Stop: Are you really ready to start? Once you start and the creative juices flow, you want them to flow until you have your first draft. You are always going to add to it, and the hardest part of all, editing your own work, but once you set off you want to strap yourself in for the ride, you don’t want it to be like going into hyperspace, you want it to be as smooth as you can make it, because it can be torturous enough as it is. Here are 5 things I would strongly advise you have in place before you start.
1) The plot (idea).
2) Breakdown of the chapters – if you do not have a sketch of what you want to achieve in each chapter, you run the risk of; writing far too much and going off piste–which you will then have to edit down. The tighter your book is, the less waffle and filler, the better it will be. For example when I wrote the first draft of ‘Hoofing It’ many years ago. I initially wanted the reader to know how the two main characters ‘acquired’ £28,000 pounds – it was flannel and boring to boot. I condensed five chapters down to two paragraphs − A much better punchier start, heart-breaking and a waste of actual writing time though it was, it made me a better writer and I got to cross off 6,000 words from the million!
This is where leaving a book, or any writing, then coming back to it, always improves it. The Stephen King 4-6 weeks in the draw method. I left this novel on a computer disc for 10 years – I would not recommend that!
If you don’t plan it out – how will you know it’s finished? It could go on forever. Two shorter books are better than one massive one–and you’ll make more money and attract more readers.
3) Have your characters formed before you start. They may evolve slightly, but ask yourself: What is the characters; goals (might be abstract); motivations; conflicts (that might stop them reaching their goals); epiphany or arc; why should I love this person – Or if you are really brave, why should I hate this person and want them to fail!
When you have done that write a one or two page summary of each of the characters story line.
Draw a timeline of events, it is easy to lose track, especially if you are writing your book over a long period of time, in both senses.
If you would like me send you the pro-forma I use, contact me through my website: www.ianmpindar.com
4) Research. This can take huge amounts of time and is one reason I believe why a lot of fiction writing can be a bit vague on detail. The other reason is a lot of technical detail; unless you are an expert can bore the reader silly and also leaves you open to ridicule from certain ‘train spotters.’ I wrote a modern love story that hung around a sports team that I have supported and watched all my life (Hull RLFC). I thought I knew enough to slide between fiction and non-fiction seamlessly, and give a nod and a wink to my team. I realised quite early on that in the mists of time my memory had not served me as well as I would like to think. I read or partly read 7 books about that club, bear in mind I thought I already knew it all! Double check your research and memory, and not just the lazy option of Wikipedia, it is not always right.
5) Even if you have not completed all your research, this does not mean you can’t get on with some aspects of your book when your mind spins with ideas. I often write large chunks of dialogue between characters even before I have started, or brief descriptions of places as well as ideas and quotes.
I have another six books planned for the future, even when I am working on other projects I go back to them and jot things down. I have a computer and paper wallet file as central stores. Write ideas down when they come to you, have a smart phone or note book with you at all times. Sometimes it’s just one or two words, if you don’t they will evaporate and become a shimmering mirage of ambiguity.
As Peter Ustinov once said, and a friend said to me as a left the safety of the 9 til 5: “Take your time. To be in a hurry is to kill your talent. If you wish to reach the sun, it isn’t enough to jump impulsively into the air.” In our busy world that is sometimes hard. But if you need to get going, don’t let the research put you off too much, but at least do some. I assume you are writing about something close to your heart. Read the most important sources then get going if you can’t hold back any longer.
Slip some more content in later, or leave a gap and notes e.g. [[need more detail here]]. You might be waiting for someone to get back to you with information, e.g. permission to use something copyrighted−Avoid copyrighted material.
Right you really are there now; books read, greater idea of the craft sorted, research done, character and plot organised. What are you waiting for? All those articles, short stories, reviews, letters, etc, that you have written over the years have all been practice for this: ‘the big one.’ −The novel you knew you had in you−let it out−emancipate it−Don’t dream it, be it…
Ian M Pindar’s latest books, under his real name are: ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series. He has another three out this year.
Next week: What is the best route to take−Traditional, or self-publish?