tagged with: novel writing

How do you begin writing a novel? How do you build the plot, recruit a cast of characters, place them in an exotic 6a00d8341d6a8353ef015435c1dcc7970c-500wisetting and do all that in a way that will keep your readers turning the pages? In other words, where do you get your ideas? At a conference I attended, one of the presenters suggested that authors browse popular magazines for stories that interest them and build a plot based on that. She actually had us draw up a simple outline during the session. I came up with a few other fountain of ideas.

From other novels.  As a writer, you should be reading – a lot – especially in the genre you want to write. Even famous novelists report that they have been influenced by other authors, especially the classical ones like Hemingway, Dostoyevsky and others. One editor suggested you summarize a novel you enjoyed, but change the entire premise. Instead of the good guy riding off into the sunset with the girl, have her marry the bad guy instead. It could mark the beginning of a series.

From your life.  What kind of life experiences have you had? Have you ever stumbled on something you were not supposed to witness? Have you ever found yourself in a place you were not supposed to be? How did you get out of it? At the last conference I attended, one of the hosts mentioned that the fourth floor of the hotel in which we were staying was not accessible either by elevator or escalator. Why was the fourth floor cut off like that? What was on that floor? The mystery writers among us all had their antennae up.

The media. One thing we can be assured of is, people love bad news. Every book on writing will tell you that an effective story begins with someone facing a disaster or conflict of some sort. Therefore, if you want bad news, where do you turn? To the media, of course. They dole out mini plots everyday. Think of the stories that dominated the headlines last year. The disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the Ebola outbreak,  the Bill Cosby rape allegations, ISIS, police shootings, and other less popular stories can all provide us with enough material for many books.

Your job. Regardless of where you work, your job can be a treasure trove of interesting stories. Your co-worker who is going through a divorce, a grandmother whose son has just moved back home, a woman who has just been diagnosed with cancer, an accountant who is cooking the books to keep his mistress. The list is endless. The idea for my first novel Coming Out Of Egypt came from when I worked as a schoolteacher. There were two sisters who, it was rumored, were being abused. In my novel, the older girl kills her father.

Your imagination. Of course, no matter where you look for ideas, you will not have a salable idea without imagination. You cannot rewrite a news item and make it read like a novel without infusing it with some imaginary details. If the situation you now come up with intrigues you and makes you want to keep on writing, then you can be sure your readers will want to keep on reading.

After you hit on an idea that sparks your creativity, draw up a plot then run it by a few friends. Listen carefully to what they say, but go with your gut feeling. You will write many drafts before you type The End. Drop me a line in the comment box below and let me know where your ideas come from.

 

English: Image at the beginning of Chapter 34....

English: Image at the beginning of Chapter 34. Darcy proposing to Elizabeth. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London: George Allen, 1894. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Some time ago I wrote a post about how important it is to create characters that your readers will love and will come to think of as friends. Think of Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, or Katniss in The Hunger Games. How can we forget these characters? According to Donald Maass in Writing The Breakout Novel, what makes a character memorable is their inner conflict.

Donald Maass says, “In creating genuine inner conflict, it is not enough simply to create inner turmoil.  True inner conflict involves wanting two things that are mutually exclusive.  It is most effective when it tears your protagonist, or any character, in two opposite directions.” In other words, if she gets one, she may have to give up the other.

In my novel, Coming Out of Egypt, I tried to do this with my protagonist, Cicely. She is a schoolteacher, a Christian, whose only desire is to go on living a Christian life, take care of her ailing father and help two of her former pupils get over the effects of their abusive past. Despite her best intentions, Cicely falls in love with the detective who is investigating the murder of the girls’ father.

Her conflict now becomes both internal as well as  external when the detective, now her fiance, tells her he may have to arrest the older girl for her father’s murder. Cicely doesn’t want to see her pupil arrested for murder because she suspects the abuse is what may have driven her to kill him, if in fact she did.  Also, if her fiance ever finds out that she too was abused as a child, would that mean the end of their relationship?

What conflict does your character face?  Does he/she have to deal with external as well as internal conflict? Share with us in the comment box below.

 

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Last year I decided to unofficially participate in NaNoWriMo, not because I wanted to write my novel in a month, but because I hoped to feed off the energy and motivation generated among writers during this month. There are live events near where I live, and I hope to attend at least one. This year my novel is almost complete. I’d hoped to have it completed by now, the first draft, that is, but my plot took an unexpected twist and I’m really enjoying it. So far, I have topped 102, 000 words, way more than I originally intended. However, I know I’ll be doing some slashing in the earlier chapters once I begin to edit. Anything that doesn’t advance the plot has to go. By the time I’m done, I expect to be under 100K.

So what about you? What does your NaNoWriMo look like? Are you attending any live events? What goal(s) have you set for yourself? Leave a comment below and let me know what you’re up to.

 

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If you answered ‘yes’ to the above, you may want to watch this video first. What he shows in this video is funny, but so realistic. After you write The End, you have only just begun. You have to go through the blood, sweat and tears of EDITING!

Watch and enjoy!

