Practical Advice for Beginning Fiction Writers
by George Bernstein
First, don’t do it, if that’s how you plan on making a living. Sure, we all hear about the fabulous successes of the J.K. Rowlings and John Greshams, but what you don’t hear is how long they struggled to even get published, and that people who make real money writing fiction are about .01% of all the writers out there.
Second, if you’re still intent on being a writer and getting published by a REAL publisher, you’d better have a thick skin and be able to take rejection…after rejection… after rejection. You may NEVER find an agent or publisher for your work. Louis L’Amore, probably America’s most prolific writer of Westerns, was reputedly rejected 350 times before getting his first story published.
So, unless you’re writing for the joy of it…that you really want to get that story down on paper, no matter what…then find some better use for your time.
But in the face of all that, you still want to write that novel, then here’s some advice.
First, pick up a couple of books on fiction writing. Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel,” and Albert Zuckerman’s “Writing the Blockbuster Novel,” are two of a legion of titles available. Zuckerman’s book gives you a complete roadmap, from beginning to end. You can search Amazon or www.ABE.com (good, like-new used books, cheaper) or the library. While you’re at it, you can pick up Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” which you’ll need later. Read those first, to get you on the right track.
Now, select the story you want to write, think of where it’s going and the characters who are going to take it there…and how you want it to end. I write a brief outline, often chapter by chapter, and make up 4 x 6 cards for each major character. Those cards should show their physical appearance (eye color, hair, nose, height, build, distinguishing features, etc.), and who they are (personality), and a list of their various interests. The more complete you make these, the more your characters will take on real life dimensions. And if while fleshing out your story, you add something to the character, add it to their card. You don’t want a blue-eyed gal to have “emerald” eyes later. Believe me, it happens.
Time to begin writing. Everyone does this differently. Personally, I’ll write the entire story before I do much editing. I don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar while I’m getting my story down. I try to get emotionally involved with my protagonist, and I let him (or her) take over the plot. Each of my four novels ended up substantially different from my original outline. Even the endings on a couple got changed. In collaboration with my editor at TAG, Dee Burks, I made substantial revisions to much of the end of TRAPPED, although I preserved the very ending.
The hard work comes when you’ve finished the first draft. My immediate task is correcting mechanical errors: spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence construction. Then look at the story. Did you create tension? Donald Maass asks, “What’s the worst thing that can happen to your characters?” Then he asks, “What can be WORSE than that?” And finally, “Even WORSE than that?” If there’s no jeopardy…no anxiety…no one will bother reading it. Read the dialog out loud. Does it sound contrived or natural? Join a critique group where you can read some pages, and listen to other read theirs…and develop a sense of what sounds good. Good dialog requires few tags. Readers should usually know who is talking, but if you need a tag for clarity, keep it mostly to “he said; she said.”
Don’t think one edit or revision will do it, either. I removed a complete side plot from my original version of TRAPPED. It was exciting, but just didn’t add to that story. But it wasn’t a loss. I’m using it in one of my new Al Warner detective novel, so that manuscript starts out already half written.
In the end, writing the first novel will be a huge learning experience. Few authors get their first novel published. While in a sense, I’m bucking that trend, since TRAPPED is my first novel, I’ve written four, and TRAPPED is so rewritten from my first draft, it might as well be my 5th…or 6th. That’s what it takes to succeed.
Rating – PG13
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The darkness is still, silent. Jackee Maren’s heart pounds reverberating through her body as fear sears her veins. Someone’s coming. No way out. This time they will kill me. Her breath is short, her chest burns. Must run. Faster. Faster! Her eyes fly open, her heart still racing with blinding fear. Jackee breathes deeply with relief and stares at the ceiling desperately trying to calm herself. The same dream. Something, someone is watching . . . and waiting.
A tragic car accident leaves beautiful, vibrant Jackee Maren completely paralyzed, able to move only her eyes. Jackee’s husband, Phil, is devastated and her two young boys left with nothing but a shell for a mother, but still, Jackee senses the foreboding of an evil presence and knows time is short. Slowly, Jackee learns to communicate with her physical therapist, Kevin, by blinking her eyes.
As evidence comes to light that her car accident was no accident, Jackee knows she must expose the person who wants her dead before they get a second chance. While Jackee works to put all the clues together, she discovers she has the ability to sense the thoughts of others, but she hides this talent from everyone but her sons, not knowing who she can trust. By actively exercising her new psychic ability, Jackee finally learns who masterminded the accident but feels helpless to stop them from trying to kill her again.
Slowly a plan forms to not only ensure her boys are safe forever, but to exact revenge on her would-be murderer. Jackee vows not to rest until this killer understands what it is to be TRAPPED!
Next Few Stops
16th February – Guest Post at Laurie’s Thoughts
17th February - Author Interview at Author’s Friend
18th February – Guest Post & Book Review at Quality Reads UK
19th February – Author Interview & Book Review at The Reading Cat
20th February – Guest Post & Book Review at The Next Big Thing