Five Creative Ways to Kickstart Your Novel

At some point everyone aspires to write a novel. Then the hypothetical writer sits down to write, Grand Idea in tow, and can’t find a way to realize it. Then the hypothetical writer gets depressed, closes the window, and quits working for six months, though they continue to tell everyone they know that they’re either writing or “getting ready to write” a novel.

You don’t want to be one of those people who talks about getting things done more than they get things done. Instead, if you want to be writing a novel, you should be writing a novel. Here are some creative ways to get that novel started.

1. Cut to the chase.

Don’t think in terms of establishing everything right away, especially if your grand masterwork hasn’t been outlined and will be more made up as you go along (as if things aren’t made up as you go along). If there’s a single event, or a character, or some other factor that’s making you feel forced to write, write about that right away. It doesn’t even necessarily need a place in your novel
right away; you’ll find a place for it as you go, and establishing that will help make everything else come naturally.

2. Don’t begin at the beginning.

Beginnings and endings are brutally, painfully difficult. They require a whole lot of revision and a great deal of planning to make them successful, effective and not bogged down in cliché. Start from just about anywhere else and your chances of getting frustrated go down considerably; your beginning and end will come when they come. Don’t assume that you’re writing a beginning
when you start writing, and that you’ll find a place for the first pieces you write as you get further along in your writing project.

3. Power through your first draft.

Don’t assume that you’re going to craft something truly great as you simply start writing. Instead of reading and rereading when you only have a few pages, keep moving; when a cohesive whole, or the seed of a cohesive whole, starts to take shape, begin revising then. You’ll feel a thousand times less prone to abandoning the entire project if you’re trying to support more than only a few hours’ worth of work, and your increased investment in the project will help you in the long term as you seriously approach the revision process later on.

4. Experiment with narration. (point-of-view)

If you find it difficult to write in the third-person, try writing from the first-person. Or consider even trying an epistolary format or another version of second-person address. In doing so, you might find yourself suddenly more invested in a character, or a concept, or discovering things that do and don’t work for you as a writer or the long-form work that you’re attempting to complete.

5. Read fiction that inspires you. Poach a good idea if you find one.

Supposedly at some point Pablo Picasso said that “Talent borrows, genius steals.” Don’t steal someone else’s work and don’t plagiarize, but if something moves you enough to start writing, ask yourself why it affects you so much and why it works, and twist that concept or idea until it begins to feel like yours. The best writers are also voracious readers of fiction; they know tropes and the rules of language well enough to be able to subvert and play with them, and how to make something that stands out in a world in which thousands of books are published yearly and there aren’t that many readers. Bringing up your consumption can only help you in the long run.

Andrew Hall is a guest blogger for Pounding the Pavement and a writer on call center management for Guide to Career Education.

Golden Rules For Being A Writer And Dreaming The First Draft

Joseph Clark of The First Footsteps of Poetry wanted to share these tips from his blog with the readers at The Craft of Writing Fiction. Then I read Anne Fortier’s guest post from Writer’s Digest about her Golden Rules of Being a Writer and thought these little “rules” are a great idea. After you’ve read Joseph’s post, please take a moment to share your own “Golden Rules” in the comments.

Dreaming up that first draft requires a lot of time, and the patience of a saint. We all have a real life outside of our imagination; if we could combine the two, there wouldn’t be a straight line in sight across the globe. To be a writer, having an over active imagination is an obvious must, but it is only one of the many traits a good scholar needs in his or her arsenal.

It becomes increasingly evident that good parents also make good writers, as long as the first need is met. Parenting is about having the patience of a saint, so is shaping and editing any piece of work, or even waiting for the idea. It’s been known for weeks or even months before that golden idea will hit. So always keep up with your real life because you never know when your fictional one will want to sweep you away.

How to bring your first draft into existence

  • Poetry:
  • Build up a firm understanding of poetry in general
  • Experiment with poetical devices and forms
  • Imagery, symbolism and other theories, familiarise yourself with them!
  • never forget, the meter is almost more important than the words
  • Novel writing:
  • You can’t fluke it, you need to know what you’re doing
  • Set the scene, it must be as vivid for the reader as it is for you
  • Live in the world yourself, know about it and make all the notes you can
  • Keep your paragraphs in line, let the reader breathe.

