Fictional Advice For Fictional Authors

 

shutterstock_172002743Writing a novel or two (or ten) is on my bucket list. I’ve jotted down ideas, notes, scraps of dialog from a dozen different stories. But I have yet to actually write a book… even a bad one. This, despite the ubiquitous advice from published authors that writing anything every day is the biggest step. Do Ricochet comments count?

I have read books on the various processes of many authors, which is a bit like asking people in every state in the USA for directions to Oklahoma City. Strangely, they disagree. Still, I appreciate the suggestions.

So what are your suggestions? Ricochet has more authors than Obama’s autobiography. What are some habits or surprises that worked for you?

Most importantly, how did you get started? Did you begin with an outline or a scene? Did you know your main characters from the start? Are those characters people you know, tweaked ever so cruelly? How detailed was your plot in the beginning?

Any kind of advice is welcome, from anybody. Poetry and short stories are fair game, though I am most eager for book tips. All genres: I have an odd assortment of ideas to start from, including a werewolf philosophical thriller and a stupidly fun satire of video games.

Alas! Alack! A lot!

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  1. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    The others thing you must do is read, read, read. One to two hours per say minimum. All great writers are great readers.

    • #31
  2. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    I use Heinlein’s Rules of Writing.

    1. You must write.
    2. You must finish what you write.
    3. You must not rewrite except to editorial direction.
    4. You must put it on the market.
    5. You must keep it on the market until it is sold.

    I have used these rules to write nearly 20 books. Rules 2 and 3 are the hardest for most writers to follow, but they are the most important.  You have to finish what you write, and stop fiddling with it.  Rule 5 is also critical to getting published.

    Heinlein always worried writers would frame these rules, put them on the wall, and admire them rather that use them.  I actually do have them framed, and placed where I see them when I am writing.  I use them.

    Seawriter

    • #32
  3. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Fred Cole:The others thing you must do is read, read, read. One to two hours per say minimum. All great writers are great readers.

    Read.

    Ignore all the other advice. Read.

    • #33
  4. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    I’ll add one more piece of advice, despite myself.

    Read the book you wish you’d written, and think maybe you could have.

    Imitate.

    • #34
  5. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @EustaceCScrubb

    I’ve written a variety of books, but the ones that have been easiest to write have been a series of children’s mysteries. Those were the first books I completed because they had a formula. I followed the Encyclopedia Brown (and Father Brown) pattern of a series of short mystery stories. Each story could be built around one mystery and one clue. In later books in the series, I went an extra step of weaving a plot line through the stories. (But still always by a formula. Ten separate mysteries each built around a basic clue.)

    I’ve written other novels as I continue to write the “mini-mystery” books, and they’ve been more challenging. I’ve written science fiction and even a romance that stretched my creativity further. But I had the confidence that came from those first “formula” books.

    It sounds like your video game satire might be a good place to start. You have the patterns found in the levels of video games and that might make it easier to build, level by level (or Bird by Bird to cite Anne Lemott, as some else already did. King’s “On Writing” is very good as well.) You can do this. Your posts show you have the ability to communicate clearly and concisely. As Fred said, you just need to discipline yourself to make the time to accomplish the goal of that first book.

    • #35
  6. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Just dropping by to say I like this thread and I love Oklahoma City.

    • #36
  7. Ricochet Coolidge
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    Fred Cole would be a great intstructor, drill sergeant, or a demon in hell.  But yeah, I think he’s got it right.  :)

    I’m in the same boat as you Aaron.  It’s one of those things I want to do.  It may have to wait until I retire.  Per Fred’s adivise, you can see it takes quite a bit of one’s time.

    • #37
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Manny: I’m in the same boat as you Aaron. It’s one of those things I want to do.

    So, what are you doing on Ricochet? Get writing. You might not live to retire.

    • #38
  9. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Arahant: So, what are you doing on Ricochet?

    It would be wrong to write a novel on company time.

    • #39
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Casey:

    Arahant: So, what are you doing on Ricochet?

    It would be wrong to write a novel on company time.

    But not wrong to post on Ricochet? Hmmmn.

    • #40
  11. user_1938 Inactive
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Fred Cole: The other thing you must, must, MUST do is shut off that voice in your head that tells you what you’re writing is absolute [crap].  Its difficult, but you must tell that voice to shut up.  Frankly, it’s not your place to make that determination.  It doesn’t matter if you think its crap.  It doesn’t matter if its all been done before.  It matters if the person buying it likes it.  Period.  Don’t self censor.  Don’t self edit.  Let a professional editor do that.  You’re not a professional editor.  You’re the writer, so do the writing.  All writing is rewriting and you can fix any problems later.

