A Novelist’s Journey – Episode 1

paperbacksMy first book was non-fiction. It’s a cool little paperback about the jazz scene in the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania (there are some international jazz masters living there and I interviewed them).

Moderate success on that front.

Without a clue and lacking prior experience, I taught myself the discipline of writing a book and about authors’ options like self-publishing, vanity-publishing and indie publishing.

Writing non-fiction is full of outlines, fact-checking and getting quotes approved by anybody who was interviewed.

Fiction, however, is a tiger of a different stripe.

My debut novel “Glissando: A Story of Love, Lust and Jazz” (Waldorf Publishing) will be out in February 2018. I have only just begun this journey. Although it’s written, final edits await. And I’m learning about building my “author’s platform.”

It is a whole new world, one that requires culling through endless online content (full of anecdotal advice on other writers’ blogs; professional writing group discussions; and much more).

On my closet floor sits an accordion file already bursting at the seams as I figure out how to become a successful novelist.

Along the way I’ve discovered a very offbeat method that I’m happily replicating as I write my next book which is only 6K words in.

(You might ask what it’s about. Answer: jazz at the turn of the last century in the American South. It almost has the feeling of historical fiction.)

My tips follow. I hope they help you. Go forth and be the best novelist you can be!

  1. Shhhh. Do you hear voices?

Not the kind where you have to see a doctor, but the voices of the characters you’re hand-crafting. What are they saying to each other? What kind of slang do they use? Are they respectful to each other, do they use nicknames, do they speak their mind or play games with the other characters? TIP: Dialogue should be genuine, as if you walked into the room in the middle of a conversation.

  1. Start your story at the beginning. No, the middle! Maybe fast-forward to the end and work backwards?

Jump right in. The water’s fine, because it’s your world, and your characters are begging you to bring them to life. TIP: Write your chapters or scenes as they “occur” to you. Yes, you will bop all over the place, but it’ll free you to write without pressure. Trust me, it’s liberating and makes writing FUN.

  1. A writer is a quilter without the needle.

You’re going to be left with a king-sized-bed full of story “patches.” How to assemble them? Certain events are definitely chronological while others can be placed pretty much anywhere (kinda/sorta, read on*). TIP: Use colored index cards for the subplots and start categorizing your patches into different piles.

  1. Sequencing is a BEAR.

Well, you wanted the freedom to write your story any which way. Now you have to dig deep and get focused to put stuff in order. Start with broad strokes- the pivotal events in the story. Subdivide: the things next in importance go next. These are not necessarily “events” but reactions to what happened earlier, feelings that have changed, etc.

*As for that middle-ground of what can go practically anywhere in your story, beware: there’s not just a generic center of your story. Keep consistency in front of you at all times! Characters who have experienced events like marriage, divorce, having kids, getting a new job, moving, becoming famous, getting injured, etc. now have to adjust to these things and will speak and react in relation to them. TIP: Keep a timeline of each character and the significant events and pivotal moments that have occurred to him/her.

  1. Get beta readers. A step not to ignore.

They’ll give it to you straight. All your continuity screw-ups, misspellings of proper nouns, why they felt a character was cheated and should be more fleshed out. In return, you’ll have some priceless input for improving your story. TIP: Do NOT ask your beta readers to also give you a review (these should come from different individuals). DO send them (all) a signed copy once it’s been published with a thank you note.

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