Writing Your First Novel

One of the common questions asked by novice writers on our sister Facebook site Writers Unite! is “How do I start?” To help new writers with the daunting but fun task of writing, I have begun a series of articles on how to prepare writing your first novel.

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Writing Your First Novel

 “Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”
― Neil GaimanThe Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You

All those words Gaiman speaks of rattle around inside of us. Eventually, the urge to allow them to escape becomes overwhelming. Time to write a story.

Fledgling writers come from all walks of life with a wide-ranging knowledge of the writing process. I remember my own experience when I decided to begin writing. Writing was not new to me, throughout my career I had written research papers, manuals, newsletters, speeches, and advertising copy.  However, crafting a fiction story was something I had not done since college. I recognized there was a lot to learn.

The question is where to start?  We can jump right in and begin to put words to paper or screen but are we providing ourselves and our future readers with the best effort we can make? Before we write, let’s explore the steps we should do to prepare ourselves to be good writers. Let’s begin with reading.

Read

What better than a book to fuel the imagination. One of my favorite quotes is from George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Reading the works of others is fundamental to the writing process. Any genre and any author (even a not so skilled author) can provide you with useful information. I do recommend selecting best-selling books in the genre/genres that you wish to write in, as well. Successful works related to the story you want to write can provide you with trends and what the readers of the genre prefer.

What you do you as a new author gain by reading? There are several reasons:

Vocabulary:

Reading increases vocabulary by presenting words we may not hear or see on a normal day. A diverse vocabulary is a great asset for any writer by providing an enhanced collection of words that convey the meanings and emotions of your story. A large vocabulary also provides alternate word choices which improve your writing style.

Grammar:

Grammar rules are analogous to rules of the road. Authorities expect us to obey the speed limit, stop at red lights, and follow the other traffic laws. Otherwise, chaos ensues on the roads. The same is true for writing. Grammar rules provide a framework for writing a clear and concise story that a reader expects. When reading, pay attention to sentence structure, verb choice and agreement, how complex or simple the sentence are. You will begin to acquire a feel for the author’s style which can help you find your own.

Plot Structure:

Read to understand how the author constructed their story. How do they open their novel, what hook did they use to draw you into the story? Notice the author introduces their main and secondary characters, build tension toward the climax, or employ foreshadowing, plot twists? Learn what techniques work to provide the reader with an exciting and emotional experience.

Trends:

While you should read all genres for a better overview of style, you should also select numerous books within the genre that you wish to write in. Trends are not only for clothing, but genres are also subject to the latest fad or the focus of a best-selling author. Knowing what your potential reader might prefer when choosing a new novel. A word of caution, trends fade, and by the time your novel is ready for publication, some other trend may have taken your place. Write your story the way you want.

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In subsequent articles, we will look at these topics in more depth as well as other tools for the novice writer.

 

(Quotes: https://www.brainyquote.com/)

Writers Unite! Short Story Contest Winners!

Our FaceBook sister page Writers Unite! Short Stories hosted a contest in January 2017! We would like to present our winners.

The contest criteria:

Theme:  Love Conquer All

Genre: Open

Word Count: 3,000 words or less.

 

First Place:

The Girl With the Razzle-Dazzle Eyes by Milton Trachtenburg

https://docs.google.com/…/1NlKgkyQrq4_tBteGNQFx6xEKbT…/edit…

Second Place:

Paradise Beach by David Weeks

https://docs.google.com/…/1SHSTxf4bCz74_q1TlGPVdUzsmz…/edit…

Third Place:

Even From Behind These Walls by A.M. Ameenah M Hassan.

https://docs.google.com/…/14EKxFsSirU0k4TNDCE-n-4xrHM…/edit…

Honorable Mention:

A Mother’s Reflection by Leonie Hearn

https://docs.google.com/…/1_C5HyHW0rxl3M6btLBY-y4iDex…/edit…

Please join me in thanking our judges, Mandy Melanson, Dennis Takesako, and Dusty Grein. All excellent writers and all devoted to sharing their expertise with aspiring writers. I encourage you to visit their FB pages and author pages.

