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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Advice for Aspiring Authors...9/3 Update

Seems like lately I've been getting a lot of requests for advice from young and/or aspiring authors on the topic of getting published. So I thought it might not be a bad thing to write an article on the subject. I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer on how to get published, and I certainly don't claim to be the ultimate authority on the subject. But for whatever it's worth, here's my advice:

(Begin Large Parenthetical Lament: Oh, and by the way, my clock is on the blink lately. Silly thing. No matter what I do--oil the gears, install fresh batteries--it still only gives me 24 hours in a day! Sheesh. Can't get anything for your money these days. All that to say, I won't write the whole article in one sitting. I'll probably post and then edit and add to this same post as time allows. ;-) So check back often if the topic interests you. End Large Parenthetical Lament)

#1 Work on your novel's opening chapter relentlessly. It is the critical chapter of your book. You must intrigue, captivate, and hook your reader there, or you will likely never be published. Editors receive hundreds if not thousands of manuscripts each week, so they have very little time for dull exposition in the opening. Go after your reader. Create suspense that won't quit.

#2 Work on your language. I don't mean punctuation and spelling--though those things better be sparkling in any manuscript you send out. But I mean the words from your palette--what you will use to paint the picture in the reader's mind. Take a contemporary poetry class--seriously. You will never learn more about making every word count.

#3 Read widely in the genre you want to publish. But read like a scientist rather than a spectator. Remember the parts you like and scrutinize them. What made them interesting? How did the author craft the plot? What made the twists and turned work? Every well written book is a treasure or resources that we can all learn from.

#4 Don't just write about what you know. I know, I know...you've heard other author's say it; you've heard your teachers preach it: write what you know. And the theory behind the advice is good. Write about what you know because you have the inside info, the details, and the experience to write about that topic or field. You play county soccer? Good, now go write a story about a character who plays county soccer. You have piano practice every Thursday? Wonderful, now go write about a character who plays piano. Now that's fine advice if you're writing for an audience of one or two. Will it work to get you published? Uh...not so much.

Writing what you know will not get you published unless, of course, your day job is: CIA Code Breaker, Supernatural Phenomenon Investigatory, CSI Agent, or Tour Guide for the Amazon Jungle. What I'm saying is, the average, day to day life is not interesting enough to be the plot of a book. Now, if something interrupts that normal life: a tragedy, a phenomenon, a mystery--well, now we're talking. Most readers want a story to grab them, to move them, to take them places they've never been to before. Most publishers want the same thing.

So, how do you write about stuff you don't know? 1. Research: watch the Discovery Channel, read National Geographic, surf the World Wide Web--there's a novel plot, character, or setting just waiting for you. 2. Make it up: Now, this especially applies to the whacked lot of writers who want to write fantasy or scifi. You get to open your mind and just create. Make things the human eye has never seen before. Tweak reality. Have fun. Chances are, if you have fun, your readers will too.

(More to come...)

37 comments:

Pais Charos said...

Nice. I like this :)

Oy, I understand completely about the clock thing. I go through it every day <_<

Justin B. said...

I go through the clock thing too! Nice tips. The first chapter is where all my problems are right now! I'm so happy right now! I can not believe what came in the mail..... Isle of Swords. Yessssssssssss! The cover is so awesome!

LotRgeek said...

I'm picking up my copy later today! It sounds awesome! :)

LotRgeek said...

I wonder if Isle of Swords will have a book trailer.

Amy Browning said...

Wow Wayne - great info. I look forward to more.

Brett said...

Yay1 my friend just ordered Isle of Swords for Emily and I on Amazon :) :) YAY ME!!!!!!!!!

Roheryn said...

That's good info!
Speaking of language, I once read a comment of Pern, that displayed just how varied language McCaffrey uses... it was something like
"McCaffrey's characters chortle, snort and shout their way through their adventures."
which I though was rather cool

Calenlass said...

Very helpful.
Thanks.

~Calenlass the Tolkienist

LotRgeek said...

So, when you say Tolkienist, do you mean someone who actually studies his works, or someone who is a big Tolkien fan?

Justin B. said...

I call myself a Tolkienophile, lover of all things Tolkien! lol

Roheryn said...

In the same vein there ish a Ringie...
which Ish what I call myself...

Brett said...

What if you don't like Tolkien? What do you call yourself?
A Hobbit-Slayer?
Dark Lord?
Elven-Slaver?
Dwarven-Bane?

Btw, I luv Tolkien's writings :)

LotRgeek said...

You scared me for a minute there, Brett.

everlastingscribe said...

*whispers* I'm not a huge tolkien fan.

No, alas, my heart belongs to another.

The one who wrote

"All eyes and no sight"

;)

Amy Browning said...

*quietly nods to Scribe in agreement - hoping nobody notices*

My heart, alas, has many loves. It's big enough for many favorites, though Tolkien is not among them. Loved the movies though!

*Ducks to avoid hardcover of LOTR flying toward my head*

Pais Charos said...

I love Tolkein, and don't get me started on all of the things they did wrong in the movies.

But my heart belongs with Dragons In Our Midst - for many, many, many reasons.

