in such a way that hooks the reader? Will what you write be good? Will it hook the reader? Will it inspire them? Will my beginning be as good as the beginning of my last book/story? What if I “sink”? What if it “takes off”? Yes, I can do this.
It’s all so thrilling isn’t it? You may have written many books/stories before and still have these questions going through your mind before you start. You want to make your readers happy, and you want them to have fun. Not to sound pessimistic, but we can’t please everyone. Many will enjoy your stories/books and many won’t. So, relax. Have fun. Don’t stress yourself out. The truth of it is, you have what I call “Your Circle”. These are the people who you trust to give you an honest critique of your writing before you publish your work. If your beginning, middle or end or anything in between doesn’t sound right, they will tell you. Listen to what they’re saying, take it into consideration, and go from there. If you’re new to the writing craft, your self-confidence may need to be built up more. If you are more experienced, you may have more confidence and so on.
Trust yourself. Based on your writing experiences you will come to know what is good and what needs to be scrapped. So…..DIVE IN. Enjoy.
Sometimes we put up barriers when we write. This is different for everyone. Some of us analyze too much, while others plan too much. Yet some may strive for perfection before moving on. My barrier is the analyze thing. I question everything. Not that questioning things is bad to do. We should do that, but when you continue questioning whether what you wrote or in which place a scene/scenes was put, it takes up precious writing time.
Another author I follow and get advice from, told of a first time writer working on his first novel. This young writer asked his advice on his first chapter. So the author read the young writer’s first chapter and ended up being very impressed with it. He asked for more. The young writer didn’t have anymore to show, as he had been working on the first chapter for months trying to get it just right/perfect. The author shook his head and told the young writer to stop striving for perfection. Why? If you do that, you will never get your book written. As long a time it took him to get chapter one finished, he could have had multiple chapters finished had he focused more on getting the story out.
The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. You just need to get the story written. When that first draft is finished, THEN go back to square one and change what you don’t like. This may be difficult at first, but with practice of letting go and letting the story unfold as it comes, perfection will take a back seat eventually.
I like to think of writing a novel much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many pieces and there is so much to think about. Placement of each piece/part is key if it’s going to fit with the rest of the ‘picture’. One wrong placement can make the rest of the story appear out of place. So, where do you start? Better yet, what do you start with? That really is up to you. As long as all the pieces fit together and the ‘picture’ at the end fits together, how you get there doesn’t matter. After all, we’re all different.
Still, there is so much to think about. Please see the list below.
Point of View
Generally speaking, these are the biggest elements that go into the creation of a novel. It’s quite a bit to keep track of while you’re writing. For the first time author writing their first book it can be daunting. One might ask, “How do you work with all of them as you’re writing?” It’s simple. You don’t. Yup, I said it. You don’t. What you do instead is this:
Write the first draft to get your story down. Start from the beginning and work toward the end. Start from the middle and work your way to the end then write the beginning. Write the end then the beginning and then the end. Whichever way you go about getting that first draft done is up to you. Just get that done first without worrying about the particulars listed above. Put if away for a few weeks when you finish the first draft. This will keep your mind fresh when you go back to write draft two.
In draft two look at the story structure. Make sure make sure each Act has the appropriate information in it (Please see my post from July 17, 2020 entitled Story Structure in Three Acts). Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is a wealth of information. I highly recommend it.
Go through each scene. Is the structure of each what it should be? There are two types: 1. Action 2. Reaction (Please stay tuned for a later post on this topic).
Here is where I would go through and look at the character development of your Main Character. There must be character growth from the beginning to the end. Here is where their character flaw comes into play. Remember, by the end of the book they will overcome their flaw. How they do that is part of their growth.
Setting is huge. Readers need to get a good idea/picture of where your story takes place, what it looks like, and how it’s connected.
Point of View is a huge one. You don’t want to confuse your readers by accidentally moving from first to third person or vice versa. So, choose a point of view and stick with it. Go back and make sure it’s consistent throughout.
Voice encompasses more than one thing. It incudes diction, detail, imagery (through description or use of simile or metaphor), dialogue, tone, and syntax (the way words are arranged). As you read through your manuscript looking for these elements as it relates to voice, you might find you need to add something here or there or change the way a character said something.
Theme goes along with the main message you are trying to convey to your reader. What is it you want them to learn by the end of the book? Do you accomplish this?
