It’s just you and a blank screen waiting to make a great story or novel. You’re not writing a report for your boss, a dissertation for your teacher, or fulfilling your client’s business need. It’s just you. How wonderful!
Or is it? You are your toughest client. When faced with writing whatever you want, suddenly the ideas flee like dust motes in a sun beam. How do you reign them back to your fingertips and make a cohesive tale? It’s challenging no matter where you are in your writing career, but even more so when you’re starting out.
In a college creative writing course, my professor had us dissect a story so we could understand how is was constructed. I couldn’t relate to the story and the mechanics were lost on me because they had no relevance to my likes or experiences. Years later, I turned this exercise to a more personal approach and finally had my ah-ha moment (thanks Oprah) and moved from thinking about writing and actually wrote a novel.
1. First I pulled out a legal size notepad and in about 3 minutes, listed every book I had recently read off the top of my head. I included books I loved as well as a few I didn’t care for and didn’t finish. That was column one.
2. Next, I quickly marked whether I liked the book and listed a simple reason as to why. That was column two.
3. column three dug a bit deeper and began to reveal a pattern.
Here’s an example:
The Spellman Files (Lisa Lutz)
Liked-Quirky Characters/Quirky voice
I liked how the author pulled me in by giving some of the story line through the investigation reports Isabel Spellman, the main character would write. Isabel is so ingrained with the private investigator mentality that she has trouble relating to people in any normal sense. This sets her up for unusual and funny situations. I also like the use of San Francisco settings in the story line, having visited SF, I felt right at home with the Spellmans.
Looking over my list, there was a clear pattern of likes and dislikes in my reading material. My original list had a lot of science fiction and a handful of mysteries. Today, the list is a broader, eclectic mix of non-fiction, mystery and literary fiction.
I learned the types of characters that held my interest while reading, personality traits, genres, tone, etc. That’s when I knew what type of novels not only would I enjoy writing, but also exactly the novel I should be writing.
If you tried this exercise, what did you learn? Do you have mostly mysteries like me, or is your list based squarely in a particular ethnic culture which shapes the plot?
Notice the settings of these novels. How are they tied to the character and genre? They can influence the setting, but think about how the setting can influence your characters and your plot.
Now is when the pen hits the page, the fingers to the keyboard and the real excitement starts.
There is a reason best selling authors are best selling authors. If you take the time to understand how they go about writing a successful novel, then you can shape your own writing that will spark passion in your readers.