This book will NOT guarantee you placement in a bookstore, or great sales, or wonderful reviews by readers. It’s really just a collection of my own thoughts gleaned from my years writing and publishing my own books. It’s written in my own words, with ideas from my own mind, and thoughts from me, but you might get something from them in regard to your own writing. There is much that might inspire you to try something. If you get an idea of something you might do, do it. Go for it. The worst you can do is use time you might otherwise spend Facebooking. And do you really want to keep doing that?
What we’re going to be looking at, in general, is writing general fiction. Mysteries; romances; children’s stories; science fiction; etc. If you want to consider non-fiction, textbooks, or picture books, you should look them up in the Internet. There are Style Guides that will tell you how to format that kind of book. In general, though, we won’t be going there. We will be sticking to basic general fiction.
So many things are involved in this writing thing, and I had to learn them the hard way because I didn’t learn them before I wrote my books.
What this will do, though, is give you a lot of ideas to work out and to learn before you start this process we call “authoring.” It might just give you some ideas of what you should look up or study. If something here inspires you or challenges you to learn more, to think, wonderful. However, there are many more books written, college writing classes to take, even local writing groups that will help you. Here’s a place to start, though. Okay?
So, let’s go.
What’s you’re biggest problem as a writer? No time? No inspiration? Lack of knowledge about this process? No help, especially from those who have gone before you? All of the above?
Yeah, that’s the one. All of it. Everything.
And that scream heard ‘round the world?
Yeah; that’s me. Help. Puleeze.
Perhaps, then, your biggest problem is actually answering this question:
How Much Do You Want To Do This?
Yes, you have this dream of putting out a book, but what’s it going to take to get it done? What are you going to have to sacrifice to get the time to write your book? You have a family. A job. Church, club and friend commitments. So many things to do, and somewhere in there you have to decide what to commit toward your writing.
Think of those things you have to prioritize when you start writing. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to get your book written, even to begin the process? How important is it to you? What are your priorities? Not just the writing. All your life priorities?
I am NOT trying to scare you off. You have a story to tell, a Baby to get into print. It may be the most important thing you’ve come up with in years. Maybe your life has evolved to the point where you can finally commit to this writing thing. But, what are your priorities? Have you really thought this whole thing through?
William Forstchen wrote a wonderful novel entitled One Second After in which he told of what happens right after an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) hits, encouraged by his good friend, Newt Gingrich. You can ask why our politicians and elites don’t do something about this instead of what they waste their time on, but a quote was included at the end of the story by General Eugene Habiger, USAF (Ret.) that is powerful: “It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.”
So, Forstchen wrote a novel of what was so important to him and when it might happen.
So can you.
One of your biggest problems is likely time. Do you have the time to do this? Can you set aside the time in the midst of family, job and all that? Can you find the time? And the answer is probably NO.
You likely aren’t going to be able to find the time; you’ll have to make the time. Out of the little of it you have available, you’re going to have to juggle things around, balance them. If you’ve got kids, a job, friends who are going to come asking for help, and so on, you’re going to have to set even more priorities. Time is something that isn’t just going to appear. Your book is not going to write itself. YOU are going to have to do it, and that will require you deciding to make the time necessary.
If you’re retired with no family around, you’re still going to have to make that time in order to write. What time of the day? What day(s) of the week? You’ll have to make the time, and that’s just the beginning. There’s so much more to do; so much to learn.
This book was written partly because of all the changes that have taken place in the writing and publishing industry since I wrote the first writing help book in 2012 (So You’ve Written A Book. Now What?) It used to be that books were brought to a reader’s attention because an author found someone in the publishing world who was interested, or they had already developed a name for themselves and the publishers were willing to consider authors who came in to them direct. There weren’t so many books. Publishers were actually looking for new or upcoming authors. But mainly the publishers were looking for authors whom they could sell, with whom the publishers could make profit.
However, many early writers (Hemingway, Twain, Steinbeck, etc.) worked at diverse jobs to support themselves while they tried to develop sources who were interested in their writing. They worked as boat pilots; they worked in mines; they wrote for newspapers; and on. Several had many of their first works ignored or refused by the publishers for years. Ayn Rand, famously known for her works, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, had a couple of early novels be unsuccessful (although, in my opinion, they are great). Most literary critics received her works with mixed reviews, and academia generally ignored or rejected her. It was many years before the reading public caught up with her.
Writers in the modern era do the same; they’ve begun as accountants, lawyers, copywriters, soldiers, policemen, housewives, and students. Writing, submitting, and having a first novel accepted easily takes four or five years to a decade and more. Many well-respected novelists submit their works for years before finally being accepted and published.
(And yes, I’m still trying to be patient.)
Today, (according to Nick Morgan — communication theorist, coach, speaker on storytelling, body language, persuasion and influence), “There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those — perhaps as many as half or even more — are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each.”
Now, in reality, some of those books are only ten to fifty pages long. Many are short stories (very short); many are erotic fantasy; some are complete science fiction; some are textbooks; a very few are regular book-length fiction. But, the numbers are huge — and YOU are going to have to compete with them. This book has been written to help you do that.
