Plotting and Writing a (Perfect) Novel

I’ve thought a lot about how to approach this post. I mean, what IS a perfect novel anyway. And perhaps that is the point. There really is no such thing. One person’s masterpiece may be unreadable by another person.

That also raises the question, “Should a writer simply be trying to write the novel everyone wants?”

To that question, I guess I can only say, why not, but then, who is Everyone? We all want success so why not write something that will be popular?

The thing is, while I am able to write in multiple genres, the trick for me is to actually CARE about the story I’m writing. If I don’t have some sort of connection to it, I know the story will be bland and uninteresting. I could go and spend days in the book store and library researching what books are selling best, what genre they are in and how they were written and then try to create a carbon copy of the recipe, but would I enjoy the process and like the outcome? And would others like it either?

I have heard several writers say they write their books for a specific audience. Usually themselves, so if they are happy with the book, they don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. That can be creatively satisfying, but ultimately, how many copies of your own book can you buy and will that actually be earning any money for yourself?

Questions you need to ask to determine if you are actually writing for pleasure or with some sort of business/career goal in mind. If your ambitions lean more to the latter, you will need to pay some attention to your expected (paying) audience.

That means knowing what they are looking for and write something you can invest yourself in that can still be considered commercially viable.

This is where the research should come in.

You can do it a number of ways, I suppose. Talk to people and find out what they are reading. Look at what publishers are selling in the genre, either via Internet searches or by visiting book stores and libraries. See what agents are interested in buying.

Then it is time to figure out what you are going to write.

Some people are discovery writers – they start with a main idea and/or character and just write. Others are plotters and must have the entire story planned before writing it.

Whatever method(s) you use, understand that even if you do write a fantastic book, you still need to make people aware of it. Notice, I said ‘fantastic’ and not perfect.

Make the effort to have beta readers go through your book with a fine-toothed comb. Ensure your beta readers are NOT your mother and best friends. Find people you can trust to tell you what works and what doesn’t.

Make those changes and get an editor involved to help you polish your work to a fine shine.

Then, and only then, should you start sending it out to publishers and agents. You want them to see you as a professional. Your book or story doesn’t need to be perfect for that. Just honed and empty of obvious mistakes. Ensure your query when sending out your work is clear, concise and what the recipient is looking for. (we will talk about that in a later post).

That might be enough to get you published. If you are really fortunate, you might even set the standard for a given genre. But your work will never be perfect.

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Radio Plays & Serialized Stories

When I was a kid, we only ever listened to one radio station. It was a local station that played round-the-clock country music.

Not a terrible thing, but also not something that gave me any real exposure to the broader pleasures radio could bring.

It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered radio plays. In fact, I think the first one I ever listened to was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (BBC – Douglas Adams). To this day, that story is one of my favorites and definitely defines my sense of humour.

Then I discovered (this time, only a scant few years ago) Decoder Ring Theatre. I reveled in the wonderful stories and excellent production values I found there. In fact, I still do. But above all, I realized how much I liked the serialized story form.

And so, I wrote GalaxyBillies as a serialized story/podcast. It went out every two weeks without fail and, while it was harder than I ever expected, I loved doing it.

When it was done, I wrote (and again, podcast) Boyscouts of the Apocalypse. You might accuse me of being lazier with that story because I didn’t do a full-cast podcast (which GalaxyBillies was) and you would probably be right. Still, I’m proud of the story and glad I will be releasing it in eBook form in the next several months.

And now, I’m working on Champ McKay, Texas Space Ranger, which is probably more true to the old-time serialized radio plays than anything else I’ve ever done. I had originally intended for Champ McKay to be the bonus material for my newsletter. Unfortunately, people don’t seem very interested in yet another author newsletter, so only a handful of people have ever signed up (and I love those of you who did).

That means, only a small number of people have ever read the first episode of Champ McKay and that made me sad. Sad because I came to really like the character that Champ is.

So, I’ve put the first episode up on Wattpad. But I also want to ensure that, those of you who haven’t experienced Wattpad before can find the story there. Wattpad is free to use and I am purposely making the episodes bite-sized for quick consumption.

I hope you will take a look. Champ is too good a guy not to share. :)

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Writing (Perfect) Beginnings

Last week I talked a bit about how I wanted to be a perfect writer when I first seriously started trying to get published.

That resulted in excessively long timelines to get anything done and probably much more stress than I ever wanted or needed. But I’m not talking about being a perfect writer today (or for that matter, trying to be one).

No. Instead, I’m talking about Perfect Beginnings and trying to create them. Why? Because I’m sure many of you have read the same books I have. You know the ones – they talk about how critically important it is to have an engaging first sentence/paragraph/scene/chapter?

So, having read that bit of advice and because the first sentence is…well first, I set out to create the best first sentence ever. The problem was, I hadn’t written any other part of the story. Sure, I had plotted most of it. Sure, I had character sketches of most of the characters.

So, I wrote the first sentence over and over again. Every time I thought I had it and tried writing the second sentence I realized it still wasn’t right. And when I got past the second sentence, usually the third proved troublesome.

It took me a long time (two years – I’m a very slow learner) to realize the problem wasn’t necessarily me nor was it the story. The problem was I was writing a line for a story I still didn’t really understand. When I finally realized the problem (and it was by accident, let me tell you), I smacked myself thoroughly in the head and moved on.

By the time I got to the end of the book, I knew exactly what I wanted to say at the beginning. And the beautiful thing was, I could write it then and know it fit.

Was it perfect? Heck no, but it was a great start to the story.

It also made me rethink my obsession with writing everything linearly. I now know I can write scenes out-of-order providing I keep a good handle on the story.

How about you? Do you have any horror stories about first line/first paragraph/first whatever? I’d love to hear about them.

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