In the coming weeks, I’m going to start a new page on this web site that catalogs what I’ll call “Best Practices” in fiction writing. More on that in a minute. First, I want to answer one comment from my last blog entry:
Randy- I must admit, I thought the treleseminars would be more about the anxiety of speaking, esp. since you talked so much about overcoming your own panic. I looked up toastmasters in my area and there are abut 50 groups- I guess I’ll just have to take the plunge. I’m fine in a group if I’m part of the group and not “apart” from the group- so maybe I can learn to feel like I’m just one of the group even if I’m standing up front…if that makes sense!
Randy sez: No, the info page spells out exactly what we’ll talk about. It will NOT be possible to talk about speaking anxiety, since this is a psychological issue with many different causes. Neither Mary nor I are qualified to talk about that. 🙁 Toastmasters is excellent for dealing with the normal levels of fear of public speaking that most people have. Those folks who suffer from genuine anxiety disorders or panic disorder will need help from a qualified counselor or psychiatrist to solve their problems. (I had both a counselor and a psychiatrist to help me deal with mine and I’m glad I did, because they were both extremely helpful.)
If you haven’t signed up for the teleseminars on public speaking that I’ll be doing with Mary Byers, don’t fergit! They start Monday, October 15. For all the info, click here.
Now back to “Best Practices:”
I’ve done quite a bit of software engineering in my short life (I spent quite a few years as a computational physicist, and to this day I still do a bit of consulting in scientific software). Software people talk about “best practices” in software analysis, design, and implementation. A “best practice” is a technique that is known to produce superior results to solve a particular problem. It sometimes happens that there is more than one “best practice” for a given type of problem, and in that case, you get to choose among them. But you definitely want to stay away from “worst practices”.
There are many different kinds of problems we face in writing fiction:
* How do you design a novel?
* How do you construct a character?
* How do you research a given place or time?
* How do you write a proposal?
* How do you find an agent?
* How do you settle a disagreement with your editor?
* How do you develop your voice?
* How do you choose what facet of writing to work on next?
* How do you promote your novel?
What I would like to find out from you, my loyal blog readers, is what problems you face. Post a comment here with one or more questions of the type I gave above. (No need to repeat those above. I’ve got them on my list.)
What I’ll do is collate all your questions and start finding the “best practice” answer to each one of them. I’ll discuss them here on my blog and then I’ll add an entry on my “Best Practices” page on my web site. In time, we’ll have a resource that answers a ton of questions.
Sound good? Start your comments!
How do you strike a balance between following all the ‘rules’ and keeping your creativity flowing unhindered?
How can you increase your daily wordcount?
How can you make the most of your writing time?
(see a pattern here?)
Daan Van der Merwe says
Wow! I can’t wait. As a freshman I’ll appreciate all and any information on all the questions listed by you and also the questions posted by Camille, particularly her first one.
Carrie Neuman says
When you’re planning your outline, how much stuff do you need to put in to get an 80,000 word novel? Or is it something that comes after the outline? Real books have all kinds of minor glitches for the main character, and the outline only hits the highlights. So I know other problems have to crop up, but I don’t have a good guess for how many between disasters.
Finding any kind of hard numbers for scenes or minor conflicts on the internet is pretty much impossible. Everyone just says it depends on your style. Noobs don’t have style yet, can I get a hint?
I have lots of questions but here are only a few:
How do you determine what words/scenes to cut from a wip that is too long?
How do you create smooth writing without loosing your style to formula writing (e.g. following a pattern like writing a short sentence, then a long sentence, then changing the structure of a sentence, then back to a short sentence, etc.)?
How do you create mystery in a story without confusing and thereby losing your reader? How do you introduce those details that are clues to the future, yet seem irrelevant to the present time in the story?
Okay, last one – How do you get a published author to read your novel with the hope that they will recommend you to their agent? Besides the obvious of meeting them at a writer’s conference.
Proposal, agent, voice, promotion are the topics I need most help on.
Also, how do you choose which writing conference to attend? We don’t seem to have them around here and it is cost prohibitive for me to travel to either coast. It would be a huge sacrifice for my family financially to attend one.
So how do you know if you’re attending one that’s right for you? What is the protocol for finding favor with an editor that you might meet at a conference? How should you dress, act, etc.? I need real practical information in these areas.