In the past few years, four tremendous trends in the book industry have developed, and all writers should be aware of them. Self-publishing, subsidiary publishing, vanity publishing, and e-books are all fairly new to the book industry and must be noticed, studied and, perhaps, put into practice by today’s authors.
That first trend is the movement to “self-publishing” from what was known as “traditional” publishing. Traditional publishers used to do all the work of putting books together and then printing them, and basically got them out into the marketplace. Today, many authors self-publish their works and do all the work of the editing through the marketing of the books themselves. (More on that later.)
A second trend has become known as “participation” or “subsidy” publishing, where the authors pay a portion of the costs of the publishing work. (We’ll get into the full definitions and descriptions of all these later in this book.)
A third trend has become known as “vanity” publishing (a little bit different from subsidy publishing), where an author takes on all the chores of getting their book into print, pays all the costs (usually much lower than traditional publishers charge), and the publisher then prints whatever the author presents to them. It is the “vanity” of the author to get their work published that the name comes from.
And the fourth trend has been named “e-books,” or electronic books. With these, the author puts their book together in the normal manner, then submits it to a publisher who puts it into an electronic format that can be purchased, usually at a much reduced rate, by anyone with a reading device. That can be a Kindle, a Nook, even a TV. Or, the author might do all the publishing work themselves.
As you can see, there’s a lot to learn as you enter this book publishing business, and you really do need to learn it. I made the mistake of thinking I knew most of what this was about when I started and learned, the hard way, how much I didn’t know. I still don’t know everything. I’m certainly not the all-knowing guru. I learned everything I know over several years of writing my own books. But...
This book, Writing the Right Way, a follow-up to my first writing help-book, So You’ve Written A Book. Now What? was written to help others on the journey of writing to learn and get ahead of some pitfalls that are on the horizon. Also, to note some of the changes and additions that have taken place in the writing industry in the past years.
As we pick up our pens and begin writing, we usually just think of the story we have in mind and figure that when the story is written we’ve been successful. That may partly be true. As I note later on, some day you will be able to say, I did it, and feel that surge of success — completion. But as the earlier book title said, Now What? And, how do I get there in the first place? What am I facing as I begin this process?
I wrote this from my experiences of about fifteen years of writing my books and publishing and marketing them. It’s not expert material; it’s just what I’ve learned. When I started, I had no idea what it was all about. But, I thought I did. Then I came to the realization that this writing business was a lot more than I envisioned. So I’ve learned things over the years and I simply want to share them with you.
This book is written from my viewpoint as an author — generally, a writer of novels. However, the basic principles in it are adaptable to many other people doing creative work; writing non-fiction, poets, musicians, artists, filmmakers, even those building widgets. If you are doing something other than writing, then you can simply adjust the ideas and principles in here to your own work.
Principles such as write the very best book you can or how are you going to get someone to actually look with interest at YOUR work? are just as valid for someone painting a landscape or building a new mousetrap as someone writing a novel.
So, I hope this will be of value to you. As you read it, if you have any comments, suggestions or ideas, I’d love to hear from you. Write me at:
any time and we can talk.
(And I WILL answer all your messages.)
Best wishes to all of you and
KEEP ON WRITING.
What’s It All About?
I’ve written some books, some suspense novels.
What do you mean, who cares?
Well, it was a big deal to me. I’m famous now, right? I’m a real live author. Okay, my name isn’t Grisham, or Roberts, but I’m pretty close, aren’t I? Once you’ve written a book, the world sits up and cheers, right? You get famous? Rich?
However, probably the main thing you get after you’ve written your life’s work is depressed and discouraged. Here you’ve spent all this time — years maybe — creating your Baby and the big question becomes, Now What? There are all those pages sitting there. Just sitting there. They’re supposed to be on library shelves, coming out of bookstores in fancy wrappers, lying beside easy chairs everywhere — and they’re just sitting there in front of you. Now what?
(I’m not going to try to tell you everything you need to know in order to get your novel written. There’s far too much. However, you can find a wealth more material simply by diving into the Internet and looking up various words and titles. There are literally hundreds of books and articles written telling you how to analyze things and how to get them written. Look them up. A great one for how-to guides of good writing is Grammar Girl — quickanddirtytips.com. Another is thepunctuationguide.com.)
I’ve been an avid reader since early childhood and have read everything from newspapers, Reader’s Digest and National Geographic, to mysteries and biographies. One day a book popped into my mind and, lo and behold, a novel (SANCTION) was born. But, as I’m sure you are all aware, that was just the beginning of a long process that ended up, years later, with a real novel being published. Years of writing, then throwing the papers across the room, then trying to find some more to write about, then just about deleting the whole thing, then... Sound familiar?
I believe most of us have stories to tell: from our own lives and experiences; from things we’ve seen and heard; from dreams and ideas that just pop in on dark nights and lazy afternoons. Probably nothing starts a story quite as well as actually being awake when the storm hits and the lightning is flashing or on a quiet morning with a cup of coffee while taking the time to simply see life around us.
Writing takes the courage to put ourselves down on paper where others can criticize and poke fun. It also takes the desire to reach and inspire others with word pictures; pictures that will enable them to see beyond the moment, to go beyond their own space, and to dream. Sometimes, the only thing that keeps us going on the project is that this story, this work of art, is coming from our heart and it simply has to come out and be laid gently, lovingly, even tearfully, on paper where at least we can see it. But, we’ve kept at it and it’s now sitting there, and the question again is, Now What?