Also, special thanks to all who submitted entries. The judges were faced with a very difficult decision.

 

Writer’s Resolutions and How to Stick to Them

new-years-slide

With the New Year, many people, including writers, make resolutions. They resolve to do more or to do better. But then life gets in the way, sometimes in a big way, and things go off-track.

So as a writer, how can you make resolutions then stick to them through thick and thin?

First, be realistic. If you’ve never completed a novel before, your chances of completing more than one in the year are a bit a slim. And I’m not saying that to be a downer but in this case, the first goal should be to complete the first novel before moving on to the second one. But, if you have completed a novel then you’ve proven to yourself you can do that again and again. And if you accomplish something during the year then you can add on to it.

Second, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get something done. The world is not going to end if you fail to meet a goal you set for yourself. Life happens more often than not but even if that’s not the case and you just get bogged down in fear, doubt, or boredom, kicking yourself while you’re down won’t accomplish anything. So be kind to yourself no matter what happens.

And third, celebrate your achievements no matter how big or small. Writing is a physical act and every part of the process is an accomplishment in itself. Don’t put yourself down by saying you could have done more, or that it’s not good enough, or that it needs a lot of editing, or anything negative. Of course your writing is going to need editing and revising as nothing comes out completely perfect in first-draft form. But celebrate the fact that you have words to revise and edit.

So if you have set any writing resolutions for yourself remember these three things:

  • Be realistic in what you can do though don’t be afraid to push yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself if you don’t achieve a particular goal.
  • Celebrate your achievements both big and small.

Best wishes on your writing for 2017!

The Message of Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block is when a writer sits down to write but nothing comes out. Now some people claim that it doesn’t exist and or that you just have to plow through it no matter what. I don’t agree with those arguments as I believe writer’s block is a message.

For me, when I’m having trouble writing I know that I’m butting up against something I don’t want to deal with. That ‘something’ can be a place I fear, a place that hurts to go to, or just a problem I’m having with the story or writing project I’m currently working on.

So let’s take a look at these three possible sources of writer’s block.

Years ago, I read a biography of the writer Anne Rice in which she said that sometimes you have to go to the places that you fear the most. For a writer, these aren’t literal places but places in the mind. But they can generate fear, and fear is a powerful instinct that most people react to by retreating from instead of going forward. For a writer, I believe a moment of retreat is allowed to examine the root of that fear. For example, is it a fear of rejection or a fear that someone will hate your work that keeps you from writing? If so, you’ll have to figure out a way to counter that. With these fearful places, you have to figure out what’s behind your fear of them before you can move forward.

Sometimes writing can be a form of therapy, which can be both good and bad. The bad part can bring on that blocked feeling because the first reaction to pain is to retreat from it. Personally when I hit on this, which for me manifests itself as a nasty combination of anger and sadness, I know I have to let it run its’ course before I can get back to my writing. And one way I let it run its’ course is to write about it with no intention of anyone ever seeing it. To me, this type of block has to be vented out in order to move past it.

Now the last type of writer’s block, the problem with my story or project, is the most common for me. This is something I can deal with by just taking some time to let my mind work through the problem, or going back and reading what I’ve written and editing as I read along. For me, going back through what I’ve read is one of the best ways I can combat being blocked.

So I believe writer’s block is real, but also something that can be worked through. Sometimes it won’t be easy to decode the message behind the block, but once you do break the code and figure it out, then you’ll know what to do.

Deborah Ratliff: Radio Interview “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk”

Host Dr. Paul Reeves asked me back on the “Dr. Paul Family Talk” radio show this morning to discuss the phenomenal growth of the Facebook writing group, Writers Unite! and discuss our new blog, “Writers Unite!”  We also discussed the upcoming Writers Unite! Short Story Contest which will launch in January 2017.