 

I am working on my second book in the Egypt series, and I have to confess this book is causing me some bother, not so much with the plot, or the setting or even the characterization, but with the protagonist. There seems to be some kind of competition going on between my protagonist and her sister, who is also a main character in the book.

Just to give you an idea of my dilemma, here is the plot in a nutshell. My protag Marva is a twenty-one year young woman who suffers major guilt feelings over having killed her father years ago on account of incest. She was never brought to trial, although the detective on the case suspected she was guilty. And she knew he suspected her. This happened in Book 1. In Book 2 she desperately wants to get the burden off her conscience by confessing to someone, but has no one to confess to.  June is now 17, and Marva feels she is no longer needed in her sister’s life. Marva thinks her only solution lies in killing herself – something she attempted in Book 1.

Now this is where the competition arises. As the protag slips deeper into depression, June seems to take over, warning Marva not to confess to anyone as this would disrupt the comfortable new life they have made for themselves. June is beautiful, bright, vivacious and always part of a group. She would be an ideal YA protag. Marva, though attractive, is a loner, introverted and uncomfortable around others because of her guilt feelings.

I chose Marva to be the protagonist because, to my mind, the story centers around her.  She has the most at stake. According to Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, Marva seems to fit the profile of a villain protagonist, even though she is not a villain in this book. According to Nancy, the villain should  be:

  • tenacious
  • a loner
  • resourceful
  • not loquacious and
  • idealistic – this, Ms. Kress says is the most important. Whatever she does, lie, steal or even kill, must be done in the service of her country, her family (as in Marva’s case) or for the sake of right.

Some time ago I featured a blog post by Yvonne Anderson, my friend and critique partner, on the subject of protagonists. Yvonne is the author of the Gannah series. You can read her post here: http://angelasfreelancewriting.com/y-is-for-ys-words/, and after you have read it leave a comment and let me know who you think deserves the star role – June or Marva.

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If you’re a writer I’m sure you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo, a catchy little title that stands for National Novel Writing Month. The month happens to be every November. This is the first time I have entered this, what should I call it? Race? It’s not a competition. At least you’re not competing against anyone but yourself. To write at least 50,000 words by the end of the month. That’s a tough call, but doable for those folks who do not have a day job and have the luxury of writing as much as they want to, or as little. I don’t fall into that category. So why am I doing it?

It motivates me. Since I still have a day job, my writing is sporadic, to say the least. Knowing that I have to try to keep up, gives me the push I need to write if only half a page, as I did this morning. The folks at NaNoWriMo say you should not stop to edit. Simply allow your thoughts to flow and get through the first draft. For me that is difficult. I love to ponder over every line, but now I have to train myself to simply put my thoughts down, then think about them later.

Link up with others. Writing can be a lonely business. NaNoWriMo is a good way to link up with other writers. I haven’t done it yet, but there are groups in my city that meet at certain times to give support and assistance. This also helps keep you motivated and you may make lifelong friends.

Free Giveaways. Writer’s Digest is also getting into the act with free giveaways. Check out http://bit.ly/RFgQkA every Monday – Friday in the month of November to access the content. They are also highlighting weekly themes to help you write your novel. So now I’m off to get some more writing done.

I have been away from my blog for a few weeks, reason being that I was at a conference the first week, then I went on vacation and now I’m trying to reignite my brain to pick up where it left off. I must confess that during my vacation I broke one of my rules, which is to write every day. But even the best of us slip up sometimes, don’t we?. So on to the conference.

Before I signed up, I’d never heard of the Black Writers Retreat & Conference. But since it was in my backyard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I thought I should take advantage of the proximity. It turned out to be a good investment in time and money. The seaside location proved to be ideal, the workshops practical and helpful and the presenters knowledgeable and inspiring.

The first workshop I attended was titled “Writing Faction.” Now this got me, as I thought it was a typo, but, of course, the organizers were too professional to make that kind of error. The subject had to do with research methodology and presenting the facts in your memoir, biography or even in fiction. The presenter, Dr. Heiss, who hails from Sydney, Australia showed us how to gather and include facts in our stories.

Dr. Heiss cautioned that in preparing to write we should first consider:

1. What do I want to do with my novel and
2. Why do people need to read my story

She then went into the importance of research methodology. Now this is a topic that, unless you are a history buff or someone like that, most writers may not find very exciting. But as Dr. Heiss spoke about the research she conducted for her novels, I saw how research can add depth, richness and authenticity to any story. Most of what she said the average writer already knows, but it is always tempting to skip a few things in our enthusiasm – or lack of – in carrying out our research.

Here are some reasons for doing proper research:

1. Authenticity – especially important in historical fiction or a memoir
2. Ethics
3. Truth
4. Accountability
5. The Hippocratic Oath – first, do no harm
6. Respect for those you are writing about
7. Avoiding litigation
8. Readers deserve the best product

Once you have identified your sources you need to:

1. Communicate and consult with them and obtain consent – in writing, of course.
2. Be accurate in your note-taking.
3. Obtain approval/confirmation of facts from your sources. You do this by sending them a copy of the relevant pages once you have completed your first draft. This would ensure that everything is accurate.
4. Be flexible. People may change some of the information, or they may remember something important that was left out.