My Golden Rules of Being a Writer

I’ll end these tips with my five golden rules for being a writer:

  1. No research is ever wasted, know your topic
  2. No such thing as bad criticism when it’s constructive
  3. Not everything has to have a deeper meaning, some like simplicity
  4. Patience, it always comes to you when you relax
  5. Even writers need down time, it means you can work all that bit harder.

With this very short, but hopefully helpful bundle of words, I hope to have guided or inspired someone out there to succeed at what I’ve devoted most of my life to already. Happy writing!

What are your own Golden Rules of Being a Writer?

Story POV: Yours, Mine, and the Truth

Choosing your stories point of view (POV)

“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the cold, hard truth.” ~ Don Henley

Choosing your point of view (POV) is one of the most critical aspects of your novel writing. Yet it is also one of the most automatic. Most writers leap into a story, and start writing from their main character’s perspective, in either the first or third person. This early decision can cause issues later on, if the point of view isn’t the ideal one for your story.

POV is also one of the main tools that establishes the narrative mode of your story. It dictates how involved your readers become, by limiting how much information your characters are able to reveal. It brings a unique perspective to the story, which can drastically change if you rewrite a passage with a different point of view. Take a look at some of the most commonly used points of view in literature, and see if your writing could benefit from a perspective face lift.

First Person POV

Your main character speaks directly to your audience, using “I, me, mine”. When using the first person, you are restricted to revealing only one character’s inner thoughts. Your readers see the world through your protagonist’s eyes only, learning new facts only when they are discovered by your hero. Descriptions of your setting, other characters, and obstacles are all filtered through the POV character’s perspective.

This technique is particularly effective when you are writing a character driven story. Your theme will often depend on the character’s personal growth, inner transformation, and the struggles she faces. It is less effective when you need to be able to switch your perspective from character to character, as readers may struggle when presented with another first person point of view within a story. You may try switching characters at chapter breaks, but readers will greatly identify with the character whose head they’ve been in from the beginning, and may resist the unusual break in perspective.

Third Person Limited POV

Your narrator or narrative voice speaks about your characters, using “he, she, them” while focusing primarily on one or two characters. You still retain some of your authority as a writer, and can describe the rest of the story’s world without the need to take your protagonist’s perspective into consideration. Usually, the story will focus on only one character within a chapter, and perspective switches occur at chapter breaks.

Romances are a great example of when two characters share the protagonist role, and when third person limited is split between two characters. However, be on the lookout for when your point of view slides into another person’s perspective without you realizing it. This can cause confusion for your readers, who may not understand why your story is being seen through another person’s eyes all of a sudden. Also, make sure that you don’t unintentionally reveal facts and thoughts that your protagonist cannot know, or else your story’s continuity can be undermined.

Third Person Omniscient POV

Your narrator speaks in a similar way to third person limited, except that they can reveal anything and everything about your characters. The sky’s the limit here, as you can begin with a grand overview of your book’s world, and then zoom in to the perspective of a bumblebee. This perspective is excellent for plot driven stories, where you need to jump from scene to scene taking place in various areas of the world.

However, third person omniscient is also one of the most difficult perspectives to do well. If you jar your readers too much by jumping around, they may lose interest and set your story down. While you can do anything you want, you probably shouldn’t. Guide your readers through your story with grace and skill, and they will be blown away by the expansiveness and complexity of your tale.

Choose a passage from your latest story, and determine what POV you have used. Try rewriting it another point of view, and see how your story changes! What is your favorite point of view?

Photo Credit: Dreamglow Pumpkincat210

Editing As You Write: The Pros And Cons

Editing as you write your flash fiction, short story, or novel.Do you find yourself editing as you write? Do you prefer to keep the writing and editing processes separate? All writers have an opinion about how and when to edit your work-in-progress. Some storytellers let their writing flow uninterrupted, leaving a trail of spelling errors and typos in their wake. Other writers prefer careful editing of their piece after each writing session (or page, or paragraph, or sentence), examining each scene or chapter carefully and fine tuning it into a work of written art.