I’m not the expert on writing books. I’ve managed to get seven novels written (SANCTION, THE LESSER EVIL, COP, NIGHTMARE, JACOB, ONLY THE WATCHMEN WEEP, and THEREFORE I AM) and have gotten them published. But, what I want to do now is just put my thoughts down here on paper — my experiences over the past fifteen-plus years of writing and publishing and marketing — for those of you who’ve perhaps started this journey yourself and might be wondering just what’s facing you. How are you going to take this brainchild of yours and get it into the hands of people you know will love it and benefit from it as much as you have? What are you going to experience along this journey and how will you get through the experience with your heart and mind and soul still relatively intact?
So, perhaps the first questions become, How do I write this thing? Is what I’ve written even readable, any good? (I wrote to a publisher who advertised on my own website, asking them if they had someone who could just read my first several chapters and tell me if it was any good. Was it worth continuing? They said, Sure, so I sent my first chapters off. A few weeks later, without my knowledge, a delivery service drove up my driveway with a contract for me. They wanted my book. Wow.) How can I make this something that readers will accept and enjoy? And, I believe the answer to that question is pretty simplistic:
Write the very best book you can.
(And, you can always enlist me to read it with/for you and make suggestions.
Write me — firstname.lastname@example.org)
What Is Writing?
Oxford’s Dictionary describes writing as “the activity or skill of marking coherent words on paper and composing text” and “the activity or occupation of composing text for publication.” But, does that really describe what this writing thing is all about? It’s technical and valid, but, as the song asks, Is that all there is?
Wikipedia says this about writing: “Writing is a medium of human communication that represents language and emotion with signs and symbols. In most languages, writing is a complement to speech or spoken language. Writing is not a language, but a tool used to make languages be read. Within a language system, writing relies on many of the same structures as speech, such as vocabulary, grammar, and semantics... The result of writing is called text, and the recipient of text is called a reader.”
Before we go on, let me clarify something. We’ll come back to this later, but for now, a short explanation.
Whenever I say something about writing and use the phrase or words, “putting it on paper”, or “using your pen or pencil”, what I really mean is your computer. If you have to write your manuscript (as it will now be called) by hand, please — you must — get it on a computer. Only when it’s on a computer will you feel comfortable deleting and adding text, making copies, and correcting the whole thing. Okay? A computer is an absolute must. (More later, but enough for now.)
Consider the subject of creative writing for a moment. Creative writing is any writing that goes beyond the framework of “normal” writing such as professional treatises, letters to friends, etc. It’s usually identified by its emphasis on narrative, character development, and the use of figurative language. Fictional writing almost always falls into this definition.
Fictional writing, generally, is produced as a story that is meant to entertain. The Oxford Dictionary defines entertain as “to provide (someone) with amusement or enjoyment.” Maybe to inform. Maybe to scare. But, generally, to entertain. To give them something to enjoy.
The category a writer uses is called a genre, such as romance, or chick lit, or mystery, and is chosen to move a writer’s work into readership groups such as women, men, young, old, history buffs and others, because the people reading those genres are searching for that kind of writing.
As you can see, there is much to consider as you take up your pen and begin writing. Questions include, “Who am I writing this for? What era am I trying to describe? Am I writing a modern, suspenseful mystery or a historical romance from the Elizabethan era?” These are all subjects that must be decided before the first pages or chapters are completed.
One of the first things any writer must consider is what group of people he or she is writing for. Today’s market is entirely different than that of people who read in earlier days, and those today who actually want to read books of those days.
L. P. Hartley wrote and published a great novel, The Go-Between, about 1953, when he was 58. The story was of the period of the 1900s and showed the feelings and teachings of that time, 50 or so years before the time in which he was writing. It was set in England and before World War One. The average mind of the day had been taught to accept the (British) world the way it was portrayed. His writing was of a time in which he had grown up and was of subjects that were completely “normal” for that time. It was simply material people had learned in those days and what some readers today want to read and know.
Today, the average reader cannot, and does not, think of the past, dwell on it, ponder it, and certainly does not usually read of it. Hartley writes, in his personal Introduction to the novel, written in 1962, well after the novel had first been published, and after he had been asked what gave him the idea for The Go-Between, “I was able to set my little private tragedy against a general background of security and happiness. No novelist can do that now; he has to remember that in most people’s lives [today] tragedy has been the rule, not the exception.”
Today, the average reader wants tragedies or triumphs set in today’s world, resolved in hourly segments, in which he or she can simply lose themself. They aren’t interested in things they have to study and learn from.
You must consider that and truly take it to heart if you want your novel, written today, to be accepted. Who are the people you are writing for, and, as the next chapters ask, how do they read, etc.? A writer can, and many do, write of times past and lessons learned, but the writings are not of today’s world and almost certainly will not be accepted (read) by today’s average reader.
You must understand this, and accept it, and comply with modern rules and wants, as you write your novel of today.
