From the beginning to ‘The End’ (working title)


This is the first true post as I begin to write this non-fiction book relating the creation of a novel. Every non-fiction book I have read from historical biographies to Butcher’s Copy-Editing has an introduction. It gives the author their first chance to say hello and to give a flavour of what their book will be about, what it will cover and how they plan to go about it.

I wanted to give my prospective readers a chance to get an idea of what they could expect and to learn a little about the bloke who thought he had something to offer.

If anyone has any ideas on what else they think should be covered in the Introduction please leave me a comment and if I like it, I will include it and give you credit in the acknowledgements. Thank you.

Introduction and Biography

What prompted you to buy this book? What do you want to get out of it? Do you think it will help? It will. Help that is.

This book isn’t about the formula of writing a novel and the mistakes that you will make if you don’t follow a prescribed method. There are a thousand books available covering that approach; some free, others reasonably priced and many ridiculously expensive. There also some excellent books that adopt different approaches; whether it is free form writing where a looser ‘empty your soul on to the page’ approach or instructions on how to write and research non-fiction. If that is what you are looking for then scan your local bookshop or the Amazon website and convert your cash into advice.

This book is about a journey taken by a writer describing how he creates a work of fiction from an initial idea through to publication. I am the writer and I wanted to describe the process that I am going  through when I write my novel. For me this is a very personal approach as it lays open my own ideas and philosophies on writing and creating fiction. I want this book to be read as a way to write a novel, not as the only way to write a novel, it’s a way that works for me and I hope that my approach helps by giving you a blueprint to write the story inside you as well as offering ideas and practical advice.

When I write I need the comfort of structure and planning to ensure that I am not faced by a blank page with no idea what to put on it. The plan changes, they always do, but those changes will add depth and texture to the story and improve the finished novel. By having a plan, a detailed plan, I know the direction in which the story is heading, what will happen at a given point and how each scene will affect the story as a whole.  My plan is only the initial view of how I expect the story to progress, the changes are what will allow the story to develop within the original framework.

This very structured approach to writing I know won’t suit everyone. Stephen King believes that plot is best forgotten but situation is important. He also says, ’I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all of our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.’  Conversely John Irving says, ‘know the story—as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story—before you commit yourself to the first paragraph….If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of a storyteller are you?’

This book will lead you from your initial first glimmer of an idea, testing the idea, planning in detail, first draft, rewriting and more rewriting, from there to editing, cover design and on to publication, both traditional and indie. It is a blueprint that you can use time and time again. Using it as a guide when writing your early works to a reference as your experience grows.

I hope you enjoy the journey.

Biography

Simon is a novelist, proofreader, copy-editor and blogger. This will be his first non-fiction work which he is writing alongside his second novel: The Impact of History. His first novel is available through Amazon as an ebook, Bacchus and Sanderson (Deceased). Click here, to buy it.

A book on the process of writing a book, using a book I’m writing …


Sorry about the title but I couldn’t think of a more descriptive way of describing what I want to do.
I am in the very early stages of planning a novel I have called ‘The Impact of History’ which is part historical, part thriller and part …well you’ll have to wait and see.
The non-fiction book that I will be blogging as I write will run concurrently with the novel and will use the novel for its examples and screenshots to illustrate the various sections of the book. I’m a little stuck on what to call it as I feel it is a different approach to the normal ‘how to write a novel’ books. For the moment I’ll call it ‘From the beginning to The End’.
I want to go through the entire process that I use, from the idea to the finished product and beyond to the marketing and promotion of the book. Each part of the process will be chapter length and offer idea’s, screenshots of my work in progress and a look at the resources on offer to make the writing process as streamlined and uncluttered as possible.
The first section is on the origin of your work of fiction and how you can develope a simple idea into a strong multi-faceted novel. This project will begin next Monday and I will post each week on my progress on both books and share where I’m up to and how the process is going. I look forward to sharing this experiment with you.

You’ve got your idea … What next?


The idea has arrived and it’s beautiful. You know this is the one, the idea that will transform fiction writing, film production and theatre. You are twitching to put pen to paper and get cracking with the great British/American/Australian novel. Before your keyboard is reduced to a charred and tangled mess by the ferocity of your typing you still need to test your idea to ensure it will have the staying power that you are sure it will have.

When I have those moments of blind panic as I stare blankly at the screen, wondering how my main character has run out of things to say and do, the idea for the story is pathetic and my anti-hero has decided he/she wants to be fucking nice, then I wished i’d taken my own advice and scribbled a few bullet points down first. Outlining gives you the time to take a breathe after the first rush of enthusiasm and excitement is falling away. It forces you to ask a few questions about your idea and honestly decide if it is any good. Not just any good as an idea for a novel, a short story or flash fiction, but whether it is worthy of your time and effort at all. Some idea’s will appear to be great and will be amazing. Others appear at first glance to be fantastic, but are in reality shit.

