By Michael Morgan
All Rights Reserved
One of my coworkers (Yes, most authors write as a side hustle.) asked me how my novel is progressing. After I shared my news, he said, “I’ve always wanted to write a book. Maybe one day when I have the time…” I stopped him right there because the “Maybe one day…” sentiment is the omnipresent excuse for people who like to fantasize about becoming a writer. My advice to him was to start small.
You have a story you want to tell, so tell it. Just do not think you have to tell it in 300+ pages. Pick your character, and think about this like a Kung Fu movie.
- Something happens to your character that forces them to take action.
- Along the way the character meets “The Master” that teaches them the skills necessary to deal with their problem, or some boon companion who helps them along the way.
- Something happens to remove “The Master” sending the character off with renewed determination to resolve the problem.
Next, tell the story in small bites. I’ve chosen 1,000 words as a reasonable “bite” because that is the number of words I can easily write on a daily basis. This bite gives me space to have some character interaction, describe some action, and set up the next bite. The end of one bite sets up the beginning of the next bite, and gradually, the story comes out. If I get on a hot streak and the energy is really flowing, Great! Groovy! Yeehaw! I don’t stop working until I can write the set up for the next bite. If I write 3,000 words in a sitting, fine with me. If I feel like I am writing crap, I put it aside and think about the story for a while. The characters will wait.
The person who is going to be most critical of your work, and do their best to talk you out of writing your story will be yourself. Nobody can judge the value of your material until you have written it and taken the emotional plunge of sharing it with others.
Give yourself the chance to be great! If writing is not your thing, you will find out pretty quick, and cross it off your bucket list knowing you gave it your best shot.
Some odds and ends to think about:
- “Write the types of things you enjoy reading.” ~ Stephen King
- Write what you know about, but feel free to change the setting. The movie “Outland” with Sean Connery was the story “High Noon” set in outer space.
- Stories can be set almost anywhere because the interaction of the characters is independent of the location. The location just adds flavor. Star Trek has the same story structure as the old TV show Wagon Train. Deep Space 9 was Gunsmoke.
- What happens before the story starts is important even if those events never appear in the story. Those events shaped the character making them who they are. Sometimes these formative events can help you resolve a problem when you write yourself into a corner, and need a clean escape. This deserves serious thought.
- Set the hook early by giving the reader a reason to care about the character. If nobody cares about the character, nobody will care about the story. Read the stories that are most popular and try to figure out why you care about every character. Then pay attention to what happens to each one. Nobody cares when the generic Imperial Stormtrooper gets blasted, but when Gold Leader crashes into the Death Star, a character the audience has known for all of 90 seconds of screen time triggers an emotional reaction. Why?
- Let other people read your work and provide feedback. Listen to them. Think about it like market research. You do not have to make changes based on everything your readers say, but the input is invaluable, and can spark new ideas.
- The world is awash in people who will “teach” you how to write the next best seller. Some of the information is OK. Most of it is garbage. Very expensive garbage. Be critical of “the Master” you choose. Many aspiring authors get so bogged down in “learning to write”, they never actually write their story, and that is a guaranteed loss.
Only one thing can make you a writer. You have to WRITE. Famous writers would not be famous if they had not written something down and given it to someone else to read.
Start with a 1,000 word bite, and write something. When you are done, let it rest overnight, and then go take out every word that does not help the story move forward. This may require you to rewrite some bits. That is good exercise for trimming out useless words as you write. Hand your work to a friend who is interested in the type of story you have written, and listen to their input. Wash, rinse, repeat.
This link goes to a story I wrote for a short story contest:
After I posted it to my blog, the feedback I received lead to 14 more installments, each about 1,000 words. The first installment came in at 1,022 words.