Book Recs [Writer’s Resources]

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If you’re interested in being a writer, as many voracious readers are, you might be like me and really appreciate some good resources for writing. Whether they’re how to guides or what to do next tips, any information is useful, right? (Well, no, not *any* information, but there is a lot of good stuff out there and it’s worth looking around.)

I’ve been doing research on several different topics for a while now, the main ones being “how to get published”. (This will probably be my last topic on my How To Write A Novel series, but I haven’t decided yet.) This is a really difficult question to answer because it’s so involved and has so many different defining factors. Just because you’ve written an awesome novel doesn’t mean that you will have a bestseller or even be published!

Crazy, right?

Which I think is why a lot of authors have gone the self-publishing route. (Let me be clear, I don’t disagree with this at all! If you can get with a big name publisher, more power to you, but it’s not all sunshine and daisies even then. It still involves a lot of work, a lot of selling yourself, and a lot less money than you need to live.) This means you, as the author have to be a *lot* more involved in the whole process. From editing to book covers to blurbs and marketing and formatting – all of that now falls on your shoulders. (For the record, a lot of this is *still* on your shoulders even when you get with a big name publisher. Unless you’re a big name yourself, you’re not going to get as much attention, money, or effort from your publisher as most people think.)

Makes you think twice about doing it, right?

Probably. But it shouldn’t. Because if you really want to get your book out there, but don’t have to cater to picky, conglomerate publishers who aren’t going to like what you’re writing, just because you haven’t already sold something, then self-publishing might be the answer. You get paid very little, but immediately. (Possibly more, but maybe not.) You have control over what’s in your book and on your book. And you, ultimately, make all of the calls.

So it’s not all terrible. It’s just a lot of work.

Since this is so much work, I thought I would throw a few informational resources out there for you guys to check out.

Websites.

Free and generally much shorter than a book, websites tend to be packed full of really good information that is easily accessible and broken down into bite sized, easily digested chunks of information.

Here’s a good list of resources that I like to use:

How to Write Shop – YA query letters (this site is good in general, but this post is about a query letter which is the first step to “selling” your book to a publisher or agent)

7 Tips to Promote Your Self-Published Book – Joanna Penn is AWESOME and I’m going to list one of her books later. Check out her site for general writer’s info, but this post is about marketing your book once you get it “live”.

Marketing Tools for Self-Published Authors – this one isn’t as “pretty” as the others in formatting/setup, but the info is good. Just go to the bolded points in the article to navigate.

40 Publishers That Accept Unsolicited Manuscripts – this one is really useful because a LOT of publishers will only consider looking at your manuscript if you have an agent. And having an agent isn’t necessarily bad, but you should definitely get some info on that before diving in. So if you’re not sure you want an agent, check out these publishers.

5 Elements … to Sell More Books – a good read with some suggestions on how to get your book to sell. A nice, quick read.

Books.

Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn – this one has a lot of really useful information in a very easy to read format. I love Penn and appreciate her suggestions. (I think she’s got a series of informational books on similar subjects, but this is the only one I’ve been reading thus far.) Her ebook was free on Amazon. (Amazon | Goodreads)

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell – this is good if you’re just starting out. It focuses on craft and the specifics of writing more than the publishing aspect. (Right now you can get this from Amazon for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.) (Amazon | Goodreads)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King – you know I’m all about editing! For those of us on a budget, this is a good resource for doing as much editing on your own before investing in a real editor. (Amazon | Goodreads)

45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt – I haven’t read this one personally, but it gets strong reviews and sounds like a good resource for anyone struggling with coming up with characters. (Right now you can get this from Amazon for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.) (Amazon | Goodreads)

The Mental Game of Writing by James Scott Bell – I’m including this one even though I haven’t read it yet just because I really WANT to. It’s on my list of “to buy when I have the money” (nonfiction version). It looks really good and if you’ll notice another of his books appears on this list, too, so I’m very hopeful. That being said, I haven’t read it so go to this one at your own risk – and if you do, let me know how it is! (It’s only $2.99 as the Kindle version.) (Amazon | Goodreads)

There are TONS more out there and if you guys have some recommendations, share them in the comments below! I’d love to hear them.

I know this was mostly focusing on publishing this time, but I hope that you guys get something out of the other books, too. I’m going to continue my How To series soon, but in the meantime, these can tide you over! The Kindle versions of some of them are pretty cheap and even free for those with Kindle Unlimited! If they aren’t, I always recommend searching for used copies, but stay away from sites that you’re unfamiliar with. I made that mistake just once in college and got off lucky – they didn’t get my personal info or my money, but it was a near thing. If you aren’t sure of a site, search for reviews OF THE SITE. They’ll usually tell you if you can trust them.

(Additionally, some of these may be duplicates from me other post about writer’s resources here. If so, I apologize!)

Thanks for checking out my post and I hope that it helps you guys out some! If you’ve got helpful tips or suggestions, share them below. I love to hear them.

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

P.S. If any of the links are wrong, please let me know so that I can change them. Thanks!

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How to Write a Novel: Drafty Bastards

 

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Finally getting back to my How To series, I am pleased to say that we have *finally* reached the fun part! You guessed it, the actual *writing* portion of our lesson: the First Draft. (Or second if you’re considering the outline your first draft, which isn’t a bad idea considering all the hard work you’ve already put in!)

Before we dive in, I wanted to say something: You will have many drafts. As in, many. There are some very gifted writers out there who turn out a novel on one, long, continuous stream of toilet paper, type that up and call it a novel – but most of us don’t. Why? Well, it has to do with catching plot holes, errors, and generally making the novel better. Which is why you have first drafts, second drafts, third drafts… well, you get the idea.

I’m not saying this to dishearten you. I just want you to understand that even if your *first* draft doesn’t turn out so well, it’s okay. There will be more – and they’ll get better. And I also want to be clear, writing a new draft doesn’t mean you completely get rid of the first one. So don’t worry. You’re not starting from scratch every time.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to the good stuff!

Drafty Bastards

So we’ve got this super detailed outline, right? We’ve put all of this hard work into it, but maybe we’re not *quite* sure what to do with it – or maybe we are and just aren’t sure where to start.

And I’ll answer that question first: It doesn’t matter where you start.

That being said, starting at the beginning doesn’t hurt. When I first started writing, I tended to write by scene. I’d have these characters and they’d be goofing off or be overdramatic about their lives and I’d go ahead and put that down as a scene. It might be the first scene I’d written for the novel, but it actually took place about half way through and introduced a bunch of characters that when I had first started writing, I hadn’t even realized would be in the novel! And that’s okay. Keeping these scenes, collecting them, is a good thing. These will help you build settings, interpersonal relationships between your characters, plot points, and even just getting to know your character moments. All of which is really important.

That being said. When you start in the middle somewhere, writing can get confusing. You might forget that you have three things that need to happen for this scene to exist – and none of them happen before this scene. Which means you now have to do some real creative things to make this scene work. Or, the thing we all hate, you might end up having to cut it. No matter how brilliant it is.

That won’t necessarily happen, but it can and it does. If you start writing from the beginning of your novel, you’re less likely to encounter this problem – but you might encounter other problems. When writing from the beginning, I find that it’s sometimes really hard to get started. Everything I put on paper comes out boring or unimportant or completely off, because I don’t have anything else to go with the story yet. And sometimes, writing from the beginning just isn’t an option, because you’ve got all of this inspiration that happens to go to a completely different scene about fifteen chapters i and if you don’t get it down right now, you’ll lose it forever.

So, starting chronologically might be an issue for you – or it might be the best thing for you. I leave that to you to decide. I just wanted you to know that it’s okay to do either of these things. No one said you had to start from the beginning and no one said you had to start in the middle or the end.

Utilizing your outline.

The nice thing about the outline is that you can pretty much jump to wherever you want and start writing. Remember what I said about keeping your place and tracking your progress. If you highlight what you’ve already done, it’s pretty easy to keep track of where you’re at in the story, no matter where you’ve started. (Also, remember to keep separate documents – a full document that has all of your completed scenes and a document per scene.)

When I’m writing, I like to do a “split screen”. This computer is the first one that I’ve been able to easily do this with without fussing over sizing windows and such, but I highly recommend it. Have two documents open. One is your outline, the other is whatever scene you’re currently working on. (My “working on” scene is always on the right; the outline is always on the left. It helps me keep things straight.) This allows you to consistently check back over to your outline to see where your scene is supposed to be going, but also it helps if you can’t remember character names, place names, or what characters look like. This way, you don’t have to be constantly shifting between two different documents (or several) searching for the right information.

So we’ve got the outline open and we’re highlighting as we go. Great! But what about the actual *writing*?

Ah, well, that’s the tricky part isn’t it?

How to write – or at least, one opinion on it.

To some extent, writing is a talent. If you’ve got natural talent, you’re ahead of the game and you can wing a lot of stuff that other people just can’t. You can *feel* how sentences flow together. You can *sense* how characters should be talking in dialogue – and how the narration should be different. If you’ve got that, you’re one lucky duck! But it still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be practicing. In fact, if anything, a natural gift means you should be working harder than everyone else. If you’re not, how do you ever expect to reach your full potential?

But never mind all of that jibberish. Onward!

What do you do if you *don’t* have a natural sense for writing? Don’t give up. Seriously. Writing may be a talent, but it’s also a skill. One that you can train yourself to be good at. You just have to work hard at it.

First, practice, practice, practice. You should be doing this one regardless of whether or not you’re working on your novel. I expect you to be journaling, blogging, writing fanfiction and flash fiction and every other type of fiction out there! I expect you to be telling your own stories or making them up. I expect you to be constantly writing, because that’s the biggest step towards getting better. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter *what* you’re writing, so long as you’re doing it.

But while you’re practicing, there are some things that you should be thinking about. I’ll give you a quick list:

  • Word choice. This one isn’t so much about finding the biggest word or the most exotic one (you’re not playing scrabble). Instead, it’s about finding the word that fits the best. So you’re talking about the rapid beating of someone’s heart. You could say, “her heart beat like a jackrabbit” or you could say “her heart hammered against her rib cage” or “the staccato beat of her heart was the drum line of her life”. All of those are fine – so which do you use? Well, it depends on the story you’re telling and which character has the rapid fire heartbeat. If you’ve got a sort of younger, maybe funny character – go with the jackrabbit. It’s more youthful and potentially younger sounding. If you’ve got a dramatic character, or you’re telling a story that is about adrenaline or fear, then go with the hammered one. And finally, if you’ve telling a sort of poetic prose story (or something that tends to be longer winded), then maybe you go with the last one. It all depends on what sort of story you’re telling. Also, make sure you know the definitions of the words you’re using – because you’re readers damn sure will and they’ll call you on it if you get it wrong. Not sure? Look it up.