Now that you have received confirmation from your sources and your book is complete, you need to acknowledge contributors, unless they asked to remain anonymous. You also need to address any copyright issues that may arise. You can always go to the library or online to gather material for your books, but think how much more impactful it would be if you can attribute your facts to a person or persons now living.

How do you conduct research for your books? What issues/challenges did you face? How has your research methodology helped to make you a better writer? Please leave a comment below.


We live in an age where new words keep popping up faster than microwave popped corn. A lot of this has to do with the internet. Words such as blog, webinar, branding, social media were either not known, little used or meant something entirely different before the turn of the century. Now I’ve come across another one: blovel. This means a blog that has been turned into a novel or vice versa, I’m not sure which. However, some people think that writing a blovel can help an author build a platform, leading to a book deal with a major publisher. After all, that’s the reason many of us write, isn’t it?

One advocate of book blogging says it’s very easy to turn your blog into a book. Simply write a short blog post every day starting from the beginning of your book and at the end of a year you should have a book, er, blook. I’m sure you can figure what that is. While she admits that blogging your book lends itself best to non-fiction, she thinks it is also possible to turn out a good blovel. She advises that you
a) plan your story arc well,
b) divide your chapter into mini-scenes,
c)decide how you will weave your posts into a manuscript that flows.

These all sound plausible, however Jane Friedman, professor, media professional and former publisher of Writer’s Digest pleads, “Please don’t blog your book.” While Jane agrees that some blogs may make for excellent books, these are the ones that fall in the information category or are memoirs, like Julia and Julia. Jane’s reasons for not blogging your book are also straightforward and plausible. They are:
a) Blog writing is not like book writing. Think SEO, keyword etc.
b) Blogs can make for very bad books – unless it’s an e-book or an illustrated book.
c)If a book sounds like a series of blog posts, she considers it a failure.

In some of the forums I visited on the subject, one author brought up the very important of original work. Publishers tend to shy away from anything that’s considered already published, and if it appeared on your blog then it qualifies as published work. Another person said he has been blogging scenes from his book, but he has yet to acquire a readership.

I’ll continue this discussion in another post. Meanwhile, drop me a line and let me know if you think blogging your book is a good idea, or if you have done it what kind of results have you had.

You spent months, maybe years, working on your novel and you have finally typed the words The End. You stand and stretch, then head for the fridge to celebrate. You’re finished! Well, not quite. Go ahead and celebrate with friends and family. You deserve it, but just keep in the back of your mind that you are not finished. Far from it. The real jewel now has to be revised and polished until it dazzles even you. So, hide your flash drive in a drawer for a week or two, then come back and begin the arduous task of REVISING.

If you are fortunate to belong to a critique group, you would have benefited from the extra pairs of eyes and the different perspective each member would have brought to your work. However, they may not have caught everything. If you do not have a critique group, you have even more reason to go back and revise. Here are some things you will look for: (more…)

When you set about the daunting task of writing a novel, your main task is to plot it in such a way that people will want to read it. And by plotting I mean writing a series of events from beginning to end in a logical manner. In order to do this you may use the first tried and true method, which is,

Sit and write, stand and write, kneel and write, whichever works best for you. And you begin your novel, It was a dark and stormy night. This didn’t work for Snoopy and it might not work for you either. So how do you plot your novel? Here are some plotting methods I’ve come across in books.

1. Write down some background information. This may include notes about your characters and what makes them tick. Next, you put your characters in a place or several places, which will be your setting, then you give your main character a problem. How he/she solves (or does not solve) that problem will be your plot.

2. Using an outline. Some authors swear by this. You start with a problem for your main character, then you write a chapter outline of the plot. This is okay, but I have found that I can never stick to an outline. My characters tend to pull me away from it in more interesting avenues, which I can’t resist.

3. Use 3 x 5 cards. If you can still find these in your office supply store, they might be more helpful than the outline. Here’s why. After you have written your plot points on the cards, you can always move them around to see where they fit best, or discard those that do not work. Maybe it’s better if Sally tells Johnny she is divorced after they have gone on their first date instead of before. So you move that card to where you want the event to occur.

4. Draw a bell curve or a graph. Either of these will give you a visual representation of where the climax of your story comes. To do this, use the points you plotted on 3 x 5 cards or in the outline. Again, I find the cards are easier to play around with. Draw your curve and plot the salient points on your curve in the order in which they appear. Hopefully, the high point of your novel or the climax will fall in, or near, the middle of the curve. If it doesn’t, you may have to do some restructuring. The reason for this is, if the climax comes too early, the resolution tends to drag and the reader may lose interest. If it comes too late, the resolution may seem rushed and the reader may feel cheated.

The important thing to remember is, there is no hard and fast rule for writing or plotting your novel. You may ignore everything that was said here and simply sit at your computer like Snoopy and type. However, if you think you need a little bit of planning before you delve into the literary waters, then play with some of the methods above. If you find one, or a combination, that works for you, go for it.

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