Novel Writing Isn’t for Beginners

Some Novel Advice

by Deborah Owen

There’s no use in attacking me. I already have 100 beginners beating on my door. By the time you arrive, there’ll be nothing left but a greasy smear and a bloody pair of shoes – but you could extend your sympathies to my husband.

Like most writers, I thought I could write a book without taking so much as one writing class. It took ten years, but I did it. When I had finished it occurred to me that I had no idea how to market it –- and what were those things called query letters and cover letters? Where did they fit into the picture? Thus, I began to see my ignorance.

I shared this story with a 15-year-old who responded, “Just because you couldn’t make it, doesn’t mean I can’t.” That little gal has a lot to learn, and like me, she’ll learn it the hard way.

If you can be the first person to successfully write and sell a novel without learning a thing about writing, please let me know. I’ll buy a copy and send you a medal.

Does a kindergartner toddle down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance and start high school that fall? Would you hire a mechanic who has never worked on a car? Would you go to a doctor who has never attended medical school? Would you hire a plumber to fix your sink if he didn’t know one size wrench from the other?

Thank goodness there are some areas of life that don’t require profound expertise. Writing a novel just isn’t one of them. Most writers break into the field by writing articles and move up to short story writing. Later, they may try novel writing, but one thing is sure, the odds of writing and selling a book without previous training are almost nil.

Why People Write a Book

Most authors write a book because they have a story to tell, knowledge to impart, or they want to help others, but the brutal, searing fact of life is this: total strangers don’t care about you or your life unless it can be of practical value to them.

But let’s suppose that you’re still not convinced and are determined to write that book without committing yourself to a writing education.

See How You Fare on This Quiz

  • What is a hook and how do you make it? (Hint: we aren’t talking about fly-fishing.)
  • How do you build a 3D character?
  • What are 2D characters?
  • How many words are in the average line? Average paragraph?
  • What is a theme and how do you demonstrate it?
  • What is a plot and how do you structure it?
  • What is the acceptable percentage of passive sentences?
  • What is the difference between active and passive voice?
  • What are warts?
  • What are red herrings?
  • What is verbiage?
  • What are polysyndeton, asyndeton, onomatopoeia, epistrophe, and anaphora?
  • What are parallel sentences?
  • What is an arc and where should it fall?
  • What are resolutions?
  • Name three methods of discovery.
  • When should you not send a query letter?
  • What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter?
  • How do you analyze a magazine?
  • How many chapters does a publishing company usually request?
  • Can you properly craft and sell a 2,000-word short story?

If you don’t know all of this and a whole lot more, you’re wasting your time writing a book, unless you do so for genealogy purposes or as a hobby.

Maybe you’re wondering where to learn these things and how long it will take. Start with the three basic writing courses in this order: Dynamic Nonfiction (whether you like to write it or not), Creative Writing 101 (or Mechanics of Grammar), and Short Story Safari. Each course will take about eight weeks. Although it takes years to become a seasoned writer, you can be selling nonfiction within two months. It’s a beginning.

Some folks might also need a Punctuation Review course, but punctuation is covered in all classes to some degree, so you might not need it. But if for some reason you can’t take these courses, read every article you can find on writing and take notes! Subscribe to The Writer Magazine, which (in my opinion) is the best writing magazine on the market. Find experienced writers and ask questions.

Join writing groups. I like Writing.com. They have a five-star rating system where you can rate each other’s work. Before you join any writing group, determine that you will accept 95% of the suggestions you receive, and won’t wear your feelings on your sleeve.

This is good, sensible advice and it will save you years of needless labor, but make no doubt about it, learning to write is very much like learning to play the piano. It takes years to become a professional. Why not start today?

If you’ve attempted to write a novel, what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced? Let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to swing by  www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and look into our creative writing courses!

Punctuation Study

Understanding Punctuation

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers rarely study punctuation, but almost everyone needs a brush-up now and then. See if you know all of these variations.