We’re going to go into the parts, or elements, of a book shortly, but before that I’d like to introduce you to another concept, a word I’ve borrowed. To me, it’s one of the most important elements of a book because it will ultimately be what keeps a reader reading. Without this, a book will be disjointed or ragged in its design and many readers will just put it away. Things will interrupt your readers. Any kind of book: children’s, romance, mystery, even non-fiction. There will likely be no recommendations from a reader because the book simply loses them.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines flow as “going from one place to another in a steady stream”, or “the action or fact of moving along in a steady, continuous stream”. My own definition involves certain questions. Does the story move from one idea to the next without glaring distractions? Does it get from the beginning to the end smoothly? Does one idea or chapter move into the next one without causing a reader to simply zone out and put the book down? Maybe it’s time for a good nap (???) Does the writing keep the reader wanting more, actively looking for the next thought?
I’ve read a few books where I’ve asked, “Doesn’t this guy ever take a break? I want to get a sandwich. I want to turn out the light.” Usually, that was because of long, long chapters, or descriptions of people or materials that became far too wordy and uninteresting. The flow was broken. Sometimes, though, it was because the story was so riveting I couldn’t put it down. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a writer needs to consider his reader when he’s writing, and, if the reader simply can’t put the book down, maybe the writer needs to consider the overall flow.
Never a break in the flow? Sometimes it was because the story was disjointed and I kept getting lost. It became tedious and tiresome. Sometimes it was because the story was so intense I had to get to the next part and see what was going to happen. Either way, there was no flow or the flow never gave me a break. The author should have considered those things.
Many books will jump from one idea or plot to another and will become hard to keep up with. Flashbacks will often produce this. Jumping from one hero or plot completely over to another one, and then trying to jump back to the original idea, will do it. Nothing says that’s wrong, but a writer needs to be very careful if doing those things. One way to get past those kinds of errors, or to fix them, is to have someone else read your book and give you their honest opinion on how it all holds together. Do you have someone who will help you like that?
Always keep the FLOW of your book in mind.
It’s a simple little word, but, to me, it means so much in writing. So, let’s take a closer look at it. I think flow is one of the most important parts of writing.
It’s a small word, but it brings many parts of writing together. Overall, it makes it easier for the reader to get through the writing and to understand where the story is going. Ultimately, the writer needs to be able to look back and ask, “Did the book do what it purported to do? Did it get from here to there without leaving the reader behind? Was the book overall interesting and did it continue pulling the reader into it?”
If I write so my reader has to pause to understand where I’m going, I may be interrupting the flow. The flow can be looked at like a drive through the country. If my words don’t keep the driver on the road, if he has to take the time to find a way around the trip I’m painting and to get back to the scenery he’s there for, my writing is blocking his progress. If, though, I remove the roadblocks, if I clean up my writing, that driver (reader) can get back to what he was really there for — enjoying the scenery (or the story).
First sentences of a paragraph or page, even a chapter, should tell a reader where he is going. Editors and publishers will call this a “hook,” and it’s designed to get the reader focused and moving on into what’s coming. It’s often said that a hook should be on the first page and capture the reader’s interest for the entire book. But, a hook can be many places, and can simply continue to hook the reader into continuing. It’s designed to catch them. A reader should be asking, “What is coming up?” not, “Okay, is this really going anywhere?”
Is your writing clear and concise? Again, the Oxford Dictionary defines concise as “giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words; brief but comprehensive.”
Wording can be descriptive of situations or characters, but should let a reader make their own judgment about those things. That will also contribute to the flow of a story. If the writer takes a lot of time putting their own judgment into their descriptions, they can slow down the story and break up the flow for the reader.
If the reader has to go through a story with pencil in hand, with a dictionary close by, they’re going to lose the story line; the flow won’t be there. Having concise and precise wording is like having a good map at my side while I’m driving though the country. I won’t get lost. I’ll probably be able to see the best sights. And I won’t get laughed at by the gas station people who say, “You can’t get there from here.”
Keep away from repetition. Describing a dress once, and the movie star wearing it, will likely be enough. I’ve read, or tried to read, books that described the same person pretty much the same way on every other page. Too much repetition will distract from the flow of the story and it’s going to send me away. I’m generally not reading to hear, over and over again, the physical description of the hero. That can get boring. I want to know what happens. I don’t want to read the same thing over and over. Keep up the flow is a positive way of saying Don’t break up the flow.
As the Walden University Writing Center said, “As you write, remember to use logical connections; topic sentences; transitions; clear, concise writing; and varied wording and sentence structure. If you can master these aspects, then you’re on your way to creating flow in your writing!”
So, how about a definition of writing. The Austin Community College says: “When you read a novel... you are experiencing the literary purpose... The focus of the literary purpose is on the words themselves and on a conscious and deliberate arrangement of the words to produce a pleasing or enriching effect.” Ouch. That was quite a definition. Let me try it another way. The literary purpose is to tell you the story in such a way that you are entertained, that you don’t put the book away. Or, that you learn from it. Writing a novel is telling a story that will entertain. Any story; any place; any time. The writing is to get you into the story and keep you there. It is to make a reader of you. Maybe that’s much simpler, but it really does tell you what writing is about.
Authors write for many different reasons, and they may choose different types of genres. Although there are many reasons to write, the three main forms of purpose are to persuade, to inform and to entertain. And those purposes will fit into every kind of genre.