 

  • Sentence variation. This is basically about changing up your sentence structures and your sentence lengths. Have a lot of long sentences? Throw in a short one every third sentence or so. Have very abrupt, to the point ones? Throw in some long, almost rambling ones, or combine two sentences for a complex one. This is as much about aesthetic appeal as it is about the flow of the novel. We see the words on the page and changing it up makes things prettier to look at. But we read them, too. We need the commas and the becauses. We need the breaks and the stream of consciousness and the dramatic pauses. Why? Because if we don’t have them, we get bored.

 

  • Atmosphere. This one is all about how your writing feels. If you’re writing about my little pony, the reader wants to feel all sunshine and daisies. Rainbows better pour from your words. If you’re writing about a body in the basement coming back to life and trying to kill your mother, then you should probably scare the crap out of us. That comes from the mood, the atmosphere. And you create that with both of the things I mentioned above (word choice and sentence variation), but it’s more than that. Let’s go with the creepy example (because I’m all about that).

She shivered against the breeze that swept through her room. A breeze that shouldn’t have been there. She closed that window already, but the chill cut through her just the same. She didn’t dare turn to see, knowing that it would be there, waiting, watching. A shadow on the wall, a puddle on the floor. A moan that whispered her name, Haley.

There are a couple of things going on with this example. First, cold. We have “shivered” and “chill”. Both make the reader feel how cold our MC is and cold makes us think of winter, night, and generally dead things. So, check on that. Next, we’ve got “waiting” and “watching”. This is a combination one. The two w words one after another intensifies both words and makes them more important – and creepier given what’s already going on. Since there isn’t a specific “something” doing the watching and waiting yet, it’s all the eerier, because we don’t know what it is. But these do something else, too. They make *us* feel as though *we* are being watched. That something is waiting right behind our shoulders as we read. Creepy. Next we’ve got “shadow” which acts similarly to the cold theme. A shadow is dark and it is reminiscent of the movements we catch out of the corner of our eyes all of the time. Finally, we’ve got “moan” and “whispered”. Moan can be erotic, but in the context here it gives us the creeps. A moan is an almost sad, pathetic sound. It’s all about ghosts and chains and sadness. If we’d gone with groan, the sound would have been maybe less terrifying – but more menacing. Whispered is about silence, but not real silence, but it’s also about trying to be quiet. It’s about creeping and stalking and eerie sounds that shouldn’t really be there.

My point about all of this is that creating an atmosphere is all about being consistent with your theme and knowing which words fit into that theme. If you can work that out, then you’ve got a much more powerful story going on.

  • Interior monologue. This is basically about POV. While you can have a character who is actively thinking (often denoted by italics to distinguish thoughts as opposed to general narration), interior monologuing is usually more about the first person narration of a character. Some people hate it, some don’t. I think it’s a personal choice, though I encourage you not to overuse it. Here’s an example:

I knew it was too good to be true. What sort of gorgeous, sweet boy fell for a pain in the ass like me? Not one that was real, that was for sure. I just wasn’t that sort of girl. Not the popular type who fit into the world of prom dresses and football games. But I wasn’t the sort who delved into the volunteering clubs or the charities. I didn’t help old people; I didn’t volunteer at soup kitchens. Mostly, I just sat in my room and read – because reading was the only way I knew how to be me. What sort of guy was into a girl like that?

Basically, this shows us what our MC is thinking and feeling, how she’s reacting to a situation, but this doesn’t tell us anything else. There’s no setting. No action (she’s not moving anywhere or drinking coffee or anything). No dialogue. She’s just thinking, but not exactly thinking. This is part of the narration thinking and it can get old, so use it sparingly.

  • Descriptions. Okay, so descriptions are important, but damnit, I do *not* care if she’s got the perfect outfit which she purchased for a cool $300 on mommy’s credit card. I don’t need to know the exact number of sequins her top is, how many inches her fire engine red heels are, or get a rundown of how she did her makeup. Seriously. I don’t want to know about brands. I don’t want to know about super cute fun time style. I just want to know if she’s dressed or not, if she’s wearing jeans or a skirt, and whether or not she can run in whatever footwear she’s got. I want to know how long her hair is and what color it is – that’s about it. And the reason I’m ranting about this is because of this weird trend of name dropping. “OMG, I just LOVE American Eagle, don’t you? I’m wearing their Skinny Kick jeans with a Victoria’s Secret bra and a Juicy sweatshirt – isn’t that awesome?”

No, no it’s not. I don’t care. At all. The worst one at this is probably Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz who told us about a bajillion brands, none of which I knew, could afford, or cared about. And that middle one is always especially awful. Why do I want to read a book about a bunch of rich, spoiled kids? Unless my MC just blew a months worth of hard earned dough on some major dress for her wedding, I kind of don’t like hearing about kids just flaunting this endless supply of money. Be realistic. Be down to earth. And don’t be bratty.

Do Example:

Jill’s long hair was pulled back into a braid after she got frustrated with the curls falling into her eyes for the millionth time. She should have put it up-up since it was sweltering outside even in her tank top. “I should have worn shorts,” she mumbled aloud, glaring at her jeans.

Don’t Example:

Jill started with washing her face. Patting it dry, she then sat down at her vanity and began her routine. Maybeline foundation went on first, giving her a nice matte to work from. Next came an overlay of Maybeline powder. After that, she grabbed her N.Y.C. eyeshadow, the green to bring out her eyes, and spent almost ten minutes adding just the right shading to give her that smoky look with a hint of forest in there. Next, she used her Cover Girl eyeliner. It was True Black, which she loved. She did winged eyeliner perfectly and flapped her hands to dry it. Next, she grabbed her Revlon mascara and applied a coat. She let that dry, then added a second for good measure. Her eyelashes looked long and fabulous. Finally, she applied a base coat of red lipstick, then covered it with her favorite Revlon lip gloss. Staring at her reflection, she smiled and gave herself a kiss. She did look awesome. Now, moving on to the hair…

See the difference?

  • Dialogue. This is important: Write like you talk. Seriously. No one talks with perfect grammar. We mostly don’t speak formally – and if we do, you’re probably writing historical fiction or have created your own sort of dialect that is specific to your world. So if we don’t do that in real life, why would you do that in your novel? If your characters are speaking, go ahead and write them as though you were having a casual conversation with your friend. This means contractions and everything. That being said, please DO NOT USE TEXT SPEAK. If you do, I will disown you. The only time you can get away with this is if your characters are ACTUALLY TEXTING. Period. No exceptions. Not even for LOL. Don’t do it.

 

  • Action. While you’re writing, make sure that something is actually going on. I mean, is everyone out lounging by the lake working on their tan? Great. Say that. And then say that, “Jill grabbed the suntan bottle as she spoke, squirting still more into her hands. She burned way too easily.” Tell  us what people are doing, because talking and thinking and feeling isn’t enough. Something should be happening because very rarely in life are human beings completely still. If they are, they’re probably dead. Even while sleeping, you’re breathing. So be sure to tell us that. There doesn’t need to be a fight in every scene, but there should be something happening.

Okay, so that was a pretty long list after all, but these are things I point out in my reviews because I think they’re important. They can make or break a story, so work on them. Play with them. Try them out. And practice!

And a Jill example, using my outline.

I wanted to give you a quick example of my writing. Not everyone’s going to like it or do it like this, but I wanted to give you guys something that followed with the other examples. So, here it goes. I picked chapter one to work from, so if you’d like to follow along with my outline, you can do so. (Be gentle, this is off the top of my head, it’s late here, and I haven’t edited a thing.) Here we go!

Chapter One

I stomped through the woods angrily. Just who the hell did he think he was? We’d had this night planned for months and he just bailed on me like I was yesterdays mystery meat surprise? If he thought he was going to get off easily after this sort of rejection, he was sorely mistaken. The jerk. I’d make his life hell come tomorrow.

Ignoring the encroaching chill of fall, I defiantly pounded my boots into the moist earth, leaves mulching beneath me. The trees around me were thick. They caught the light and reflected it back at me in strange ways, reminding me that the full moon was hardly enough to see by in the woods surrounding Corn Grove. But I continued on, not worried. This little town was a speck of dust in the sunlight. It didn’t even warrant a thumbtack on a map. Nothing even close to crime happened here – unless you counted Marian Dempsey shoplifting from her mother’s store to make some whiny, rich girl point.

Not that I was friends with Marian.

I dodged a tree root, hoping over it and stumbling slightly as the ground sloped downhill suddenly. Just barely catching my footing before a bad fall, I moved around one of the bigger trees that marked the edge of the woods. I was still fuming at Adrian as I broke free of the forest and into the small, if pretty Corn Grove Park.

We’re two peas in a pod! I thought angrily. He’s just as friendless as I am – which begs the question. What the hell could be more important than me tonight?

I was lost in these thoughts as I headed towards the fountain, but I hadn’t gotten three steps before I saw them. Gorgeous. It was the first word that popped into my head. The second was odd. They were both male, but prettier than any boy I’d ever seen. Their hair was long and gleamed in the moonlight, but that shine was nothing compared to the one in their eyes. Almost… glowing.

And that was when I realized two very important things.

The first, they were floating. As in, feet off the ground, hovering in the air, walking on the wind, floating.

The second, they were floating over a very dead body…

And there you go! Our lovely Jill has finally gotten her start! I’d probably flesh this out a bit more if I was really writing this story, but for now it’s an okay start for an example. And for a first draft, it’ll do, too.

Don’t worry right now about things like plot holes and inconsistencies. You’re main goal with the first draft is to complete it. That being said, if you spot them as you’re going, try to fix them. And if you can’t, make a note of them to come back to later. That way you don’t forget they’re there, but you can still move on and actually complete your first draft. Later, we’ll clean everything up with second and third drafts. After that, we’ll push ahead to beta reading and editing and all that good stuff. These are to make sure that the little – and the big – mistakes get caught. Better to find them before you publish rather than getting a bad review after.

So what about you guys? How do you write? What do you focus on? Let me know below and as always, if you have any questions or tips of your own, feel free to share them below! This is only one writer’s take on it! And please, check out my next post in the series: The Next Step, focusing on what you do after you’ve finished your draft!

Thanks for checking this out!

