A few tips on getting past the first chapter.
I have decided to do a blog section on here and my website (www.daegonmagus.wix.com/author) as I feel it will not only help me bring some structure to my speculative fiction classes, but will also (hopefully) help act as a guide for any of my fellow aspiring authors that happen to stumble upon it, and aren’t really sure of where to go to next.
Perhaps it will even help give a fresh perspective to someone who has already “made it” in the publishing world. I don’t know, but as long as someone takes something from it, then I will be happy.
I should also point out that I am (at the time of writing this) currently myself not published, though this information I have picked up from various sources and writing groups in my quest of gaining that golden ticket into world-wide book distribution. I will try and stick to what I consider the most relevant, and, where possible, backed up by expert opinion, but I cannot guarantee it will suit everybody. If you have a particular technique that you find works better, by all means use it.
Those who have made the commitment to put their pens to the page or their fingers to the keys already know how daunting it can be when you first set out on the road to penning a full length novel (or even a novella for that matter). There are so many obstacles to overcome, especially when comes to self-doubt or the all too biased analysis of one’s own abilities through the eyes of their ego, that most people give up before they have even finished the first chapter. So how do you find the motivation to get up in the morning and write? How do you get past that sticking point where your imagination seems to run dry? Then there’s always the dilemma of length and word count.
The following are a few techniques I like to use when writing, and I find if I use them properly, they can lead to a much more enjoyable experience, not to mention an efficient one as well.
Firstly, take a moment to think about the genre your work falls into. This may seem rather obvious to begin with, especially if you plan following the conventional structure of a beginning that builds up to a climax before being resolved at the end, but as the ideas start to come you find more and more ways to link parts of the story together, this category may become muddled and blurred, seemingly impervious to the laws of definition.
Perhaps you prefer your writing to flow this way, or perhaps you would rather use it as a tool to stay on track, whichever you prefer just remember to have a think about the best narrative style to use when bringing the story to life. Personally, I find that different styles subconsciously invoke different emotions about I connect with the characters and how easily I become immersed within the world of the author. Think about how you can use this to your advantage to subtly convey what’s in your imagination. Remember, we can’t see what’s in there; you have to tell us, but in such a way that we won’t become bored and lose interest.
Is your story focusing on around one particular character more than others? Perhaps using a first person approach will bring them out of the pages and make them shine more than that of a third person one. Try writing the opening scenario from both perspectives and see which one connects better with what you are envisioning. You may find the first person one is good, but falls apart when writing from the perspective of other characters.
Is your book set in an olden style era? Do some research about people used to talk in those times. Pay particular attention to new age euphemisms and phrases that weren’t around back then, but are used today without second thought. If you watch a movie with a similar setting you will find (if the director is good at his job) that they usually follow a similar rule. I have found that when I am reading my mind creates an image of the era in the first few opening paragraphs of the work, regardless of the physical description given in the text.
The second point I think should be up for consideration is the structure of the story itself. Don’t get too caught up in trying to get the wording perfect the first time. Of course, it is necessary to have something of a story to keep you interested in writing, but keep in mind that it is still only a first draft, and proper proofing should be left for the editing phase (yes, that’s right; YOU will be doing editing, and YOU will be A LOT of it if you have any hopes of being picked up by a major publisher, because professional editors will only work semi-professional drafts unless you pay them out of your own pocket). Take the time to think about your scene development and how one will progress to the next.
I will spend days, sometimes even weeks, thinking up a scene even if it is not an integral part of the storyline and only contributes to five hundred words. I find this very effective for overcoming writer’s block. Try adding subtle pieces of information that can be used a tie in points later on, or keep the reader interested by adding a peculiarity to an artefact without giving too much away.
When it comes to names or specific items that you know will be relevant, but you are not yet sure how, simply write them as “????” and highlight them so you know to revisit that part of the text. Also, if you find yourself caught in a road block in a certain scene, but feel as though you could write the following one, write a brief description at the end of the paragraph about the direction you want that scene to go. Put this in curly brackets and highlight so it stands out from the actual story. You may find this gap a perfect opportunity later on to use as a linking point.
If you are struggling with inspiration or aren’t really sure of your writing abilities and are lucky enough to have a writing centre nearby, I can’t stress how beneficial it will be to join it. They can provide you with valuable insight on how your work reads as well as point out any plot holes that need fixing (no matter how many times you re-read your work you will subconsciously fill these in because your mind has a biased understand of what is going on, trust me on this).
Lastly, I want to mention word count, and an appropriate limit to aim for when constructing your novel. This will depend entirely on your objectives for it, when it finally comes time to seek publication. If you plan on entering it into competitions, check their guidelines as minimum and maximum limits will vary. A lot of major publishers don’t want to commit to an unknown author if their work is anything over 100,000 words, and even then that is being generous. The reason for this is because of the costs associated with production (the more pages, the higher the costs) and as such you are more likely to land a deal with something between 80,000 and 90,000. Self-publishing requires a little bit more research as it depends on your budget and how successful you think your marketing strategy will be.
When it comes to online publishing, research suggests that majority of electronic readers are buying works between 70,000 to 85,000. Remember, that when it comes time for editing, you are likely to going to lose large chunks of your story. You could find at the end of the marathon that your work is perfect as a novella, but starts to drag on the more you add to it.
Hopefully I’ve peeked someone’s interest. Please feel free to offer your opinions. Watch this space for more writing tips in the future.