As you begin this journey of writing, have you decided on, even considered, the reason you are writing? And have you carefully considered the FLOW of your work?
Before you start the writing of your book, consider all the elements of good writing, ask all the Why questions, get the materials you will need to do the job, and round up helpers who will assist you whenever you need that help. This is not something you should do all on your own. Yes, many authors write in some kind of solitude, but almost none of them continue in that vein. They generally all get help.
Write The Very Best Book You Can
Yeah, I know. Pretty simple. Don’t we all do that? Write the very best...? But, seriously, do we?
Eventually you’re going to want to put this creation into the hands of an agent or editor, a publisher, a printer, and have it become a real book. But, what does it really look and sound like as it is right now? Have you actually read your own creation, from front to back, like a real book, OUT LOUD? Is it really the best you can do?
You’ve built a new birdhouse, but when you hang it in the tree and a bird lands on it, it flips over and scares the bird half to death. You’ve baked the perfect pie for the contest, but when the judge (or your family) tastes it, you see a certain look on their face of... Well, the look wasn’t very... pleasant? Maybe you should have actually tested (tasted?) your creation before you applied for the patent or sent it to Good Housekeeping?
It’s the same with your book. When you finally write fini on the last page, you can rightfully sit back and take a break. Be proud. Caress it lovingly as it sits on the table. Just look at it for a day or a month, and think, I did it. I actually finished. However, despite the time and agony that’s gone into bringing the child to birth, the struggle has only begun.
When you suddenly discover that there’s a child going to appear in a few months, you’ll probably know you’re going to go through some struggles and pain getting to the end. But, when that child is finally born, the pain is not over. It definitely is not. Now you’re going to discover that there are years and years of stuff that you’re going to have to go through to get this child from its beginning to the time when you can nudge it out the door with some confidence that it will survive. It’s the same with your book.
After you’ve spent time recuperating from the birth of your Baby, it’s time to pick up your pencil again (I know! I know!) and start — Editing.
This is the time when you will pick up your manuscript (as the publishers will now call it) and tear it apart and re-do it. (Screams of agony are heard wafting through the ether.) But, it’s either you do it or they will. And it’s going to be hard enough getting a new work into a publisher’s hands even if it’s perfect, so your job now is to make it absolutely the best manuscript you possibly can — so that it will be looked at.
Publishers literally have thousands of manuscripts cross their desks — maybe even dozens or hundreds daily. Why are they going to look at yours? Did you remember there are upward of 600,000-1,000,000 titles published each year now — in the U.S. alone? That’s almost 50,000-85,000 titles per month. Did you also know that almost half of the people don’t read any books at all? This despite the fact that in a general size bookstore there are anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 books on display and books are now in grocery stores, car washes and gas stations, on the Internet and in major book “stores” such as WalMart.com. Consumers will spend multiple billions of dollars purchasing books each year, yet the chances of any one book being purchased, especially a new one from a new author, are less than 3 out of 10,000. Astounded yet? Or scared?
This is the kind of competition you’re going up against, so are you prepared?
A publisher has fifty manuscripts come across his desk today. He sees one that is scruffy, on plain white paper, smudged, and with two typos and mis-spellings in the first paragraph. The one right under that has a soft, colored cover with the title in huge letters and a sub-title that seems to say this is an exciting story. It’s well typed in a font that is easily read and is on a soft, beige paper. Which one do you think he’s going to even begin to look at? Sorry. Facts of life in the book-publishing world.
As he begin reeding, he find a dry story with looooong, rambeling, paragrahs, words mis-speled, poorly formatted, and gramer, and punctation, that keeps him wundering what it meens, rather thn alowing him too simpy reed the story.
How long would you continue to read a story consisting of sentences like the last one? Yet, this is often the first introduction they have to our new works.
So, the first thing you are going to do (NOT a suggestion) is to get comfortable with a couple of red pencils at hand with all the time in the world available and READ your own manuscript. Brutally. Viciously. OUT LOUD. And from the printed page, not the computer screen.
Reading from the computer is all right for drafting your work and for quick proofing, but it does not allow you to view your work as a manuscript — a book. It’s usually too cramped. You don’t see a whole page at once. It has to keep moving for you to continue, or it’s too small to see well. You have to keep pushing buttons or pushing around a mouse to keep things going. And it doesn’t hold and feel like a book. Once you’ve actually finished the writing and have done some basic proofing and editing (spell- and grammar-checking, for instance), you need to invest in a ream of half-decent paper and print out the entire manuscript, preferably in “book format.”
I learned that the hard way and had corrections to make that at first I just did not catch. Now, to me, book format is converting the normal “portrait” style printed page to a horizontal, or “landscape” view, then making it into two columns per page (so you see two pages at once), and printing it out so when you hold it to read, it looks and feels like a book. (Write me and I’ll walk you through this process.)
One more point that is a must before we go any further with this: If you’ve written your work by pen or pencil or have used an actual typewriter, is there any way you can get the whole thing converted to a computer and a decent word processing program? (I know — Again? Yeah, but it’s too important to let it go.) You’re going to want to go through your manuscript a number of times making corrections and changes, and on a computer this is simply not a problem. A manually written or typed manuscript is going to be a major negative from the very beginning because you already know how much work it’s going to take to make the corrections and do all the re-writing.
