If you like playing God and sadly you are not Amitabh Bachchan of God Tussi Great Ho or Morgan Freeman of Bruce Almighty then becoming an author is perfect for you. An author creates characters, plans their lives, decides the number of breaths they take, dictates each and every of their teeniest action; an author can carry the characters to spinning heights or hurl them to the ground and show no mercy. Strong words, powerful imagery but with every power comes responsibility – towards the plot, character growth and conflict resolutions. Drop any one of these and what you get is a fumbling incomplete story. Mesh them together and you just about wrote your first bestseller. Here I’d like to reiterate what I wrote in my earlier post ‘Plotting a story’, ‘telling a story is easy, writing it to make publication worthy is TOUGH! But tough in no way implies IMPOSSIBLE’
Not conceiving a story, not editing a manuscript, not marketing my books - for me writing a book I consider the best part of my job. The most thrilling part, the soul satisfying essence of this profession! And this is what I’m most excited about sharing with you all. So without any delay let’s dive straight into it. Let’s write a book!
Okay here it comes!
Now it’s definitely coming.
Okay here’s the first word
I’m simply laughing because you dared to think writing a story was easy. Not easy! Not impossible. It simply requires a lot, and a lot and some more of one of those P’s I mentioned in my earlier articles (you would know if you read my earlier posts). :) This P stands for practice.
If you want to dive straight in writing a 300 page book then don’t let me stop you. However, writing a 300 page novel would be easier if you practiced writing 30 ten page short stories before. The idea being practice writing first. Write a few scenes. Write a plot. Write some long character descriptions. But write!
There is no magic book that will tell it all but there are some tips that I can share with you that might help you when writing.
Before writing the book I usually think through 90% of the story especially the climax. With the climax in place, I start back tracking the story to make sure the obvious loopholes are covered, questions answered. In a week or two of thinking, debating and a lot of mental back and forth over characters, their dependency on each other, and scene development I have a rough plot of a story. Somewhere there is where I find my starting point. Like for example - for Right Fit Wrong Shoe I had two decided plot premises in place before I began to write, Nandini and Sneha’s friendship and Aditya Sarin’s character (a clarification -The reason I mostly use my books as examples is because for those I need no permissions nor am I infringing on anyone’s copyright issues.) Below listed are certain things every story deals with:
Plot: is a series of events within a story. One book can have several plots. However even two separate plots in a book have to have a common point otherwise they would leave the reader confused. Plot pace is extremely important to every story. Nothing stifles a story more than a plot that goes nowhere. So always pay attention to the plots and their pace.
Conflict: Every story needs a conflict. In fiction if it’s all good it’s boring. Conflicts in a story creates friction, heightens tension and evokes reactions amongst the protagonists and readers. For example in Right Fit Wrong Shoe Aditya’s anger for Nandini was the main conflict. It brought out different emotions in Aditya, Nandini and Sneha.
Character growth: is very important to every character. Just like time changes with every second your characters too cannot remain constant. As the plot progresses your characters have to show a journey. For example in my second book Xcess Baggage, in the beginning Meghna’s character was meek and usually submissive. However when her life was in peril she fought to survive even if it meant she had to challenge someone she was so strongly attracted to. However in the end Meghna did eventually resign herself to her fate thereby she went back to her meek, submissive self. So you see the full circle her character does in the book – submissive then defiant then rebellious and then back to submissive. Byron’s character too started in the book as someone wanting to kill Meghna however in the end he wants her to live. A definite character growth!
In my upcoming book Wrong Means Right End you will find all the elements I just mentioned above. As an exercise, pick up any of your favorite book dissect it like something in a Petri dish and pay special attention to plots, conflicts and character growth.
Now lets talk about the WOW factor (self coined term) very crucial to any writing.
Words – Your words will decide the magnitude of impact your story is going to have on its readers. Big words do not necessarily show your prowess as a writer. You may win a few scrabble games with that but not necessarily write best sellers. Make your words crisp, simple and riveting. Avoid passive voice and go for active. Only use passive voice when required. Short sentences read tight and engage the reader better. Also try and avoid repetition of words. The words I tend to overuse are simply and almost. That’s the first thing I usually correct in my self edits. :)
Organize your story to make sure there is an even flow of plots and subplots. Organize your characters, timelines and locations in a concise manner with no loopholes or incomplete and awkward spaces in your story.
Word count- Any manuscript of 50,000 or more words is considered a fiction novel. There are usually 300 -400 words on each page. In MS word click on Tools and then click on word count which will give you the numbers of words in your manuscript. Be prepared that when you write your first draft it might go up to 80,000 words. Nothing to worry about! Believe me you are going to chop of a large chunk of your manuscript in your first self-edit itself.