I use a mix of both techniques. I can’t stand looking at the red squiggly lines appearing below my errors, so I quickly backspace and fix my glaring errors while writing a scene. I even enter my characters’ names into my dictionary, so I don’t have a messy document. However, larger changes, such as carving up a scene, I save until much later on. That much reworking would knock my writer’s hat off my head, leaving only my editor’s hat.

Pros of Consistently Editing

  1. You’ll finish with a more polished manuscript, which will require less editing after it is completed.
  2. You can keep track of how your plot, subplot, and story arc are progressing, and rely less on your memory.
  3. If you find a major plot hole that requires a complete restructuring of your story, you can fix it immediately and not find yourself at a dead end later.
  4. Your characters will be less likely to wander off on tangents that are unrelated to the story at hand.
  5. The story will have much more continuity, and you won’t have to search to change every instance of an incorrect fact.
  6. Grammatical errors are much easier to spot when reading smaller chunks of a story.

Cons of Constantly Editing

  1. The flow of the story will be harder to maintain when you are stopping and starting repeatedly.
  2. The critical side of you required to edit properly can bring your mood down, draining your motivation.
  3. You may pick apart a scene to pieces, so that it falls apart and is no longer usable in your story.
  4. You may forget your place in the story, and stop writing much sooner than you intended.
  5. Your daily word count may be lower, and your progress will be harder to track.
  6. If you find a problem that requires major work, you may not know how to fix it, which will halt you in your tracks.

So what’s the verdict? Each writer has their own writing and editing style. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. As long as it is actually working, then keep it up! If not, go over the pros and cons, and decide for yourself.

Weigh in on the editing debate! Which method do you find yourself doing most often? Do you have more pros or cons to add to the list? Share your editing experiences here.

Photo Credit: Nic McPhee

Writing a Novel with Romance Author Patricia Strefling

“Writing a novel is like making love, but it’s also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.” ~ Dean Koontz

Last week I had the pleasure of talking about Writing Romance and Strong Character with Patricia Strefling. This week Patricia returns and we delve into the finer points of writing a novel, the process involved in writing fiction, and we find out how Patricia gets from initial idea to romance book.

Writing fiction is a detailed process and each writer approaches it differently. Do you plan and outline your books before writing the first draft? What is your “Patricia Strefling” writing process?

The only planning I start with is a “video” in my head about what my character is about… what her problem will be and go from there. You are right, we all do it differently.

I make a list of characters, and facts as I create family members, locations, and other details. This is done on scrap paper stapled at the top. That has worked thus far, but while rewriting my third book I learned a new skill (for me). The new process worked better than trying to “find” my place whenever I needed say, a birthday that I know I mentioned SOMEWHERE.

I now keep a few sheets of lined paper stapled together with each chapter listed and two or three sentences about what that chapter is about. Alongside I list a time-line so I know where I’m at. It makes it so much easier than trying to find a certain scene but forgetting which chapter it appeared in.

Unlike many of my writer friends, I do not plan or outline the story because I really don’t know what is going to happen. I prefer to have a few ideas as I begin and let the story write itself.

One question that comes up frequently is about the day to day routine of a writer. How does your writing impact your day to day living and your schedule?

Wonderfully, I am retired and not required to have a certain schedule. But I must say here that I am ADD, which just means things do not hold my attention for any length of time… except when writing a story! The hardest task for me is to START. Once I start, I cannot stop. The story seems to unwind like a long roll of toilet paper… each small square a scene.

I once wrote an entire 60,000 word novel in 18 days!

How long did it take you to write each book and how much time do you feel you spend working at each stage of the novel writing process?

I tend to be a fast writer, but I slow way down when it comes to editing. If I could write story after story, hand it off to an editor and keep on writing, that would be my dream job. I struggle with re-reading the story once it is written.

Some have taken two months to write, some longer if my life gets busy. After I wrote “Edwina” and published it, readers wanted to know what happened to Cecelia and Spencer. They had engaged in the characters.

WHAT? I had no other story in mind. But about a year later, they had their story. “Cecelia” was a lesson I learned from my readers. They want more you give them more.