Borrow a computer, use the one at the library, have a friend enter it into a computer for you, check with a true computer center about converting your work. Anything — but please, get it into an electronic format that will keep you from being afraid to work on it. With a computer, you can make a copy to start with and make all your changes initially on the copy. Save the original for your peace of mind if you want. Even if you have to pay someone to compute your manuscript, it will be worth its weight in gold when you have to start turning your manuscript into a book. If you have it in a computer and on a decent word processing program, when you want or need to check the spelling and grammar you just push a button and sit back to let it do its thing. And any changes or corrections you need to make are done in a nano-second and your whole manuscript is “fixed” without grief.
Please get it on a computer. You won’t regret it.
Some Of The Technical Elements
All writers write in a “genre,” sometimes known simply as a category or type. While they may not exactly pick one genre and decide to write that type of story forever, in effect that’s what they do. Whether they come from a life background of violence and corruption, or a neutral setting, or one of loving kindness, that background will often drive them into their choice of the category or genre in which they will create their stories.
The Oxford Dictionary defines genre as “a category of artistic composition... characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.” Romance books are one genre. Children’s stories are another. Chick lit, suspense, European history, fantasy (but it usually differs from science fiction). Check them. What’s in your mind? What will you be writing? THINK. Remember that word?
A reader should be asking, “What is coming up?” not, “Okay, is this really going anywhere?”
Something in your makeup may cause you to love romance stories. News reports of the corruption in your government or elsewhere in the world will likely anger you and make you want to let everyone around you know what is happening, and the best way to do that might be to create a story about that corruption and intrigue. Sometimes you just happen to be fascinated by Mafia guys and your dreams are filled with their exploits, whether they are the good guys or the bad guys in your stories. Sometimes your life philosophy will cause you to write a story bringing that philosophy out into the view of us less enlightened folks.
Genres are different and you need to decide what genre your story belongs in so you can write the right way and with the correct rules. (There are some different rules for different genres and you need to know them.)
If you do, maybe people will like what you write and will actually buy your book(s). (Maybe not.) But your chances are greatly improved if you follow the correct rules of writing.
A genre will often have many how-to rules attached to it that purport to give you ideas of how to write enjoyable stories in that category. The hero must bring excitement into your reader’s life. The heroine must be beautiful. The hero and heroine must have some kind of instant, magnetic attraction. And more.
But, will those rules work? For you? They might be a part of the necessary formula, but there really is no magic attached to making a halfway decent book into a bestseller. (Halfway???) The success of your book will always come down to using all the rules in the right way for you and your audience.
Your favorite type of book may be either fiction or non-fiction and it will likely have some type of genre guiding it. But genre is something you need to know about. And, a major item: you don’t switch or inter-mingle genres. A mystery is a mystery, and a romance is a romance. A mystery within a romance might be okay, but it’s still a romance. You cannot write a real mystery and a true romance in the same novel. One will cloud the other.
You probably have a favorite book, either fiction or non-fiction; however, you might be interested in knowing about all of the different categories, or styles, of writing. Fiction books generally consist of a story made up by the author, while non-fiction ones are generally based on presenting factual information. You can sum the two up by talking about information versus emotions. Non-fiction usually gives information; fiction usually is meant to bring out emotions.
Non-fiction works might be a biography or history while fiction will generally be about imaginary events and people. Either of them may have facts, or truths, in them. A non-fiction story could have a biography of a fictional character. A fictional story could have real facts of history. (Read The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, a fictional story with a lot of factual history in it.) Either of them might contain completely made up ideas, or have guessed-at thoughts. (Does anyone really know what Queen Elizabeth I was thinking in her sitting room the night of...? But an author can extrapolate from many things that went on before that night to guess at what she might have been thinking. What she thinks or does in the story may not be real, but it can still be true to life and exciting.)
And an author can write completely true facts of history into his made-up novel in order to keep his readers guessing at what really might have happened. (Read Jacob by Jim Magwood for a story of the fictional character living through real Israeli history.)
In order to get an idea of what types of genres there are, and how many of them might be out there, let’s look at a partial list of them. (Look them up in Google or something if you’re really interested in any of them.)
Biography and Memoirs
Comedy and Comics
History, Science and Math
Mystery, Suspense and Thrillers
Religion and Spirituality
Science Fiction and Paranormal
Wheeew. And many of these will have sub-genres. Way too much to digest?
Research them, because somewhere in there is where you’ll be writing.
In addition to the various genres, there are such technical things in writing as simply having a good idea of what your story is about. Ideas and subordinate ideas. How about the overall organization of your thoughts and materials? Is it coherent? Does it bring out excitement? Does the reader remain oriented while your story travels through the Orient, Europe and the Americas? Is it logical? Your book can be about real, non-fictional thoughts and ideas, but still be exciting. Again, look at The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan.
What about your supporting material? Examples, statistics and quotations? References to other books, authors, maps, geographical places, even science fiction characters? Do they look and sound real, even if they are fantasy?