 

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

Update & Writing Links

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As you know I am working on a How To series about novel writing. I’m definitely going to continue with this and will post the next update as soon as I can, but I just recently got over being sick (I’m mostly better now) and as a result am way behind on deadlines. I’m going to have to play a bit of catch-up and since I don’t have any posts waiting in the wings, it might be a little while before I get back to the series.

Instead, I thought I’d do a couple of quick resources that you might use while (or after) writing!

Hope some of these were helpful to you and if you guys have some of your own, feel free to post the links below! I’ll get back to my how to series as soon as I can. Thanks for all the support!

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

How to Write a Novel: Keeping Track

 

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So last time I gave you a template for outlining and an example of how to use it. Today we’re actually not going to talk about working from that outline, but rather how to keep track of things when you *do* use the outline (which I hope you will). Why? Because we you get into the longer novels as opposed to the short stories or novellas, it’s important to keep things straight. Why? Because you don’t want to have to always be going back and rereading everything, because you’ve forgotten half of what you wrote the last time you worked on this. I’ve had issues with this again and again, so I thought I’d throw a few tips out there to help y’all out.

Keeping Track

So you’ve got this outline, right? And you’re writing away, right? But you’ve noticed that you’ve now got about a *thousand* scenes and you’ve forgotten what happened in the first few because it’s been about a month since the last time you worked on this (because real life happens, you know?). You don’t want to waste precious writing time going back and rereading everything all over again every time you do this – what do you do?

Well, start by being proactive. While you’re writing, try these out:

  • Highlight what you’ve already written about in your outline. Highlighting preserves the outline content, but it lets you know that you’ve covered it and no longer need to worry about it. This helps you remember where you’ve ended and what comes next.
  • Use comments. If you use Microsoft Word (this is what I use, so I apologize, because I’m not familiar with other word processors, but would hope they have similar features), then there is a feature where you can add comments. This is really helpful when editing, but it’s also helpful when writing. For every chapter, add a comment to remind you of what that chapter is about, especially if maybe it differs slightly from your outline. (It happens.) Add in key details or important things to jog your memory. You can also do this if you want to go quickly to character descriptions, important scenes, or anything else in your novel that you need quick access to. These comments appear along the side of the page and you can quickly go to them as opposed to searching through the whole manuscript to find what you’re looking for.
  • Keep a “full” document. When I write, a lot of the time I use a new document for every new chapter or sometimes every new scene. This way I’m not dealing with a huge document. It’s more manageable. That being said, it helps to know how things fit together and where they belong. So in addition to these chapter documents, I also have a full document. This has all of my scenes put together in order in one single document. This tells me the wordcount, the order of scenes, and can let me know where I still need work. (I put in notes to myself like UNFINISHED SECTION or NEEDS MORE AT END.) Additionally, when I’ve *finished* a scene, I move it to a finished folder. That way I don’t keep trying to use it or edit it after I’ve already included it in my full manuscript.

All of this is useful if you haven’t started yet and had the forethought to do this in the beginning – but what if you didn’t? What if you dove in and now you have to go back and figure out what’s going on? Organizing suddenly gets a lot harder, right?

Well, there are still some things you can do.

  • For instance, if you know what you’re looking for you can search for it. Use the find feature (still in Word) and type in what you’re looking for. Just make sure it’s exact. This will take you to a list of all the locations where that particular word or phrase shows up. It is very specific, but can help if you know what specifically you’re looking for.
  • Use your outline. Even if you haven’t been highlighting what you’ve already used and what you haven’t, your outline can still help you out. Since the chapters are summarized, you can use them as quick reference and figure out what you did in each chapter. That helps you out since you won’t have to reread your whole manuscript just to figure out what’s going on. It also gives you a little guidance for if you need to find something in your manuscript but aren’t specific enough to search for it. Now you can look it up by chapter.
  • Beyond this, if you want, you can also use the track changes feature in your writing. This is more helpful for editing, I think, but sometimes it’s useful just when you’re adding in new things to a previous manuscript. Be warned though, if you use this too much it becomes less useful because it’s harder to look through all of your changes to find what you’re actually looking for and whether you like the change or the original. Like I said, I’d rather use this one for editing.

I know this was a short one guys, but I thought you might appreciate that! (I know I’m long winded.) And really, I just wanted to get to the bare bones of this one. Keep organized, keep track. Pay attention to where you are in your novel so that you can figure out things like plot holes or what is and isn’t working. I think a lot of the issues with novels today is that so many of authors skip ahead to “the good stuff”. They forget that editing is important. They forget that writing several drafts is important. They forget that you need to make sure your plot makes sense – and not just to you. They forget that in the end, a story is only as good as its execution. So put in some of the boring legwork now and save yourself some grief later.

I hope this post was helpful for some of you guys and sorry it was so Word focused. I don’t use Mac and Word has always been what I’ve been most familiar with. But if anyone has other processors and wants to include some tips, please feel free to add them below! I’d love to hear them.

Stay tuned next time for part seven in my How To series: Drafty Bastards! We’ll start using that outline of yours and I’ll give you some tips for the actual writing of the writing process.

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

How to Write a Novel: Outline of Doom!

dear-reader3

Part five of my How To series, today I’m focusing on outlining. I know, I know, for many of you this is a bad word. “Pfft, outlining?! What madness is this?!” To which I say, “I’ve said the exact same thing – now I know better.”

First, let me give you a quick list of reasons why you should use an outline. Ready? Here we go.

  1. Organization.

Yep, that was it. One reason. Because it covers everything. How do I know where I am in my story? Check your outline. What was that one character’s name? And what did they look like? Check your outline. What was this rule in the world I just created from scratch? You guessed, it check your outline.

I know it’s like everyone’s least favorite thing to do, but it gives you so much in return for so very little. Yes, you have to put a little time and forethought into your novel before you get to the fun stuff. Yes, it means you have to work out the specifics of the new world you just created. Yes, it means you have to actually figure out, beginning to end what’s going to happen in your story.

And yes, I know, it’s a lot of work.

But I’m also telling you that it is worth it and will save you so much pain and agony later on…

As a ghostwriter, I get a couple of different kinds of contracts. I tend to get either the “with an outline” or “without an outline” contract. And one is much more preferable than the other. Why? Because of how much work I do or don’t have to put in. When a client provides me with an outline they are doing a couple of things for me. They’re telling me what they want in the story. Specifically. They’re telling me how they want it to end, and not just HEA. And they’re telling me who they want in it, how many chapters they want (~), and what people look like. If they don’t give me an outline, a lot of the time I have to do all of this myself. Which means I have to do more work, often for the same pay. Why? Because this *is* work and no one wants to do it – but they don’t want to pay me for it either. Not fair, right?

But all of that aside, you might see why having an outline makes my job as a writer so much easier. And that means it makes your job as a writer and author easier, too.

So, hopefully I’ve convinced you this is useful. But what do you include in your outline then? How should it be formatted (and does formatting even matter)? Let’s break it down.

I’m going to give you guys my Super Secret Outline Template, because I love you guys so much. This is what I prefer to get from my clients and what I use for my own writing. The more complete it is, the easier of a time you will have actually writing – and finishing – your novel. If you want, look at this as your first draft.

E.C.’s Super Secret Outline Template

OUTLINE – (title)

 

CHARACTERS:

Main:

(This should include age/description/basic background info)

Name:

(However many you have)

Minor:

Name:

(however many you want to include or need to keep track of in your story)

SYNOPSIS:

(This is a brief summary of everything going on. Don’t worry about being too inclusive or specific – we’ll do that in the chapter breakdown section)

SETTING:

(Where does this take place? Include time period and if you’d like you can give a brief description of the setting.)

CHAPTER BREAKDOWN

(Each chapter should be a summary of what happens within that chapter. This is where you get very detailed. You should list main events, run ins with other characters, and emotions that characters are feeling based on events/other characters. Be specific, but keep in mind that each chapter is a mini summary, not the actual written portion of your novel – yet.)

CHAPTER 1:

CHAPTER 2:

CHAPTER 3:

CHAPTER 4:

CHAPTER 5:

(include additional chapters as necessary; this should be from start to finish of your novel)

ADDITIONAL INFO:

(This can be a section for notes, world building, relationship arcs, etc. Whatever you need to keep straight, include here)

That doesn’t look so bad, does it? Of course not! You can totally do it! And I’m even going to give you a Jill Example to boot! I’ll fill out the above template using Jill the Changeling’s story.

OUTLINE – The Changeling

CHARACTERS:

Main:

Jillian MacKillevrey: Sixteen. Dark brown hair, long and wavy. Freckles. Green eyes that shift to golden when her fae side comes out. Goes by Jill and very rarely allows someone to call her Jillie-Bean. Not particularly close with her parents who are hard workers and a little oblivious to their daughter. Not overly involved. She’s a little selfish, somewhat vain, but has a good heart and is extremely loyal. Switched at birth for the “real” Jill, she’s a Changeling.

Julianna Heatherthorn: Sixteen. Could be Jill’s twin. Long, dark hair. Green eyes. Freckles. But there’s a coldness about her, a paleness as though she is already dead or dying. As a child went by Jules, but now that she’s grown and gunning for the crown of the Faerie Realm, she goes only by Lady Julianna. She’s manipulative and cruel, her soul having disintegrated to save Faerie. Unwilling to return to the human world, Julianna wants to rule all of Faerie – and she’ll kill her Fae counterpart to do it.

Merrick Abernathy: Eighteen. Sandy blonde hair to his shoulders, hazel eyes. Wide smile and shoulders. Tall. The human boy that finally pushes Adrian over the edge. He comes in and makes Jill feel things she’s never felt before. He seems like the thing she’s looking for. He’s sweet and very normal, but charismatic and fun. Almost to the point of being boring, but there’s no denying that he’s safe.

Lord Kane: Between nineteen and twenty-one. Black hair, pale green eyes. Perpetual frown. Strong, but lean like a runner. Betrothed to the next High Queen of Faerie, he’s never met his would-be queen and expects very little of her as she’s been living as a mortal for a long time now.

Adrian: Seventeen. A spy sent to watch Jill from a young age, he was initially hired by Jill’s Fae mother. But when her mother grew tired of her and focused on Julianna instead, Adrian was left in the human world. Until he met Julianna who turned him against Jill. He is still partly in love with Jill, but since her rejection, he’s grown hard and angry.

Minor:

N/A (For right now)

SYNOPSIS:

Jill is out walking through the woods, angry because Adrian bailed on her. She comes out at the park with the fountain in an effort to reach her house quickly, but stops when she sees what looks like two floating people and a dead body. They spot her, then disappear. Jill’s left with a body to contend with.