    This, I think, is my primary hurdle. My creative thinking and critical thinking are active simultaneously, so I’m tearing it down before I’ve built it up. I need to edit less and write more, as you say. And I need to stop worrying about my ideas being unoriginal.

    • #41
  12. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Aaron Miller: And I need to stop worrying about my ideas being unoriginal.

    I have heard there are only seven basic plots and that all fiction is a variation on those seven.

    Seawriter

    • #42
  13. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    This isn’t my way, but you’ll see why I’m relaying this story.

    The director, etc., Kevin Smith started smoking marijuana at age 40.  The time since the he says has been the most productive of his professional life.  Why?  Because for him (and again, I’m not recommending this, I’m just relaying the story), marijuana puts that little voice inside his head to sleep.  It liberates him to do all kinds of stuff.  Some of its great and I’m sure some of its terrible.

    But the whole point is to tell that little voice to [expletive] off.  That is absolutely essential.  You absolutely cannot write otherwise.  What you write may be terrible.  That’s fine.  Have someone who actually knows tell you.  But you have to write it first.  Write, write, write, write, write.  And tell that voice to shut up.

    • #43
  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Aaron Miller: And I need to stop worrying about my ideas being unoriginal.

    Only about one person per century has an original idea. Have you ever read Thomas Kidd’s Spanish Tragedy? Shakespeare obviously did. The plot doesn’t have to be original, it’s how you write it, your choice of words, etc.

    • #44
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Fred Cole: What you write may be terrible. That’s fine. Have someone who actually knows tell you.

    That’s what friends are for.

    • #45
  16. Foxfier Inactive
    Foxfier
    @Foxfier

    Aaron Miller: My creative thinking and critical thinking are active simultaneously, so I’m tearing it down before I’ve built it up.

    Polishing it to death.

    This series on writing a novel in 13 weeks has a lot of baseline questions– and I believe at one point makes the case that bad advice is worse than none, if you feel like you have to follow it.

    • #46
  17. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @BallDiamondBall

    Arahant:

    Aaron Miller: And I need to stop worrying about my ideas being unoriginal.

    Only about one person per century has an original idea. Have you ever read Thomas Kidd’s Spanish Tragedy? Shakespeare obviously did. The plot doesn’t have to be original, it’s how you write it, your choice of words, etc.

    Ah, but what does a pig know of Sir Francis Bacon?

    • #47
  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Ball Diamond Ball: Ah, but what does a pig know of Sir Francis Bacon?

    The rasher thread is over here.

    • #48
  19. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    My daughter writes fan fiction.  She doesn’t have to invent the whole story; just tweak an existing one.  That might be an easy way to start.

    I read part of Stephen King’s book on how he writes.  He starts with an interesting premise or “fact” or person or event, and then discovers all the implications of that “fact” as he writes, as though the “fact” were an object buried, and he must dig it up and study it as would an archeologist would a dinosaur bone.  The author discovers the story along with the reader, in a sense.  Interesting approach.  (Also probably explains why I can’t make myself finish a single book he’s written, because the stories meander meaninglessly and never answer any of the questions that I have or resolve themselves the way I’d like.)

    • #49
  20. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Arahant:

    Ball Diamond Ball: Ah, but what does a pig know of Sir Francis Bacon?

    The rasher thread is over here.

    That of your five sound senses
    You never be forsaken,
    Nor wander from yourself with Tom
    Abroad to beg your bacon.

    (from Tom O’Bedlam’s song.)

    Seawriter

    • #50
  21. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Owen Findy: The author discovers the story along with the reader, in a sense.

    I think this is true to an extent of any good author. At some point, you have to quit fighting when the characters say, “I really need to go over here and do this.” When you quit fighting to have it your way and let your subconscious take the load, the results are often remarkable.

    In a related example, if one practices a certain method of poetry enough, the subconscious will start doing the work and the writer/speaker can just let it happen. Examples can be found in Renga and in limerick duels. At some point, you stop having to think about putting it in limerick form and it flows out perfectly.

    • #51
  22. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    EJHill:Everybody, I think, has one good story in them. The trick is making it two or more.

    Margaret Mitchell, at age 36, produced a tome that still sells in hardcover and paperback some 75 years later. But right up until her death 13 years later she never produced another work.

    There’s dozens and dozens of one-hit song writers. And even Orson Welles peaked at 26 with Citizen Kane.

    The crime would not be found in the subsequent failures, but how awful it would be if they didn’t produce that one perfect piece that made them famous.

    I don’t.

