2. What do I want to say about it?
4. Why should anybody else care?
5. What can I do to make them care?
6. What do I want readers to do, think or see?
What I have found is that most writers can answer the first three, but not the last three. The last three focus on the reader, while the first three on the writer.
The key to all the techniques and tools listed on the following pages is that they must be used to insure smoothness. By smoothness, I mean that your writing must not jar the reader either in term of style or story. The reader is interested in the story. Reading is the means by which they learn the story, but it is only a medium. The medium must not get in the way of the story. When the reader is pulled out of the story into the writing because you didn't use the proper technique, or didn't use it correctly, you stray away from the story.
A good maxim to keep in mind is: "Don't let them know you're writing."
Sometimes I have mentioned the differences and similarities between writing and filmmaking. I do it to emphasize technique and also because we have a very visually oriented society. Many more people rent videos each night than check books out of the library. The "camera" concept can help you, as the author, to understand what you are portraying to the reader, especially in our first area of perspective or point of view in Chapter 11.
There are two concepts I think it is important to understand when trying to think like a novelist. A successful novelist has to be able to do two contradictory things well. She has to be able to see a story with 360 degree vision (envisioning all possibilities), yet at the same time, be able to focus in one direction well enough to be able to see over the horizon where that particular possibility will lead to. What I mean is that an author, when writing a novel, has to be able to see a multitude of possibilities in the story from the very first idea through the editing and rewriting stage. That wide range of vision allows one the ability to take the story in different directions that will make it more interesting and viable. Having blinders on severely handicaps an author. There are so many story possibilities inherent in every idea and the writer must see as many of those as possible and pick out the best one at each juncture (note we are touching on writer's block here.).
At the same time, a writer must be able to see where each possibility leads as regards the original idea, subplots, characters, timeline etc., much like a chess player has to be able to look twelve moves ahead for each move he can make and see how the possible scenarios will unfold based on each move. And see not only the possible scenarios for the piece he moved, but for all the pieces on the board (including the opponent's which greatly increases the possible variations.).
I have found that people usually have the mental capacity to work either way, but rarely have I found someone who can do both well. Some people see all the possibilities in every situation, but they cannot see the ultimate outcome of each possibility. Others can envision the ultimate outcome for the few possibilities they see, but they miss many of the possibilities.
As I said above, a successful writer must be able to do both. Since most of us might not be capable of doing both very well, that is where you might want to consider discussing your work with a good friend who has a different perspective or reading your work in a writers' group and receiving feedback. The problem with a novel is that it is very large and a one-hour discussion is not going to do you much good. To get adequate help, you need someone who is not only good in the area you are lacking in (if you are), but also someone who is willing to put the time and effort in to do a realistic and good job.
I think very few novels in the bookstores were written in a vacuum. Certainly there are geniuses who have both talents and can do that, but for us mere mortals, we need help. And the help should be an ongoing thing. To write four hundred pages, then give it to someone to read and have them say,
"Hey, in chapter one, why didn't you do this?" can be quite frustrating. Remember all this when you read about writer's block later on. Quite often the "block" is the author trying to expand her mind to see other possibilities in the story, or trying to project out possible paths.
Warning. We are now moving into dangerous territory. We're going to be talking about theories, styles and techniques. Most novice writers want formulas and rules. They want the answer that will make writing easy and get them published. Unfortunately writing is never easy and it takes much hard work to get published. Read the following words very carefully: There is no right or wrong way to write. There are only the right or wrong ways to use techniques and the right and wrong times and places to use techniques.
Does that make sense? In simpler terms, the word never and always should never be used when speaking of style (no pun intended). I emphasize the advantages and disadvantages of every technique and concept in the following pages. You need to do two things: learn how and when to use the technique, then know the advantages and disadvantages. Knowing those two things will allow you to properly utilize them. It's like having a toolkit full of various implements. If you know how to use each one, and where and when to use them, you will be proficient in your craft. But none of the tools are wrong. You can only use them improperly, or at the wrong time or place or for the wrong job.
Carrying that concept a little further: the more you understand the tools you have in your "kit" the better you can use them. The more I have written, the more I have come to understand the importance of knowing what I'm doing. That might sound a bit simplistic and naive, but in retrospect, I can quite honestly say I didn't really know what I was doing when I wrote my first several manuscripts. I think the majority of my writing was based on the fact that I had read a lot. So when I chose my perspective, or my timeline, or "developed" my characters, I didn't do so consciously.
Now, when I work on a manuscript, I may be doing the same thing I did on my first manuscript, but I am aware of what I am doing and this awareness allows me to improve my writing and opens up more story possibilities and allows me to deepen my characters.
I liken this to self-help books. It is my theory that self-help books only help people after they have already gone through the experience of change. Then the books serve two functions: first, they confirm what the person has just learned; second, they explain what the person has learned. In this manner, it is difficult sometimes to understand some of the tools or the way I have explained them in this book if you have never written a manuscript. Study them anyway. Then, after you have written some, go back and reread these chapters. They will make much more sense in light of your writing experience.
I know for myself that I didn't quite understand some of the things in writing books when I first started out. I also smugly thought some of what was written in them was too "simplistic". Well, after many manuscripts, I am going back and saying, "Oh, yeah, now I get it."
Further, and I shudder to say this because I know someone will take this and run with it in the wrong direction, understanding the tools of writing may even allow a few of you truly innovative people out there to invent a new way to use an old tool. Your imagination is your only limit. I mentioned above that there are ways around practically every limitation or disadvantage.
Another thing that I have learned over the years is that there is an exception to every rule. Before you start worrying about what tools or techniques to use, it is important for you to know where you are going, what your objective is.
For example, I am not a big fan of self-publishing. But if your goal is simply to see your name on the cover of a book, then self-publishing might be the best move you can make. I'm not a big fan of book doctors, but I've had people get really irate at me for saying that. I know people who have spent over $1,600 on a book doctor and been very happy with the work done. I also recently read where the state of New York indicted a book doctor company and a bunch of agents who were running a kickback scam. If the goal is to clean up a manuscript and to learn about editing, maybe a good book doctor would be a smart idea, then again, maybe not. More on this later.
In the same manner, I'm not hot on the idea of fee charging agents (more on this in the chapter on agents). Yet, I am sure there are people out there who have gotten published using a fee-charging agent.
The bottom line is: know your goal and then evaluate everything in terms of that goal.
Again, please do not feel limited by the discussion that follows. They are tools to be used or not used, as you desire. Whatever works.
At this point, you have done the following flow in your creative process:
1. Stated your original idea in one sentence.
2. Researched everything that you can about your original idea.
3. Done a book/movie dissection on someone else who used a similar original idea.
I estimate I spend 25% of my time on a novel before I even write word one. I feel that every day spent outlining and preparing, saves me at least five days of actually writing.
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