The next few days are filled with police interrogations – and Jill arguing with her parents about what she saw. Swears now it was faeries. Jill’s mother insists she see a psychiatrist. Jill ditches that and tries to convince Adrian. He uncomfortably refuses to believe her. They fight and she refuses to speak with him.

Jill spends her time doing her own detective work by researching faeries. Learns a little about changelings, but doesn’t put it together yet. Wonders if the body was a changeling. Goes to the funeral and sees the two faeries there. Chases after them. One tells her to come home, then they disappear again in the woods.

Jill spends more time researching in the library and runs into new boy Merrick. Isn’t willing to admit to love at first sight, but he’s sexy. He starts asking to hang out. She would say no, but then sees Adrian and is still mad. Agrees to show him around.

They hang out, she gives him the tour of both school and town. They talk about why he moved here, where she wants to go, why she’s hellbent on leaving. “I just feel like this place isn’t really home sometimes.”

They grow closer. Jill opens up about her faerie research. Thinks he’ll think she’s crazy, but instead tells her that it’s important to follow your instincts. They end up kissing.

Jill runs into the faeries again. They tell her it’s time to come home. She doesn’t understand. The faeries are suddenly killed by other faeries. Jill freaks out when evil faeries try to kill her. She’s saved by sexy Lord Kane. Kane tries to take her back with him, but she fights him and gets away.

Later with Merrick, she doesn’t tell him but asks to stay the night – no sex. She dreams of Kane, who tells her that she can’t run away from destiny. Next day, she skips school and goes back to where she first saw the faeries. Kane is there. He tells her about herself and says that he needs her. She’s confused. Someone stumbles upon them, he whispers to her not to trust the mortals. She doesn’t understand, he disappears, Adrian shows up.

Eventually Adrian tries to kill her, but apologizes before he makes himself do it. Says he’s always loved her – but Julianna is the only one who ever loved him. Julianna appears, kills him, is about to kill Jill herself, but then Kane appears and saves her. He promises not to leave her this time.

Kane comes to regular school in human disguise. Merrick doesn’t like how friendly he is with Jill. Jill realizes she has a choice to make.

SETTING:

Corn Grove, small town, New England feel to it. Includes a park with a fountain, woods surrounding it, and a river winding through it.

CHAPTER BREAKDOWN

(I’m not going to go through the whole thing, but I’ll give you the first few as examples.)

CHAPTER 1:

16 year old Jill fumes at her best friend Adrian. What business did he have bailing on her? After all, they’re two peas in a pod over the whole friendless thing. She cuts through the woods, stomping angrily, only to come upon the fountain at Corn Grove Park where two wildly and strangely beautiful people hover a foot off the ground over a dead body. A body of someone she recognizes – Parker, her lab partner and all around asshole. She must make a sound, because they turn at look at her. She blinks and they aren’t floating and they’re just regular kids from school. Except she’s never seen them before. They run off and Jill runs home. She tells her mom. They call the police.

CHAPTER 2:

Jill gets ready for school – the first day back after a three day reprieve thanks to Parker’s death. She heads out, but her mother argues with her about seeing a psychiatrist. Jill swears she isn’t crazy. Her mother says that people don’t fly. Jill says nothing, but leaves angrily. At school, she meets up with Adrian who seems nervous. She says it’s crazy about Parker, he distantly agrees. She asks what’s up with him. He says nothing. She lets it go so she can talk about her own stuff. Tells him about the floating people. He laughs and says there’s no such thing as faeries. She thinks this is weird, she didn’t say faeries, but takes offense. Yells at him, then storms off. Decides to look up Faeries.

CHAPTER 3:

Still arguing with Adrian, Jill is in the library. She’s searching for stuff on Faeries. Finds several books to check out. At the desk, while checking them out, two men in suits come to talk to her. Detectives. She asks about parental permission. They have it. She tells them what she saw – but leaves out the floating people. They ask if she recognized the two kids. She says no. Asks if she got along with Parker. Frowns, but admits no. They make notes and she realizes she’s a suspect. Gets mad, but they say they’re done. One of the two notices her reading material and comments. Then they leave. Jill is frazzled, wants to talk to Adrian, but remembers they’re fighting.

CHAPTER 4:

At home, Jill reads about faeries and comes across “changeling.” Learns about how Faeries steal mortals away as babies and leave changelings in their place. It freaks her out, but she finds herself wondering if Parker was maybe a changeling. It would make sense because he was so unlikable. Then she wonders if she isn’t really going crazy. Her mom knocks on the door and tells her that she’s worried. Insists she goes to a psychiatrist. Jill is mad, but ultimately agrees if only to get her mother to see that she’s not nuts. Jill falls asleep and dreams of a “mirror” Jill who is a changeling.

CHAPTER 5:

After her psychiatrist meeting (which involved a lot of silently angry Jill and a lot of her doctor checking her clock), Jill goes to the library under the pretense of “school project.” Her mother allows it, but not alone. Jill lies and says she’s meeting Adrian. Jill is perusing the stacks and finds more Faerie books. Can’t quite reach one, so Merrick, new sexy boy, gets it for her. Informs her she’s new. She’s snarky in return. He laughs and follows her to a table. She tries to move again, he follows her. Finally, when Jill spots Adrian at another table, she lets Merrick sit with her. They do introductions and Jill agrees to be his tour guide at school and maybe of the town, too, but only to prove to Adrian that she doesn’t need him. Admits to herself that Merrick is sexy, but isn’t about to fall head over heels for him – she thinks.

(I’m only including the first five chapters because… well, this takes a while!)

ADDITIONAL INFO:

  • The need to switch a Changeling with a mortal comes only once every… 1000 years? 2000? When it happens, it’s to replenish the Faerie Realm. But if the Changeling isn’t returned, the mortal’s soul will rot and she will become evil. If she is left to rule, then she will cause everything to wither away and die.
  • Julianna realized they were going to switch them back, but it’s too late. She wants the crown and the power. So she’s trying to kill her Fae counterpart to keep it.
  • Jill’s Fae mother has grown attached to Julianna and waited too long. That’s why Julianna is corrupted
  • Corn Grove is a natural link to the Faerie Realm.

And there you have it! A quick look at what a semi-completed outline might look like! This is only a template and what I like to include, but I’m always adding to it! Sometimes I have a list of main events or a timeline or I have a “background history” section to explain what happened before the present day events. Include whatever helps you write your story, because that’s the whole point of this. And if you can fill this all out, you can go to write your novel and not have to worry about where you are in your story, what connects with what, and who the hell your characters are.

Also, a quick recommendation: After you finish your outline, take a break. Walk away from it and your project for a little while, then come back when you haven’t been staring at it for forever. That way, you won’t be sick of what you’re seeing and writing will be exciting again!

I hope this helps out and if you guys have comments, suggestions, questions, or your own tips, please comment below! Next post is going to be Keeping Track, how to remember where you are, where you’ve been, and where the heck you’re going. Hope to see you then!

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

How to Write a Novel: Characters We Love – And Love To Hate

dear-reader3

Part four of my How to Write a Novel series, today’s post is all about characters! (Which, let’s be honest, is what you were waiting for anyway, right?) Here I’ll focus on a couple of things: names, physical descriptions, personalities, and some suggestions for things to stay away from. I’ll also mention some tropes involved with YA, which you can disregard for a lot of other genres, but might apply to your particular novel anyway.

Characters We Love – And Love To Hate

Let’s begin with this: you don’t have to like every character. Let me say that one again, you don’t have to like every character. And I know this will blow your mind, too, but you don’t even have to like your main character. Trippy, right? But I’m saying this, because a lot of the time you see these “happily ever after stories” that have all of these characters, none of which die, all of which are *mostly* likable, and in the end, they all get along/make amends/admit they were wrong/etc. (Twilight, I’m looking at you.) And at first you might be thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with that?”

Let me tell you, a lot.

First, let’s talk about why. Why can’t I have a bunch of BFF characters who all get along? Why does anyone have to die? Why, why, why?

Simple. Conflict.

If you have a villain, you have conflict. Without that villain you’re relying purely on the adventure or love story or whatever to pull the plot along. Which, okay, you can try, but there still has to be conflict. Otherwise, you just have “A Day In The Life Of Mary Sue” (if you don’t know what a Mary Sue is, Google it; they’re terrible). But here’s the thing. Most of us accept that we have to have a villain and that the villain shouldn’t be very likable, right? But what if I told you that it might be better if the villain was sort of likable in a tragic past, life has done terrible things to her/him, and now we feel sad for the poor thing? And what if I told you it might be better if there were qualities in the main character (Jill, our protagonist from a couple of posts ago?) that weren’t really appealing?

We have a tendency to want our good guys to be perfect when writing. Some of this has to do with self-fulfillment. I’ll never be perfect in real life, but my character can be. Some of this is just the need to see the good guys do good things and win in the end. Which is fine. But if you’re going to do that, I suggest a strong adventure story that focuses heavily on things like fighting monsters and slaying evil dragons and saving princesses. That way it can be expected, even though it’s very tropey. (But even then, be aware, that’s not what *most* people are looking for.) Also, you could try a HEA (happily ever after) romance where the love interest is perfect and is a wish fulfillment for most of the female audience reading it.

(I write these for a living, so I am very bored with that subject since I’m a ghostwriter. That being said, if you guys have some questions in that area, please feel free to ask and I’ll help out if I can!)

So, we mentioned sympathetic villains and not-quite-so-perfect protagonists (which is not necessarily the same as an anti-hero, but I’ll get to that later). How does this bring conflict?

It brings conflict because we as readers are torn. On the one hand, we know that the villain is the villain… but all of that tragedy! Some little part of us is rooting for them, if only to fulfill that lingering need for some kind of justice! Some kind of fairness! Some kind of right in the world! But the rest of us realizes that if the villain wins, the world ends. And that’s probably not very fair to everyone else.

See? Already there’s conflict.

But there’s more conflict to be had and I’m going to go back to my lovely Jill the Changeling character for an example.