There are such things as word choices, points of view, first, second or third voices, clarity and accuracy. Have you checked every instance of spelling, grammar and punctuation? (Your readers will find all your errors. Guaranteed. And will comment on them — loudly — as they toss your book away.)
Write in coherent words, sentences and phrases. Write paragraphs that are neither too short nor too long. Write with as few words as possible. Don’t get caught up in cliché words and phrases. Avoid the passive voice; use the active voice whenever possible. The passive voice is generally weak. An active voice describes something where a subject performs the action instead of the subject simply being acted upon. (He fired the gun versus the gun was fired.)
Technical description: In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. Bill fired the gun. Bill is the subject and he is making the action happen. The gun is the object. Using an active voice can produce a strong sentence; a passive voice can produce a weak one.
In a passive voice, the object of the action becomes the subject. The gun was fired by Bill. The subject of the sentence becomes the gun, and it is not doing anything. It is just receiving Bill’s action. You can easily see the passive voice is not as strong as the active voice.
There are times to use either voice, but you need to know what they are so you can choose what will work best in your writing.
Keep your sentences relatively short. Long sentences will slow the reader down and can hide the writer’s meaning. That can also bog down the flow of the story.
Just a suggestion: If you really don’t know all the rules of English (or whatever language you’re using), get someone else to read your work so they can tell you if you’re using the right idioms, the right voice, the right grammar, etc. Then LISTEN to what they say.
Don’t use too many adjectives. Too many adjectives can slow down the flow of your ideas. Too often a writer will tell me what shade of blue the boat was painted, and how many layers of paint were applied, but never really get around to telling me how the limpet mines were attached.
Always use the past tense when writing about things that happened in the past and present tense for present things (obviously). Too many authors use phrases such as The problem, as John sees it, is to win at any cost. Change that to The problem, as John SAW it... Past tense; short and sweet; no confusion. There is a time for using the present tense, but be sure you know when it’s right. (Be very careful as to what you are describing if you write the other way. What is happening in your overall plot? Who is speaking? What “voice” is being used? More on “voice” later.)
Don’t repeat words, especially names. Use a thesaurus to find different words describing the same things. And on names, I’ve read far too many stories where every instance of John Smith entering the scene said, John Smith came into the room. John Smith did this. John Smith did that. Instead, you can use John, Smitty, Mr. Smith, he, and so on. Find different words to describe people, places, actions and things. As I said, don’t keep repeating words.
There are so many technical things that go into writing a book, and we’ll look at more of them later. You do need to learn, though, the “rules” for writing in your genre. You don’t want tough, masculine, high-power bear-hunting idioms in your children’s book on bunny rabbits and lollipops.
How Do I Determine What To Write?
Ah, yes. I know you have a story all ready to put on paper. You’ve had it in mind for a long time. But still, you have that question rolling around: How do I decide what to write? Maybe you have too many ideas. Maybe the story setting isn’t quite right, or it doesn’t really turn you on. “Is this the right story? Should I...?”
One of the most important decisions you will make as a writer is choosing your story. Deciding what story you will write. I know you have this certain story in your soul, but is it the right one? How do you decide?
Perhaps you’ve got a story sitting there; it’s been part of you for years; but how do you get it out and on paper?
Maybe you have several ideas in mind, they all seem to be good, but you can’t get your mind focusing on the one. Again, how do you make that choice?
Then, let me give you a thought to focus on. The Bible says, at Psalm 37:7, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” If, having all the power of God’s Word, we are told to rest and wait, maybe we should be doing that?
Have you rested? Are you waiting? Or are you powering ahead to get into this thing and get it to the publisher? Maybe you should be sitting back in your quiet place just thinking about your work rather than trying to get to the writing. Resting. Pondering.
The story you are going to write is not something you should rush into. Whatever you choose, you’re going to spend the next weeks, months, even years, playing around with. If you choose wrong, not only will you spin your wheels for all that time, but if/when you get it finished, it likely won’t interest any publishers or the reading public.
But if you choose correctly, you’ll start on a journey that will be exciting and fulfilling and that will help you grow as a writer while, at the same time, putting together a book that many people out there just might reach out for.
Here are several ideas to consider in deciding what story you should write and how to go about it.
1. What’s your basic hypothesis?
And a hypothesis is...? The Oxford Dictionary says it is “...a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point...” In other words, it’s an idea and a starting point.
If your story doesn’t have a great starting point, and a great overall theme, it’s probably not going to go anywhere. But a great starting point and theme does not necessarily make a great story. Have you thought of where you see this story taking you? What kind of characters will you develop? Where will all this take place? Author and illustrator Beatrix Potter wasn’t thinking of the Peter Rabbit books when she wrote her letters, with the story, to a five-year-old child in 1893. And they weren’t published as the first of the Peter Rabbit books, the story, until 1902.
2. Are you really committed to this writing thing?
Before you commit to your book, you need to think it through completely. You need to understand what you’re going to have to do to get it all down on paper. This isn’t going to be a time when you’ll just sit at your computer and bang out some words and lo, a bestseller will be born. While you may enjoy getting the story out, this will not likely be a fun project. It will be in work for hours, and days, and weeks, and... Are you prepared for all this?
