How Do you Know You're Ready To Write It?
Apr 15, 2018
Do you know, I think I am ready to write this book.
Gosh, it's taken ages to get it straight and to make it simple.
(“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Mark Twain.)
Here are the three things you need to have short and sweet before you start;
- The hook - spring-loaded with irony. See this blog post here for advice.
- The 'system' or philosophy of the secondary world (if you're writing in the Classic genre - ie crossover children's / adult, fantasy, Sci-Fi, YA or historical) - what makes it different, special, consoling, magical, what it's residents know or believe in a simple phrase of ideology ie:
“Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed - no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres in your skull.” 1984, George Orwell.
Here, you must include the force of good pitted against the force of evil and detail and describe them. (Yes, this is where fiction deviates from real life - evil is apparent!)
3. What my main character (the avatar-hero in our Classic course) wants. (This should be something real, tangible, ideally and not philosophical.)
I have finally (yesterday) cracked the hook - so that makes it 3 to 4 months of thinking - and I've got the system or plan for the secondary world vs the first world sorted at last after months of reading various texts of mythology and philosophy and rifling through Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte and others to cobble together my credos.
And ONLY yesterday did I crack the key to it all - WHAT MY CHARACTER WANTS. It was a bit woolly before. It was really non-specific and philosophical and that won't do.
Take as an example 'The Alchemist' by Paulo Coelho which sold 65 million copies and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 315 weeks.
The book's main theme is about finding one's destiny. According to The New York Times, The Alchemist is "more self-help than literature".
An old king tells Santiago that "when you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire so that your wish comes true". This is the core of the novel's philosophy and a motif that plays all throughout Coelho's writing in The Alchemist.
The story is a quest, telling the tale of the journey of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago. Believing a recurring dream to be prophetic, he asks a Romani fortune-teller in a nearby town about its meaning. The woman interprets the dream as a prophecy telling the boy that he will discover a treasure at the Egyptian pyramids.
But what propels the story is what the boy WANTS at the very outset, which is the favour of a girl. This is established by page two. We look at pacing of the bestselling Classics in the Classic course in detail and it's important when you're writing a book in this genre that you move swiftly, not too much description or inner world (avatar-hero remember) and whatever your character wants is just fine. So long as it is real, earthly and possible.
“Make your characters want something right away even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” ― Kurt Vonnegut.
I have a whole lot of material roughly organized according to the Kritikme Five F's of big story structure which you learn on all of our courses, but something was holding me back at the beginning, making me work and re-work my opening chapters to no avail. Now I realize I could not begin with confidence until I had these three cracked.
So now I've written up my little card for the book, and tacked it to the pinboard right in front of me at the desk.
The rest is detail and delivery, and I know I can write a novel in ninety days because I've done it before, and some of you reading this know you can too because you've done it with me on The Ninety Day Novel Course ®.
Coelho wrote The Alchemist in only two weeks in 1987. He explained he was able to write at this pace because the story was "already written in [his] soul."
I'm going to type up all my notes and material, assign to the five parts of the book, but nothing now will be as important to me as my little revision card.
Don't start writing until you've got yours pinned up, confident you can deliver the story hook, line and sinker.
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