Think of the start of your favourite novel from the 20th or 19th century.
If you’re a fantasy fiction fan like me, then it might go something like: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
If yours didn’t start like the Hobbit then that’s fine, just think of that first line in any old favourite genre.
You may not realise at first, but chances are it started pretty boring.
But that’s just the start, right. The novel gets good, really good later on, right.
Well that excuse was probably all well and good in the early 20th century, but in the 21st century, nobody wants to hear that.
So what caused this change?
The Publishing Boom
There was a time when to be an author, you just needed to be good at writing a story.
But then a sequence of events happened: a computer became a staple in every household, the internet arrived, and then epublishing came. Now things really went nuts.
Amazon created the kindle and allowed anyone to publish via their online bookstore, and Apple also started iTunes.
Suddenly, everybody became authors. If you wanted to write a book and make it available for purchase, all you had to do was publish that terribly written manuscript that only took you two months to finish on Amazon, and you were an author, for free.
Gone are the days where there were gatekeepers ensuring that only quality material made it to the shelves of book stores.
Add in the success of authors who decided to go the traditional self-publishing route, and you have a market that is saturated with tons and tons of books.
So what’s an agent to do when another book starts off with the weather, and what’s a reader to do when another book starts off with some miserable soul looking at herself in the mirror with pages of thoughts?
You guessed it. Stop reading and move on to the next one.
So how do you ensure that an agent or a reader keeps reading your book so they get to the really good part?
The Inside Out
Instead of starting by describing the environment, which is from the outside in, start from the conflict, which is from the inside out.
Does your protagonist have a knife in his hand? Then start by describing how the hilt felt when his fingers wrapped around it. Are two characters arguing? Then start with tempers flaring.
Be careful not to overdo the opening scene with too much action or too much dialogue. You don’t want to lose the reader. There is no need to start with action, guns, fire, and brimstone.
Just start at the beginning or middle of a conflict, describing the scene as the events unfold, and that will hook the reader, and hopefully an agent, the 21st century way.
So what do you think about starting your novel from the inside out? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t already, click here to read Scene from a Nightmare, this month’s trailer of my latest book, King Larsen.
On the verge of freedom, holding Gwen secure in his arms, Larsen, a lean man garbed in a patched brown cloak, sneaks in the darkness of a large chamber towards the exit. The scene takes place in an old fort in a forest. Click here to see what happens.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: you’re watching tv when you know you should be writing.
The clock is ticking, you want to go to bed because you have work the next day, but you also promised yourself you would write that article, or get some progress on that novel.
But it never happened.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to write, and ended up sleeping.
But even though you’re tired, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is how writing is viewed in your mind.
If you’re like me, then you write after you do the job that pays the bills, not for the job that pays the bills.
That means writing is just a hobby, for now anyway. So what’s the fix?
Get to work
First, we have to view writing the same way we view the primary job. Even if we don’t want to go to work, even if it’s raining, even if we’re sneezing, we find ourselves at our work desk. It may not be on time, but we’re there.
We may not always start to work when we reach, but the fact is, when the boss passes, they see us by our desk, looking busy.
That’s what you need to do for your writing also.
You don’t feel to write, but unless you actually sit by your writing station, you’re not going to do it.
The same way you get to work when you don’t feel to work is the same way you should get to the chair when you don’t feel to write.
So get your butt in the chair. Procrastinate if you want, read the papers, check your email.
Just get your butt in the chair.
The 33 minute rule
A genius names Schwartz developed a method that is now called the 33 minute rule. It works on the principal that the same way you can run a horse to its death is the same way you can run your brain to its death (not literally, of course).
Cutting your productivity time to 33 minute segments is a good way of ensuring that you don’t kill your brain for the night. And because your mind knows you’re working with 33 minutes, you’re going to focus to get as much done in that time as possible.
When the times up, take a 10 minute break, stretch your legs, check your email, then go again.
I’m guessing some people can go longer than 33 minutes, and that’s fine, but 33 minutes works for me.
Still having problems focusing in that time? For the really tough days when writing is more painful than a Brady Bunch marathon, cut it down to as low as 5 minutes.
The important thing is that you get some writing done.
Imagine you were trying to go to work one day and several roads along your route were closed, which resulted in a massive traffic jam.
In an attempt to reach to work, you took different detours, made several turns, and after hours, you ended up back home. How would you feel?
You may feel good that you’re not going to work today, but you may also feel like if you wasted a couple of hours.
You feel cheated of those hours. You ended up exactly where you started after trying so hard.
You should have just stayed at home, right?
Well that’s just how readers feel when they read a story where all the characters are exactly the same at the end as how they started in the beginning.
You can have a great plot, where interesting things happen and the story twists and turns.
Your characters are interesting, but none of them change in any way, not one, leaving the reader wondering what was the point of the story, and wishing they could get back all those hours they were cheated out of and read something else that was worth their time.
So what’s the fix?
You have to develop your characters as the story progresses.
This usually takes place naturally with a carefully planned story.
The character starts off with something wrong. An event happens which propels her on a journey. And then the moment of truth occurs where she must decide if she should continue with her old beliefs, or confront the challenge.
Whether she turns to the light or goes to the dark side is up to you, but some kind of change is necessary.
Usually, the change takes place with the protagonist. She learns and grows as the story unfolds. But if she’s a regular James Bond where nothing can change her ways and she is who she is, then this can apply to any of the characters.
So what do you think about character development? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t already, click here to read Scene from a Nightmare, this month’s trailer of my latest book, King Larsen.
Ever wrote a story that was missing a certain element, but couldn’t figure out what it was?