There have been writers, many would-be writers, who said, “The money. The fame.” And many of them have been left behind. The getting there was too hard. Then there have been writers who said, “But I just had this story in me I had to tell...” and they spent the necessary time, the years even, getting their book out there. They wrote because they had a story they had to share, and they did what they had to do to write while, at the same time, living life.
I knew a girl who basically gave up her teenage life because she so badly wanted to write her story, a story of growing up in a migrant community in California. She was advised to WRITE. And I knew a middle-age man who simply could not put aside his many other commitments so he could sit down and write. He never got his story told, and it could have been a great one.
Some people are committed; some are not.
3. Do you have a great idea?
What you might need to do is get together with a good friend, an honest one (yes, they might still be a friend later), and talk through the premise of your book. See what he or she thinks. Do any major disagreements come out? Does she have any more story ideas you might consider putting in your book? Or leaving out?
Ask yourself: Is this the story you were supposed to write? Is there some reason that comes out as to why you might not want to do this?
Another thought to seriously consider: How many other writers have written on this same theme? Look up your title or premise in the Internet and see how many other books and movies have been made that you might be imitating. Yes, competition is a good thing, and maybe you have a more unique approach to the theme, or a much stronger story, or it’s different enough to set it apart. But will it stand on its own or just become another one of them? It’s definitely something to consider.
4. Will your readers understand your characters?
Ayn Rand wrote out most of the story line of her novels, plus descriptions of the characters and how they interacted, before she ever wrote a word of her actual novels.
Not every seemingly great story idea comes complete with the rest of the trappings necessary to make a great book. Think about your characters. Are they already so vibrant in your head that you can sense they’ll have unique and powerful voices on the page? Will they be memorable and definitive? Will they interact with each other in meaningful and important ways? A great premise that lacks great characters won’t go anywhere fast.
5. What’s the foundation, the basics, of your book?
Many stories start out with an interaction between characters. Or you might have a factual plot that needs to roll through the whole story. That said, how are you going to flesh out a whole book with the little you’ve got? Consider your ideas. Think them out. Is it possible to semi-outline your whole story before you start writing it? Where does it start? How does it end? (See, that only leaves those dumb middle pages to fill out.) Do you see your story keeping your kids company on dreary nights? Might the world be waiting for your book? If you can’t see your book affecting a lot of people out there, maybe it simply isn’t enough to commit all your time and effort creating.
A foundation is a base, an underlying principle for something. Without a good base, or foundation, a building will collapse. Without a good base for your story, it can collapse, also. (Consider the Biblical story of building your house on the rocks or the sand?)
6. Do you understand what will be in your story, and the next, and...?
There are many writers out there who manage to get a book into a producer’s hands, and then have to face a contract where the publisher says he wants five more books. I’ve wondered, “Yeah, the ego might be satisfied now, but can I really write five more books?” Don’t start writing a story without knowing what you’re creating. If you don’t know where you’re going with the story, it won’t likely have the drive and impact to keep you working at it and to interest your readers. (I don’t necessarily mean to write a series, but will future books be able to build on what you’ve already written? Or will this present book build on itself?)
There are books like this one, and lots of seminar speakers, that will tell you how to write your book. But will they also give you the real desire, the commitment, the energy, to keep at the process and make it happen unless you already have a good idea of what you want to do? (Will you remember what the speaker said fifteen minutes after the seminar is over?)
7. Will you jump in before you think it out?
I’ve known people who got an idea of something to do, went out and bought some fairly expensive supplies, got all settled into their project — then never did anything more. The supplies are still sitting there — maybe years later. The idea might still be there, but nothing’s happened. This is not to say you shouldn’t start doing something, but have you really thought it out? It’s okay to buy those supplies, write part of your story, but will you continue?
This might be the time to sit back and really wander through this whole writing thing again. Think through your story. Ask a dozen times why you want to do this. Put your thoughts down on that old, yellow scratch pad. (Yes, make yourself write things down.) Ask for help from friends who are readers. (Yes, ask for help.) Get involved with a local writing group and ask for more help. And listen to what the people say. You don’t have to be swayed by the negatives that come out, but you must at least listen to them. Through all the negatives and nonsense, you just might hear some things that will keep you interested and committed to this writing project.
Now, all this might have seemed like many reasons why you shouldn’t do this. And I didn’t mean it to be that way. If you have a dream about writing, and the story really does seem like your Baby, maybe you should write it. However, there are many things to think about as you take up pen and begin putting words on paper.
The big issue is that you have a dream about writing a book. But there are so many things to consider as you begin, not the least of which are the questions: Is this book to be personal, commercial, popular, or literary? Is it a romance or a mystery? What genre are you considering working in? Is your story, your book, to be made up, written from your life experiences, or about what’s actually happening around you right now? Is it about what you have seen, or about what you see now?
The answers won’t come easily, but there is help out there. There are books like this one to dig through. There are some people who have already gone through this who are willing to help. (You just have to find them.) Yes, there are famous (?) writers who are willing to talk with you, to help. (Check out Jerry Jenkins, a great writer who has determined he wants to help aspiring writers get through the writing maze.)
But, if you don’t take the time to look for the problems and answers before you start, they will catch up with you later and they will seem insurmountable. Get a jump on them early.
Ask, and answer, the questions.