Having written a book, a short story, an article, or any number of writing projects can be a rewarding experience. But the writing process can be somewhat daunting. George Orwell said: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” That is a gloomy thought, but it can sometimes feel like that. At other times, when it seems that the words are just flowing to you as if from a higher power it is exhilarating. It makes you feel like you have found your purpose.
Do not assume that you have to be born a writer. Ernest Hemingway once said, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
AN IDEA. You start with an idea. For the most part, it needs to be unique. It needs to be something that hadn’t been run into the ground by a thousand other authors. As a beginner, this is very important. A skilled author, such as Stephen King, could take a heavily used idea, or a mundane idea, and turn it into something exciting by the use of his characters. Most of us, however, could not do that.
Ideas are everywhere. Just look around. They are in the news, at the movies, in the magazines, at the grocery store, and on and on. Finding an idea is not the hard part. It’s honing it down and reshaping it so that it is unique. Do you think that Stephen King’s “Dome” is completely original? Robert R. McCammon’s book “Stinger” had a dome in it. Granted, other than that the two books are nothing alike, but it shows you that one spark of an old idea can lead you to something unique.
Ideas typically stay within the confines of the genre’ you’re writing in, though not always. Writing stories has become a rather fluid art. A western story would normally cover gunslingers, sheriffs, horses, cattle, bank robbers, trains, and other such things of the wild west in the 1800s and early 1900s. But not aliens. But then along comes “Cowboys and Aliens.” So, what are we to make of this?
For someone who is writing their first book, I would say to keep it close to what the genre’ you’re writing in stipulates. If you are writing a crime novel, try not to throw too many other genres’ in there. Making the main character a vampire from the future who decides to become a detective probably would not work. I am not saying that it’s impossible for a story like that to become a big hit. But it would take a very skilled author to pull it off.
THE STORY. Now that you have your idea you need to create the story around it. Suppose your idea is that a large meteor strikes the earth. Okay, it has been done a few times. But it can be made unique. I think to begin with you have to ask yourself the questions a good reporter asks. What, where, when, why, and, how? Now, all these questions don’t create the story. They merely serve as the framework. But it is something you should know even if it’s not necessary to put in the story. Next, you should plot the story. Write a very general idea of what happens in the story and a tentative ending. This gives you a direction to go in. If you are like most authors, however, the story will change as it progresses and the ending you chose may not happen the way you planned. That is okay. Sometimes the characters dictate how the story goes. For now, you need a direction to start.
CHARACTERS. They are the driving force of a good novel. Sometimes they can make up for a poor storyline. That is not to say you should not put forth an effort to make the story idea good. Every part of the story is important. Sometimes the characters just seem to stand taller. Stephen King has said: “I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”
A character needs to be alive. Alive in the sense that the reader can see this person in their mind. They often have met this type of person or have heard of them. This believable character can be created in several ways. Through dialogue: this can disclose a myriad of information about the character. Even without a physical description of the character, one can sometimes imagine what the character looks like. Even so, it is often best to give some description of the character as well.
STARTING THE STORY. For the relatively unknown author, I would suggest a fast start. You need to have some action in the first few pages, as well as something to snag the reader. There needs to be a reason for the reader to keep reading. Unless people are familiar with your work and are a fan of it, most will assume that the rest of the story is also slow, and maybe even boring. As a rule, people are not willing to give their time and attention to something that they are not sure of. T.S. Elliott said, “If you start with a bang, you won’t end with a whimper.”
BE LOGICAL. It does not matter that the story is fiction. You must make your audience believe that what you are saying is possible even if the idea at first seems absurd. You can’t have a person suddenly flying around breaking the laws of physics. Unless you state a good reason for it. If a normal person gets caught in a rainstorm you would not expect the person to suddenly be able to fly. But what if he were struck by lightning in that same storm while carrying a briefcase of unknown chemicals. While on the surface it still seems impossible, but many readers will be thinking that there must be something in those chemicals to cause this anomaly.
Creating coincidences in your story is a rather delicate thing. You may get away with it once or twice, but you are taking a chance that your readers are going to give up on your story because it is no longer believable to them.
HAVING HOOKS. Try to end a chapter with a hook. That is something that will drive them into the next chapter. An example would be: A key is found. This leads to questions. Why is this key hidden behind a picture on the wall? What does this key open? Why is it important? This will entice the reader to go to the next chapter to find the answers to these questions.