Jill’s always been a loner – except for Adrian. He’s been her rock. Understanding and sweet even when she’s been a pain in the rear end. Even when she’s thrown her tantrums and exploded at him when it wasn’t his fault. If there were only two musketeers, they’d be it. And he is sort of cute… but Jill’s never felt that way about Adrian before. He tried to kiss her once and she actually spit out her punch at him. It had been a bad moment, but they’re okay now. They’re good. Then the other Jill shows up. Her human counterpart. All of a sudden, Jill realizes that Adrian may not have been the best friend she always thought he was. She sees him steal a kiss from her human self (the Other Jill, if you will) and has a terrible feeling. Especially when she hears them talking about killing someone – killing her. “I’m tired of pretending with her,” Adrian says. “Can’t we just kill her already? You have no idea how volatile and annoying that childish girl is!”

The above gives us a few different points of conflict and character revelation to deal with. 1) It offers us a glimpse of Jill, who apparently is somewhat moody/volatile, a loner, but ultimately when she forms a bond it is very intense. 2) The Other Jill has been to this world and already seduced Adrian. She’s enlisted him to kill Jill. 3) Adrian has been a spy for a *long* time. He has seemed perfect by Jill’s initial description – but it’s all been an act. So how much of that Adrian was there really? Was it *all* an act and if so, what about the time he tried to kiss Jill? Could it be that Adrian isn’t as perfect, but also isn’t as cold blooded as he seems?

All of this is helpful, because it leaves us in emotional turmoil about the characters. This creates internal conflict combining with situational conflict. The plot is moving along with its own issues and complexities, but we’re starting to get the *real* stuff here from the characters. That’s why having imperfect, conflicted characters is important.

Now that I’ve spent *forever* on conflict, let’s move on. I’ll semi-smoothly segue into character personalities.

So, there are a couple of ways to figure out character personalities. Working out which one is for you depends on what kind of writer you are and what kind of novel you’re writing, so I’ll give you a quick list here. If you’ve got another way that works out better than you, by all means use that. These are all just suggestions and helpful tips in the end.

  • Decide what kind of characters your story needs. If you’re writing a story about dragon riders, then you probably need a dragon rider, right? But dragon riders are probably strong and brave, so decide if you need a character that fits that – or one who is the opposite of that, yet miraculously turns out to be the chosen one! I’ll give a Jill example:

Our story is about Faeries. So we need a Faerie, but our story is also at least partially set in the human world – so we need a human, too. We also want someone strong enough to survive this world and what happens in it. Jill is a Changling. This means she is a Faerie. But she’s been raised as a human. This tells us two things: She probably has some hereditary characteristics associated with Faeries – vanity, loftiness, flirtatiousness maybe? – but also some environmental characteristics which are from being raised as a human, possibly ones which conflict directly with the others. Strong work ethic, determination, kindness, empathy. 

So now we have a list of characteristics that help us decide what kind of person she is. They still need to be fleshed out, but we can extrapolate from these that she’s stubborn, a little conceited, kind if a little distant, and empathetic – but probably not sympathetic. That gives us a lot to work with and tells us how she’s going to react in a lot of situations. We should keep this list in mind while writing, so that Jill doesn’t become a little “out of character” (OOC) as we go. She should behave according to the traits above – or there should be a very strong reason that she doesn’t.

  • Focus on the details first, then expand. This one is about giving her little personal details – physical or otherwise – and deciding what sort of personality she has based on those details. Another Jill example below.

Butterfly shaped scar on her hip. Best friends with Adrian; doesn’t have other friends. Spends time daydreaming in a field of wildflowers. Hates swimming. Has detention on a regular basis. Her parents always fight. Daydreams about her life “really starting”. Works every summer at an ice cream shop – and hates it.

This one looks like a collection of random facts about our character. Which it is, but it can tell us about her personality, too, if we look through it. She doesn’t have any friends beyond Adrian – so she’s not a very sociable person. She spends a lot of time daydreaming – and waiting on life starting for real, meaning she feels entitled to more in her life rather than the small town she’s stuck in. Her parents fighting… That could cause a sense of distance for her, of loneliness maybe, or of anger and resentment. Could account for her “loftiness”? The detention suggests that she’s headstrong and butts heads with authority figures. And the working, well, that goes back to her work ethic, doesn’t it? Despite hating the job, she still does it. And she does it every summer, meaning they keep hiring her back. The scar? Maybe that hints to her Faerie heritage!

So you see, we got the same information in a very different way. We need to keep track of these details though so that when they come up again, we can use them correctly and effectively.

  • Base on a real character… then make them fictional. This one is a little… iffy. A lot of times using a real person to create a fictional one is a great idea. It gives your character depth that you might not have achieved otherwise. That being said, be careful with this. Not everyone wants a starting role in your novel, best selling or not. Which is why I say if you’re going to do this, use the “real” person as a base, then change him/her to suit your story – and keep her/him from resembling the real person too closely. My example:

Real Person: five foot nothing, reddish brown hair, freckles, a little plump. Mother of three. She’s whimsical, selfish, and flighty. But she laughs often and is never afraid to try something new.

Fictional Person: five foot nothing with red hair and pale skin. A ton of freckles. She’s curvy and a little self-conscious of her weight, but doesn’t let it weigh her down. She studied poetry in college, but when the time came to settle down after she got pregnant with her first and only child, she took that secretary job and put aside childish things. She still laughs, but quietly, and she still daydreams about all of the exciting things she’d been planning on doing, but never got around to.

In the above example, we took a few characteristics of the real person and shifted them to suit our needs. Now the fictional person above seems like a realistic fit for Jill’s mother – and only resembles the real person a little bit. (This is a very basic example. You can use events, family history, etc. of the real person. Just make sure you change and shift everything enough to where you’ve got an original character, not a real one.)

  • Figure out what’s happened in their life and how this has shaped them. This one uses events to shape how a character has developed as a means of figuring out their personality from those events. (This is a lot like the details example.) A Jill example:

When Jill was only six, she found a “faerie ring” which was actually just a bunch of rocks set out in a pretty circle. When she stepped over it, she fainted. When she woke up, the world seemed different. She saw a young boy staring down at her and he asked, “Are you okay?” His name was Adrian.

At twelve, Jill was hit by a car. She was crossing the street; the driver was drunk. He swerved, but the car rolled. It rolled right on top of Jill. When the ambulance got there, she looked so bad that they were sure she was going to die. She didn’t.

At fourteen, Adrian asked Jill to go to the dance with him. She thought as friends, but they dressed up anyway. Adrian tried to kiss her then and she almost spit punch out on him. Because she didn’t do “romance” and definitely not with him.

At fifteen, she got permission to work part time at an ice cream parlor. She hated it, but forced herself to smile at the customers and tell them to come again. She hated the little kids running around all over the place and didn’t appreciate the stares from the older guys she always got. She knew she was good looking, but did they have to stare like dogs?

Obviously this exercise was, by nature, a little more detailed than the others. But if you sift through what you have here, you’ve basically come to the same conclusion. Here we see that she has a strong work ethic, even if she doesn’t like her job. She isn’t into romance, but she still dresses up (vanity) and still strung Adrian along in some capacity (flirtatious). She knows that people look at her, knows that she’s something to look at, but doesn’t like it (distance from her peers). So we still get an idea of what kind of personality Jill has, but we also get some background info on her, too, which is why I really enjoy this exercise.

I *will* add that you should also just keep a list of her characteristics to help yourself out. All of these exercises are useful, but if you still aren’t sure what they mean, go ahead and spell it out for yourself and reference them later.

Moving on.

Names.

I don’t know about you, but for some reasons names get me stuck. Maybe it’s only me, but if I haven’t named a character, I can’t get very far in the writing process. How can I when my MC doesn’t have anything to be called by – other than MC? What if Jill wasn’t Jill? She was just MC. Not very appealing, right?

So a lot of times instead of writing, I end up spending *hours* looking at names and trying to find one that a) I like and b) suits my character. So I’m going to list a few quick points on this before moving to the next topic.

  • Pick names you like – or you don’t like.

If you pick names that *you* like, you’re more likely to like your character. And you’re more likely to pick your name. But the opposite is mostly true if you don’t like your character. If the villain of my story is the evil queen of Faerie and I *hate* the name Elizabeth, then I could name my evil queen Elizabeth and be pretty confident than I’m not going to like her. (An example only; I actually don’t have a problem with the name Elizabeth.) But if I’m simply fascinated with the name Laura and I name the queen that, it sort of ruins the name for me OR makes me really like my villain! So liking (and not liking) the names you pick is important.

  • Don’t worry so much on meaning unless you have a lot of symbolism in your story already.

Here’s the one a lot of people get stuck on. “But she’s a werewolf! She should have a name meaning wolf!” Okay, I understand where you’re going with this, but… it’s not necessarily true. Unless your character was born as a werewolf, raised by other werewolves, in a society that names based on symbolism – this is sort of moot point. (And even then, wouldn’t everyone have a name meaning wolf then?) Why? Because your character likely started as a normal human girl. If you’re making a big deal about destiny or irony (Kitty and the Midnight Hour folks!), then you can use a “wolf” name. But otherwise just pick a name you like. Because most of the time our names don’t “fit” us when we’re born, because we have no real personality when we’re named. The meaning comes after the fact.

  • You can change names later – but it’s hard.

You should stick with your initial pick. HOWEVER, if it just really doesn’t feel right, you can change it. Just be sure you remember the change, like it, and don’t do it a lot. If I don’t think Jill really fits and I’d rather have Julianna, that’s fine. But I shouldn’t skip between Julianna, Jill, Jillian, Morgan, Mathilda, and Amanda. Why? Because it gets confusing and you start associating ALL those names with this one MC making them hard to use for later characters. So try to pick something you like the first time around.

  • Make a list – mark what you’ve used.

Go through and just write down (or type up) lists of names you really like. Separate them by gender, include meanings if you’d like. That way, when you need to name a character, you can just go through the lists instead of looking through baby books and the internet for just *one* name. (You can do this for last names, too.) Just be sure that when you actually use a name for a character, you mark it as used that way you don’t have duplicate characters in your stories. (Sounds unlikely, but you’d be surprised…)

  • Don’t worry about what other people are doing.

If everyone’s using bizarre, unusual names, but you really love classic names – use classic names. If everyone’s got boys names for girls names, but you hate it, then don’t do it. If everyone’s doing the nickname thing, but you just like longer, more elegant names, do that instead. Because all of this is cyclical and what’s popular now won’t last forever. You’re book may fit more with the names of next year than this year and that’s okay. You’re book will be around longer than these trends.

Physical descriptions.