Few other tips:
Romances are usually written in third voice.
Shorter chapters make for better read as well as heighten tension in a story.
Some tips for your manuscript: Double-spacing and 1-inch margins all around. Usually editors prefer a Courier 12 sized font.
There are several books in the market on how to write fiction. You could try reading some of them. I haven’t used any of these so I can’t really recommend one specific book. However you should definitely read books in the genre you want to write to get some tips and learn some vital things. But please never plagiarize!
So all the best in your writings. Hope you find this post helpful. Do read this post several times and try to absorb its essence. Take notes and feel free to send me all your queries related to how to write. Incase I missed something crucial your questions might help me cover that. Please do not forget to comment.
On a side note, I’m quite excited to share with you all that Wrong Means Right End, the sequel to my debut best seller is available for pre-order. Visit the following links to order your copy of the first limited edition. You don’t have to but if you do, thank you in advance. Please do spread the word and once again best of luck to you. Like I said, writing a book is not easy and not impossible so write away! :)
Before we dive deeper in this topic I would like to mention something. All my posts in the ‘You are not born a writer, you become one!’ series are an attempt to help aspiring authors make finished or unfinished manuscripts publication worthy. If you are someone who writes for their own reading pleasure, you don’t have to put your work or yourself through this grind. Moving on….
‘One day I decide to make Shepherd’s pie. I go online and search for that recipe. Then I go to the grocery store. There I find and purchase most of the ingredients. To find out where I can get the remaining ingredients, I seek the guidance of the shopkeeper who tells me of a store few miles away. On my way to that store, I stop for directions at a PCO (for those not from India–PCOs or Public Call Offices are phone booths from where one can make local and international calls. They are usually run by smaller shopkeepers). Some random guy standing outside the PCO with heavily oiled hair, wearing a maroon shirt, slightly stained white pants, smoking gold flake (Indian brand cigarettes) and having crimson teeth from recently chewed betel leaves, gives me additional pointers to find this new store. I reach the other grocery store and complete my shopping list. I get home and make the pie which takes most of my afternoon and evening. I invite a friend over for dinner. She having eaten the Sheperd’s pie before, compliments me with an offhand remark that it is as good as the one she had in her last trip to northern England and Scotland.’
What I just did by writing that seemingly meaningless paragraph above was to introduce you all to something very important to any publication worthy fiction writing. The element of REAL! Even a fiction book has to sound real to connect with its readers. And this ‘real’ you achieve from research. You can make up characters, stories and events but you cannot achieve the real in your book by sheer imagination. And if you are planning to write a book with
characters that sound fake and descriptions that ring hollow, you might as well save yourself the trouble and not write that one.:) However as I know you are in this for ‘real’, lets keep moving.
Now in the copy paste of the same paragraph I shall mark out all the research undertaken.
‘One day I decide to make Shepherd’s pie. I go online (research on web) and search for that recipe. Then I go to the grocery store and purchase most of the ingredients. To find out where I can get the remaining ingredients, I seek the guidance of the shopkeeper who tells me of a store few miles away. On my way to that store (physical or in person research) I stop for directions at a PCO (for those not from India–PCO or Public Call Offices are phone booths from where you can make local and international calls. They are usually run by smaller shopkeepers). Some random guy standing outside the PCO with heavily oiled hair, wearing a maroon shirt, slightly stained white pants, smoking gold flake (Indian brand cigarettes) and having crimson teeth from recently chewed betel leaves, give me some pointers to find this new store. I reach the other grocery store and complete my shopping list. I get home and make the pie which takes most of my afternoon and evening. I invite a friend over for dinner. She having eaten the Sheperd’s pie before, compliments me with an offhand remark that it is as good as the one she had in her last trip to northern England and Scotland.’ (online research required to figure out where Shepherd’s Pie originated. The website used.
Now do pay attention to the person I described hanging outside the PCO. Why did he sound so believable even though he is completely imaginary? It is because he sounded ‘real’. One can easily spot people dressed in the above mentioned manner doing things that he was doing, around and near small shops. Now imagine if I had put Sachin Tedulkar outside a PCO. Would you have bought it? No! Why not? Sachin Tendulkar is a person, he is as real as real can get. Agreed! But what was wrong was the character placement. Mr. Cricket God in an airport, a fancy restaurant or a cricket event we would have bought but outside a small PCO smoking and chewing betel leaves in stained white pants? Good lord, no! My point being, even for an imaginary character the element of REAL is imperative.
