I belong to a wonderful writers’ group. I’ve belonged to it for a long time. The thing that makes us special, I think, is that we encourage each other. For each meeting, three people sign up to read, and we always say what we liked about the pages we hear and what we think would make them better. But to us, each person has potential, and we do what we can to nurture that.
Aside from having a group like Scribes, I’ve thought about what I wish I knew when I first started writing. And the thing is, there are no magic bullets. It’s like learning ballet. You just have to do it and practice, practice, practice. But there are things that will make the process easier and better.
The first is to read, read, and read more. Read what you enjoy, but also read what you want to write. If your dream is to write romance novels, then read as many of those as possible, and not just randomly. Read the exact kind of romances that you want to write, so that you know the market and you sense the innate rhythms and tones that belong to that genre.
I wish I’d have read Jack Bickham’s book Scene and Structure after I wrote my first novel. I’m not sure I would have understood it before I tried my first book. That was a lesson in and of itself. I started out writing short stories. Trying to stretch an idea to 60,000 words was beyond me. I celebrated when I reached 20,000 words. It took blood, sweat, and tears to make it to a full-length novel. One of the things that helped me was thinking of my book in smaller sections. Now, I divide my plots into four parts, and that’s been a big help to me. The first fourth is set-up: writing the inciting incident, the hook, the book’s big question, the main character’s outer and inner motivations, and introducing important minor characters, and the setting. For 60,000 to 80,000 words, I also introduce 2 subplots that have a similar theme or are related to the main plot.
The second fourth of the book starts with the main character struggling to find a fix for his problem–the thing that he has to solve before the novel’s last page. He comes up with a plan and works at it until the middle of the book when he realizes that what he’s doing isn’t working.
The third fourth of the novel, the protagonist comes up with a new plan, but the harder he tries to fix things, the worse things get. Someone or something (his reputation/his future/etc.) is in jeopardy by the end of the third fourth of the novel.
The last fourth of the novel is do or die time. The protagonist pushes for the final fix until the novel reaches the final showdown. I solve the smallest subplot of the novel first, then the bigger subplot, and then, near the end of the novel, the book’s big question. All that’s left is the wrap-up or resolution. I keep this short, because the tension of the story left when I fixed the protagonist’s problem.
Dividing a novel this way makes it so that I can start writing as soon as I know my characters and can hear them in my head. I use character wheels for that. Shirley Jump teaches online classes on how to do those, and her classes are worth taking. But I draw a big circle with a little circle inside it. Inside the small circle, I put the character’s name, hair color, eye color, physical description, and age. From that small circle, I draw 7 “rays”–like sunbeams. On the first, I list the character’s family–mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, anyone who’s been important while he’s growing up and what they’re like and why they were important to him. On the second line, I list his education. Was he a good student? A class clown? Or too shy to raise his hand? On the third, his job. Is he passionate about it, or does he just put in his time just to make money? Is he happy there? Does he want more? On the fourth line, I put where he lives and what kind of car he drives. Does he have an apartment he crashes in, but doesn’t care about, or is he fixing up an old farm house? Does he drive a rusted pickup or a Mercedes? On the fifth line, I list his present and past relationships. Is he monogamous? A player? On the sixth, his friends (at least 2), and his relationship with them. On the seventh line, his adversaries or enemies. By the time I’m finished, I see what’s important to him and why.
I do a character chart for every important character in the novel, and I try to devise the characters so that they “bump” each other, so that there’s friction between them, so that they approach the world differently from each other.
Then I go back to the plot. All I really need is the inciting incident, three plot twists, and an ending. And I’m ready to go. I can add details as I write. But I know I’m heading in the right direction.
Every writer is different. No one thing works for all of us. This is my method, what works for me. You’ll have to find what works for you. These are just ideas to play with. And as you write, you’ll find your voice–the distinctive style that makes you–you. That’s what readers really relate to. Your view of the world and the way you see your characters and their circumstances. So, enjoy yourself. Play with characters and ideas, and happy writing!
P.S. If anyone has any specific questions for me about writing, I’ll try to answer them. I can only tell you what I’ve learned on my journey as a writer, but I’ll be happy to share what I know.