There are some key descriptions that you usually want to have handy: Hair color/length/quality (soft/coarse/curly/straight), eye color (maybe size/shape/eyelashes), height (average/tall/short), and body shape (petite/curvy/heavyset/willowy).Those are the main identifiers that will tells us what your character looks like in relation to other characters. That being said, you might also include things like “she has a scar through her left eyebrow” or “she has three piercings on her face and a tattoo that runs the length of her back” or even just “her boobs were flat as paper but her booty couldn’t seem to fit into anything”. You don’t need any of these (not even the key descriptions listed above), but they’re helpful and unless there’s a specific reason you’re avoiding describing your characters, you should know what they look like – and tell us at some point, too.

*Do us a favor, don’t make them all look the same. And unless your story is set in Iceland, Australia, or California, please don’t make them all blonde. Seriously, natural blondes account for approximately 2% of the population of the world. And it gets annoying when *all* the characters look like beach bunnies.

(I’m going to quick mention race here: If it’s important, mention it, but mention it for *everyone*. If it’s not, let your reader come to their own conclusions. If the culture is a big deal for your story – say they’re from China and you want them to interact in America for the first time; they’re culture is then rather important for how they might behave. BUT if this is a Fantasy novel where characters have darker skin but are from the plant Piersollei, then they really don’t have the same cultures *we* do which means you have creative freedom. Just be sure that you are respectful and culturally aware when applicable. Try to avoid stereotypes unless you are making social commentary on them, because we are not as individuals necessarily indicative of the stereotype.)

What to stay away from.

I’m sure that at some point you’ve been reading a story and just thought, “Hm, that character is *so* [fill in the blank]”. You ended up just hating them and they sort of ruined the story for you. Why is that? Well, it might be for one of the reasons below – which is a good indication that you should *not do these things*.

  • Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu

In a word, Perfect. Seriously. A Mary-Sue character was originally used for FanFiction. The Original Characters created by the writer would be perfect in every way and loved by everyone – and hated and desired by the villain both, seriously. They would never do anything wrong, never be wrong, and even if they somehow were, that wrongness was actually condoned by everyone else. Really. This character is perfect, but also humble, maybe a little self-depreciating “Oh, I’m not beautiful (even though all the boys want me)!”. (Bella from Twilight is actually a really good example – all the boys want her, even though she’s Plain Jane; she’s super special omg mega powers; she never does anything to make anyone dislike her – and when she does mess up, they forgive her almost instantly.) This character is the most obnoxious character anyone can stumble upon. Because they aren’t realistic. No one’s really perfect and having flawed characters makes for a more interesting novel and a better overall experience. (The Gary-Stu is simply the male counterpart for this.)

  • Stagnant

You’re characters should evolve, change, become something else (better or worse) as a result of the things that have happened in their life. EX: Jill never thought she needed anyone – until she realized that Adrian was only playing her all along. Now Jill can’t deny the loneliness. She has to cave and admit that she needs help. She can’t do this alone. Originally, Jill is supposed to be self-sufficient, a loner type, but circumstances make her see the “error of her ways” or at least that she can’t do this as one woman against the Faerie world. This means her personality has changed as a result of the story. That’s a good thing. Let’s do more of that.

  • Typical/Predictable

He’s from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s dangerous. He’s slept with every girl in town – except your MC. She’s holding out, but falling for him, too. What’s more, he’s falling for her! Now he’s reforming, because all he needed was the right woman. Your MC. <– Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s because it’s every Bad Boy romance out there and it’s *annoying*. Stop recycling the same plots and characters. Get creative. Have her fall for the Bad Boy and have him *think* she’s the one – but he can’t reform. He still cheats on her. She realizes he’ll never be what she needs. She falls in love with her best friend instead. But the Bad Boy is furious and stalks her. Obsesses over her. Tries to kill her. Her best friend saves her life and the Bad Boy goes to a mental institution. See? Much more interesting. And less predictable.

  • Unnecessary

Why was that character there? If you don’t know, he/she shouldn’t be there. Ever. If they don’t bring anything to the story, take them out. I’m not saying every character should have a purpose, but if you put in that girl in the pink pinstriped socks who loves bubblegum and candy colored hair, wears bright green lipstick and puts rhinestones on her eyelids and ALL SHE DOES is pop her bubble gum and say “hi” once in the entire novel, you should probably take her out – or make her less noticeable. Unless she’s going to be important in book two. Why? Because she’s so noticeable and we spend so much time on her descriptor that it’s distracting. We keep expecting her to come back. So make her important, or tone her down a little – or make her the norm. *Everyone* wears green lipstick. Everyone loves bubblegum. Whatever. Just make sure that she serves a purpose.

As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into creating a character, but it’s worth a little effort. Make them interesting. Make us love them. Make us hate them. Just make sure we’re feeling something, because if we’re not, then what’s the point?

Thanks for checking in to my How To series! I hope you guys enjoyed and will stick around next time for (drumroll please) The Outline of Doom! It’ll finally focus on outlining, which is probably not what you’re looking forward to, but has always been the most helpful part of the process!

As always, if you have any comments or tips to share, feel free to post them below! If you guys have questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

 

How to Write a Novel: No Time Like The Present

Dear Reader;

Part three of my How to Write a Novel series (a break it down to the basics how to guide), today I’m going to focus on something that I often find myself struggling with: Time management.

No Time Like The Present

At some point in every person’s life, you run into the issue of procrastination. Mostly we think of this in terms of our jobs, responsibilities, or our schoolwork. How often do you think of procrastination in terms of hobbies? And probably a lot of you (or your family) consider writing a “hobby”. And therein lies the first problem.

If you want to be an author, writing is not a hobby. It’s a vocation.

Now that we’ve gotten that cleared up, we can start really addressing the crux of your “I never seem to get anywhere writing,” “I can’t seem to focus when I sit down to write,” and “I’ll never finish anything” problems.

So you’ve decided you want to write a novel. We’ve just done all of this brainstorming and concept working and now you’re trying to sit down and bring it all together – and you can’t. All of this leg work and now you hit a wall. You haven’t put a single word on paper (or on the computer) that can be used as part of the actual manuscript. And now you want to know: Why?

Well, there are probably a bunch of reasons. First, the chances of you not having *any* material you can include in your manuscript is probably not true. I’ll bet you have random scenes between characters, talking or arguing or running through the woods from a pack of wolves… These scenes don’t seem to have any purpose yet, but don’t toss them. You never know, they might end up being the crux of your entire story.

Next, let’s address some of those problem statements above.

“I never seem to get anywhere writing.”

Of course you do. You’ve gotten this far and even if you’re only still brainstorming, you’ve gotten somewhere. Anything you’ve thought about, brainstormed, sketched out, talked out with your BFF, all of that is “getting somewhere”. Now you’ve just got to take the next leap to the paper. This is maybe a little preemptive since we still need to outline and do a couple of other things, but I want to address this now. Procrastination can kill a project. And that’s probably half of where this statement is coming from.

You love to write, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t even be doing this. So how can you be procrastinating? Well, it happens. Mostly it’s because writing tends to take a back seat to everything else. (Kids, significant others, responsibilities, chores, other engagements, TV soap operas…) And that’s a big problem. Like I said above, this isn’t just your hobby anymore. This is your job. Maybe it isn’t your main job. Maybe it isn’t your biggest source of income. (Okay, it’s definitely not.) But if it means this much to you, then you need to give it some time and that means treating it like anything else: This is something I have to get done. Not tomorrow or next week. Today. Once you start treating this like something that you *have* to do, you can start getting serious about it. Maybe you’ll still have some issues, though, so lets bump on down to the second “I can’t” statement.

“I can’t seem to focus when I sit down to write.”

Shh, I’m going to say this phrase, but don’t hate me – and don’t repeat it. No one wants to even think about this, but I need to mention it here so that we can address it. Writer’s block. I know, if ever there was a bad word, that combination makes the list. But it comes up so often when talking about writing that we can’t just ignore it and hope it goes away. We have to face it head on.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to suggest you do. (Or one of the things anyway.)

When you sit down to write, staring at a blank page, no idea where to start, realize that it doesn’t matter. When you’re first starting, this first draft is just not that important. (On the other hand it’s incredibly important, but it’s not in the case of starting out.) It’s not important because the chances of it looking like you’re *final* draft are very slim. Some people are lucky and talented enough that they can write a single draft on a never ending roll of toilet paper, transfer it to the typewriter, and call it good. For the rest of us, there could be as many as four or more drafts. So don’t worry so much about the first one. For our purposes, getting the first draft done is more important than what you actually end up putting in it.

Counter intuitive, I know, but that’s the honest truth right there.

Later, when you’ve got a rough draft finished, we’ll go through and clean it up, pick it apart, add some new scenes, and call that a second draft. But for now, let’s just get to the writing. The fun part, remember? And if you think you’re suffering from you-know-what don’t worry. There are some things you can do to help out with this. Try out these tips for focusing:

  • Pick a time that you like to write, and write at that same time every day.
  • Pick a place that you like to write in, and dedicate it only for writing.
  • Listen to instrumental music if lyrics distract you; make a playlist of songs that have a similar theme to whatever you’re writing (these can include lyrics if they help you, but if you find them distracting stick with the instrumental).
  • Stay away from the internet. Seriously. It is death to writers. (It also happens to be a great resource…) The thing is, the internet is distracting. Trust me. It’s one of the biggest hurdles for me. If I have access to the internet, I’ll spend hours dinking around with that rather than writing, so just cut yourself off if you can. That being said, it is a wonderful resource. Need a name that means wolf? No problem. Not sure if that’s a real word? We can do that, too. Not sure how a bullet travels through water? (It basically doesn’t.) The answers here, too! So yes, very helpful. Which is why I suggest: do your research first. Find names you like, make notes of words that maybe don’t flow, figure out some of the problems with your writing and look them up at a different time. I know that’s a pain, but it’ll keep you focused.
  • Hand write it. This works for some people. It used to work for me, but I find that I can’t write fast enough to keep up with what I’m thinking about, so I think this depends on the speed of your handwriting, the speed of your typing, and the comfort level of each. Some things I still hand write, but it’s usually outlining stuff rather than the full draft (because seriously? That’s at least 50,000 words on paper!). Still, it’s a useful exercise and you might try it to at least start out if you’re having trouble.
  • Start writing. Anything. Even if it just sounds like junk or rambling, run on sentences. So long as you start putting something on the paper. This seems weird, but a lot of times you just need something on the paper before you can really get into your story. This is why a lot of the time you’ll end up chopping out at least the first chapter of your novel. It’s irrelevant/boring/doesn’t make sense/no longer works with the rest of the novel/etc. And that’s okay. For now, we just want to get started.
  • Don’t get held up on grammar/spelling right now. Hopefully you can mitigate mistakes by having some experience, but if you don’t, don’t worry. That’s what editing is for. (Just don’t skip it later on!) So long as you can figure out what you were trying to say, perfection isn’t extremely important right now. I know that seems blasphemous, but if you’re worried about it from the get-go, you’re going to get stuck on the details and never make any progress.
  • Leave it in. (Notice this was bolded AND underlined? Yeah, it’s important.) This one is simple and probably the hardest thing to do. When you’re first writing, whatever it is, even if you instantly don’t like it, leave it in. (The exception here might be names. If you name your character Jill and you change it to Julian by chapter two, you should go back and change the Jill parts. Mostly because you’ll confuse yourself if you don’t.)

