See also: How the Aliens From Alpha Centauri Invaded My Maths Class and Turned Me Into a Writer- and how you can be one too. It should be in your local library.
How not to Write The Best Story that's Never been Written
What makes a great book?
It's not the way it's written- though that helps. It's the ideas. A great book needs a great story.
It's almost impossible to write a great book at school. You can't say to your teacher or parents 'Hey, I'm sorry, I'm not going to do any more homework this year. I'm just going to work on my novel.'
But you can still come up with a great story.
Step 1. Where would the best story you ever read be set?
I'd set mine in a world with intelligent wombats who served scones and jam and cream down wombat holes. But you might prefer a story set on a space ship, or a zombie world where everyone lives in giant zombie chickens.
Step 2. Who are the main characters?
I'd have the world's most handsome wombat, Fuzztop. And a vampire chicken called Gloria.
Step 3. Three things you really love and want to see in a book:
. macadamia icecream, lots of cold watermelon and zombie spaghetti
.a terrifying treasure hidden deep under the earth
. a battle between the furry forces of good (the wombats) and the slime worms of the Dreadful Depths Below.
Step 4. How the story ends:
Gloria learns how to vampirise a carrot.
Fuzztop invents The Way of the Carrot- a new form of martial arts using vegetables.
The Slime Worms turn out to be allergic to carrots, which is good as the Way of the carrot may be delicious but it's not much good for whamming Slime Worms. The world is saved, apart from the carrots, as now Gloria is eating them too. And the treasure turns out to be . . .
So try it for yourself.
Where is the story set?
Who are the main characters?
Three things you'd love to see in a book (or more; a good book needs a hundred great ideas, not just three.)
How does the story end?
I can't finish my stories!
If you are under 20, don't worry. You proably don't have time or brain space due to school; and also your writing ideas will be changing and developing very quickly. It's probably best to write lots of bits of stories, rather than work on one long one, so you can play with ideas and ways of using words.
If you hurry a book or story to finish it you'll be teaching yourself very bad writing habits that will be difficult to break. (One of the most commmon faults beginning writers make is to hurry their stories, and do too much in them too fast.)
But if you just come to a stop ina story, you either:
.haven't thought about it enough- go for a walk, or listen to music for an hour with a cup of cofee and apeice of chocolate and just THINK about it
. you may know that you need to change your story- or do a heck of a lot more work to it- and you can't bring yourself to do it. Solution: accept that the better the book, the more sheer hard work it will involve. Take a deep breath and do what the book needs
. you may be scared it won't eb as good as it should be.
Well, it probably won't be. Doesn't matter. Just write it- then you can rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. it is much easier to work with something already down on paper than something in your head. So get writing- but be prepared to trash it when it doesn't work.
I can't get any ideas!
Answer: There is no such thing as inspiration! Just years of THINKING and looking and listening and analysing- then sudenly it all comes together and you know what your story is going to be about.
And then you REALLY start thinking.
Yes, there is a point when a story idea comes together- but if you haven't doen lots of thinking about all sorts of things first, it won't happen. Ideas don't just drift out of the sky. I wish they did. They have to be worked for.
So..what are you really interested in (If you say 'nothing' then there is no way you are going to be a writer)
think about the last two weeks- what did you feel passionate about? And yes, this can be as simple as playing with your dog- write a doggy book- or gossiping with friends. Write about what you care about.
Think about the most vivid scene you can create in your mind. Your own home? An alien planet? A tropical island? That is where you set your book.
See also 'How the Aliens etc' for more on outlining a story.
My ideas are like the last movie I watched/ book I read!
Answer: See above.
Stories need thinking about. you can't spin a story out of nothing, no matter how brilliant you are with words. If your ideas are always second hand ones, stop being lazy and WORK at your writing.
ps I'm an amateur violin player. i love playing, but not enough to practice. Amateur writers write because it's fun, but they don't love it enough to work and swaet at it.
I'm not saying you have to be a professional writer- you will get enormous pleasure being an amateur writer, and give p[leasure to others too, not to emntion finding useful skills. But if you want to be a good writer, you need to put a heck of a lot of work into it- at least as much as if you wanted to become a doctor or teacher.
Talent is not enough!
I don't know where to start!
Write the ending first. I 'm serious.
it's easy to write the beginning ofa story- then stop, as you runout of ideas.
but if you write the ending first you have to THINK about the story. What is it about? who is it about? What do they want more than anything else? Will they find it? Where will this story end up?
You may not stick to the ending. But it WILL make you think before you write.
ps It's much easier to write a GOOD beginning when you've already written some of the book. The beginning is the bit that will haul the reader in- so it must be vivid. But it doesn't have to be written first,.
My teacher hates my stories!
Answer: No one has ever writen a story that all the world loves. And also teachers sometimes think kids shouldn't write books with sex, swords or any of the other things you'll see in most movies or read in just about every book on the airport shelves.