Let me share my own example with you. I’m quite a fashion challenged person. However in my debut book, Right Fit Wrong Shoe, the male protagonist Aditya Sarin, was an affluent, brand conscious dude. Thus with gusto I immersed myself in thick fashion magazines and took copious notes. That was the research demanded by character authenticity. I researched on brands of expensive cars, motorbikes, clothes, shoes etc. At that time, armed with all that info., I could have put quite a few personal stylists to the rich and famous out of jobs. Oh well! :)
Next came, my second book Xcess Baggage which dabbled with the paranormal. Thus a person like I am, easily spooked by creaking doors and fluttering curtains, snuck and spent hours in public libraries seeking a new kind of ghost. A ghost/spirit supported by scriptures and other
non-fiction material. Amongst all the supernatural beings I read about, I
decided to go with Russalka, a mythological Slavic water nymph known to live in lakes and rivers.
A very popular case in example being James Bond – Mr. Bond is a fictional character with unbelievably fancy women and gadgets. However his drink, a vodka martini ‘shaken not stirred’ is very much an actual cocktail. So again in a fictional character you find elements of real. To quote my earlier post ‘authenticity is what makes your readers connect with your character and the story. That connection is an umbilical cord between the author and his or her target audience.’
Research for a book can also be required for places, location descriptions, weather conditions and several other things that go into enhancing the very important aspect of authenticity in your book. Research is extremely important for period dramas or any kind of timelines you might mention in your book.
Book related research can be divided in two parts. A certain amount of research is required before writing a book based on the premise of your story, and the other for fact checking when you are editing your finished manuscript. A very important writer’s etiquette; please make sure to credit the source you are using as a reference. If you are using another writer’s work please do not forget to acquire their permission before using their work.
Research maybe one of the most boring words in the dictionary to you, like it is to me yet it is this very boring word which is going to make your book so darn interesting. Therefore do not shy from it. Embrace it and use it to churn out your first or next best seller. The best!
A sincere request! I appreciate and love all the emails I receive after you all read my posts, but what I would really look forward to are comments on the blog. Writing these posts, trying to give out maximum possible information in the most interesting manner I can, takes a lot of my time and focused thinking. So please don’t shy from commenting. Without these comments I feel like I’m rambling. And rambling is something I would rather not indulge in on cyber space :))
Every minute has a story to tell. Every hour has thousands of stories to tell. A discarded toy has a tale of its own, a broken glass has something to say, a ring on a woman’s finger, a gun in a case, a drink in a glass, a frown on a person’s forehead sitting across from you…..they all have a story to tell. WE ALL HAVE A STORY TO TELL. A STORY TO WRITE. Written words that can make others think, laugh, cry, moon or swoon. Your written words!
But how do you write a story?
Do you write using lyrical words? Do you use words that could put
Oxford and Webster dictionaries to shame? Do you write the end first for it is very dramatic? Or do you draw out the suspense till the last blood drawing second? Do you write in first person or in third? Questions, question and more questions.
Guess what? You are getting ahead of yourself. Before getting in the nitty gritty of writing or penning a story be sure you have a story. It does not in any way imply that you think it out to the
last word or a complete chapter by chapter breakdown before you start penning the first words. However think out a rough plot with decided protagonists. Know your heroes and villains and maybe even the in-betweens. In that fledgling idea there should be a journey, a character graph, plot progress, simply put - there should be a beginning, middle and an end.
How do you achieve all that I just mentioned above? By taking a mere whisper of a story idea mulling over it, questioning it, rethinking, making notes until you have a book in your head.
If a regimen helps find a quiet half an hour in your day, fetch your laptop or grab a notebook (whatever works for you) and simply stare in space while your imagination runs free. And in all that mental running, ideas will be born; character will take shape and finally find a voice.
And then I’m sure there are some like I am who never have to find that quiet half an hour. My characters and scene ideas stalk me through out the day and are obviously manic insomniacs for they find a way in my dreams too. :)
Anyway getting back to business. Telling a story is easy, writing it to make publication worthy is TOUGH! But tough in no way implies IMPOSSIBLE. It only means writing a tale, especially when no one is holding a gun to your head or twisting your arm, requires the prolonged use of the three P’s. Practice! Patience!
Perseverance! (I will keep changing the order of these three Ps to make a better point.)
There are certain questions that are important to any story and you as a creator/author should know and ask these questions of your
characters, of your plot. These questions and answers will be your reference guide through this epic and very personal journey. However, do not loose sight of one rule. No pressures! Only - perseverance! practice! patience! If Rome wasn’t built in a day why should your book get there sooner? :)
Okay let’s go for the jugular. Every author must have an exhaustive list of questions to ask of himself when a story idea starts taking roots in his/her head. You are probably thinking that what are these imperative questions? Who am I asking them? Why am I asking them? What am I trying to find out with these questions? Where am I going with all that information?