I can only describe what I do when I scribble an outline down and how I think it through. Here goes:

In each section I just write a few lines; enough to remind me how I wanted the story to flow and to help identify if there is enough there. By now I also know who I am planning on writing for, their age group, gender and the planned genre of my story. However the best laid plans of mice and men…

Opening

How you want the story to open? This section sets out how you see your stories opening and how you see the beginning shaping the rest of the story. Do you start from the beginning? From the end with the remainder of the story going back in time to set out how you get to your opening pages? In the middle of the action, thrown in at the deep end? Your choice, make it.

Mid Section

These sections are the meat of your story, where you develop your characters, bring in other story lines that complement the main flow of the story. You can cleverly introduce character back stories, introduce some red herrings, some twists and turns. These sections are where you can have a lot of fun. Don’t forget to keep your eye on the end – that’s what you are building towards.

Conclusion

This is my favourite part. you’ve chosen how you want to begin your story, you have developed the story and the characters keeping an eye on the final part and now you show how inventive you have been. The twists and turns that will keep your readers intrigued until the end. You can make your ending as lively or as intense as you want, it’s your story.

These three sections will go a long way towards helping you decide how you want to structure your story and what format you would like it to take.

Ideas


I’ve recently completed my author page on Goodreads and one of the things that I can do is answer writing related questions that are posed by other readers. That forced me to think about the processes that I have gone through when I wrote Bacchus and Sanderson (Deceased) or indeed any piece of significant fiction.
The starting point of any work of fiction is the germ of an idea that sparks passion. By passion I mean the desire to invest the time in exploring an idea and deciding if it merits your time and in what format. Is the idea strong enough to be a short story? Flash fiction? Or is it a idea that can be developed into a novel length piece of work.
Take the time to look carefully at your ideas and analyse in which format they would work in and deciding if you are passionate enough about the ideas to move them forward. The majority of ideas that flash into your head as you sit at your desk or commute to work, you will decide are not good enough. The key is spotting the ones in which you can get excited.

The advice in years gone by was; ‘write what you know.’ This intimates that if you are a keen knitter and a housewife, the only fiction you can write with any hope of believability is the adventures of a knitting housewife. Rubbish, rubbish and more rubbish. In a digital age the majority of us have access to a world of information through the internet. We can write as spies, killers, aliens from a distant universe or should we chose, as knitting housewives. Our options are limitless.
Ideas for our writing are all around us and come from some unexpected places. I am planning and plotting my next novel at the moment and the idea for it came from a flash fiction prompt from WordPress. The point is that ideas are all around us and your spark will be very different to mine.

When I need a starting point I look to my interests. What do you do with your life? Are you a gardener, climber, chef, art lover or bibliophile. Can any of those areas be incorporated into your next piece of work? What genre of books to like reading or listening to? What films do you enjoy and are willing to pay money to watch? These are the important questions that will help unblock your psyche and give you a idea that could be the basis of your next work.

Synopsis and cover letters


Okay, this is the question. How is it possible to condense one hundred and twenty two thousand words down to two double spaced pages of A4? And now for the tricky bit, for it to tell the same story as the longer version so that your reader can glean a flavour of the story? I was amazed at how hard it was.

I had spent a few weeks viewing the task with a degree of trepidation and finding excuses not to begin. I couldn’t avoid it any longer. The book was completed, seven versions, and now I needed to send it out.

Creating a synopsis I discovered takes practice. My first effort was too long and detailed. I had written a chapter by chapter plot line that told the story, but in far to much detail. Attempts two, three, four and five were improvements, but still too long and too much detail. I turned to the internet, our new font of all knowledge and discovered it had the answer, actually many answers.

Reading the thoughts of agents and publishers who are the recipients of our endeavours, they all wanted the same thing. Brilliance, an undiscovered gem that would catapult both the agent and the author to the pinnacle of Sunday Times bestseller list and leave them there. If that were not possible they would settle for a synopsis that showed them that the author could take a story and keep it interesting, coherent and gripping over the course of a hundred thousand words. Could the author continue to deliver beyond the three sample chapters. I have learnt that an agent will read the sample chapters and then the synopsis. If the sample had promise and the synopsis sounded interesting i stood a chance. Oh also nearly every agent wanted us to spell their names correctly…

Now the covering letter. I nailed this in under ten attempts, an improvement of sorts. the essence I gleaned from my font of all knowledge was that the letter was three short paragraphs. The first paragraph was a very edited version of my story, the second an explanation of the genre and what is unusual about the book and finally a brief biography on me and the type of fiction I enjoy.

The samples synopsis and covering letters have been despatched and so I wait in hope of a response, any response.

Rewriting and Rewriting and Rewriting and…


I thought Bacchus and Sanderson (Deceased) was complete, finished, dealt with, ready to go. It had been edited, typo’s removed (hopefully), grammar checked and now pretty good. So good to send to agents and see if there is any interest or whether I am going to be Indie man. I’m happy either way to be honest and the fact that I have commissioned a cover design perhaps adds credence to the inevitability of following the independent publishing route.

