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Friday, July 5, 2013

#1 - What's Your Story About? (HOWNTWAN)

This is the first article in the semi-comedic series of How Not To Write A Novel (HOWNTWAN). Keep reading over the next couple months for the rest of the series.

1. What's Your Story About?

“I’m writing a book.”
We’ve all heard someone tell us this. “What’s it about?” we ask.
“It’s sort of a murder thing. You know; a thriller. A bit like Stephen King. It’s going to be massive.”
That says it all. Now, we know. “Thanks,” we say, and politely change the subject.
At this point our friend displays a perplexed look on her face and wonders why we didn’t ask any interesting questions about the book.

Some authors don’t really know what their story is about; what its purpose is. They have an idea for a story - Man with mother-issues kills only brother after he discovers their mother has had an affair. It sounds like a good concept for a book - and I’m sure it could be. The problem is, it is only that - an idea. A lot of wannabe authors get an idea and run with it. And they run with it as if they’re traveling across the country. They know eventually they will reach the far coast, but they have no idea of what to expect along the way. Now, this article is not about extolling the virtues of plotting, or even characterization - those topics will come later - but writing a complete novel ONLY on the basis of an idea, may be the path to suicide (or at the very least, getting lost along the way, or reaching a dead-end from somewhere you can’t get back from).
Most successful authors have a multitude of ideas for future novels. And usually these ideas fester in their heads for a very long time. Eventually one or two bubble to the top when another idea intersects the first. Suddenly there’s a twist and the basics of a story come to life.
Let’s try the scenario again.

“I’m writing a book.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about a woman who is killed by a man in a wheelchair. Then the man mysteriously disappears, as if he never even existed. It’s an action thriller set in Las Vegas during the time of the mafia mobsters. It’s all about family honor and how it can be destroyed forever by one simple act.”
“Hmm, sounds interesting…”

Now we have the basis of a story. It even morphed since its first telling. Did you notice it’s the mother who is killed, and not the brother?

Hey, who cares? I’m the author and I know best about how to write this story. I’ve been waiting for half my life to write a novel and become famous. And I know I can write a story as well as, if not better than, anyone else out there. If Stephen King can write a book, so can I. He writes stories about all sorts of topics and he writes a lot of them. And I’m only writing one story; the one about the murder-thriller thing. And I’ve got lots of ideas. Loads of them. You’ll see, it’s going to be massive.

What’s your story about? It’s a fair question to ask an author. And if you’re wanting to give up your day job and make a living as an author, you’d better have a proper answer prepared to this simple question.

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