Actually it's lots of questions with even more answers and some of the questions don't even have answers. I even suspect that some of the answers don't even have questions... which causes the odd problem and calls for a glass of something, while I ponder.
The first question has to be... what do you want to write? Is ti going to be:-
1. A good book
2. A book that the intelligentsia will buy
3. A book that agents and publishers will fall over themselves to take on
4. A book that will fly off the Amazon "shelves"
5. A book that Waterstones will take on and promote
6. A book that independent bookshops will want to sell
7. A book that the average punter will want to buy
8. A book you just want to see in print to prove you can do it.
Blimey! But let's face it... the answer is probably all of them. So where to start?
Well, actually a clean sheet of paper is NOT a good starting point, because it'll probably remain blank, and "It was a dark and stormy night" has already been done to death. Though I may start one of my Camelot detective stories with "He was a dark and stormy Knight"! That's book four taken care of!
Some authors keep a note pad with them at all times and jot down one-liner experiences / scenes / views / conversations / character traits based on their interaction with people, on the basis that ANYTHING can be used in a novel eventually. In theory, of course, they're right, and in a book the length of War & Peace (500,000 words and we get criticised for doing 100,000!) you can cram virtually anything in and it'll get lost in the mishmash. Let's face it, no one's ever finished War & Peace except probably Tolstoy.
Others think of a great ending and work backwards.... a bit like Japanese writing! A fantastic conclusion is a must, of course, if only to make sure the reader wants to grab your next book.
Once an author has a series, things become easier. Terry Pratchett once said to me (name dropper!) that he now has over 200 characters in his Discworld series and that he is continually adding to a biography on each of them. The best known character biogs are the length of a book in their own right. Terry's point was that his characters are so well developed and defined that for a new book, he thinks of a scenario (a bank robbery, for instance), then decides which main characters will appear in it. After that the book tends to write itself, because all the characters know what to do. So easy!
An agent friend of mine once gave me the best piece of advice ever. She told me that too many author love the sound of their own writing. They ramble and witter on, adoring every keystroke, digressing into areas way outside the intended storyline and totally losing their reader in the process.... that's supposing they ever got and agent, let alone a publisher. She told my to put GOWTS on a piece of paper and stick it above my keyboard. It stood for Get On With The Story and if Tolstoy had remembered GOWTS, War & Peace would have been a fifth of the length!
Okay, so how to write a book:-
- If it's your first book then set aside a couple of years before adding another year for editing, rereading, changing everything etc.
- Don't even think about getting an agent yet, because they're only interested in a final version, fully edited and pretty well ready for submission to a publisher. They're all parasites living off the hard work of us geniuses, except of course for the ones reading this who are all wonderful people, full of good sense, charity and a helping hand. Just keep writing.
- Know your genre. Understand who you're writing for and what they like to read. It also helps if you actually like the same genre. Keep the same style throughout the book, so if you're writing a murder mystery, don't suddenly turn it into a comic fantasy because it seems a good idea. You'll loose your reader.... that's if you ever finish the book, because even you won't know where it's going!
- Many editors and agents tell authors not to use, or to take out adverbs and adjectives. It's a pretty harsh rule, but it has some sense. The action, the narrative and the dialogue should mean an adverb is unnecessary, otherwise it probably means the dialogue and action aren't strong enough and need to be amplified. Adjectives? Well, I have an open mind there, and besides some of my best friends are adjectives!
- Don't try to write another Harry Potter, Discworld, or copy a successful Chiclit book. Be yourself; be unique; be the first "you" rather than the new J K Rowling.
- A lot is written about environment. Many people say you should set aside the same period of time every day, in the same location for writing and allow no interruptions. That may work for some, but personally I'll write when I can and when the family allows. If I have an idea I just have to make a mental note, then I'll find the time and the place to complete it, but there may be several days when I don't write. Someone (I can't remember who, so it was probably me!) said there's no such thing as a writer's block, it's either laziness, or the wrong book you're writing! With me, I'm sure it's the right book!
- I have to admit I sit in the study on a comfy sofa with the laptop on my lap (hence the name). Initially it's very comfortable, but the recipe for disaster and the forerunner to physiotherapy for neck and shoulder pains.
- Right now the sky is blue, the temperature is around 27 degrees and looking out of the window, the patio is beckoning, so one of my last hints is that you should always keep your laptop battery fully charged.... then you indulge two passions at the same time.
A final couple of comments.
Writing a book isn't hard, but it is incredibly difficult. Writing a good book is even tougher, but you'll know it when you've done it. The feeling is one of sheer bliss... or so I'm told!
Blog on, Dudes!
Trouble with Swords, the next in the Temporal Detective Agency series is being released by Crooked Cat on 8th August. Meanwhile Leap of Faith is available on Amazon and at most good bookshops,