I had found three agents who handle the type of book I have written. Checked there submission criteria, the main one seems to be, spell their names correctly…So I decided a quick reread through the first three chapters to double check for typo’s would be a good idea. Oh shit, I can’t send this out it’s awful, really awful. After the nausea had subsided and I’d stopped hyperventilating, I accepted a little light polishing would be useful and began the buffing. Two day’s and five attempts to improve the first three chapters later, it was better, much better. Tighter, more tension, atmospheric. Excellent.

I began working on the synopsis and covering letter. I’ll come back to those in my next post. Synopsis and letter complete, I’ll read through everything I’m sending and then email it to the agents I’d chosen. Oh shit. Not quite as shocking, but had I thought this was good? This process was in danger of repeating itself for weeks, possibly months.

I’m think I’m suffering from a common writing ailment, obsessive rewriting syndrome. The symptoms are, an inability to see if a piece is good or really does need more work and a reluctance to let go. The reluctance to let go is the hardest to deal with, as will be the inevitable rejection, humiliation, penury, followed by self loathing and…okay, wait a moment. Now I have identified the disease the cure would be self apparent. Never ever send anything to anyone, no that was the alter ego speaking.

If you believe it’s as good as it can be, send it, post it, publish it, get it out there. With feedback comes insight. You never know someone may like it.

Have a look at my Facebook page, Worried of Woolcombe and if you’re in the mood, give me a like. I’m happy to reciprocate.

Punctuation and Grammar


Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss Elements of Style by William Strunk Jnr.

Now that I write for a living, I am increasingly aware of the importance of not making too many mistakes with punctuation and grammar. If you spend months or even years crafting your novel, it would be awful if your prose are let down by clumsy punctuation and poor grammar. I wasn’t bad, not perfect, but not bad. Now that this is what I do full time, I needed to be as close to perfect as possible.

I tried Grammarly, an online punctuation and grammar checker. Initially, it seemed quite good. I would copy and paste my text into the program it would analyse the text and highlight my grammatical errors. Some aspects are better than others. The dictionary they use to compare your text to is awful. It doesn’t recognise many simple words offering ludicrous, or worse, no alternatives. Subscription cancelled.

Two books I have found to be incredibly helpful are: Elements of Style by William Strunk Jnr. and Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

Elements of Style is an excellent textbook of correct English grammar and punctuation. A little dry, but it offers a comprehensive explanation of the different areas of grammar and punctuation as well as providing a list of commonly misused words and phrases and commonly misspelled words.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a far lighter introduction to punctuation. It covers all of the common punctuation marks , providing a history of their usage and the correct way to use them.

I hope I have benefitted from having them on my bookshelf.  Any punctuation or grammatical errors in this blog are mine alone!

Is plotting okay?


Dandelion

 

I ask this question because of Stephen King. Let me explain. I have been listening to his book – On Writing – which is amazing and he is vehemently anti-plotting and advocates a free thinking, stream of consciousness approach.

I have and would continue to struggle with that. I like the structure that is offered by a planned plot line. I know where I am, I can see how the plot will advance and how my main characters are interacting with each other. I know I have covered all of my bases and not let a  character or sub plot slide off to one side and disappear, unconnected to it’s encouraging introduction. Is this wrong?

Should I feel intellectually inadequate because I prefer to have what some view as an a cheat sheet to see me to the end of my novel?

I have thought about this a lot and come to the obvious conclusion. Of course not. In my view plotting a novel doesn’t suppress spontaneity, it helps you focus on the nuts and bolts leaving your sub-concious the time to work on the twists and turns. An outline is a roadmap or perhaps even a shopping list. It allows you to see the routes from beginning to end and not lose sight of subplots and minor characters.

Will I continue to write in this way? Yes. Should I join the free thinking seat of my pants writing? May be one day when I have the confidence and trust in my ability to venture away from what I know and am familiar with.

Writing


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We have recently changed the way we run our business which has given me some spare time to write.

I am a writer. I’ve never said that before. I’ve thought it, called myself a part time scribbler, but never acknowledge that is what I am. Back to the spare time. My wife has supported my scribbling for years. She encourages me and gives me as much time to indulge myself as our business allowed.

Now i’m a writer. It’s my job. I sit down in front of my computer and I tell stories. Everything has been going well. Word counts have risen, i have completed the first two drafts of my first full length novel and i’m a quarter of the way through the next one. Well done me. But…

Procrastination. Treating the writing as a job rather than a hobby means the application of the bottom to the seat for a certain number of hours a day and writing. This has taken a lot of getting used to. I honestly believed that as soon as I had the time to follow my dream I would write until my fingers bled. Not quite.

I still have certain responsibilities for our catering business. We still have a family with all that entails. I am the part time chauffeur for children’s activities, delivery driver for our catering business and anything else that needs doing.

A book that is a huge eye opener on procrastination is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I’ll be reviewing it in my new weekly book review section, beginning next week. As one of the most influential books I’ve read it’ll be the first review.