“How do you design a novel?” is the item atop your list which interests me. My rather unorthodox method, as a novice novelist, is to spend several months brainstorming every aspect of my subject: settings, characters, plot devices, storyline, etc, etc. The struggle at the end of this process is bringing it all together. I have 10 notebooks of brainstorming info. along with several 3 ring binders packed with research. It’s like a hurricane of whirling information I need to mold into one steady stream. Thanks for your always wise counsel.
Pam Halter says
An agent has offered you a contract. Another agent is still reading your stuff.
I’ve put out questions and am talking with clients.
How do I know which one will be better if I haven’t heard from them both?
How long do I keep the one waiting?
Mary E. DeMuth says
Right now I’m young enough to hold a book in my head. I’ll be all there, with lots of details swirling around. But someday I’ll get old. What’s a great tracking method to keep plotting points and details all in one place (besides my brain)?
This sophomore needs help on EVERYTHING. How long should a novel be? I was told that there isn’t a prayer of getting published if it is over 100,000 words. I’m at 113,000 and don’t see where I can cut!
Sorry Randy, but I have one more question – Should you hire an editor to review your novel, and if so, when? The expense seems formidable.
One thing I continue to struggle with is balancing the POVs in my novels (both in number of POVs and the weight allotted to each). I’ve read of various formulas to follow, but I’m afraid that in reality it parallels the writer’s ‘voice’… which I’m still developing. Does it? How many POVs is too many?
Marcus Brotherton says
Is there anything you (or your agent) can do to help guarantee placement of your book in a bookstore? Of the 17 or so commercially published books I’ve been a part of, I’ve only ever seen two or three that have actually made their way onto shelves.
bonne friesen says
If you are working on public speaking and are willing to help promote your book in other ways, at what point in the proposal do you mention this to a publisher or editor?
Ted Truscott says
I’d like to teach some moral principles in story form but I want to be didactic without being preachy.
How do I ‘teach’ without losing the story and therefore the audience?
Jason Campbell says
How do I get some shape on this monster-of-a-story in my head and out onto paper?
I’ve seen the “where do I go for inspiration” stuff covered in the usual books and helps, and I’ve seen your excellent mechanics for taking a core concept and fleshing it out using the snowflake process, but I’m missing a step in the middle. I don’t have enough of a handle on the story to begin the snowflake.
I’m one of those people with a story (or trilogy) in my head, but it’s all themes and images, character impressions, setting flashes, scene fragments. Exploring that stuff and getting it out of my head is something I’ve been struggling with for a while now…
If you’re writing about a historical era, does the setting have to be a real place? I love the mid to late 1800’s time frame preferably set in the western part of the US. Can I use ficticious names for towns? How accurate do I have to be in my descriptions? Is it sufficiant to stick to the general aspects (dessert, mountainous, hilly, flat, dry or wet climate, forrested, etc.)?
I have several story ideas, but I haven’t pursued them because of setting. They don’t fit my location. I guess that’s why I’m still writing fan fiction. The original writers cared little about these issues so I’m free to make things up to fit my purposes.
I love the research and voice questions.
It’s embarrassing, but I’ve got another question, one which may not make a bit of sense. My problem is going from outlining to actually writing. I can plan out my characters and plot, but then when I have to actually get down to writing, I fizzle. How do I segue between preparing to write and writing?
Doraine Bennett says
How do you find the end? Surely there are some tips for us SOTP that could help.
Marci Burke says
How do you layer your novel? I have it finished, but I’d like to know the best way to go back in and layer in the elements that make it emotionally satisfying.
What do you do when your plot is weak in some places and needs help?
What do you do when you have a hard time writing a character that you sort of know and love?
I am really looking forward to this.
My biggest problem is still finding my ‘platform’. As a fantasy writer, it has been extremely difficult to find common ground between promoting myself and my writing.
So my question is: How do you promote yourself when all you have is your writing? What other avenue does a writer have other than: Link something you know to what you write?
Andie Mock says
Hi Randy –
I am taking your teleseminar on public speaking and still can’t seem to figure out how to connect a NONFICTION topic with my YA humor novel that will actually sell my book to teens and a cross-over market to their mothers.
Here’s the problem I see. Folks who are interested in nonfiction topics are often not interested in fiction.
Last night I was at a dinner with a bunch of academics — nonfiction writers all —and two dissed novels to my face as “frippery”.
Also, I notice you do not have a link anywhere on your website to a place to purchase your books. Is this intentional?
Thanks Randy. I’ve bought everything you are selling and am having some pretty wild success in a very short time following your advice to the letter.