Friday, May 6, 2011

“I’ve Got This Great Idea for A Book…”

© Nathan Weaver 2011 all rights reserved

So you’ve got a great idea for a book, right? But maybe you’re like me and you’ve mostly written short stories so far, and you’re not sure how to tackle the daunting task? Or maybe you haven’t written anything since that Valentine’s Day card you gave Sally Pinkerton back in the third grade? How in the world are you going to tell this amazing story that everybody needs to read? And how are you going to get it published and in their hands?

First things first, you will need to write.

You’ve read all these amazing books about how to write a novel, and they all talk about outlines and such. So you’re now convinced you have to outline the beast that is your novel. Ten years later, you’ve got an outline and no book, now what? And now it’s been thirty years since Sally Pinkerton discarded your Valentine’s Day card, so what’s to say you can even write this story? I mean seriously, you’ve spent the last ten years outlining an amazing story, but you haven’t written a scrap of narrative in that time. What, did you think you were Shakespeare or something? The worst thing you can do is take your writing for granted and only work on the outline. You have to practice.

Some handy advice. Write some short stories or excerpts from your novel while you are developing your outline. Just some short, to the point stories that you can write in a couple of hours. And really examine those stories, try to identify your weaknesses and strengths. And get someone to critique these as well. What you’ll find is that writing is like a child, as it ages it matures.

I don’t want to write an outline, I want to write a novel.

I know! I don’t want to write outlines either, I hate those things. But let’s face it, it’s good to plan. Because if you don’t, what you’ll find is that your story isn’t nearly long enough to be considered a legitimate novel. A novel is a lot of words, a lot of pages, and a lot of work. Before you begin writing your novel, make sure you’ve got enough story to fill that book. Nobody likes buying a bag of chips that’s half full, and the same is true of a book.

I didn’t appreciate the outline until I drew the comparison between it and the storyboard. Alfred Hitchcock had once stated that once you’ve drawn up the storyboard for a film, the movie was made and all that was left was to film it. This is the same with the outline. You flesh out your story, and tell it in the outline, and then all that is left is to write it.

Make it fit you. Since I don’t like to over think my stories too much before I write them, I outline by using a simple spreadsheet form. I stole this basic spreadsheet idea from British author Neal James, and it works well. I flesh the outline out by writing a short summary for each chapter, and then assigning a minimum word count. What happens is your outline is just a fill in the blank sheet that you can use for all stories, no matter the length, and it leaves a lot of room for impromptu imagination during the writing process. But the important thing is that the story is there, and it’s long enough to meet the desired goal. Check out this free example I’ve made for sharing.

Giving Sally Pinkerton some credibility.

If you’re like me, sometimes the narrative voice doesn’t come immediate for a story. Sometimes you start writing your book, and realize maybe Sally Pinkerton had good cause to throw away the card you gave her? But before you get over Sally Pinkerton, and take down that morbid shrine in your closet, take the following into consideration.

Take a break. Set the story aside, and don’t write it on it for six months or so. This should be ample time for you to forget what you wrote. In that time, try to think of a few things that might rejuvenate your story. Something that might give it an extra boast of confidence. For example, I started writing THE RED BALLOON about two years ago, but failed miserably. It was horribly contrived, and I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to end up with the story. So I set it aside, and didn’t come back to the story until recently, and by the time I did I had developed a new, solid ending that gave the story more drive and helped me focus in on how I wanted this story to be told. With this new, fresh perspective I started writing it again and after I had written passed where I had left off previously, I checked my old draft to see if there were a few sentences of narrative I wanted to keep. The result was a far better narrative, a superior story to the previous version and an inflated ego.

Try different tenses and perspectives. I started writing JASON RICHARD WRIGHT, a novella about a serial killer, and it didn’t take me long to realize my decision to write it in first-person perspective was destroying the goal of the story. So I backed off of it for a while (previous step), and started over some time later writing in third-person perspective. What I found was a far better story, that was a lot easier to follow and relate to. Sometimes your narrative can lack the kick you want, because you honed in on the wrong perspective or tense to tell the story. Experiment and see which one works best.

I finally finished this awesome book, now what?

Draft up a query letter, synopsis, and create a short portfolio for your book. Include the query letter, synopsis and some excerpts. I hate this part myself, as I’m sure all writers do. But if you can just sit down one day and force yourself through it, using some examples you can conjure up from the web (Google rules), then you’ll get it together. And then start contacting the usual suspects: literary agents, publishers, etc.