When I first appeared on Paul’s show in July 2016, our Facebook page membership was just over 6,000. Today, November 28, 2016, we reached over 20,000 members.  An amazing accomplishment for a writing group barely a year old.

Here is a link to my interview. Hope you enjoy!

(https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/pwr/episodes/2016-11-28T13_43_14-08_00)

“Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” airs live each week on WNZK, 690AM, in the Detroit area from 11:00 a.m. – Noon Eastern Time. The show is also live streamed on Tunein.

 http://tunein.com/radio/WNZK-690-s21615/

Karl Taylor: Writer’s Block

It was fourth and goal at the opponent’s three-yard line. They trailed by four points. The game was on the line. The season was on the line. How this young man would be remembered in this small west Texas town would be determined on this play.

He called the play and they broke the huddle. The crowd on both sides of the field was losing their minds. The noise was deafening and he could actually feel the ground shake beneath his feet. He approached the line and had a look around. The game clock was running, 23, 22, 21. He looked over  the defensive formation. He liked the play they had called. He checked behind him to see that the tailback was in the right place. He looked to either side at the receivers. Everything looked good.  He checked the play clock, 12, 11, 10. The defense was yelling, barking and growling. They were doing anything they could to distract him. It was now or never. He barked out the signals and the ball was snapped. And? And? And?

Oh my! My brain froze up. Do I have him toss the ball to the tailback and watch helplessly as he runs for the corner of the end zone? Do I have the quarterback roll out and look for an opening to the end zone? Do I have him drop back and throw it to the frightened little freshman who was a water boy just two weeks ago? Does he fall back to pass and trip over his untied shoelace and fall flat on his face? Do I have him unleash a missile that sails high and hits the team mascot right between the eyes? Does he succeed? Does he fail?

So many choices and I can’t make up my mind. It’s a turning point in the book and my mind has gone blank. Do I make him a hero? Do I make him the butt of everyone’s jokes? Do I make him just a spectator? I’m stuck. I have no idea what to do next. Oh no! I have writer’s block and I have no idea how to break through. Three hours later, I’m still staring at the screen. My eyes can’t focus. I can’t read anything on my keyboard. My heart is racing and I want to scream at the top of my lungs. Writer’s block? Really? I thought it was just a myth.

Everyone on this planet has their own ways of doing things and if it works for them, then that is the right way, for them. I’m not Stephen King or Tom Clancy or even Dr. Seuss,  but I know what works for me and I wanted to share that with you, because for me, it’s my right way and might help you in some small way.

My first go to is to head straight for my bookshelf. I grab my favorite book by my favorite author.  I need him/her to take me away from this frustrating world I live and write in and make me forget it all for a while.

A lot of times, while I am reading, a little bell will go ding, ding, ding. My subconscious had been working on my problems while I was distracting myself and has come up with the answer. I just keep reading until that little bell goes off letting me know the answer has been found. If reading doesn’t inspire me then it’s on to stage two.

The second phase of my writer’s block strategy is pretty simple… writing prompts. If it is a picture prompt, I stare at it imagining I am in the photo. I can feel the breeze or the cold or the heat beating down, whatever is going on in the picture. I can hear the sounds surrounding me. I can smell the scents that surround me and I ask myself… what happens next? Then I will write a story from 100-1000 words.

If it is a written prompt, I’ll read it several times and close my eyes. I use my imagination to project myself into the setting that the written prompt describes. I take a look around and examine my surrounding and ask the same question… what happens next? Then I will write a story from 100-100o words.

It works best for me if the prompts are for genres that I don’t normally write. Horror and romance are two of my favorites. The idea is to kick start my imagination and creativity and a prompt that is out of my usual comfort zone is usually the best way to do that.

These two simple steps have never failed me. I hope they can work for you. If they don’t, the key is to find what does work for you. I wish you well and keep on writing.

 

Can Acting Help You Create Memorable Characters

actors

Whether I’m writing a comic, a blog post or a screenplay, the cornerstone of my writing remains the character.