You gave it your all, and somewhere along the way you realized it was missing that extra shine, but couldn’t quite put your finger on it.
You would never guess if you don’t know me, a quiet writer who suffers from advance nerdism, but I’m a bit of a fitness junkie.
I love pushing my body to the limits and testing my strength and endurance.
In the world of fitness, it’s a fact that when you push yourself just beyond the point of failure, and your muscle fibres tear and become sore, they repair even stronger than before.
Do you think this is also possible in writing?
The Writing Muscles
There are several different muscles you can train, the popular ones being your arms, chest, back, and legs. When you exercise them, they get bigger and stronger.
But don’t think you can just go to the gym, pump up your chest and arms and say you’re fit. When it comes to cardio, they all work together.
There is one muscle group that is the most important, that is the limiting factor in almost every exercise, that can push your power and speed, and that’s your core.
Now consider the brain: an organ that gains abilities by handling mental challenges. If you relate these challenges to a workout, then attempting any one of them is similar to exercising your brain.
And while I’m no brain surgeon, it is my understanding that different areas of your brain handle different functions such as emotions, pain, and dreams.
If this is true, then can we also say that different areas of the brain handle different genres of writing such as action, suspense, and mystery?
I think a great story, while it would be dominated by a genre, needs a little bit of everything to really excel. A good action works well with suspense, a good horror can have action and mystery, and you can workout these areas by practicing your writing.
So if we relate exercising your arms, chest, back, and legs to writing action, suspense, mystery, and horror, then what would be the core of writing?
I think the core is romance.
Every great story that is told around the world, translated into several languages, and made into award winning movies has a main plot or subplot where two characters want to be together or want to work it out, but can’t.
Intergalactic badass of Star Wars, Han Solo, had the oddly hair-styled Princess Leia. The always stubbly chin but never needing a shave ranger from the north of Lord of the Rings, Aragorn, had the pointy ear elf Arwen. And the crackpot Doc of the greatest movie of all time, Back to the Future, had the whopping Clara Clayton.
See the importance of romance. You don’t have to include long boring scenes that would make a reader say, “get on with it” (cough Matrix cough), just something that would warm the heart a bit and make people say, “damn, if only that thing didn’t happen.”
So now that we have identified your core, let’s go work it out.
Training Your Core Writing Muscle
Hate writing romance, or just have no idea how to hook your characters up. Consider this exercise: think about that heart-warming scene from one of your favourite movies (I know what you’re thinking, Back to the Future, right). Now see if you can reproduce it on paper, but this time, really get into the main character’s head, and try to get the emotions.
The first one you write is probably going to be terrible, but keep working on it with different scenes from different movies. Eventually, you will be able to make your own.
Just remember, it’s only a romance if there’s a reason why the two characters can’t be together because of a conflict. Whether there’re able to work it out or she kicks him out and takes everything is up to you.
So put some romance in your story and let’s see if it gets that really interesting element you were looking for.
And if that still doesn’t spice things up, then throw in two giant mechanical robots. That would surely get my attention.
So what do you think about the core writing muscle? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t already, click here to read Scene from a Nightmare, this month’s trailer of my latest book, King Larsen.
Battered and bruised, thrown into a large rocky pit, Larsen, a lean man armoured with a breastplate and helmet, tries to ignore the bellows of the savages all around him and focus on what was coming. Click here to see what happens in Scene from a Nightmare, this month’s trailer of my latest book, King Larsen.
I think we all know by now that if you’re writing fiction that is based on a past era, then you have to tone down the technology for it to be believable.
Imagine how weird it would be if Pocahontas and her tribe were confronted by guys driving tanks instead of holding muskets.
But putting aside the obvious, there are many other little things that you should keep in mind.
The Facts about the Era
You need to do your research when writing a novel, whether it’s reading or watching documentaries.
I love to watch historical documentaries not just because there are interesting but also because they cram so much knowledge into a short space of time. It’s like research on steroids.
Recently, I watched The Americas before Columbus and learned many interesting things about both Europe and the New Western World back in those days.
Now, I’m not a history buff as the only thing I remember way back in school is Napoleon’s less than average height, so you have to excuse me if you know these facts already, but I was surprised to hear that the entire Americas had no horses, no pigs, no cows, no goats, and no sheep, the reason having something to do with the Ice Age.
The main source of meat was actually bison, which roamed the lands in abundance.
In contrast, while Europe had all the domestic animals, they had no potatoes, no pumpkins, and no corn. What they had was wheat, resulting in a main diet of bread and porridge.
Corn as we know it today is not even a naturally growing food, so you will never find it in the wild. It was engineered by ancient farming tribes from the Americas using a plant called teosinte, so it was always grown in rows.
And you would think that all those great structures in Europe made everything better, but there were consequences like massive deforestation and a dwindling supply of fish.
Using Researched Facts in Fiction
So what does researched facts have to do with fiction?
Keeping all these little details in check really pushes the culture of your society.
If you’re a fantasy fiction writer like me, then you may be able to get away with a world where potatoes, pumpkins, and corn all co-exist. But why struggle to make a believable world when you have a wealth of knowledge right here in our own history that just makes so much sense.
It opened my eyes when my sister said that I should remove all contractions from the dialogue of my novel, King Larsen, since the story takes place in medieval days, something I’m still playing with.
Now if you’re writing historical fiction that’s based in Europe, or maybe even a tribe in the West Indies or the Americas, there’s no need to bore your readers with a long history lesson about all these things, leave that for school.
Just ease it in as the story goes, and remember to watch your corn and horses.
So what do you think about the role of historical facts in fiction writing? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t already, click here to read The King of Hansguard, this month’s trailer of my latest book, King Larsen.
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