This is usually when those old feelings about Sally Pinkerton start coming back from the cosmos of your abdomen. As the rejection letters pour in like Dear John letters, don’t lose fate. You have to keep in mind that the Sally Pinkertons of this world feed off your pain, so don’t give up. There are so many other fish in the sea with different names,; like Kelly, Tammy, and Robert. You’ll show Sally Pinkerton. Once you become a famous author, she’ll see your face on TV and kick herself for not keeping that heartfelt card you wrote up for her, so she could redeem its worth on eBay.

Exercise the demons. Take those rejection letters and keep them somewhere safe. Maybe renovate your closet, add some more square footage and build a bigger shrine for the Sally Pinkertons. If the rejection letters make some legitimate critiques and give you some solid advice, then take those and use them for your next proposal. If you receive some useful advice about your book, do some revisions of your book. And when there are things that cut deep, keep those close so someday you can say, “I’d like to thank Sally Pinkerton for giving me the strength to persevere, and I am so happy my book Stranger than Stupid is an international best-seller.” When Julie Andrews was accepting her Oscar for Mary Poppins, she thanked the guys who did NOT cast her as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, after she had already popularized the role on Broadway alongside Rex Harrison. Had those Hollywood executives not come to the conclusion that Julie Andrews would not translate well on film, she would not have won the Oscar for Mary Poppins. Thank goodness Walt Disney sought her out and took a chance on her. And some day, if you persevere, someone will take a chance on you.

Sally Pinkerton was a moron.

Whether you’re looking to get picked up or you are sufficed being independent, using the eBook revolution to self-publish, you are going to meet many Sally Pinkertons. There will always be those who hate your work, who read it and tear it to shreds. But if you are truly telling good stories, and writing solid characters, people will see that despite what any Sally Pinkerton may say. Sally Pinkertons are a dime a dozen, just like the comments on a YouTube video that demand their thirty seconds of life back. Just keep on trucking, and eventually you’ll find your readers, even if they didn’t know you were looking for them. One day you’ll walk into a room, and you’ll see her, and she’ll see you, and you’ll both just know... you know?

About the author:
Nathan Weaver is a husband and father, Video Production Specialist at Missouri S&T, lyricist for Blue Solace, independent filmmaker, and writer too. He's been writing since childhood, but not well until later years. He despises having to write blurbs about himself, and it never helps when it's in third-person. Most of his works in "written form" are usually crime, mystery or horror and often obtain elements of fantasy or science fiction. When writing screenplays or plays, he delves more into comedy but finds it difficult to write humour in short story or novel form.


Kim Smith said...

Nathan you and I have WAY too much in common... the least of which is the story you have posted on your blog! I am living that story at the moment. THe AR lady quit last Friday. The AP lady turned in notice on Monday and my boss (COO) resigned yesterday.

I didn't get a chance to finish your story but it is GOOD. I think I know the ending anyway if the current situation at my job is any indication!! LOL.

Thanks for being here today! -- off to work now, sigh.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Jason. Isn't it funny that I just discovered you and your website from our conversation about To Kill a Mockingbird this week. And here you are on our site, guest posting! (I hadn't realized you were coming up, LOL) I truly enjoyed your article, wonderful stuff. And that darned Sally Pinkerton...boy, did she lose out, huh? Thanks for guest posting here today, and I look forward to future chats with you!

Nathan Weaver said...

Thanks guys for the kind words.

@Kim, I assume you are referencing "The Red Balloon", and if so, I certainly hope the ending won't be predictable. Guess I'll find out.

@Aaron, it's Nathan not Jason. I usually only get this confusion in verbal dialogue, I'm surprised to see it in text. "His name is Robert Paulson."

I certainly had fun writing this article, and hope it helps anyone. Just a few things I've learned along the way. And that Sally Pinkerton... tisk, tisk.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

LOL! Nathan, I KNOW you're Nathan, I don't know where the heck I got Jason. I was retyping the note fast because the first one didn't "take". What a dope I am. Sorry about that. Did you know TONS of people call me PAUL? (my middle name) I never know why they pick that one instead of my first name! Ha!

Nathan Weaver said...

Yeah, especially because my middle name is Aaron!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Too funny, Nathan!

Nathan Weaver said...

Just the facts, Mr. Lazar.