From the very first moment you welcome your reader, and he reads your first paragraph, you want to make sure he knows:

  1. Whose story is it?
  2. What’s happening around the character?
  3. What’s at stake for the character?

This is because, from Shakespeare to Ibsen, the whole idea of dramatic writing revolves around the character: The one we root for, and the one who moves the story along with its actions.

But building character for fiction requires a deep understanding of human motives. A knowledge I had no access to until I shifted my perspective to a more experiential approach: That of embodying characters myself.

That of Acting.

And it changed me, it made me more aware of human dynamics. From the very first moment I started reading Lee Strasberg, Stanislavski and Grotowski, I noticed the similarities between my career as a psychologist, dramatic writing and those stories I wanted to create. 

But the real question is: Can acting work for you and your fictional characters as it worked for me?

Even without knowing you, and whether you suffer from stage fright or no. I do believe a short acting workshop can help you breathe life into your characters.

Here’s why.

Acting is a space for practice and creativity

Think of acting as a playground for discovery. Your own.

Acting will help you find your voice and it will give you a thorough understanding of your body language. All of this, on a playful and safe environment.

In this controlled space, you’ll have the opportunity to test, propose and create with others. It’s human interaction at its best.  

When you get back to your writing space, you will find how the relationships and interactions between your fictional characters become more natural and innovative.

Acting can teach you how to show, don’t tell

Regular conversations might sound like this:

“I’m sad;” “I don’t want to be here;” “I’m about to cry.”

I know, it sounds dramatic, but it has nothing to with dramatic writing. These are real life examples, yet you’re writing fiction. And since there’s no emotional value behind those phrases, we’re taught as writers to show and never tell.

Acting is no different. That means dialogue remains an extension of action. For example, a good actor on a good play wouldn’t tell the audience he’s about to commit suicide; no, we would see the signs: the gloomy tone of his voice, his gaunt appearance, his vacant stare and saggy posture. The way he thinks of life and the places he visits on a regular basis.

He’s hinting us. He’s suggesting and planting an idea. And we follow him along because we want to know if he’s going to survive or not. He’s in control.

That’s the power of character.

Acting teaches you to put yourself out there

Ok, all of this whole acting thing might sound promising. But what if you have stage fright? Or, you are self-conscious about your body, or your voice, or the way others look at you…

Just… don’t freak out. I feel you.

See, I’m an introvert. I like to read, spend time on my own, and sometimes too much social interaction can leave me heavily drained. Yet I’m so comfortable with myself that I can give a speech, act or sing in front of an audience –without fainting.

I had to learn that from scratch though. And acting helped me a lot.

Before acting I was afraid of looking at people in the eye. I was insecure. I didn’t know what to do with my body, how to move or whether to smile or not. I felt people would just laugh or criticize everything I did. But even when I forgot my lines, or made a mistake, I would just try again.

I didn’t die.

And that’s a huge lesson for us writers and aspiring authors. Acting teaches you to put yourself out there. It will help you with your pitching and that arrogant publisher. You will become more in control of yourself. And that confidence will translate into your writing. You will suddenly become less self-conscious about what you produce and you won’t feel afraid of being vulnerable.

Should you take acting classes?

I don’t think acting is for everyone, and I’m not encouraging you to pursue an acting career. But I do believe that it can critically improve your writing.

It worked for me, and my screenwriting feels more natural ever since.

Even if it doesn’t improve your writing you will have some fun, you will find an alternative way to express yourself creatively, and you will exercise too. Besides you can meet some interesting people in your classes –they could even end up as potential characters for your fiction book.

If you liked the article feel free to share it. Or, if you have any questions about acting and writing you can leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help.

Happy writing –and acting.

Dan

Find me on my blog Fourth Walled

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Dan de Abreu is dedicated to helping  others aspiring authors while studying the relationship between psychology and writing.
He holds a BA in psychology and  works as a copywriter, screenwriter, and comics writer.
His longtime goal is writing scripts for his own animated short films.