Some of these will work pretty universally – some of them won’t. I have a hard time “picking a place and time” because both myself and my significant other work at home. I can’t focus if he’s there and he can’t not talk to me (because we’d like to spend time together, thank you very much). Which means that I have to rotate around my house looking for new places to write from. But when I can, I like to work from the library in one of two areas, especially because there’s no internet. But if you *can* do these things, you should try them. And if they still don’t work for you, move on to the next thing.

“I’ll never finish anything.”

Yes. You. Will. If you want it bad enough. But honestly, if you are really having issues with finishing and this is stalling you from writing (disheartening/frustrating/depressing), then try this: write a short story.

Okay, yes, I know you probably want a novel, but a short story has it’s benefits. I have always struggled to “finish”. My stories all remain about half done (some not even that far) and I just can’t seem to make myself reach that final push. But when I became a ghostwriter, that changed. Now, I finish a *lot* of novels. (About one and a half per month!) The way this happens is because some of what I write are novellas. Short novels. (Which are longer than short stories, but they can serve the same purpose here.) Sometimes, you just need to know that you’ve finished something and a lower word count can really save your bacon in that respect. It reinvigorates you and reminds you that you can do this.

So try a short story, it can be about anything and doesn’t have to have anything to do with your current novel plot. But if you want, make it the “prequel” or a “special scene from” or a short novella about another character that isn’t your protagonist, but is from the same world. If it evolves into something greater eventually, great, but remember this story is about finishing. You can expand it or scrap it later. For now, just get it done and feel the pride that comes with that.

My only other suggestion for getting something finished is this: don’t give up. It may take you a year or more, but you can do this. Just have some patience and determination. And don’t worry about whatever everyone else is doing.

That’s all for today, folks! Thanks for checking out my “How To” series and I hope you pop in for my next addition “Characters We Love – And Love To Hate” focusing on, you guessed it, characters. If you have any questions or tips, comment and share them below!

Sincerely,

E.C. Orr

How to Write a Novel: Zombies Eat Flesh

Dear Reader;

As part of my “How to Write a Novel” series, I’m doing my next post on fleshing out your idea. My goal is to break down the steps involved in writing a novel. Now, they won’t apply to everyone and my focus is always going to be on YA, but these steps might be helpful for those of you who are interested in forging ahead with little concept on how to do just that. Here’s some free information to use at your discretion!

Zombies Eat Flesh: Fleshing Out Your Novel

So, you’ve got your idea in your head, those two sentences or so we talked about earlier. We’ve worked out your genre and the general ages of your main character. Where do we go from here?

Well, this is actually the fun part! Here, we start the brainstorming process. We begin fleshing out your idea so that you’ve got a firm grasp of what your story is and where it’s going. It answers the W’s. The who, what, where, when, and why of it all. (Sometimes the how, but we can leave that for later if you want.) In my last post, I used the example of Jill, the special girl who suddenly sees faeries surrounding a dead body in Central Park. We decided she was sixteen and that the genre was YA Urban Fantasy. So where do we go from there?

Anywhere we want!

The brainstorming process is one of the best parts, because it’s where you have the most freedom. You don’t have to be bogged down by things like full sentences and perfect grammar (though you might use them anyway). You can enlist the help of bullet points, venn diagrams, sketches, maps – whatever you want. The point of this portion of novel writing is to get to know your characters and your world. It may be enough Fantasy that you’re not sure where to start, or so mundane that you’re afraid it will be boring. Here’s where we work some of that out.

As I said, this is all about the W’s, so let’s start there.

The Who (and not the band)

Who is your protagonist? You’ll have several main characters, but we should focus on one of them more heavily than the others (even if this isn’t a first person POV). EX. In the Harry Potter books, we get to know a *lot* of characters, but we follow the trio the closest and within them it’s all about Harry. He’s the one we follow, he’s the one we see. So he’s our protagonist, even if Harry, Ron, and Hermione are our main characters.

Jill is our protagonist. We know she’s 16 and in high school – what else? What does she look like? Where does she come from? What sort of personality does she have? Does she have any deep, dark secrets or is she completely ordinary? An example of how to answer some of these questions:

Jill is sixteen and goes to Corn Grove High. She’s a Junior and will be seventeen in the spring. She’s lived in Corn Grove all of her life, but she’s known that she was destined for more than this small town. She spends her time daydreaming and as a result doesn’t have many friends, but that’s okay. She doesn’t need them. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s a changeling, switched at birth for her human counterpart. But that counterpart is back and wants her dead…

So this example does a few things for us. It tells us a little of what she’s like. Small town girl with big dreams. Isn’t overly social, bit of a recluse, maybe a little conceited or self-important? It also tells us some of the things that she doesn’t know, but we as the author should keep in mind. We haven’t covered what she looks like yet, but a quick physical description will fix that:

Only about 5’2” in height, has long wavy brown hair that is dark enough to almost be black. Her eyes are green – until her faerie heritage awakens and her features shift as the imitation spell releases. Then they turn a bright golden color. She has dusty caucasian skin with a smattering of freckles. Her build is willowy.

It doesn’t even have to be that detailed, but you get the idea. Keep this description handy and make a note if you change it (like, suddenly you want brown eyes instead of green – make a note of that). You should have a basic description for most of your characters, that way you won’t get confused and there won’t be inconsistencies later on in the writing process.

The What

The what is a little bit easier if you look at it from a plot standpoint: What’s going on? What is your story about? What’s the main goal? Etc. For our idea, we had Jill discovering that she can see faeries and stumbling over a dead body. So what story are we trying to tell with that?

Let’s break it down further to one basic question: What’s your problem?

At first, the problem seems like it would be the dead body, right? And it might be, but I think the dead body looks more like a hook. It’s there to get the ball rolling. The faeries, however, are our main problem. Because they shouldn’t exist in our world and yet Jill is seeing them. Which leads to potential conflict: Is she going crazy? Are they real? Can anyone else see them? Why can she see them? There’s more than can go with that, but that’s enough for now. It tells us that the faeries actually afford us a bigger problem with the body.

So our problem is the faeries. (Or their being real, something along those lines.) As we’ve discovered in our basic description of Jill, she’s faerie, but hasn’t figured that out yet. So probably our ultimate what is going to be something like this:

Jill finds a body and the faeries. The faeries are floating – but then they’re not. Now, suddenly, they look just like regular kids her age. Except this is a small town and she doesn’t recognize him. But she does recognize the body. “What happened?” They run and she gives chase. But when they disappear in the woods, she’s wondering if she even saw them at all. The police think she’s in shock. Her parents think she’s crazy. And Jill? Jill is wondering if maybe the first thing she saw wasn’t the truth… Now she’s on the hunt to find the faeries – and figure out why she can see them. But also to discover the (subplot) reason they were standing over that body.

You can add more here if you want, or less. Just include the main points of what you want in your plot. You can line them up as such if it helps:

  • Jill sees faeries
  • Jill is questioned about the body
  • People think Jill is going crazy
  • Jill sets out to find faeries
  • Jill learns more about the dead body

Right now, it doesn’t have to be detailed, but you should have a good idea. (We’re going to do outlining later on in our novel writing process, so don’t worry if you don’t have it all worked out yet.)

The Where

We actually already answered this question in our previous exercise when we described Jill. We decided that she was from Corn Grove. But be more specific. Where is Corn Grove? Is it in Iowa? It’s a small town – so is it in the middle of nowhere? When is this? Modern day, ten years ago, fifteen years in the future?

I’m going to make the setting the following:

Corn Grove, Illinois present day (2016). Small town with blackbirds as their mascot. The “Corn” in Corn Grove is for a last name, not the maize.

And like that, we have a very basic setting. We can add in more details like it’s surrounded by woods and edged by a river, or there’s a gorge just a mile out of town or maybe a mine. These details can be important, but you might wait to see more about where your story is going first.

*Note: Originally, I’d set this up in Central Park if you remember. Obviously this has since changed. And you know what? That’s okay. If Corn Grove works better, go with it. If you need to adjust it again afterwards, you can do that, too. Just go with whatever flows right now. It doesn’t have to be set in stone.

The When

So we actually addressed this in the above. We’ve set it in the present day, but if you’re going to have things like flashbacks, you might mention them here, too. Like flashbacks to Jill’s parents – her real and human ones – since she was switched at birth. You don’t need to so long as you know the date the present is set in, but if you want you can include this. Whatever’s helpful for you.

The Why

This one, like the what is a little tricky sometimes. The why is about a bunch of different things, but mainly I like to think about it like this: why is this happening to me?

If there’s a serial killer in your story, your why might be “Why is he trying to kill the main character?” Or “Why is he a serial killer?” This shifts what kind of story you have on your hands, so think about this a second before you put it down. (You can shift it later, but this is going to go into your plot, so changing it might be more difficult later depending on how far in you change it.)

For Jill’s story, the why might be:

Why did Jill’s faerie parents exchange her for a human baby? And why does Jill’s human counterpart want her dead? And why is that boy dead?

These three questions address three of our “main” plot points, two in the present and one that is in the past, but affecting the present. Now that we’ve asked these questions, we should consider answering them. You don’t have to have *all* of the answers now, but if you’ve got a good idea of the answers, then go ahead and fill them in. These questions are meant to guide you, but you may not be that far along in your story yet and sometimes that means it’s difficult to *have* an answer. That’s okay, but don’t lose these questions. You want to be answer them eventually.

Here are some possible answers for Jill (not that she’ll know it for a while!):

In the Faerie Realm, human babies are priceless. Their humanity gives life and brings peace to the Realm. But only for a time. Living in the Faerie Realm drains a human of their humanity and eventually turns them evil. When that happens, if a human stays in the Realm, they can bring strife and death. Jill’s parents swapped her out, because the human baby was worth more to them – but the human parents can never know that their baby has been taken. Eventually, the human must be returned before they become completely devoid of humanity. But just as they were swapped at birth, they must be swapped again to return. Rules are rules.

