THE RESEARCH MAGNIFICENT, by H.G. Wells, author of The War of the Worlds. Published 1915. Not only is this book a first edition; it is a ONE HUNDRED YEAR OLD first edition. One hundred years! This book has been around longer than most people alive today! It is a crazy and wonderful and thrilling thing to me to hold this artifact from another time in my hands, to inhale the smell of ink and yellow pages and think of those who may have read it before me. And best of all: I found it secondhand for $2.99. $ 2 . 9 9 !11!1!!1!!!!! </end geekout>
Ideas are work.
More than once I have started down the path of a story idea and come up against major obstacles. “Ugh, that’s too trope-y,” or “No, that reminds me too much of [other book].” And you know what it’s tempting to do when you hit a big picture snag like that? Write the whole idea off. Because, who wants to waste time developing something problematic at its very foundation?
But here’s the thing.
“Obstacles” can be gotten round. “Problems” can be solved. X has already been done before? Big whoop. What’s new? (Certainly not the grievance that it’s all been done before.) Y is a hackneyed cliché that you’ll eat paste and die before subscribing to? Clichés are as old as time raised your ancestors, but they still managed to invent things. So do we.
My point is this: when you recognize a problem with an idea, that is not just cause for casting the idea away. That is cause for putting the problem under your microscope, studying it, and accepting it as your first creative challenge.
If the core of your idea, if the thing that first sparked it is original and raw and excites you, it is worth breaking rocks for.
What is the spark/heart/core of your idea? The spark is often the first thing about the idea that came to you. It could be a concept, a scene, a phrase, a spoken line. It is the thing from which everything else unfolds. It is the one essential, non-negotiable bone of your story (And here is what has been a recent revelation for me: Especially in the planning stages, most of your story is negotiable). If you can isolate the spark, you can carry it through different permutations until you find the pieces it fits with.
That’s not to say you mightn’t need to put an idea down for a while and let it sit, get some distance and perspective—but if you have your spark, and you can pinpoint your concerns—even the big picture ones—you can creative your way around them. Give them a twist. Come up with something else. Try new pieces on, cast old ones away or rearrange them.
But if the spark of your story grabs you, for fiction’s sake, don’t throw it out!
- Read 52+ books.
- Attend 3-5 readings.
- Beta read for at least two new people.
- Read at least one new book on the craft of writing.
- Freewrite and do more exercises when not actively novel writing.
- Revise Project A until next stage.
- Revise Project B until next stage.
- Plot, research for, and begin writing new book. Ideally finish first draft this year (though that may depend on how/where things go with A and B).
- Pursue new experiences (which feed the pen).
- Volunteer at local book festival.
Supporting Characters Don’t Exist
by Kate Scott
I know Julie Israel in real life, sort of. We’re in the same writing critique group. We’ve met face to face numerous times. I’ve read her fiction. She’s read mine. We’ve talked about writing, and we’ve traded book recommendations. But I don’t know anything else about her.
We aren’t friends. We’re barely even acquaintances. All I know about Julie is the fiction she invents, and she doesn’t know anything about me beyond what I write. My lack of knowledge regarding Julie’s life doesn’t mean she doesn’t have one, though. I’m quite certain Julie is in no way a one-dimensional person. She feels a myriad of emotions every day. She has hopes, fears, dreams, and regrets. She has to. She’s human.
If I were to write a story about my life, Julie would be lucky to make anything more than a brief cameo. If she even appeared at all, it would be unlikely for her to receive a name. Julie isn’t a major player in the Kate Scott story. She barely qualifies as a member of my supporting cast. Yet, she exists all the same, fully formed and infinitely complex. Funny how reality works that way.
I’m a fiction writer, not a memoirist. My YA novel, Counting to D, tells the story of a girl named Samantha Wilson. Samantha’s life is complicated. She has hopes, fears, dreams, and regrets. But so does everyone else in her world. As an author, it’s my job to remember that.
Characters, both large and small, enter stories for a purpose, and each scene needs to move the story forward. Writing in first person, it’s easy to get caught up in the life of the main character and to think of the other characters as nothing more than animated props. But one-dimensional people aren’t real, and one-dimensional characters shouldn’t be either.
Minor characters need to have their own lives with their own problems. Sometimes, those problems intersect with the main characters’ and make it into the narrative, and sometimes, they don’t. But their lives always dictate who the characters are and how they interact with the people around them.
One of my absolute favorite characters in Counting to D is a girl named Kaitlyn Banks. At the beginning of the story, Kaitlyn is introduced as a mean popular girl, and it would have been very easy for me to keep her that way. But as an author, I found myself asking the same question every time Kaitlyn walked onto the page: “Why is this chick such a bitch?” Once I figured out the answer to that question, my story’s stereotypical villain became a beautifully complex character with a subplot all to herself.
As a general rule, I require myself to make every single character in my books significant enough to receive a name and their own character arc. Granted, some of these character arcs are smaller than others, and they may unfold in only a few sentences. But together, they weave a larger and more compelling story.
Counting to D is about Sam, but Sam doesn’t live in a vacuum. The people around her help shape who she is. More importantly, the people around her are people. I’ll say it again: one-dimensional people are mythical creatures that don’t exist in real life and shouldn’t appear in fiction either.
Julie might not know me any better than I know her, but just as I’ve read for her, she’s read Counting to D. The first thing she said to me after she finished it was, “You write really great supporting characters.” I accepted her statement as a compliment, even though I knew she was wrong. I don’t write supporting characters at all. I can’t—because there’s no such thing.
There’s no right, wrong, or even singular answer to this question—I’m just curious to see where other writers have found inspiration.