Writers Unite! Bookshop is now on the “WU!” Blog

In addition to the Bookstore post available Friday through Sunday on our Facebook page for you to post links to your published works, we are adding the Bookstore to our Blog.

You will find the Bookstore on the menu bar. Click on the drop down menu to locate your favorite genre and find a new book to enjoy!

If you would like to have your book info posted on our blog, please email us at writersunite16@gmail.com using WU Bookstore in the subject line.

Please include the following:

  • Book title, author’s name, and links to sites where your book can be purchased.
  • A very brief blurb about your book. (150 words or less)
  • Thumbnail copy of book cover
  • Books Rating: G, PG, R, X (this category must include a warning,)
  • The general genre of your novel. The books will be sorted by the main genre categories.

Those genres are as follows:

  • Action / Adventure
  • Contemporary/ YA
  • Fantasy
  • Historical
  • Horror
  • Literary / Other
  • Mystery
  • Nonfiction
  • Romance
  • Poetry
  • Sci-Fi
  • Westerns

Please follow these guidelines to ensure your book sales link will be included.

The Bookstore is now open!!!

Writers Unite! on Facebook

Deborah Ratliff: The Writer’s Voice and Other Elements of Style

As I write this, the manuscript for my first novel and I exist apart. The words I’ve written now in the capable hands of my editor. It was a conversation with him regarding my writing idiosyncrasies that provided me with a clearer insight into my writing style and the voice I choose.

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of writing to comprehend is the concept of style. Like fingerprints, one author’s style of writing is unique from another’s and can vary depending on several factors, including the intended audience. Sentence structure, word choice, and the more elusive writer’s voice constitute the elements of style.

Before I returned to writing fiction, a passion from my youth, I wrote professional articles, policy and procedure and training manuals, newsletters, and advertising copy. At times, I might work on policy in the morning, a newsletter in the afternoon. What I failed to realize was I was changing my writing style to fit my readers.

Let’s look at how the description of a thunderstorm varies from one audience to another.

A scientific journal article on the elements of a thunderstorm would present a technically correct explanation of how warm moist air rapidly updrafts into cooler layers of air forming cumulonimbus clouds. Precipitation follows, and cold air sinks creating downdrafts and winds. Electrical charges build up in the water and ice cloud particles and release as lightning, which heats the air with such intensity producing a sound wave we know as thunder.

A storyteller would write of the darkening clouds, the rising winds, a prickly feeling on the skin as the storm intensifies, the driving rain, brilliant lightning flashes, the roar of thunder. Thus, setting a mood or a backdrop for the characters to interact.

The same author can write in an impersonal, technical style or in descriptive prose. It is the choice of words, sentence structure, and the author’s voice that creates style.

Word choice:

Writing experts teach authors to eliminate unnecessary words. To be concise, to choose the best word, an action verb demonstrating a physical or mental act or a concrete noun conveying sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch to convey meaning. We limit our use of adjectives and adverbs and the overuse of certain words such as ‘as,’ ‘that,’ and ‘it.’ Polysyllabic words, alliteration, and consonance create flowing sentences, while onomatopoeia and monosyllabic words can break up the flow.

Sentence Structure:

Good writers carefully structure sentences to extract the most meaning and to facilitate flow. When constructing a sentence, vary the length of the sentence to achieve different rhythms. Also, consider the word and phrase placement within a sentence which can emphasize the sentence meaning. Removing unneeded, vague or repetitive words, and including subordinate phrases and clauses will tighten up a sentence and make it more readable.

Voice:

The most subjective of the three elements of style is voice. Voice is unique to each writer and impacted by the author’s personality and one element of style, word choice.  Whether detached, passionate, objective, humorous, serious, it is yours.

This discussion of style brings me back to my conversation with my editor. I had two repetitive issues in my writing. The underuse of the word ‘that’ and my love of run-on sentences.

