Blueprint For Aspiring Authors
TEN IMPORTANT SUGGESTIONS FOR YOUR WRITING WHEELHOUSE
There are many tricks and must-haves in every writer’s arsenal. I’ve compiled ten essentials I think every aspiring author should take into consideration when drafting their fiction novel. Some info may be obvious to seasoned writers and authors, but for those beginning the foray into the writing world these tips are crucial. I wish I had this list in my writing wheelhouse when I began the journey into composing my first novel.
Open your story in action and in the right place. When proofreading novels, by those who are dipping their toes in the publishing arena for the first time, I often find they have not begun their story in the most beneficial place. Sometimes Chapter 3 may be a better place to begin.
Instead of opening in action, some newbies open with an info dump or too much exposition. This can be a turn-off and stop readers dead in their tracks. Create a killer opening line and keep the action going. Find ways to sprinkle some of that exposition in throughout the story, perhaps through dialogue or cleverly crafted prose so readers don’t feel they’re being taken out of the story. Dropping in background info needs to make sense and flow.
Do the middle of your story proud by making sure it’s written with the same passion as the beginning and end. Add some fire to the midpoint of your story so it doesn’t drag. Do this through intense scenes, exciting and interesting prose, and spirited dialogue. Ditch drawn-out dialogue. Keep it simple. The middle doesn’t need to be positive or even enthusiastic, it can be suspenseful, thrilling, gut-wrenching, or even sad, as long as it’s intriguing and keeps readers turning pages.
Finish with a bang, but don’t rush the ending. Sometimes writers compose a fantastic foundation by which readers crave more, and a stupendous middle, but they move too quickly to the end leaving readers with a let-down feeling. It’s best to build up to the ending so readers are satisfied when your story is over.
Understanding the genre you've chosen to write in is critical to helping your book find representation. Different genres have different aspects, specific to that genre. Categorize your novel appropriately. Know the acceptable word count of your genre and stick to that. Recognize the fundamentals associated with your chosen genre and make it your business to keep track of them and include them when constructing your story.
Besides a distinguished appearance that helps one character stand out from another, characters need depth and that means the author must flesh them out. They must have an established background, reasons for their behavior, why they are where they are in life, and why they are who they are. This past is for the author, not necessarily the reader. The author must draw from the character’s created experiences to shape their unique dialogue and scenes, thereby adding substance.
Walk around in your characters’ heads for a while. Take them with you when you run errands. How do they react? What triggers them? What would they say in those situations? Ask them questions.
4. Provide Conflict and Stakes for Characters
Conflict is especially significant for your protagonist and main characters. Drop them into compromising and/or challenging situations. If everything is always hunky-dory and crazy-happy like living in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, there is not much room for growth, and characters need to grow. When the lives of characters are stagnant, readers are bored and probably won’t continue reading the novel you worked so hard on. Though there are many novels with flawed characters and unreliable narrators that readers love to hate, for the most part, readers want to fall in love with your characters and root for them.
Stakes are imperative for characters. What are they heading toward? Why are they heading that way? What do they hope to accomplish? Help readers get intimately involved with the characters you painstakingly create as an author. Readers want to cheer characters on. Presenting worthy stakes is valuable to characters and readers. Stakes strengthen characters, whether they rise to the occasion or fall, but keep trying. Providing stakes help characters grow and keeps readers reading.
Add sensory details whenever possible. Their addition helps transport readers into your story. The five senses, and when appropriate, intuition, connect readers to the character. Readers see, hear, feel, taste, and smell along with the character. When scripted skillfully, by showing and not telling, readers experience what the character does in real time. Remember to include at least two or three senses in every scene and vary them. Yes, as a reader I want to see what’s in the environment where the character is, but I also want to hear background noise or pertinent sounds, catch a pleasing or pungent scent, feel the warmth of a gentle touch, and even imagine the taste of a decadent dessert or the remnants of lingering cinnamon gum when the romantic interest kisses the protagonist.
Let readers experience the scent of hamburgers and hotdogs cooking on the grill without telling them what it smells like. Write how the meat sizzles and drips with tasty goodness. Write about how the love interest's cologne seeps into the protagonist’s nose and drives her wild. Write about how the sound of chirping birds outside a window is magnified in the head of a character with a migraine. How someone’s voice grates on the nerves like nails scratching down a chalkboard. How a character gags on spoiled milk. You get the picture!
Add a surprise in or at the end of every chapter. Avoid shaking things up for effect only. That gets tiresome. Every whammy you throw in must be tied to an important event in the story and have value and meaning. When slipped in at the end of a chapter, an unexpected something creates suspense and piques interest. This leads readers to turn the page to find out what's going to happen.
Research is essential to every writer whether they are penning an article, short story, memoir, nonfiction book, or novel. Buzz words, a sprinkling of facts, a fitting accent, specific lingo, all contribute to the authenticity of a piece of work. Any facts, buildings, museums, restaurants, etc. that are common to a given area should be neatly and seamlessly incorporated so readers are not distracted. Your job as an author is to keep readers engaged not divert their attention by adding in too many extraneous details. So, don’t neglect research, but don’t go down a rabbit hole and get so caught up, you lose track of time. Your story will suffer.
It doesn’t matter if as an aspiring author you wish to publish traditionally or choose to self-publish. A published book must be free of grammatical and punctuation errors, paced and plotted properly, and of course it must hook readers in. For these reasons, self-editing or hiring a qualified and respected editor is key.
First drafts? Meh! Don’t get hung up on ’em. They’re usually messy, chaotic, and in some cases, aside from grammatical errors, contain story holes and inconsistencies. Some revise as they write, others wait to edit and revise when their story is complete, but rest assured, most if not all writers, write, edit, revise, and repeat.
One of the main objectives of an author who chooses to traditionally publish is to grab the attention of agents with an exemplary pitch. The elevator pitch is the hook that concisely spells out the compelling, appealing, fresh concept you’ve devised that will draw agents and readers in. It’s a description of plot that’s whittled down to one or two sentences. It’s difficult to come up with a one-liner that captures the essence of your story, but you must make the effort. Though there are exceptions, your writing might be A#1, but if your hook stinks your book is most likely dead in the water. Most will not care to read further. So much is riding on it. Your pitch is like your golden goose. Nail it and an agent will ask for more. Include that sparkling sentence or sentences in your blurb if you self-publish.
Morning, noon, or night, write. Pencil in writing time on a calendar. Set aside a block of time that works best for you. Settle into your favorite spot and devote the time necessary to shatter your writing goals. Even 15 minutes a day or a few times a week is better than no time. Stop making excuses and make writing a priority. You will be amazed at how much you’ve accomplished in the time you carved out.
It's equally important to schedule time to research agents and publishers in your genre who are accepting unsolicited manuscripts, and to reserve a block of time to submit your work to them. I often get so caught up in article writing, and social media meme creations to mentor aspiring authors, that I forget to hunt down agents and send query letters. Don’t make this mistake.