    • #52
  23. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Arahant:

    Fred Cole: What you write may be terrible. That’s fine. Have someone who actually knows tell you.

    That’s what friends are for.

    Depends on the friends.  I’ve shown a lot of stuff to a lot of people.  I’ve found about 5% of people actually have useful feedback.

    What I meant was that you should trust the judgement of professional editors.

    • #53
  24. Knotwise the Poet Member
    Knotwise the Poet
    @KnotwisethePoet

    Fred Cole:But the whole point is to tell that little voice to [expletive] off. That is absolutely essential. You absolutely cannot write otherwise. What you write may be terrible. That’s fine. Have someone who actually knows tell you. But you have to write it first. Write, write, write, write, write. And tell that voice to shut up.

    Brandon Sanderson, now one of the most popular fantasy novelists out there, wrote something like 10 novels before he finally wrote one that the publishers liked.  I think the lesson from that may be that it’s necessary to write several pieces of crap in order to get good enough to finally write something that sells.

    • #54
  25. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Knotwise the Poet:

    Fred Cole:But the whole point is to tell that little voice to [expletive] off. That is absolutely essential. You absolutely cannot write otherwise. What you write may be terrible. That’s fine. Have someone who actually knows tell you. But you have to write it first. Write, write, write, write, write. And tell that voice to shut up.

    Brandon Sanderson, now one of the most popular fantasy novelists out there, wrote something like 10 novels before he finally wrote one that the publishers liked. I think the lesson from that may be that it’s necessary to write several pieces of crap in order to get good enough to finally write something that sells.

    I wonder how many good things Dan Brown wrote before he sold his pieces of crap.

    • #55
  26. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Knotwise the Poet:

    Fred Cole:But the whole point is to tell that little voice to [expletive] off. That is absolutely essential. You absolutely cannot write otherwise. What you write may be terrible. That’s fine. Have someone who actually knows tell you. But you have to write it first. Write, write, write, write, write. And tell that voice to shut up.

    Brandon Sanderson, now one of the most popular fantasy novelists out there, wrote something like 10 novels before he finally wrote one that the publishers liked. I think the lesson from that may be that it’s necessary to write several pieces of crap in order to get good enough to finally write something that sells.

    Oh totes.  You need to crawl before you can run a marathon.  But the way to get better is to write.  Write, write, write, write, write, write, write.

    • #56
  27. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Fred Cole: Oh totes.

    How much time are you spending with Rob?

    • #57
  28. Fredösphere Inactive
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    Knotwise the Poet: I think the lesson from that may be that it’s necessary to write several pieces of crap in order to get good enough to finally write something that sells.

    My first novel (2nd draft now complete; will be ready for beta readers in a couple of months) was a NaNoWriMo project and I went with a silly idea rather than my first, most “important” idea. I’m so glad I did it that way; it gave me the freedom from having to write a masterpiece and get all balled up over the attendant anxiety.

    • #58
  29. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    EJHill: Everybody, I think, has one good story in them. The trick is making it two or more.

    It has been my view an author’s second book is generally their worst. I base that on my experience as a reviewer and as an author.

    Why?  Because an unpublished author pours everything they can into that first book. They throw in everything they can to get the book sold to a publisher.  Then, when the book is published the first-book author gets asked “what have you got we can publish next?” Often the author does a mental “homina-homina-homina” then throws together something as quickly as possible.

    Quality suffers.  Generally not enough to stink up the place enough to preclude a third book, but it does suffer some.  But as the author is putting together the second book they are thinking about the third, and have picked up some skills along the way.

    As for me?  My second book (Space Shuttle Launch System 1972-2004) has always been the slowest seller of all my books. I figure at least part of that is quality, as several of the other topics are more obscure.

    Seawriter

    • #59
  30. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Fred Cole: Depends on the friends. I’ve shown a lot of stuff to a lot of people. I’ve found about 5% of people actually have useful feedback.

    What I meant was that you should trust the judgement of professional editors.

    I know, Fred. I was being facetious. I’m not sure the percentage is as great as 5% unless you have the right kind of friends. I showed my writing to many people before getting it out there. Even in writer’s forums, most don’t know how to critique worth a hoot in a hailstorm. It’s why I came up with my critiquing guide years ago and have been refining it ever since. It was also the impetus for my writing tips book project, which is semi-published on the Web. Even when I told people what I was doing and trying to achieve, they wanted something else. I may even have written a bit about that.

    You are right that leaving that to a professional editor is the way to go, preferably one who is buying the work for publication. (See Heinlein’s rules that Seawriter posted.)

    • #60
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