The above example answers two of our why questions. It explains Jill’s baby swap predicament and it also lets us know why Jill’s counterpart wants her dead. Because she’s a) evil without her humanity now and b) because she knows that Jill is her replacement.

These answers can bring up more questions (why did they wait so long to return Jill’s human counterpart? How can they expect Jill to just go with the Faeries?), but that’s fine. Those will help us figure out more of the story, so write them down and we’ll figure out if they’re relevant later!

Notice that we still have one question left over. One that’s not unanswered: What about the body? I can probably scrounge around for something to answer that, but right now, I’m just not sure. So I’m going to leave that hanging in the wings and see if we don’t come up with an answer as we move through our novel writing process. After all, that’s how it goes!

That’s all of our W’s. These will give you a really good idea of what kind of story you’re telling and a bit of an idea of who you’re using to tell it (our lovely Jill). But you don’t have to stop with the W’s. You can use character sheets (you can find oodles of them online for free!) or writing prompts, venn diagrams, doll creators (you know, the online paper doll thing? I know it’s not just me…), anything you might find helpful to keep in mind the W’s and important things about your story. The important thing is to let yourself get creative. You might find out that Jill has a scar on her left hip that’s in the shape of a butterfly. You don’t know why yet, but maybe eventually you will.

So concludes the second round of my How To series! Hope you guys found something helpful in here and tune in next time for No Time Like The Present, focusing on managing your writing time and avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination! If you guys have any comments or questions or think I might be of some help, feel free to comment below!

Sincerely,

E.C. Orr

How to Write a Novel: Idea Time

dear-reader3

This blog is primarily for reviews, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that I also make a few posts regarding writing – tips, comments, concerns, etc. For my next series of posts I wanted to tackle something that maybe some budding writers out there are having some issues with. Issues that I’ve encountered with my job. (Which if you haven’t seen my last post is freelance ghostwriting. Basically, I write other people’s novels for a living.) Maybe you won’t find anything new here, maybe you won’t find anything that applies to you, but if someone can take something helpful away from all of this, then this post is worth it, right?

So, novel writing. First, let me say that I will be focusing on fiction writing as opposed to things like non-fiction (self-help, biographical, reference, academic, etc.). And while my preferred genre is Young Adult, these tips will apply across the board – unless otherwise specified. That doesn’t mean that this list can’t be applied to other areas, but keep in mind where my focus is. Some of these may not apply to your specific genre or your type of novel.

I’ve tried to break these down to the basics, but some of you must have noticed that I can be a little long winded. So just wade through the fluff to get to the good stuff. (I’ll try to bold the key points for you.)

And “On with it,” she said!

Idea Time

So. You want to write a novel. Where should you start? Probably with an idea, right? Which sounds simple enough. And it is – and it isn’t. Probably, if you want to write a book, you already have an idea in place. But if you don’t, here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • What do you like to read?
  • Who are my favorite authors – what do they have in common?
  • If I could read whatever I wanted, if I could find the perfect book out there, what would it be about?

These questions help you decide what you’d be interested in. Because if you don’t like what you’re writing, it’s a lot harder to finish it – or even start it. This is going to be your baby for a couple of months at the very minimum. Probably more than that. Once you’ve got a concept, just a couple of sentences (EX: Jill always knew she was special. When she dropped down a hole into the world of Faerie, she learned why.) you can worry about fleshing it out and nailing down the details. We’ll do that later. First, there are a few other things to think about…

Alright, so you’ve got your idea. What do you do now?

Well, I have some more questions for you. I know, I know, isn’t there just some mythical formula that will tell you what you need to do without all of this internal pondering stuff? Probably. But I don’t have access to it, so we’ll just have to do it the hard way.

What genre is your story in?

You’re probably thinking, “Genre? Isn’t that obvious? It’s Fantasy!” (we’re going with the Jill example from above). And, okay, yes, that much is fairly obvious – sort of. It has to do with faeries, so probably fantasy. But keep in mind that faerie stories (or any supernatural stories) can be set in modern times in the city. Which would be Urban Fantasy.

Starting to see where this can get complicated? Let’s break it down further.

Okay, so let’s change the premise a little, because you’ve decided you don’t want full fantasy, but rather the Urban Fantasy. New plot: Jill always knew she was special. When she sees two girls with wings floating about a dead body in the middle of Central Park, she learned why… So, this can be Urban Fantasy. It’s got faeries, but also the city. Check. But that’s not specific enough. We need to know what type of Urban Fantasy this is. Is it Adult, New Adult, Young Adult, or Middlegrade (we can go lower to Children’s books also, but you probably wouldn’t have a dead body at all in that)?

Well, it does have a dead body in it, so maybe not Middlegrade (Animorphs dealt with war and death, but most won’t deal with themes so prominently in Middlegrade). It’s possible, but Middlegrade is going to focus on characters below the age of about 14 (on the high side). Which means there might be *some* mature stuff in there, but it’ll be very muted. So we’ll say that it’s probably not Middlegrade.

So how do you decide if it’s one of the others? They all have “adult” in them – what’s the difference? Let me show you.

  • Adult – geared towards adults. Characters will be of legal age of consent and old enough to drink. They will have jobs/lives/romances accordingly. These types of novels will deal with adult problems and situations. They may contain sex: explicit (erotica), steamy (romantic, but not super explicit; this is a terminology difference), or clean (non-explicit or nonexistent). Tends to be a little more “distant.” The narration often is third person omniscient or closed. Means that we may find ourselves getting to know a lot of characters without being particularly “close” to any of them. More focus on events/action, less on emotion.
  • New Adult – a relatively new term, it gets a little confused these days. These characters will be between the ages of 18 (usually starts at 19, but can be as low as 18) and twenty-five (ish). They are beginning their adult lives, transitioning from the end of childhood, and are usually (but not exclusively) in college. These novels can contain explicit sex and often do, but the characters are younger. Usually, the narration of these novels is “closer” than that of adult novels, more in line with how Young Adult is written. This is not an absolute, but it’s fairly likely.
  • Young Adult – for teens. These will be between the ages of 14 and 18. (They fill in between Middlegrade and New Adult). Sometimes on the high end a romantic lead might be 19 or even 20, but the main character, the one we spend most our time with, will be between 14 and 18. There *can* be some mature subject matter – death, illness (physical/mental), rape, sexual experiences, etc. That being said, it’s usually handled with a little more grace. You won’t find erotica in YA, but you might find sex. We tend to be very close to the narrator, often a first person close point of view, with an emphasis on emotional experiences.

Alright. Now that we’ve got things defined, we can narrow down our genre further. Let’s say Jill is sixteen and in high school. That would put our genre firmly in Young Adult. So we’ve got Young Adult Urban Fantasy. We could add in additional notes – warnings, key words, things of that nature – but YA Urban Fantasy is our main concern. That’s where we should have our focus.

Now that we’ve done all of this, you might be wondering “Why did you just spend a whole post on picking a genre?” Because it’ll tell you who your audience is. Your audience is expecting things of you, the author, and if you don’t deliver, you might miss out on some very real business/readership. There are rules to writing. You can break them, but you’d better know what they are and why you’re breaking them, otherwise, you’re going to have a somewhat aimless, poorly executed novel.

Remember, you’re writing for you, but the readers are what give you success, money, and whatever else you might be searching for through publishing your novel. Give them some thought.

I’ll go ahead and give a quick list of other genres that you might use including brief descriptions.

  • Contemporary – modern day. Won’t have any supernatural aspects, the issues at hand will be real life issues. Can be humorous, but events will be plausible if not probable.
  • Romance – can be coupled with any genre, but focuses on the romantic relationship(s) of one or more main character.
  • Paranormal – will involve some sort of supernatural element. Ex. Werewolves, vampires, witches, ghosts, angels, demons, etc. (Some overlap may occur with Fantasy.)
  • Fantasy – a new world built specifically for the novel. Can be “modern” but involves things like dragons, wizards, faeries, etc. May overlap with Paranormal, but generally includes more detailed world-building and specific world rules.
  • Horror – focuses on scaring. Reader (and character) should feel fear or dread. Can be supernatural, but can also deal with real life instances which evoke fear (mental problems, serial killers, etc.). This focuses mostly on mood and atmosphere.
  • Mystery – (often a detective story) features a mystery with a big reveal at the end of the novel. Should involve the main character embroiled in a mystery – can be a murder, theft, or some other crime, but may also deal with a disappearance or something not crime related. The story focuses on the character’s journey to solve the mystery.
  • Thriller/Suspense – should focus on a character in danger. Character will spend most of the novel trying to avoid the danger or get out of the dangerous situation. May focus on kidnapping, crime/mob or police drama.
  • Science Fiction – should focus on some aspect of “science.” Usually futuristic, but sometimes a new take of past science (steampunk). Can be set in the past, in modern times, or in the future. May be on other planets (usually is), but can also be on Earth. May involve aliens, scientists, genetic mutations, etc.

There are more genres than the ones listed here. Just check out Wikipedia if you don’t believe me. I’m not going to list them all, but I wanted to give you a quick list to work with. If your story doesn’t fall into one of these, it’s probably a little more obscure.

Once you find your idea and your genre, the rest will start to fall into place, but you don’t want to end up halfway through writing your novel only to realize that you’re crossing over half a dozen genres. Why? Well, for one it makes for a sloppy story, but mostly it’s because your audience already knows what it likes. You need to know what it likes, too.

*A note on genres like “LGBT”. This focuses on characters which are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans. That being said, I personally would not classify something as LGBT unless it specifically focused on the issues faced by these characters. If your main character is a lesbian witch, but your story is all about the magic with a little about the lesbian romance and almost nothing about the difficulties associated with being lesbian (not the complications of romance, but of dealing with society’s perception of your sexual orientation), I wouldn’t classify it as LGBT. Why? Because people who are lesbian/gay/bisexual/trans are just people. Others may feel differently about this, so I leave it to your own opinion. I hope we see more characters of color, more characters that are LGBT, more characters with disabilities and mental disorders and everything under the sun. But keep in mind, the whole point of this is that they are just people. Inclusion is the whole point.

Thanks for checking my super long winded post and look out for my next post “Zombies Eat Flesh” all about fleshing out your novel idea!

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

P.S. Having trouble figuring out what genre your novel’s in? Comment below and maybe I can help you decide!