Once you’ve joined a writing community and have participated in meaningful ways, there will come a time when you will be asked to submit your own work.
This is not the time to panic. Relish the opportunity. I truly believe everyone has at least one story within them that needs to be told. It could be something that you or a family member have personally experienced, or it could be a neat idea for a work of fiction.
Creativity flows from the moment your put your idea in writing. This is the time to commit to a scheduled time of the day to think about, plan and write about it. Schedule it early in the morning before the kids wake up or the quiet time at night. Working this out with your significant other will make your life less stressful because you will have discussed how important this certain writing project is to you.
When you write down your idea—and this is key–mute that internal editor. Write down your idea, no matter how silly you think it might sound. Like passing laws and making sausages, the story writing process ain’t pretty. It’s even okay to reference stories or scenes from other works of fiction that you love and think would be perfect to propel your story. Don’t worry about plagiarism at this point. Remember: story themes, or “tropes” as we call them, have been recycled time and time again. The difference comes in what you, the author, add to it. Does the story end differently? Are the characters different? Is the setting in a new time and place?
If you get stuck, ask yourself, “What if…?”. All of the great works of fiction strive answer this question.
What if a young man unjustly imprisoned for treason seizes the opportunity to seek revenge on the men you were responsible for his misfortune?
What if the sister of kidney transplant patient sues her parents for making her be the donor?
What if a man raised by Martians is brought to earth and exposed to human beings for the first time in his life?
Then describe your story in one sentence. “This is a story about…” Check yourself by asking if this the story you really what to tell.
Once you’ve drafted and redrafted a summary of your story idea and possible endings. Worry about the “middle” later. Now is the time to delve into the characters. It’s been said that great characters write themselves. What that really means is that the author did such a thorough job of drawing a complete character description throughout the story, the character is internalized by most readers. And why was that character so believable? Because there were traits in that character that readers identified with living their own lives. In fact, if you’ve developed your characters enough, those traits will dictate how the story should end and what happens to them after the dust settles.
Write about your characters’ physical appearance, likes and dislikes and events in their lives that have shaped them up to the moment your story begins. As you start writing, refer to these character summaries often, but remember that you will not include all of this backstory in your tale. Only draw on the important stuff that necessary to move your plot forward.
Next comes the outline. We all know that there are some writers who do not document their plot in a fixed form. They have been referred to commonly as “pantsers” or respectfully as “developmental writers”. They keep it all in their own head and already know how their story is going to end. More power to them.
You will write a comprehensive outline.
This is how you record the progression of the plot for future reference and revision. Don’t think you are wasting your time on this. Taking the time to lay it all out and revise the outline will save time writing the text in the long run.
Sure, you’ll need to revise the finished work, but that is expected. As you write scenes and chapters, new plot ideas and character information will present themselves in your mind. Consider whether they will improve the telling of your story. If not, discard them.
When you start writing the text, write the chapters and scenes within the chapters that excite you most. These most likely are pivotal plot markers that pit one character against another. Then you can go in and backfill the missing chapters of the “great swampy middle” later.
Take care to write a memorable and well-written first chapter because that is the first impression your potential readers (and agent) get to see of your story. Make sure that whatever “hook” you decide to attract readers with meets or exceeds their expectations about what the book is all about.
Most everyone may think writing the novel is the hardest part, but successful promotion of a novel is often the most neglected aspect of authorship. I’ll leave that to tackle in my next post.