Long ago, I decided there were only three generic human stories: (1) the love story, in all its multifaceted dimensions (romantic, family, brotherly/sisterly, lust, apple pie, etc.); (2) good versus evil; and, (3) the quest (to find the Northwest Passage, the Holy Grail, the purpose of life). One of the categories becomes the main plot, and the other two become subplots. Now, you just have to write the novel!
It’s best if your life experiences dictate your choice of plots/subplots, since that level of understanding will show through in the writing. However, you can concoct a plot from observation, reading and research, as I did with the technological plot of Lightning’s Child.
At this point, there are many different roadmaps. I like to start by writing a lengthy synopsis of the plot, and then creating detailed character sketches. I form images of my characters in my mind, drawing upon real people I know, or have seen. A writer has to make the characters real, so the reader can visualize how they look, dress, talk, walk and think.
Next, I construct an outline, and add to its detail as I write. Some writers warn against this, saying it locks you into a formula. But, I’ve found that the outline provides general guidance and tends to change itself the more you write.
It’s important you choose the right point of view, meaning the one that feels most natural to you. I’ve never tried first person. I have used third person limited point of view, but I prefer omniscient.
You begin by treating writing like a job, which it is. Write every day, whether you feel like it or not; whether you keep any of the writing or not. No other workers are blocked — not teachers, garbage-haulers, truck drivers, surgeons or soldiers. Many people go to work every day sick, depressed and hung over. If you allege that you’re blocked, it’s tantamount to saying that you’re either lazy or don’t really have a story to tell.
Avoid using passive voice whenever possible. Use a wide variety of synonyms. Read other writers you admire and analyze (don’t copy) their style until you form one that best suits you.
Put aside your first draft. I’ve done this for several months, even longer than a year, while I moved on to another project. When you do return to the manuscript, analyze it ruthlessly, as if your worst enemy created it. Rearrange it, chop it, add to it; there is salvation in re-writing and editing.
Find an objective content editor/proofreader and listen to their analysis and advice, even if you have to grit your teeth while doing so.
When you’re ready to publish, you have a final hard choice to make. Should you seek out an agent to present your book to a traditional publisher; or, should you self-publish? There are many factors involved in making this decision, including the nature and quality of your work, and the requirements of the marketplace. If you are a young, emerging writer, I recommend the first option. A publisher can provide the services, support and contacts necessary to make your work a success, while allowing you to focus on writing.
Michael A. Smith is the author of six published novels, all described on his Website, www.goodnovels.org. He began his career as a newspaper reporter, and was editor of the Golden, Colorado Daily Transcript. He also was Associate Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Press Secretary, Congressman Richard Durbin. He is a member of the Authors Guild.
Lightning’s Child is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1FU3iXA