For today’s writers on writing segment, I thought I’d share a video about how I became a writer. Hint: it has something to do with a hound dog hatching from an egg.
The first thing you need to know about writing a novel is that there’s no magic formula. Every novel demands its own structure, its own pace, its own way of looking at the world.
If you’re ready to take on the challenge of writing a novel, here are 10 steps to get your started.
1. Consider the setting.
Setting encompasses not only place, but also time. Where does your novel happen, and when?
2. Consider the point of view.
Who is telling the story, from what distance? Do you have a first-person narrator who is at the center of the action, an omniscient narrator who is able to go into the thoughts of any character at any time, a limited third person narration that sticks closely to one character?
Outlines are good, unless they are bad. The nice thing about an outline is that it gives you a direction. The bad thing about an outline is that it limits your novel’s possibilities. For the first fifty pages, at least, work without an outline. See where the story is beginning to take you. Try The Paperclip Method.
4. Consider the conflict.
No matter what kind of novel you’re writing, no matter the genre, there is no novel without trouble. Every story begins with conflict. What’s yours?
5. Consider the stakes.
What is at risk in the story? What does your protagonist stand to lose or gain? What does he or she want, and why is it important? The stakes must be clear if you want the reader to care.
6. Consider the protagonist.
There has to be someone at the center of the action. Generally, this will be someone your reader ends up rooting for, no matter how flawed the character may be. (And he or she must be flawed in order to be realistic.)
7. Embrace fragments.
Don’t be afraid to write a paragraph here, a page there. Not everything has to be a full-fledged chapter in the early stages of novel-writing. If you have a scene in your head that you know you want to write, go for it. But if you sit down at your computer and feel flustered and uncertain, allow yourself the freedom to think in small bits. Tell yourself, “Today I’m going to write 1200 words about where my character lives,” or “Today I’m going to write 500 words about what’s troubling the narrator,” or “Today I’m going to write the last paragraph of the novel.” That last one is kind of weird, right? But the point is, you don’t have to write in a linear fashion. You can piece your novel together later. For now, get some stuff on the page.
8. Write what you don’t know.
The old adage is, “Write what you know.” Okay, sure, it’s pretty good advice. But you also need to be willing to write what you don’t know. In the spirit of discovery, allow one character to work in a field about which you know very little, or allow some element of the plot, or a subplot, to delve into something you find unusual. Then research it. Sure, you could make your main character’s sister a struggling writer, something you presumably know a thing or two about, but that’s a little boring, isn’t it? Why not make her a welder instead? Then go online and research welding. Take a welder out for beer. Write five paragraphs that can be sprinkled throughout your novel that embrace the lingo and physicality of welding. Voila–you’ve created something interesting and textural, something that may just take you in an unusual metaphorical direction you never would have imagined if you were sticking to what you knew.
9. Set a deadline, but be realistic and kind.
Not for the completion of the novel, but for the first fifty pages. Set a second deadline, far enough in the future, for the completion of the second fifty pages. Be kind to yourself and set yourself up for success by setting realistic deadlines.
10: Find one or two trusted readers.
One of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make is showing their early efforts to anyone who will look. I know, it’s tempting. But be patient. For a little while, at least, you need to protect your novel. Find one or two trusted readers–a professional or a friend who knows good books–but resist the urge to ask for advice from your mother, your uncle, your girlfriend, your best friend, your taxi driver. Give yourself some time to get your own vision onto the page before too many other visions interject. Many novels are written by collaboration, but, unlike screenplays, most are not written by committee. It’s your story; hide it in a drawer until it’s ready to see the light.
Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog, Golden State, and four other books of fiction.
Art Rules! (And How to Break Them) by Mel Gooding
Reviewed by Michelle Richmond
forthcoming from Shambala Redstone Editions, October, 2014
Art Rules! (And How to Break Them) by Mel Gooding isn’t really a book. It’s a box of 42 art cards, accompanied by exercises to help bring out the artist in anyone, and a 64-page booklet, “Modern Art: Inside Out,” that provides an crash course on modern art. A terrific introduction to what makes art tick. As fun as it is informative, Art Rules! (And How to Breatk Them) reminds us that art at its best is indeed consumed by the masses. Not only does it make us think and feel; sometimes it makes us want to reach out and add a mustache. The creatively categorized cards inspire art-lovers to think in a new way about familiar images, while opening the doors of art for those who find it intimidating. An imaginative teacher could go to town with these cards, creating a learning environment as lively as the spirit of art itself. Highly recommended for art lovers, amateurs, and educators.
Hannah Morgan thinks resumes are rather dullish. Her solution? The Infographic Resume: How to Create a Visual Resume That Showcases Your Skills and Lands the Job. To promote the book, McGraw-Hill Professional has created an infographic resume for a man who needs no letter of recommendation, Sherlock Holmes. It’s very pretty, indeed. The timeline is especially catchy. And I like that Morgan presents a more exciting alternative to the dull bullet-point resume. However, I presume that if Holmes himself were to show up at Scotland Yard with something like this, he’d be escorted to the door.