Patricia is donating a copy of “Edwina” and a copy of “Cecelia” to one lucky winner at The Craft of Writing Fiction in celebration of her visit here. Last week I shared part one of my talk with Patricia and next Monday I’ll share part three, so you’ll have a total of three opportunities to enter. I’ll announce our winner on the 26th of July.

Want a chance to win? Simply, ask Patricia a question of your own, or leave a thoughtful comment, regarding writing a novel and the novel writing process below. Then share this post with your friends.

Make sure you subscribe to The Craft of Writing Fiction in your RSS feed reader or direct to your email inbox so you don’t miss any of the great posts we have coming up.

Writing Romance and Strong Character with Patricia Strefling

It’s a delight to have the opportunity to welcome a talented romance author to The Craft of Writing Fiction today. Patricia Strefling, is an author of Christian romance novels with titles including “Edwina” and “Cecelia“. These novels reflect Patricia’s hope “to instill encouragement and inspiration in everyday people living everyday lives”. She joins us now to talk about writing romance, character development and her “drawer full of story-line ideas”.

Rebecca: Patricia, welcome to The Craft of Writing fiction and can I just say, “congratulations” on bringing two lovely, heart-touching books into print. The journey from inspiration to publication and then into marketing is fraught with trials and triumphs. Your personal success (and not just the stories it is growing from) offers encouragement, inspiration, and motivation to writers at any stage in their own journey.

What inspired you to begin writing romance books?

Several years ago I experienced business burn-out. I needed something to do that wasn’t work related. Since I loved reading romantic fiction I wrote what I loved to read. Something with real-life in it… not “predictable” stories that seemed too perfect to relate to.

During a 10-year period I wrote about 6 novels and a few short stories and kept them in a drawer. “Edwina” was my first attempt at putting a book out.

Your novels have strong characters, particularly in the protagonists Edwina and Cecelia, how do you develop characters and discover who your story is about?

First, my characters come from real-life experience mostly. I want to read about characters in difficult situations that require some “getting out of”.

Edwina” was written immediately after I’d returned from a trip to Scotland… as I was traveling home I began to think of how a person like me would react… finding herself alone in another country! The story was born.

Sometimes a good movie will charge my brain with a new twist to what I’ve seen… how I would have written the story differently.

How do your characters evolve through as you’re writing a novel?

I begin the writing but eventually the characters begin to develop themselves. It’s very weird, but we writers know about this phenomenon; the story takes on a life of it’s own and we are just the person getting it down on paper.

Some people find it very difficult to “find and define” their characters. For some reason it comes easy to me. I have a drawer full of story-line ideas. Too many. I work on the ones that most touch my own heart. The strongest stories, ones others may want to read.

You’ve already found success publishing two touching romance novels but what are you working on now/next?

[I’ve] just finished rewriting a story that has been in that drawer I mentioned for several years. Got it out, dusted it off, read it through, rewrote parts. Expect to publish this year (2010). Before I did this last rewrite, I was working on a story that connects with my Irish roots; set in Charleston, SC and then Ireland 1880’s. That’s my next project to finish.

Patricia is donating a copy of “Edwina” and a copy of “Cecelia” to one lucky winner at The Craft of Writing Fiction in celebration of her visit here. I’ll be sharing part two my talk with Patricia next Monday the 12th of July and part three on Monday the 19th, so you’ll have a total of three opportunities to enter. I’ll announce our winner on the 26th of July.

Want a chance to win? Simply, ask Patricia a question of your own, or leave a thoughtful comment, regarding writing romance and developing strong characters below. Then share this post with your friends.
Even if you don’t want the books ENTER! Because you can give them to me if you win. I’m not eligible to enter myself but I WANT THEM! lol

Make sure you subscribe to The Craft of Writing Fiction in your RSS feed reader or direct to your email inbox so you don’t miss any of the great posts we have coming up.

Story-Arc, Plot and SubPlot – SG1 Series – Part One

Stargate SG-1 Cast Of CharactersOne of the most remarkable things I’ve noticed with the Stargate SG1 series is the almost decorative design of the story-arc. Each episode has one but each season also has one and the series as a whole has one as well. The three story-arcs work in unison to develop an intricate weave of plot and subplot that can be devoured in 42-minute segments.