Imperative and declarative sentences

Both imperative and declarative sentences require a normal period.

Imperative commands: Give me a hug. Tell me goodbye when you leave.

Declarative sentences state a fact, such as: She gave him a hug. She told her mother goodbye when she left.

But some declarative sentences contain a question. If the sentence as a whole states the question as a fact, it should end with a period. (Confusing, isn’t it?)

As a question:  Would you like to go to a party?

As a statement: I wonder if you would like to go to the party.

The latter sentence states that I am wondering if you would like to go to the party; therefore, it is not asking a direct question.

Abbreviated words ending in a period

Mr., Dr., Rev., etc., i.e., and Mrs. are examples of abbreviated words that have periods. If your declarative or imperative sentence have an abbreviated word at the end, don’t add an additional period.

(Correct) The movie starts at 8 p.m. (Incorrect) The movie starts at 8 p.m..

Question marks

A question mark is used at the end of a normal question, but it is also used to express doubt or the unknown. When the question mark is used on a gravestone, it is usually placed in parentheses, like this: (1960–?) In such a case, the engraver doesn’t know when the person died.

In the following sentence, the writer is not sure whether the pet mentioned is a cat or some other animal.

In her will, the eccentric woman left her pet cat (?) the entire estate.

(Writer’s hint: If you don’t know what kind of animal the pet is, just say “pet.”)

If there is a series of incomplete questions, place a question mark at the end of each question, as in:

Can you believe the man survived the gunshot? And the fall from the six-story building? And hitting the flagpole? (Neither can I.)

Exclamation marks

Sometimes called an exclamation point, this handy little punctuation is used to indicate surprise or a strong emotion or feeling, as in: Get out of my room!

To make that a much milder statement (command), I could have said, Get out of my room. (Notice that it ended with a period.) When a statement uses an exclamation point, it relates a sense of urgency or possible anger. Note how the exclamation mark changes the related emotion.

Get out. I said, get out. I said, get out!

Exclamation marks are rarely used in formal writing except in quotes or the citing of a title. You may also see them in article “teasers.” In informal writing, you should use an exclamation point at the end of a strong sentence or after relating particularly exciting information.

If the exclamation mark is used to punctuate exciting information within a sentence, it is placed in parentheses, as in: Mike won first place (!) in the spelling bee.

And last but certainly not least, don’t use the exclamation mark more than an average of once per page. You should be showing emotions by painting scenes with imagery, not telling the emotions with punctuation.

Fortunately, you can be somewhat creative in using punctuation! For more great writing tips, go to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and sign up for our newsletter!

Did You Break Your New Year’s Resolutions?

Getting Inspired Again

by Deborah Owen

How to Get your Motivation Back

Have you already broken your New Year’s Resolution to write more? Did you want to take a writing class this year? Write more often? Finish that story? Try poetry? Breaking resolutions is only natural, but you mustn’t allow this to leave you feeling discouraged, demoralized and demotivated.

Life is busy, and it waits for no one. Don’t be cross with yourself for “failing”. No one really fails. They are just procrastinating; always thinking tomorrow will be different. It happens with diets. It happens with smoking. It happens with writing too. The main thing is to pick yourself up now and start over again. And should you fail in this effort as well, begin again another day. As long as you have new days, you have the opportunity to succeed.

Refocusing on your Writing

Daily resolutions are the only kind of resolutions that really accomplish anything, so now is the time to make your daily resolve. Here are a few ideas to help you refocus:

  • Break your writing time into small chunks that you can work into every day. Fifteen minutes is a good start. That gives you five minutes to clear your mind and ten minutes to get into the groove. You’d be surprised what you can write in fifteen minutes. True story: An unpublished woman wrote and finished a book by writing fifteen minutes a day on her lunch hour. She sent it to an editor. He bought it, and she got it published. Writers, you make your own limitations, and you make your own chances in life. Get going!