But don't worry about it too much. You'll have another teacher next year; and even though it doesn't seem like it, school days do pass. And then you'll be able to write what you want..and find you have to pelase 100,000 people, and not just your teacher!
How can I make my story better?
1. THINK about your story before you write it: no matter how good your writing is
2. Don't over write.
It took me years to realise that being good with words can actually be a handicap if you want to be a good writer!
I'm very good with words. I can make words stand on their heads and wiggle their toes. But beautiful writing doesn't make a good story.
IDEAS make a good story- and if the story itself isn't good, no amount of good writing will make it interesting.
Sometimes, too, people who are good with words over write- they use more words than they need to tell the story.
Use AS FEW WORDS AS YOU CAN, even if every one of them is beautiful. Words can really get in the way of the story.
(On the other hand someone who is brilliant with words can weave a story out of almost nothing..but that's ALMOST nothing...the story must be there, and the words will just be doing a perfect job of telling it)
ps If the reader ever stops to say, hey, wow, isn't that expression wonderful, you have failed as a writer. A writer's job is to get the reader so involved in the world they are creating that they are aware of nothing else- even the worsd used to create the story.
Stunning writing should only be obvious when the reader has already read the story at least three times, and can now concentrate on how the book was made.
Questions to ask yourself about your story:
Why would someone want to read it?
Writing can be a great way to understand your own emotions, or to turn something hard to cope with into an intellectual excersise to make it more bearable.
But before you try to get it published, ask why someone else would want to read it- and no, beautiful writing won't be enough.
A story- or book- like this also has to give insight and clarity to other people, not just to yourself. No one wants to see your soul bared down to it's essentials- unless it tells them something about themselves, life and the universe as well.
Have I written this story to move the reader into the universe I'm creating, or just to show off my writing skills?
Does this story really go places that no other story has?
Can I honestly say this is the best that I can do?
Or do I have a niggling feeling that the story is a bit slow in the middle, and that the bloke on page three isn't really believable, and no one will really care what happens to the hero..and have I stopped rewriting just because I can't face the words on the screen any more but it really needs . . .
How to Submit a Book to a Publisher
Rewrite the beginning of your novel . . . EVERYTHING has to grab the reader and be very very easy to understand, plus encapsulate the setting characters theme and plot all in the first paragraph.
Write at least ten beginnings, all totally different, before you really start work on the final one. Remember you have 30 sedonds at most to hook an editor into publishing your book, and maybe ten seconds to hook someone into buying the book.
Accept that your book is 'overwritten'- too many adjectives, adverbs, description phrases that are so much a cliche that they've lots all meaning and just clutter up the flow of ideas.
Cut the word length down by a third. (This will make you cut out all over writing and complex phrases in favour of short declarations.
EVERYONE overwrites at first, when you are working out your ideas. I don't think it's possible to write a first draft without over writing!
Read each page aand look for the most expressive words- the ones that jump out at you and say 'wow, I'm a fabulous description that shows a brilliant writer created me.'
Now get rid of them. Any phrase or word that is too effective will make the reader stop to admire it.
The magic has broken. They're no longer in the world of the story.
And then Steps 4 and onwards
There really aren't many rules about submitting to a publisher. First of all accept that:
. if it's brilliant it WILL be accepted, even if not by the first publisher
. if it's not brilliant, but just okay, it will need luck
. that publishers receive thousands of manuscripts, and that book publishing - especially novels - just doesn't make much money. And to be brutally honest, most manuscripts are pretty bad- and with so many creative writing courses around there are a heck ofa lot of would be writers sending out material. Most publishers are simply swamped.
. write short covering letter; no personal details needed unless they'll help sales ie you're the Duchess of Windsor, have your own afternoon radio show, Pulitzer prize etc.
. short synopsis of your book. This isn't a blurb, designed to say how wonderful the book is, but a real summary so the editor can see what it's about.
. in point form, say who the book is marketed to, what other books cover the topic, why yours is better, and why you think the book will sell
. make sure the manuscript is double space with wide margins
. use plain text, black ink, plain format
. make sure the publisher does publish your genre
.include a stamped self addressed envelope
It takes precious time to write a letter saying that you don't want a manuscript. I'd include a form letter, with boxes that can be ticked, saying something like :
.We are interested in your mss but need more time to assess it
.We like your mss but it doesn't fit into our publishing schedule
.We like parts of your mss but think it needs more work
.We considered using your mss for toilet paper but decided it didn't even rate bathroom wise
- which will at least leave them grinning and thinking that you will be an understanding considerate author to work with.
Agents: I've never used one, and can't really help you find one. Most publishers deny they take unsolicited mss these days. But most will glance at them.
The 30 second window: You have about 30 seconds to impress either an editor or an agent- at any rate enough for them to give you another few minutes. This means that the synopsis and the first page have to grab.
And if you can't do that then you need to keep working at your writing skills.