As you watch from season one through to season ten you notice the major story-arc, the one that arches over all of the seasons is huge. Episodes become more dramatic, problems compact on top of each other and characters strengths and weakness grow and shift into complex creations that significantly impact the outcome of every choice.

Story Structure: The Story-Arc - Elements of a Novel

When we start smaller we see the simplicity of a single episode. One central idea/problem is introduced. This problem is always slammed home in the first few minutes, prior the opening credits. But I’ll talk more about that in Part Four: Hooks, Hangers and the Sequence of Events. We start with what Les Edgerton (Author of Hooked) called “the story-worthy problem”.

This opening scene may or may not involve the main characters but we are always brought to their point-of-view immediately after the opening credits. We see the problem then we backtrack to where the protagonists are right now. They obviously want to solve the problem. As the episode continues they discover that the problem becomes harder to solve, a plausible solution doesn’t work, there are unseen challenges that have to be confronted first, something else happens to compact the situation.

The conflict reaches climax. It’s a crisis moment and a make or break action tips the scales toward success (or failure). Generally the good guys win against the odds but it is not always in a way that means everyone lives happily ever after (more about this in Part Two: Character Development).

The Goa'uld, Apophis - In Stargate SG1 we are constantly left with the initial story-worthy problem. Will Earth ever be safe from the Goa'uld?The ending is a rush of released tension BUT we are always a left a few points higher on the y-axis (tension) then when the episode began. There are always questions left unanswered. New elements are introduced that may (or may not) play a significant part in the shows future but always leaves us wondering what is next for these characters. The overall series story-arc is never complete (except, perhaps at the end of the series).

Each season has its own story-arc as well. When you see the season as a complete picture you recognize that most of that season’s episodes have contributed to the season’s thread. It is often brought to climax in the final episode and often left hanging between seasons so that viewers are left on the edge of their seat with incentive to hold out for the next season during off-season months.

All of these seasons are held together by the solidity of the overall plot. Questions are introduced that won’t be answered right away. Each of these unanswered questions build upon the plot. The original series worthy problem continues to grow until it too, reaches climax. In fact, it’s often the climax of each season that spikes this major arc over the series to greater heights.

In the overall series plot a number of subplots are woven. These are almost a filler, bulking out the story but also adding elements to enrich the characters and the story as a whole. They stack the odds and continue to develop tension. Sub-plots are often less sub than they originally appear. An alliance formed (or broken) in an earlier episode might seem like a sub-plot but proves to be a significant factor in the major plot events.

Thor of the Asgard: First introduced as a recording in season one, he later proves to be a significant character recalled throughout the series.For Example: In season one – episode ten – Jack and Teal’c come across a recording of Thor in the labyrinth of Thor’s Hammer.

In that episode it seems of minor consequence. They’re forced to destroy the Hammer on Cimmeria to rescue Teal’c. The escape from the labyrinth makes up the climax of the episode and we might assume the end of this sub-plot. In season two – episode six – we discover that the destruction of Thor’s Hammer has a significant impact on Cimmeria and their whole world is put at risk. We discover that Thor isn’t just a recording of a mythical God.

In season three we come across Thor again and again and again throughout the series. Thor (and his race, the Asgard) are actually an incredibly important part of the series plot that originated in what seemed like an insignificant sub-plot.

How does all this relate to our own writing? It throws into perspective the perfection of the story-arc. We are given the opportunity to monitor the development of the plot (and of subplot) through an intricate construction over a well developed and very successful series. In some books or even movies it can be easy to lose sight of the beautiful design that a plot takes but it is there, underlining every work of fiction. It is a clarified manifestation of the “Beginning, Middle, and End” concept.

If you’ve ever considered writing a novel or a series of novels it’s important to understand how this structure plays a significant role in your creation. This weave is never perfect in a first draft. To bring the threads together you must pay attention to your story-arc. Weaknesses need to be tightened. Planning your plot in advance is a great way to develop an idea of how your novels various elements come together but you can also see this to some degree in second drafts. The shaping of your story-arc should be an important part of your editing process.

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