Did you break your New Year’s resolutions?

  • If you don’t find inspiration when you sit down to write, don’t worry! You can write about your work, your boss, a rude clerk in the store, a nice person you met, your mate, how you want to remodel the house, or about your dreams. What matters is that you string your words together in proper English, demonstrating proper punctuation, and good thought patterns. Remember: everything you write has meaning. It shows your attitude, your interest, your opinion, your intentions, your psychological status, and it develops your writing talents.
  • Write at the same time every day, if at all possible. That is the key to wanting to write. If you write at the same time every day for a week, you’ll begin to feel the “muse” – the urge to write. When you resist that urge because you choose to do something else, the muse will be diminished the next day. Put writing at the top of your priorities.

If you haven’t met the muse, you’ll know it when it hits you. It will be hard to type as fast as your mind can deliver the content. You won’t want to stop. You won’t want to be disturbed. You won’t want to do anything but write… that is the muse. Cherish it. Love it. Obey it when it calls. The muse is to a writer what a car is to a driver. It’s your vehicle to transport you from this world into the one you create.

So, what were your writing-related New Years resolutions? Share them with us in the comments below! And after that, be sure to check out www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and sign up for an affordable 8-week writing course!

Tips and Tricks to Writing Emotions

Are Emotions Absent in your Scenes? If they aren’t, don’t look now, but you just lost your readers.

by Deborah Owen

There are tips and tricks to writing emotions. As a creative writer, you must feel the mood you’re writing. This is imperative if you want to reach your audience. How can you do that? By experiencing the mood.

Let’s suppose you want to write a scene that displays anger. Maybe the story is about abuse, a mom and dad arguing, or sibling rivalry. Maybe it’s about a girl breaking up with her boyfriend because he was cheating on her. If the scene is intense, you have to get into the mood. I mean red, piping hot angry.

Remember the guy or gal that dumped you 30 years ago? Remember the time you had a bad dream about your pal and you wouldn’t speak to him/her all day? How about when you got steamed at the boss, or got into a heated argument over politics, world affairs, abortion, women’s rights, etc.? As a writer, you must recapture those emotions and write them into your scenes. It should be so real that you attend anger management classes to get over it.

Do you need to be happy? Then think of some happy occasions. Sing a crazy song as loud as you can. Laugh like an idiot! When you begin laughing at yourself, it’s time to write that joy into your scene.

Another way to develop absent emotions is to imagine yourself as the character and write entries in a diary from his/her point of view. Live the make-believe life. Do whatever it takes to crawl into your character’s skin. You can’t write effectively what you don’t know or aren’t in the mood for. (You can, however, write a draft for the scene and come back to build it in a more realistic way later.)

Remember that your protagonist (main character, hero) and antagonist (villain) must be three-dimensional characters. They must have a past and a future; they must have problems in their lives and they must work through those issues like real, live people. Your characters should be real enough to walk off the page and sit next to the reader. If your reader can’t identify with the characters, he or she will probably not continue reading.

When my daughter was 16 years old, it was not uncommon for her to sit cross-legged on the floor and bawl her eyes out over a dramatic TV show. One night I winked at my husband and said, “That actress is playing her part really well, isn’t she?” He picked up on it and we talked back and forth about the actress’ career and wondered out loud what movie she would be in next – although she just died in that scene.

Our daughter turned around, tears dripping off her cheeks, and said, “Quit it, you guys. You’re ruining the show!” But what she really meant was, “I’m into the character. I feel what she is feeling. Don’t move me out of the scene.”

If your characters aren’t three-dimensional, (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) you’ll lose your readers. Put yourself into the mood and into the groove. Live what you write.

How do you best write emotions? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out about our creative writing courses!

You can find me online at http://www.deborahowen.wordpress or deborahowen on Twitter. Don’t forget to “like” us before you leave! Click on the title to leave a comment. Thank you!