Starting Your Novel and Making It Happen
What Not To Write About
You want to be inspired, but there are just some things you shouldn't be writing about. Not because they couldn't potentially turn into great stories, but because someone will point at your idea and say, "You totally got that from World of Warcraft, didn't you?" and you will be forced to lie and say no, or blush and confess.
Do not write about (or make your story seem like...
- You last table top campaign. You do not want to open the story with your cleric in the dungeon fighting what is obviously a level 20 demon or some other such fun stuff.
- Do not have a "leveling up" system in your story. Your characters should not be finding super-powered laser guns in the next room while they invade the enemy base. Your mages should not be collecting gems to make them more powerful.
- Do not take characters from any MMO and make them even a side character in your story.
- Do not use the word "mana" in your story. Or "laser blaster" for that matter.
- Do not pattern your plot after your favorite Japanese RPG.
Starting Off With...?
So you want to write a novel that doesn't take place on earth or is set so far in the future it doesn't even matter that it's the same universe you live in now? That's great! But where to start? Do you get inspired for a monster and go from there? Or do you see a very heroic, armored knight who needs an adventure?
Starting can the be the hardest thing ever. You want to write so you open up a blank document (or grab your typewriter) and sit down. The machine hums, waiting for you to write something amazing.
Really, there is no one way to start your story or novel. You decided to write for some reason and that reason needs to be in the front of your mind the whole time. Of course there are some things you don't want to have been the inspiration for your desire to write.
Prince Ivan Had Great Quests
Know What Your Story Is About
Don't start with a character and no land. Or a planet and no character. Stories are about something. What is the "message" in your story. All the good ones have it. I can't point to current novelty books and tell which ones have no deeper meaning, because that would just be mean. But you know the books that you keep coming back to over and over and maybe even analyze in your head? Those are the ones you want to be like.
A really blunt example is C.S. Lewis and the "Chronicles of Narnia". Yes, we all know the Christian themes in there and the universal lessons. But it is also a fantasy story. It is for children, but Narnia can be seen as a great Epic Fantasy series as well. There is more than one layer to it. That's what you in your novel. One layer is entertaining and fun and the other is the hard-hitting lesson we all must learn. And as a point of reference "The choices we make have consequences" is not a strong enough message.
The Best Book So Far
Map of Earth Sea
Have An Idea? Outline!
Once you've got some kind of idea (whether its a world, a person, a theme, anything!) outline. Yes, some great authors do not outline. Personally, I don't even outline until I'm maybe three or four chapters in. Sometimes, the outline will hinder you. You have to write for several thousand words sometimes before you really know what your story is about. But there will be a time when the light comes on and you say, "Ah! I've got it!"
That's when you outline. I do it by chapter, but you can do it by scene, plot development, or parts. However it suits you, that's how you do it. But know that an outline is not set in stone. You can go back and change anything you want. Now, don't get too change-happy and reconfigure everything or even a plot idea every few days. You need some stability. If you want to change something really dramatically that will toss the original idea, write that idea somewhere else and save it for another story.
When finished with a part, I highlight it in my outline document to know that I'm finished with that bit and not to go back until later to look for ways to change it.
I'm Writing, Now What?
Congratulations! You've started writing. Now here is the tricky part. This is geared toward genre writers: people who write about other planets or other worlds where dragons reign or aliens are kings.
Now, make notes too in yet ANOTHER document. When I start a fantasy story that is set in a world doesn't exist, I write out important facts about that world and maybe a bit of it's history. I may even draw a map to know where people are and how the weather will effect what's going on.
Do your people have a history or war or mystery? Do they worship the fairies or the demons of the underworld? Is yours an alien race that ignores technology because they have seen the damage it did to the human race?
These are all things you need to consider when making your people and places. You also need to remember the rules and laws of your universe. If you're dragons cannot see in daylight in chapter one, then they still cannot see in daylight in chapter thirty-three when you really needed them to.
Try to come up with a background for your culture. Why is it the way it is? Are these an advanced people or ones who shun magic or technology? Are they religious? Why not? What are the urban legends and myths a child in this culture would have heard goring up?
Weather and Landscape
Everyone loves the fantasy story that takes place in New Zealand or the colorful jungles of India. But why is the weather that way? If there is a life-changing earthquake that is pivotal for your character, it better be happening in a place where earthquakes can or would happen.
Is there even a government? Recently, I've been writing in a world where the people are very primitive and don't really have one. Naturally, the struggle is try to define what these people believe is right or wrong. Do your characters have morals and want order, or are they anarchist who really do take what they want from those around them?
Mark it up!
So now that you have pages and pages of notes and outlines (which is the best thing you can have aside from thousands of words of prose!) you can move on.
Your first draft is not something you shove at people to read. Your first draft should be messy, have fragments, have unfinished scenes, and some scenes that are only dialogue because you just had to get that conversation out! When writing your first draft, DO NOT think it has to be in book format with perfect paragraphs. If it does, you didn't write the best you can because you spent time in mid typing to think. Yes, you want to think, but you want to get words OUT.
After your first draft, go back to scenes you know you want to fix, add in things you know need to be there or new scene ideas for later. Then, hit up your notes again. What else can you put in to make your world more real and believable?
Next, read it. This first draft can be read on the screen because you will be adding in dialogue tags, character thoughts, motions, scenery, and other little things. You may even cut and paste a chapter. Once you've done this two or three times (or less, if you're brilliant I suppose) print the manuscript out. Reading it on the screen causes too many distractions or desires to alter things again. Once you're pretty sure it's ready for others to see it, print it and attack it with that red pen.
Be honest, does that scene need to be there? Would that character really react that way? Is that dialogue out of character? Is this holiday really important to ALL the beings in this world or just some? Mark it up. Don't try to justify anything to yourself. If you can do this, ask someone else to read it and tell them to give you honest feedback.
DO NOT BE OFFENDED. If something wasn't working, it wasn't working and it needs to go. However, take everything someone says with a grain of salt. But know that if it was confusing for one person, it may be confusing for another. Just because it makes sense to you--the know-it-all-author-- doesn't mean it makes sense to the readers who are not in your head.
So you've printed it and edited it. Good job!
But it's not over. Novels take a long time to write. Stephen King once boasted of writing a novel in six months. To some of your, you may be saying "Well, that seems like a good amount of time". But really, that's fast! Some authors are contracted and have to put out a book a year. That doesn't let them put out their best writing.
If you are still editing your novel for three months and it took your four months to write it, that's fine. I have one that I've mauled over for more than five years of and on. The expanse of your universe and the complexity of it may take time. JRR Tolkien did not write his Lord of the Rings books in just three years. No, Tolkien began written for these stories in 1937 and they were not published until about 1954. You can do that math.
Now, I know not everyone it Tolkien or Lewis or even Robert Jordan, but if you want to write a book that will last, you have to take the time and effort to write one. And that IS the book you want to write. You want to have an impact that will last for generations. Not something that gets picked up, made into a movie with all the merchandise to go with, then fades away in three or five years.
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© 2014 Abigail Linhardt