So, You Want To Write A Novel?
Some Thoughts By David Grace
If you have question about something you can post it on Quora.Com and interested people can post their answers. Recently, someone posted a question along the following lines: "I have an idea for a novel that I've decided to write. How do I get it published?"
You want to write a novel and your only question is how to get it published?
How about this: "I've decided to build my own home. Where is the best place to buy the picket fence to put on the front lawn?" Or, "I've decided to climb Mt. Everest. What is the best camera to use to take my picture when I'm standing on the top?" Or, "I've figured out how to create peace in the Middle East. How much money will they give me when I win the Noble Prize?"
Do you see my point?
Let me take you through the process, or, at least, a process for writing a novel, assuming that you have the craft and talent to write a good book. I will use the imaginary book, The Slime From Mars, as my example.
First, you've got this idea for a book: A ship from earth visits Mars and encounters some pathogen, virus, plague or whatever that I will call The Slime From Mars. But an idea is not a story. You need a story.
Second, you figure out the story. For example, the Slime infects the ship's captain who brings it back to earth where it begins to infect others with grievous results. The Hero realizes what is happening and after many challenges, defeats the Slime. There, that's the story, isn't it? No, it is not.
Who is the hero? Who is the villain? What, exactly, does the Slime do to people? How do they stop it? Who stops it?
So, you get back to work and actually come up with a real story. The captain is a woman. The first officer/co-pilot is a man. They used to date. The woman is driven and scheming and power-hungry and the first officer is true, blue, and an all-around great guy. Now the captain and the first officer are secret enemies. She views him as a boy scout and a rival. He views her as a mean, deceitful, narcissistic bitch. They are stuck on this ship together and she is the boss. He doesn't like that. The rest of the crew like her, except for one women who has crush on the co-pilot but he doesn't see her as anything but a friend. The Captain gets infected with the Slime. The Hero is the only one who suspects. The Slime gives her additional intelligence but is slowly taking over her mind with the goal to get her to infect others and turn them into Slime-Meat-Puppets. She infects them by having lots of sex with them.
The Hero (first officer) tries to alert people to the menace but fails because all the men want to sleep with her. She is hot! Blah, blah, blah. In this fashion you write out in prose who does what in the book. Who does what -- that's what the story is. Let me repeat that: The story is a factual summary of Who Does What. It should be at least five to ten single-spaced pages long.
OK, now that you have written down five to ten single-spaced pages of prose describing Who Does What, you're ready to begin writing Chapter One, right? Wrong.
Third, you need to create biographies for each of the major characters. Why? For two reasons (1) so that you know their backgrounds (a person's background affects his/her actions) and (2) because doing that will help you discover if you are missing some important characters or if you have two characters performing the same role in the story.
You bio needs to include a time line for each character. When were they born? Why do I need to know that? You obviously need to know your character's approximate age at the time of the story. Suppose your character is 35. If the story takes place in 2012 then he was born in 1977. Suppose he decides to break into an office to steal some vital information. Will he turn to his sidekick and say, "Let's Watergate it"? No, because he wasn't even born when Watergate happened. Is he going to mention Nixon? No. If he hits a figurative home run will he hit it like Ted Williams? No. Like Mickey Mantle? No. Like Barry Bonds? Maybe.
So, you need to know when he was born, where he was born, what his parents did for a living, what kind of a childhood he had, where he went to school, etc. All of these things help you create a 3-D character and avoid making a fool of yourself. If you say that your character fought in Vietnam and then say that the year before the book takes place he was asked to try out for the U.S. Olympic team most people are going to start counting on their fingers and say, "Uhh, wait a minute."
All right, now you've come up with the idea, written down the detailed summary of the story and you've created both bios and time lines for each major character. Can you now begin writing Chapter One? No. You still need a time line for the book itself. These folks are flying to Mars on a rocket ship. When is this? 2015? 2018? If it's 2018 you need to adjust all your other character time lines including dates of birth backwards from a "now" of 2012 to 2018. When was ship launched? How long did it take to get to Mars? How long did they stay there? How long will it take them to come back?
Fine, you say. I've done all that. Can I start writing now? No. You still need to outline the book. Your story summary is most likely written in chronological order but the book won't necessarily be in chronological order. There may be flashbacks. An outline is often one or two sentences telling what is going to happen in each chapter and it is in the order in which the chapters appear in the book.
It might start with: (1) Captain and Hero argue on the day before launch. Hint of trouble and their history. (2) Jump to ship landing on Mars. (3) Strange events that alert the reader to the possible threat to the crew. (4) The Captain ignores advice because of her bitchy personality and gets infected with Slime. Etc. Etc. Etc. Continue in this way for 50 to 80 chapters. 50? 80? Which one?
My average chapter is 1,750 words. Shorter chapters make books easier to read. If your average chapter length is 2,000 words and since you want your book to be at least 100,000 words that means 50 chapters minimum and maybe 75 maximum. If your outline runs out after only 34 items then you have not thought your story all the way through. It is too simple. You need add some twists and turns, maybe another subplot or two. You always need at least one or two subplots in addition to the main plot.
Eventually you get the outline up to say 62 chapters. Good, now you can start writing Chapter One.
Is writing the book the only thing you need to do? No. You need to keep a concordat as you write. What's that? It's an inventory of your characters, places and things. Here is just a small section of the concordat on my latest book. Single spaced, the entire concordat is about five pages long:
Alphonse Gagliardi -- County D.A.
Amy Ellison -- Pearl Girl
Anders, Angela -- kidnapping victim
Anderson, Edward James -- murderer whose conviction is on appeal
Angela Anders -- kidnapping victim
Art Wayman -- lead detective on Angela Anders case
Ben Cerutti -- contractor who needed supplies
Every time I name anyone they go into the list twice, once as "John Smith" and once as "Smith, John" because I never know which name I will remember and which I will forget. "I know the neighbor is named Bob something" or "I know the neighbor is named something Smithers". Also, you want to avoid too many uses of the same name. Look down the list. Do you have a John Baker, Jon Carlisle, Johnny Danvers, and a Jack Taylor? Throw in a few Pauls, Ralphs, Stewarts and Blakes.
Keep a list of other things like guns. If the hero uses a Glock is the villain going to use a Glock too? Maybe the villain uses a Beretta. And what kind? A Glock 17? A Beretta 92?
And when you finish the manuscript you are not done. You still need a title, a back cover blurb and a cover.
Now you are getting an inkling of why I was concerned that the only question the would-be author had was how to get his book published.
Links and personal information
David Grace Website: http://www.DavidGraceAuthor.Com
Amazon Author Page: http://www.Amazon.Com/Author/DavidGrace
Smashwords Author Page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/DavidGrace54
David Grace Email: DavidGraceAuthor@Gmail.com
My Work: Twelve novels. Eleven available at Amazon and Wildside Press (http://www.wildsidebooks.com/GRACE-David_c_1514.html) as trade paperbacks for $7.99 and $8.99 depending on the length. All twelve available as ebooks on Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Smashwords and others for $4.95.
My top five favorite books: Shooting Crows At Dawn, Doll's Eyes, Easy Target, A Death In Beverly Hills. My least favorite book: The Forbidden List