My Books

Buy one of my books... Available above at Amazon. Also available at SmashWords, Barnes & Noble and iTunes

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How To Avoid Your Novel Becoming a Thanksgiving Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving Day - to all of you in America. Happy November 24th, to the rest of the world!!

As many of you already know, I grew up in England and the USA was just somewhere I heard about at school and watched on TV and in the movies. I never dreamed growing up that I would end up living here. Actually there was a time when I really didn't want to live in America! But that was a long time ago. America is now my home and I've been living here for the past 16 years. What the heck, I've even embraced Thanksgiving! (and College Football - Roll Tide!!!)

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving I just wanted to write a little today about not letting your writing lead you down a path that will end with your novel being the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey!

Today I am going to write briefly about two subjects:

  • Poems and Short Stories
  • Creating a Good Plot
These are both excerpts from my self-help book on writing - How To Write & Self-Publish Your First Novel - a consistently good seller in Amazon's bookstore. You can read more about the book HERE at my author website (and pick it up for only $2.99).

Poems and Short Stories (You can read the original post HERE)
There’s no better way to practice the art of writing than to write a few poems and short stories. Have you ever tried your hand at them? It’s surprising the number of writers that have never done this. Instead they jump straight in with their first novel.

Poems are a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Why? Because they force you to either rhyme or scan or express your feelings. And most poems are quite short, probably less than 200 words or so. Stuck for a subject? Then just pick a sentence from a book and write a poem about it. It doesn’t have to be very long. Or else choose something in your house, or your son or daughter, or your cat or dog. There are a hundred different subjects you can find. Let me try my hand at a limerick:
I once had a big tiger cat
Who got incredibly fat.
I cut out her food
She got in a mood
And she swallowed my other pet, rat!
There we go, less than five minutes and that included being attacked by my cat, Pipsqueak. She’s a little one year-old tabby by the way. The point is it’s not that difficult to write poems and practice the art of writing. As we’ve said already, the more you write, the better you will get.

Short Stories
Onto short stories. The beauty of short stories is that you don’t have to sit at the keyboard for days on end to finish them. Ideally, short stories should be somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 words in length. Assuming you write at about 1,000 words an hour, you can see you’ve only got to write for three to ten hours. I write at about 1300 to 1600 words an hour usually, so I ought to be able to write a short story in two to seven and a half hours. That’s only a couple of days work! Think about it, you can have a complete story in two days! 

How do you write a short story? First spend a day or so planning the story. Lay out a simple plot, introduce a couple of characters, add some conflict and there you go. Then jot down somewhere between ten and twenty story points. Next re-order them to make sure the pace of the story is correct and the conflicts are in all the right places. Finally, start writing. The objective is simple. For each story point you are going to write somewhere between 300 and 500 words. Don’t worry about getting it exactly right, just write. Don’t self-edit, don’t re-read what you’ve written. Just write each story point and move onto the next. At the end of your exercise you’ll have a short story that will be ready for editing at some point in the future. And I’ll say this again; just leave the story and let it mature on its own in the dark. Article fourteen in this series, Letting the book ‘cook’, discusses why you should do this. For now just be happy that you’ve written a short story (cont)...

Creating a Good Plot (You can read the original post HERE)
Creating a good plot for a novel is a lot more difficult than you might imagine. It’s one thing having a story in your head, but actually getting it down on paper and turning it into something that is 80,000 words or so is no small task. If you have tried to create a short story as was suggested in the previous article, you already have an understanding of story points. As I wrote before, a short story needs between ten and twenty story points, but a full-length novel is going to need a couple of hundred! Do you have enough ideas to make a story progress through two hundred bullet points?

So how do you get to this place? I like to start simple and expand on it. I start with the ten to twenty story points of the short story type and see what else I can intersperse. Maybe that will get me to forty or fifty, but I will still be a long way short. How do I dramatically increase this number so there are lots of exciting things for the reader to read about?

First it is important to understand that novels of 80,000 words don’t just come from people’s minds on their own. They need planning. Lots of planning. Most writers have an idea for two or three major plot twists and what the ending is going to be. But that’s about it. Hence the ten to twenty story points. The exercise here is to dramatically increase those story points. This is where you need to think of other things that can be happening in your story – the sub-plots. All good novels have sub-plots. Several of them. Maybe they involve the major characters or maybe they involve other minor characters, but there at least has to be some cross-over between main plot and sub-plots. If you watch any good movie on TV you will see this in action. Okay so the movie is boy meets girl; boy dates girl; girl leaves boy; boy has change of heart; boy and girl live happily ever after, but there are a lot of other things that happen along the way. If all movies were simply the plot outlined above, no one would watch the movie. Sure, we know that in the end the boy and the girl will live happily ever after (usually), but it’s the journey there that makes up the movie. Lots of sub-plots are thrown in and these sub-plots are full of conflict, emotion and everything that could possibly go wrong, going wrong. That’s what makes a movie special. It’s no different for novels. Conflict and disaster and emotion keep readers turning pages. The reader wants the happy ending but feels compelled to read through all the drama so that they can get there. Hopefully they stay invested with the main character during this journey as well.

The secret is to add enough story points on top of your twenty to fifty to reach at least a hundred, preferably a hundred and fifty. And I say this because by the time you’ve finished writing you’re going to need all two hundred of those story points, no matter what (cont)...

Now go and enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey and later spend the time to invest in your writing career.

No comments:

Post a Comment