Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Basics of Writing

The dream of many writers, both young and old, is to one day walk into a bookstore and see their published novel sitting on a shelf. But, this dream is often smashed through ignorance and a lack of realization on just how difficult the publishing industry is.

I am working towards submitting a novel manuscript to Tor | Forge. This journey started when I was somewhere between ten or twelve years old and I picked up a copy of A Wrinkle in Time. Until I picked up this book, I was functionally illiterate. Sure, I could sort of read and write, but I had no interest in it. I was more interested in seeing how far I could hit a softball or trying to determine just how high one really could jump when using a trampoline. I am entirely unsure how my parents survived my antics, or even how I survived them unscathed. But, I owe a great deal of thanks to Madeleine L'Engle for doing what an author does: writing.

In the years since I first picked up a pen and begged my mother for notebook paper on which to write, I learned one thing painfully quick. In truth, I knew nothing at all about writing. In a detour that did me far more good than not, I began to read every fantasy novel I could get my grummy paws on. My first piece of advice to those who wish to write? Read, read, read. Then, just as you feel that your brain is full to capacity, please read some more. Learn from the mistakes of the published. Learn to identify what errors that they do not make.

Then, lay your own writing out before you and compare it to those who have come before you. There are reasons that these writers are published and you are not. This is a very good first step.

This blog is not meant to make you feel happy. I will try to be as blunt and honest with you as possible, because these are my experiences. These posts will also delve into resources that I find extremely useful. As a writer, I do a great deal of research. The blame for this is on my work as a freelance author. While I am specialized in search engine optimization, I have ghost written several non-fiction books. Unfortunately, due to the very nature of ghost writing, I cannot mention the titles of these books. However, I will say, if you do not have a high threshold for punishment, avoid the freelance market like the plague. You will make more money at McDonald's.

Because I am interested in the science fiction and fantasy fields, this blog will be specialized towards providing information on these two genres.

Back to the meat of the subject: writing. If you wish to be published, there is one very important thing that you must have: a manuscript. When editors discuss a book or a short story, the term manuscript will come up often. Manuscript format is often intimidating for those who are not familiar with it. Every publishing house has their own guidelines for submission, as well as their own opinion on what manuscript format is. Here is Wikipedia's entry on the manuscript format. Here is Tor | Forge's submission guidelines. I suggest you read both and make yourself comfortable with them. There will be a future post dedicated to the manuscript format, but this is a good start. Tor | Forge is very clear about what they want. Not all publishers are, so beware.

Do not feel like you need to write your novel in manuscript format. There is time for formatting after the story is written if you do not have a firm grasp on the right formatting yet.

If you want to write a novel but have not started yet, I suggest that you learn the basics of plotting. While many successful novelists can write a draft without a plot line, knowing how a plot functions is a fundamental part of writing a marketable novel. Even if you do not write the plot line explicitly, you need to ensure that the elements of a good story are present.

Yes, if you clicked the above link that reads plot line, you will quickly determine that it is referring to plays and screenwriting. This is intentional. Your novel may have many plot lines, but every line you draw should reach some form of logical conclusion and contain the elements found within, even if they are not necessarily meant for science fiction and fantasy. Every good book, no matter the genre, has the elements of the plot line as described above.

If you have the basics of a plot line, characters that your reader can associate, and a strong desire to succeed, novel writing is far from impossible. However, expect the journey to be long and hard. You will fall down. What matters is that you get back up and try again.

For now, I leave you with Writer's Beware. Writer's Beware is a part of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or the SFWA. If you are interested in publishing, have a manuscript, and want to see your work in print, this site is for you.

I will be doing a future post dedicated to Writer's Beware, as well as the scams that you may encounter on your journey towards publication.

For now, I leave you with a decent supply of reading material. Enjoy!

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