Saturday, July 23, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
So I'm going to be giving some thoughtful tips on how to get that story that's been banging around in your head out on paper. This is mostly based on my experience, so it may not work for everyone, but hopefully some will find it helpful. As someone who's written three novel length works and a smattering of novellas, I feel somewhat qualified to give advice.
Part 1-The Idea
So you want to write a book. Great! What's it about?
Some people are probably rolling their eyes already-after all, who wants to write a book if they don't already have a story? But even for those who have ideas already, being able to brainstorm an idea is a useful skill to have for the future. And if you ever do become a full time writer after your first book gets published, you're going to need an idea for that second book if you want to stay that way.
The first step, of course, is to be an avid consumer of other entertaining media-books, movies, you name it. No one became creative by just sitting around their house or office, doing nothing. Get a feel for the kinds of stories that work, and think about the types of plots and characters you enjoy. It's helpful to write a book in the genre you like, because no one wants to discover that the book they're writing is something they would never read. Don't be a passive consumer, either. Think about the stories and what makes them work-the setting? The character? A lot of plots can be boiled down to a few elements, but it's other aspects that make them work.
And that leads to the next point. Stories tend to come as a result of something beyond the story itself-notably, the character or the setting. Depending on the genre, it will more likely than not be one or the other. Think about your setting. If you want to write a fantasy novel, think of what level of technology you want, or what the religion of the world may be like. Is the environment different? The same holds true for science fiction. Elements of the setting shape the story, so come up with a setting first. Many speculative fiction readers, myself included, will give up on a book if the setting is boring.
For other types of fiction, the character may be the way to shape the plot. Who is your character? What's their background? Their motivation? For things like romance and mystery, where the plot can be predictable, characters make or break the story. No one wants to read about a character they don't care about. Base your characters off of something familiar if you have to, and then play out how they would react in certain situations. If you create a quiet, bookish type character, think of a situation that would bring them out of their shell. Something similar to that is the first step toward making an interesting story.
So what if you can't think of any settings or characters? Well, find some good sources of inspiration. Oddly enough, dreams can be good places to find ideas, if you can remember them. That nightmare you had in third grade about being lost in a mall, where the clothing racks were teleportation portals? Use it. Childhood memories can also be good sources of inspiration-what would have happened if that bully who picked on you suddenly became your friend after you discovered one of his family secrets? Things you remember about your own life are usually remembered that long for a reason, and if they are salient to you, they will probably be salient to others too if you present them.
Okay, so how you have an idea. But is it viable? Having a story that's just not useable can, in fact, happen, and in a few ways.
You've come up with a great character, a great, original setting, and a great plot. But oh no-your plot, your character, your world, it's all been done before. It's more than cliché, it's to the point that anyone who reads it will think you've copied someone else. This has happened to me, and it may happen to you. You may have let yourself be a little too influenced by something you saw, or you may have been too slow to write out your book, but someone got there first. This is the worst thing that can happen, but it's not a total loss. If your character really is fleshed out, they can often drag you out of this tragedy. Perhaps focus on a different part of their life, or write the sequel to the events that were supposed to happen, putting the cliché plot as part of their background
Another trap people fall into? Their story is boring. Perhaps you think the Saga of The Staple Collector is riveting reading, but most others won't. Your story has to be marketable in some way if you really want to get published. And sadly, this eliminates a lot of what some may want to write. Sometimes, there just isn't a market out there for your story, and you have to deal with it. The only thing you can do here is not to give up-tastes do change. Shelve your story for a few years, change things if you can to make it interesting, and maybe some day someone will want to give it a chance.
Lastly, make sure your idea is actually a complete idea. Don't stop at the setting or the characters! I've known plenty of people with book ideas which were nothing but a few characters and a setting for them to live in. They had a fantastic setting and characters with long histories-but no plot. Make sure to make that extra leap and finish your idea, because if you don't at least have an inkling of how your story is going to end and what journey the characters will make to get there, you're only halfway done.
Next time I'll talk about getting the motivation to write-and keeping it.