Brett said...

The only thing I don't like in the LoTR books is the way Tolkien wrote Legolas...he sounds so...uh...weird. Almost lady-like.

Justin B. said...

XD! Tolkien does write Legolas in a lady like manner, I never knew why? Does anyone know of any Christian fantasy books which have vampires in them? I know.... this is completely off topic

LotRgeek said...

I saw a book at Barnes and Nobles that I think was what you're talking about.

LotRgeek said...

I think it's because he's an elf (Legolas, I mean). I should have posted this one first.

everlastingscribe said...

Don't get me wrong, Tolkien was a master in the company of masters, and what he wrote and what he did for the fantasy genre is amazing. I do enjoy reading his work. But there are others that I enjoy more. ;)

Pais Charos said...

Same here, Scribe. Same here. *huggles Bryan Davis*

Roheryn said...

this one ish hard-pressed to pick just one...
many authors, pulling this one's heart in many directions...

Justin B. said...

I know one minute I love Stephenie Meyer's awesome vampire series, the next Bryan Davis's DIOM, then JK Rowling's awesome Harry Potter series, Sharon Hicnck's Lyric series, Hoppybunny's White Lion Chronicles, or WB's Door Within Trilgy and Isle of Swords, and various other books. Yep I agree with Roheryn, there are too many to choose fro.

Roheryn said...

and your list seems to be missing some of the best!
McCaffrey's Pern
Brooks' Shannara and Word/Void
Moon's Paksennarion and Gird
Nix's Old Kingdom
Pierce's Tortall
Bujold's Chalion
Foster's Pip and Flinx, and Spellsinger
I could go on... and on... and on... and on....

LotRgeek said...

AAAHHH!!! My head is spinning with book names!!!

everlastingscribe said...

I agree about writing what you don't know ;) capt'n. But in a way, you write what you know and what you don't at the same time. Fear is fear whether it's the fear of being eaten by a beast with three heads, or being terrified of a dog down the street that is known to bite people. I know the fear of being bitten, so I use that knowing to write the fear of being eaten by a creature with three heads. ;) I use what I know to write what I don't know.

Amy Browning said...

I've always interpreted the "write what you know" thing as more of a jumping off point. Say you're a waitress at a resteraunt, you write about restaurants. Maybe instead of a normal restaurant, it's run by elven slaves of an evil overlord and you are the only one capable of rescuing a persecuted race and saving them from extinction.

So - I try to always write what I don't know and sometimes it starts with something I do know. That's just me though.

Amy Browning said...

I've been reading Fiction Writer's Workshop by Josip Novakovich and it approaches the topic in a slightly different way. He says that as soon as you change anything about something real, it becomes fiction. Some people can't start writing, I think, unless they at least know a litte bit about where to start.

One of the exercises was to recall a memory and instead of trying to be accurate, make up the details and tweak it. The other was to write about a group of people who you saw just for a moment, but make up what they were doing or what the situation was, despite no real knowledge of it. This is designed to teach you how to make something interesting from very little real information.

It's a fun book to read and I love the exercises at the end of each chapter. I definitely recommend it. I actually found it from Where the Map Ends. Good site!

Sorry this is so long - I just get all excited about this stuff because I'm in the middle of developing my own abilities. :)

everlastingscribe said...

Don't apologize Amy! This is part of that 'iron sharpening iron' stuff that everyone goes "Yeah, that's what I want in a writing group!"

*Ahem*

Anyway, I agree that the known is the jumping off point for the unknown. And tweaking memories or embellishing them is a great idea for story starters!

everlastingscribe said...

Speaking of recommended books for writers I would highly recommend "The Writers Guide to Fantasy Literature-From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest-How to Write Fantasy Stories of Lasting Value" edited by Philip Martin It's chock full of interviews with fantasy writers some I agree with and others I don't but really it is a powerhouse of how the machine works and how to get your own gears meshing.

Also, for those not really as into fantasy as myself there's "The Complete Writers Guide to Heroes and Heroines-Sixteen Master Archetypes" By Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders. Both are excellent resources that I have and use nearly every day either for encouragement or because I want to know why something is or is not working. ;) Read and be refreshed warriors of the pen!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips on book writing! I am currently writing a fantasy book and I am nervous about how other people will like it!
Lindsay

Anonymous said...

I am a HUGE lotr fan!!!!!!!!!
Linnende (Lindsay)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the tips on book writing too!I needed some tips to get my book going.I can't get past the first chapter.Hopfully those tips will get me started!
Kelsey.

LotRgeek said...

OH YEAH!!! Pardon me, I'm such a spaz about LotR.

Eve said...

I read somewhere that you should write the first chapter after the rest is done. I sooo agree, lol!

I know I'm writing my best stuff when I enjoy it. :)

fiorinda said...

re #2: I know I'm doing good when my mother keeps asking me what a word means(she's not normally a reader of fiction).

Actually, I was a little concerned at how many words she thought were too big, but then I remembered that most kids who read fantasy are pretty smart. I will admit though, I am a frequent user of the thesaurus tool in word. It is very helpful.

Thanks for the advice. I'll keep checking back.