Let’s go a little deeper. The questions an author needs to have answers to are probably the following:
WHO? WHO are your characters in the story? WHO is your target audience for this story? Nowadays when you write a book you no longer write it simply for something as general as readers, you write it for a‘target audience’ or a specific ‘genre’. The very word ‘target’ implies a section - of a certain kind of reader base, decided by age, gender, location, preferences and other factors. Target Audience and Genre are topics I will cover in a separate post.
‘Target audience’ and ‘genre’ will not only help your publisher or agent market your book better it also helps you as an author to make a few decisions, a few very important decisions; about the
language of the book, length of the book and all that might happen and to what degree in your story. The no-brainer example being cuss words. In a book meant for children you will abstain from any kind of colorful language, for a young adult book you can maybe get away by writing ‘sucker’ but not ‘fucker’ and for an adult novel you can go full throttle with all the ‘bleep’, ‘bleep’, ‘bleeps’ in the world (not that you have to). Anyhow getting back to the topic in hand –
questions. We talked about WHO. Now comes the WHY.
WHY? WHY are the characters talking the way they are? WHY is
the protagonist so cold? WHY is the protagonist so driven? WHY is he so angry? Some of the why’s about your characters may not be there in the book but you need to know all the answers to all the why’s to bring authenticity to the story. Authenticity is what makes your readers connect with your character and the story. That connection is an umbilical cord between the author and his target audience. For example, a happy character shown pleasant throughout the first 289 pages of a 300 page book cannot simply start attacking people in the 290th page of the book. You can be sure to sell only five copies of such a book. Three that were bought by your family, fourth by you because you are so excited seeing your name on a book and the fifth by the person frowning sitting across from you (remember the beginning of this post). He is probably frowning and contemplating asking for a refund for a book he just bought and read – your book. :-) And all this because you never shared with your reader the HOW and the WHY. Therefore if your character is going to do something that is going to be the break or make moment of your story kindly ensure that with appropriately placed comments or actions throughout your story you have prepared the reader for that shock. He or she (the reader) will still be blown away by the big reveal but as a compliment to your writing skills. Subtle hints, no billboard signs, no caps locks just subtle clues. Clues which all come together in the end in a neat tight circle. In recent times, Michael Connelly’s few books leave me awed. Research is a big component of achieving authenticity and I will cover that too in a separate post.
WHERE? WHERE are you characters coming from – their emotional, political,religious if any, sexual source code? Where are they going and heading in the story?
WHAT? WHAT are the quirks and eccentrities of your protagnists? What is their height? What are their faces like? What are the characters doing in this scene? What will happen in the next? What will be the end? What drives the characters/story/plots?
HOW? HOW did the story/characters/plot come to this point? How
are you going to start the story? How are you going to end it? How are characters going to escape a trauma or overcome all the odds in the climax?
Kindly remember most of these questions are inter connected. Sometimes a WHY will be related to a HOW or a WHERE.
Here I would like to refer to something I briefly mentioned above - a beginning, a middle and an end. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. However they can be played around with. Sometimes a ‘middle’ can make for a ‘good beginning’. In my debut book Right Fit Wrong Shoe, I purposely blurred the beginning and middle with various flashbacks and then smoothly merged them together in the few chapters before the end. However by clearly marking the past from the present via chapter headings and other such means I attempted to eradicate any confusion for my readers. Given by the number of copies that book sold I would say I clearly did not cofuse the crap out of my target audience. :)
So that little smiley above just brings me to an end of my first post in the ‘You are not born a writer, you become one’ series.
Remember it is not only good, it is imperative to ask questions.
I welcome all your questions and comments. If there is something you seek clarification on let me know and I’ll try and fit it in a relevant topic. Kindly forward this link to any other aspiring authors you might know. My next post, around August 23rd, in this series will tackle issues relevant to any and every author; research, target audience and genre. I will update my facebook groups of ‘Right Fit Wrong Shoe’, ‘Xcess Baggage’, and ‘Wrong Means Right End’ when I post the next article. So until then…be safe, be good and good luck plotting a story!
Just for fun below I have uploaded two pics. I hunted and found my intial notes when I had just conceieved the idea of Right Fit Wrong Shoe. The notes are end result of asking questions and first attempt at plotting a story. I apologize for my bad writing and silly doodles. :))
'Wrong Means Right End' The sequel to the best seller Right Fit Wrong Shoe
will be out in September 2012. Consider yourself 'book'ed!