The book, which is packed with eye candy, could prove quite helpful for a young person hoping to stand out from the crowd in the field of advertising, publicity, or graphic design. The author includes a lovely example of a one-page resume for typographic designer Kelly Weihs. A typographic designer is exactly the kind of person who can benefit from Morgan’s approach. Infographic resumes might also be a good fit for any company that uses the word “disrupt” in its mission statement. As the editor of a small press (albeit one that does not use the word “disrupt”), if I received a resume that looked like this, I would definitely be intrigued enough to follow the links.
However, the book should come with a caveat: the infographic resume isn’t right for every job search. Sometimes, the bells and whistles will only get in the way. In academia, for example, if you turn in anything other than the expected CV, your application will quickly move to the recycle bin. Finance, wherein one aims to handle large sums of other people’s money, probably isn’t a good field in which to show your flare for color. Many fields outside of arts and entertainment, in which you want to present yourself as a person of gravitas, may have not yet caught on to the visual resume trend.
Financiers and professors aside, this book is a great tool for young people looking for their first job right out of college, as well as more experienced professionals in highly creative fields. Morgan includes good resources for where to host your resume and portfolio online, as well as basic steps to creating an alluring online presence. She offers basic advice on creating an effective pitch and getting a good headshot. There’s a decent section on common mistakes to avoid. A couple of the examples, unfortunately, such as an off-puttingly fussy resume for one graphic designer, look like they would be better placed in the don’t-do-this chapter (don’t put your own words in giant quotes at the top of the page, for example, and don’t include a photo of yourself looking coyly off-camera.)
Ultimately, visuals are only as good as the information they convey. The traditional resume works in part because an employer who is going through hundreds of resumes knows exactly where to look to quickly ascertain your education, experience, career goals, and references. Requiring a hurried employer to search an unfamiliar document in order to get the information she wants might prove off-putting.
Kyle Bahr’s resume showcasing his talents as a digital strategist and wilderness explorer combines the best of old and new: everything is where you would expect it to be, which gives the resume that ever-important quality: clarity. A few well-placed graphic elements, and a smart use of color, typography, and icons, make it a beauty to behold and guarantee that it won’t get lost in the forest. By the way, while looking for an elusive link to Bahr’s infographic, I found a traditional resume by the same Kyle Bahr, a resume so direct and yet personality-driven (after a clear list of his relevant experience, Bahr includes “World’s Best Grandson” in the Award section) that it would be likely to stand out from the crowd on its own simple merit.
Final take: Despite a few missteps, The Infographic Resume provides a fresh take on the art of selling oneself. A helpful guide to standing out from the slush pile, as long as one keeps in mind that, sometimes, a simple “World’s Greatest Grandson” will do.
The Book of Strange New Things, by Michael Faber
Reviewed by Michelle Richmond
forthcoming from Crown Publishing, October, 2014.
When a missionary from England arrives in a distant galaxy as the latest employee of a corporation called USIC, he is surprised to find that the native population is far from hostile. In fact, the Oasans have been waiting for him. He soon discovers that he is not their first pastor; the previous missionary, Kurtzburg, walked away and never returned. Gradually, Peter comes to understand the reason he was hired: USIC’s continued relations with the locals were in jeopardy.
Together, Peter and the locals build a church while he shares with them the gospel from The Book of Strange New Things. As his church rises from the ground and he becomes further and further disconnected from the USIC settlement fifty miles away, Peter’s pregnant wife Bea sends desperate missives from home. The world is falling apart–mass warfare, starvation, unprecedented natural disasters. As the distance grows between Peter and Bea, so does the distance between the pastor and his fellow workers at USIC. One wonders: will he “go native” like (Kurtz)burg?
Faber skillfully avoids the expected tropes of colonization. The corporation does not wish to obliterate or assimilate the locals, but to live peacefully alongside them. Miscommunication, however, is inevitable. Aside from Kurtzburg and a linguist who also disappeared, the employees of USIC have done little to understand the language or daily lives of the Oasans. Instead of bringing disease, USIC brings medicine, for which the locals trade food that they have painstakingly harvested and prepared. But the trade proves to be unequal: the medicine cannot save the locals from the thing that threatens them most.
Satisfyingly reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, with nods to The Heart of Darkness, The Book of Strange New Things is a brilliant work of hybrid fiction. Part love story, part sci-fi thriller, part cautionary tale, Faber delivers an unforgettable novel that raises important questions about faith, fear of the unknown, and our place in the universe.
Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of Golden State and The Year of Fog
A review copy of this book was provided by NetGalley.