A story’s conception is a curious thing. For me it is almost always different. Sometimes it begins with a prompt (duct tape + drunken cheerleader + ninja + Bally Total Fitness); sometimes with a dream (shapeshifting / doppelgangers / manipulating appearance); sometimes with a sentence (“Going to see the secret eater was like going to confessional, except the secret eater was not a holy man and those that came did not seek forgiveness.”); sometimes with a concrete object (pearl earrings); sometimes with an idea (madness); sometimes with a character trait (ridiculous swears); sometimes with a name (Anne De Manda & Peter McBunterbeans—coined after my friend Amanda and her rabbit Peter, both of whom were proximate at the time).
Sometimes one, none, or all of the above.
How about you: where do you draw or have you drawn your stories from? Do you find one source/starting point to be more common than another?
Happy Friday! For today’s writing forum I want to talk DRAFTS, as in, how many drafts do you go through before your book is “finished”– or at least good enough to start submitting?
I’m not the first person to ask this question (though I may be the first to apply her crude Photoshop skills to it)– I found many insightful author responses on Karen Woodward’s blog, on Nanowrimo, and on countless other forums. It seems everyone has a different process; this is just another of the many items that makes novel writing so open-ended and thrilling.
One of my goals this week was to spend an hour a day researching web hosts and domain registrars in order to eventually get an author website up and running.
But halfway through the week I thought: hang on. I haven’t posted anything discussing why I decided to invest in an author website!
So I did a little brainstorming and came up with five reasons having an author website would be a good move lickity-split:
- Professional face. This means appearing more legitimate to readers and perhaps more importantly (especially for first-time authors) to potential agents and publishers. Why?
- Agents like to see that a writer already has a successful platform (a following/online presence)—or at least, has taken the initiative to set one up and is willing to do his/her share in promotional work. This increases your chance of finding representation and/or making a book deal!
- A personal website is a place to sell your work.
- A personal website is a place to showcase your work. If somebody likes one of your books, and they go online to look you up—oh, what’s this? You wrote another book? Voilà, another potential sale. Alternatively, somebody hears your name somewhere, goes to look you up, checks out some of your books—hey! That looks like something they’d read. Boom: another sale, or at least expanded awareness.
- Look up your favorite authors. They have a website, don’t they? That should be your first indication.
These are five simple reasons—but of course, there’s more to it than those alone and several experienced gurus give additional reasons as well as more thorough explanations below:
- Lit Agent Janet Friedman lists three specific reasons why it’s good to have an author website even if you’re unpublished.
- Writer Patrick Samphire gives a well-rounded reasons for/reasons against having an author website. Spoiler alert: he is for one, and provides five very good reasons why.
- Publishing Trends and The Codex Group put out a helpful article on what role the author’s website can have: emphasis on building an audience, being findable on the internet (and therefore not missing out on potential sales), and tips on what makes an author website effective.
What are your thoughts on the author website? Any other reasons in favor of (or against) author websites us writers should consider?
Attention, aspiring authors! Nanowrimo and The Book Doctors are accepting entries for their third annual Pitchapalooza until February 28. Now’s your chance to get your novel pitch professionally critiqued AND, if you’re the one lucky winner, be introduced to just the agent you and your book need!
Here’s how it works: you get up to 250 words to pitch your book. Twenty-five pitches are randomly selected and posted online, along with critiques, so everyone can read them and learn from them. The pros pick a winner from the 25 to get an introduction to an agent and the crowd favorite wins a one-hour consultation with the Book Doctors.
Check out the Pitchapalooza webpage for full details as well a list of 10 tips from the Book Doctors on pitch-crafting.
I just submitted my latest and most polished ~200-word pitch yesterday, and now that I’ve met that deadline I want to share with you, in brief, just a few of the things I’ve learned about writing a pitch (the kind that appears in a query letter) for a novel in the last couple weeks:
1. Simple is best. Prevent glazy eye: be concise! For your pitch you want to boil your story down to its most basic elements and simplify, simplify, simplify. Use tight sentences. Name only your most central character(s). The easier your pitch is to follow, the better you keep an agent’s attention and interest.
2. Hit the core elements. To paraphrase agent Janet Reid, your pitch should address these points: 1) Who is the protagonist? 2) What choice does he/she face? 3) What is at stake?
To paraphrase Hallie Ephron: 1) Name your MC 2) Name your MC’s problem, desire, or goal 3) Cite the bad guy, obstacle or situation that stands in between your MC and his/her resolution.
Finally, be sure to name your book and its genre!
3. Include comparative or “comp” titles. There is SO much info out there on this that I think it deserves its own post. Basically, comparative titles are books similar to yours you include at the end of the query **not** strictly for the sake of comparison (i.e., don’t boast about how awesome your book is) but to demonstrate that there is a successful market for books like yours. Also, including comp titles shows you have done your homework. I recommend checking out agent Chip Macgregor’s explanation for more.
Enter Pitchapalooza before February 28. Otherwise, good luck with your pitches and queries, and check back for future posts as I jaunt on through this process myself!
Happy Forum Friday! Today’s question is less business and more personal: When did you know what you wanted to be a writer?
Personally, I’m somewhat iffy on believing in callings, but I feel I have always known I wanted to be a writer.
If I had to point to single revelation it would probably be this:
In elementary school I was reading Megan’s Island by Willo Davis Roberts. It was a page-turner, I remember, and vivid: I can still see the image of a girl tentatively reaching for an overturned canoe to check beneath it.
In fact, it was as I was reading the passage in which that happened that somebody called to me, interrupting the story, and I looked up from the book. Then, when I looked back down and saw text on the page, I realized: though words were what was before me, they were not what I was seeing. The writing, as I read over it, came to life: transported me. I was there, watching the story play out.
That’s when I knew writing was magic. It bewildered me then, it bewilders me now, and well– what kind of person would I be if I didn’t pursue that fascination?