Somewhere, while reading what all the writing ‘experts’ suggest, I took the suggestion to eliminate the word ‘that’ where I could. Apparently, there are times when that makes a sentence clearer. My editor decided to replace those I had eliminated in my own edit. Then he read the story again and took them out, deciding the inclusion interfered with my writing style.

The run-on sentences are another issue and result from my desire to write with a smooth flow. I wrote a short story for a challenge a few years ago and received this critique, “Great story, well-done, but use an ‘and’ every now and then.” Apparently, I didn’t heed that message.

My editor offered the following advice. That the choice to construct sentences in this manner was mine. It was my style of writing and my decision to change them. It was at that moment I realized I had the final say on how my book would read.

Granted, I am at liberty to make these choices because I am self-publishing. I doubt the editor of a traditional publishing house would allow me the leeway of making these decisions for myself. The fact is I respect my editor and will likely take his advice, but his words made me realize that the style I choose to write in, my writer’s voice is mine.

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Deborah Ratliff is an administrator for the Writers Unite! Blog and Facebook page. Her first novel, Crescent City Lies, a murder mystery will be published in the Fall of 2016.

Personal Blog: the coastal quill

Author Page: D.A. Ratliff

Facebook: Writers Unite!

Michele Sayre: How to Use Deep POV to Avoid Info-Dumping

Writers do a lot of research and work to create the world in which their story is set. But a reader does NOT need to know all these details. They only need to know what’s important to the scene itself. And the key to that is asking why does the POV character notice this or that, or think about this or that? The single question of ‘why’ is very effective in editing down the most essential information in a scene.

Here’s an example from a work-in-progress of mine called ‘Not Enough Time’. In the very first scene I wanted to show the setting as I didn’t just want to put at the top of the page, Northeastern Colombia because readers wouldn’t know why I set the scene there. Instead, I wove in the details of that particular setting through my POV character Jake.

Jake continued to scan their surroundings without moving a muscle. The jungle threatened to overtake the dirt clearing and the only sounds cutting through the tense silence were the small birds flitting through the trees. But the oil fields of northeastern Colombia were hit on a regular basis and the two execs they’d been guarding were highly-lucrative targets. Yet… no sign of trouble at all the entire two weeks they’d been here.

What I wanted to create was an image of an oil field hacked out of a jungle, and the dangers surrounding it. It explained why my hero was there (guarding two oil company executives) and the conflict behind the setting (no sign of trouble despite the area getting ‘hit’ on a regular basis).

Another way to avoid info-dumping is not only weaving in the necessary details, but making sure those details advance the story. It’s all well and good to read description that looks great, but if it doesn’t advance the story then it’s pointless.

Here’s an example from a short story of mine. In this scene (the first one in the story), Emma meets Miguel, the man she’s come to write about. Except that she doesn’t recognize him when she sees him this way.

But as she raised her camera a man rose up out of the water in a huge rush like a god of the sea.

Slowly, she lowered her camera and felt her mouth fall open at the sight of the man now walking out of the water.

He was like a god- tall, broad-shouldered with washboard abs and dark curls of chest hair. He slicked back his thick black hair and smiled up at the sun, his black swim trunks clinging to his mid-section, outlining an impressive package.

Blushing hotly, she looked away from that part of him but it was too late. He was coming right towards her, towards the towel she stood right behind.

“Hello.” He called out with an accent.

And as he got closer, she realized with a huge blush of embarrassment this was the man she had come to write about.

Miguel Salvador, bad-boy chef and all-around hunk.

There’s a lovely shock to Emma upon seeing Miguel like this even as that shock turns to embarrassment when she realizes who he is. So not only do we have Emma’s observations and emotions in the scene, we also have the beginning of the story’s conflict.

Deep POV is about letting your characters tell the story and not about putting every little detail on the page because you want to show off your research and world-building. Remember, you have a story to tell and those details are just a part of the story.