PLOT HOLES. This is huge. After all is said and done, please read through your whole manuscript and look for those pesky inconsistencies. Readers will find them and you don’t want them to. Keep a style sheet where you keep track of details you need to remember throughout your story. Your 31 year old MC can NOT be 42 in the last half of the book (unless they’ve been lied to and that’s part of the story). Her/his birthday you had mentioned on page 20 as being January 8, 1972 can’t be mentioned later on page 245 as being March 23, 1974. I just won’t work.
The editing is the very last thing that’s done. Grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. This comes last before publishing.
As you can tell, these tasks are not done in one swoop. They are done one at a time (generally). Hey, if you are able to focus on one or more at once that’s fine too. The point is take your time. Focus, do not rush. The story won’t grow legs and walk away. It’s yours, so take your time and make it the best YOU you can make it. By doing this, all of the pieces will fit together, so that when someone else looks at it (reads it), they will be looking at something that will stay with them and make them come back for more.
Words travel across the page and along with them, our eyes. From our eyes our brains receive the “picture” that, when put together, the words project to us. This journey of words is not only for the benefit of the reader but for the author/writer as well. It’s a two sided gratification. The readers reap the benefits of a great story, which they can chew on for days afterwards. They will even pass it on to others who then get excited to read it. This cycle continues from reader to reader. It’s a form of advertising, whether they realize it or not.
There are two journeys authors go on. The first being that of the story itself, which changes more than once along the way. Sometimes they may even feel as though they’ll never get it finished (many of us go through that), but they/we do, and they/we gain the satisfaction of having finished such a lengthy project. The second journey begins when the book is finished, which involves passing the book along to others. Marketing. It’s fun because there are so many creative ways to do this (not going into details, as this is for another post), yet it’s challenging. But, once you get going with it, the momentum picks up. Time, give it time. My point is, authors pass along just as the readers pass along. The two are on two different highways, but the goals are the same. They’re getting the book out there.
In an earlier post entitled Story Organization, I touched on ways I come up with story ideas and once I am satisfied with one I like, I create the story moving from general to specifics using a one line premise and expanding on that until I have a five paragraph summary of my story. In this post I’m going to open things up a bit and introduce the three act story structure. Every novel and movie is structured this way. When I learned this method, it opened my eyes to the skeletal aspects of the story itself, and I never looked at a story in a novel or a movie quite the same way again. I can’t help but notice the transitions from one act to the next. The three act structural pattern below is what I used to write my novel. Yours might be different depending on how many scenes/chapters you have and the different types of scenes you have (action/reaction).
Act I Part 1
The Setup (Backstory) *Create stakes, backstory, and character empathy Reaction Scene Reaction Scene Create Empathy Scene First plot point (point of no return/inciting incident) Add however many scenes you need
Act II Part 2 (Response)
Reaction to First Plot Point Reaction to First Plot Point Regroup and retreat Regroup and retreat/weighs options Doomed attempt to take action Setup of pinch point Pinch point Response to pinch point Response to pinch point Leading up to midpoint scene Leading up to midpoint scene Leading up to midpoint scene
Act two is the response. Here your main character isn’t winning. They are trying everything they can to win but they keep coming up short. Here the reader is wondering when the main character is finally going to overcome the bad guy. Feel free to insert problems and obstacles here. Yes, this is a great part of the story to show your main character’s fear(s). Trial and error run a muck in this part.
Act II Part 3 (The Attack)
Midpoint scene Plan of action Action scene Action scene Action scene Setup of 2nd pinch point 2nd pinch point Reaction to 2nd pinch point Action scene Action scene Leading up to 2nd Plot Point Leading up to 2nd Plot Point
Okay, act two part three is the attack. Somewhere at the end of act two part two and act two part three your main character becomes fearless. What occurred in the story to allow this change in character. Make this believable or you risk losing your readers. In this part of the story your main character starts winning.
The combined nature of act two is to create that rising action that moves to a resolution. You need to create that climax by building tension. Keep in mind the character arc (growth) for your main character (That’s another blog post for a later time).
Act III Part 4 (Resolution)
Do not add new information 2nd Plot Point Action scene Action scene Action scene Resolution
Also, bear in mind that there are other characters helping your main character obtain his/her goals. In the end your main character, and others in the story as well, have a new sense of themselves. The inner growth they accomplished throughout the story has made them stronger, more confident. They now have a sense that they are able to accomplish anything. I’ll touch on character growth in a later post. For now, I hope the above outline gives you some direction of how to structure your story. Happy writing.