Thursday, December 02, 2010

How do you write a book?

It’s such an odd thing. My brother just sent his last kid off to college this year. He’s no longer coaching soccer, no longer driving and picking up kids. He’s not a TV fan and while he reads he’s not an insane reader like me (Who thought it would be a good idea for me to get a Kindle? I’m walking around with unlimited books in my purse. Not good!).

Anyway, he says, to put it quite bluntly, he’s going insane. He’s turned his hand to cooking, training his new puppy in Frisbee toss and ... he wants to write a book.
My brother is famous for “having an idea”. Over the years he’s always told me … Hey Steph… I have this idea. I smile and nod and let him go on. He actually inspired one of my books. Not his idea at all, but one kernel of what he said later became one of my Bombshells.

When he talks about his ideas, he does talk like a writer. I mean it’s there. He sees the characters, he sees their actions. He sees how they interact with one another. I think you have to have that bit of creativity in order to be a fiction writer. I don’t know how else you do it unless you see or hear the characters in your mind. Kind of like the Michelangelo approach to sculpture.

I don’t sit down and think about what I make. I take the image that’s in my head already and just pull it out and put it on paper.

So for me a writer has to have those images, that picture, those characters already in there and then figure out what all those people in your head are doing so you can effectively tell their story. Would you all agree? Or do you think you can build a character from the ground up? I don’t know.

But then there is the work of writing. He asked me, so how do I start? What do I do? And I drew a blank. The obvious answer is to start with page one, but I think he was looking for more of a guideline as to how it all works. How does one sit down and write a book.

I did say – because I learned this only when I met other writers - everyone has their own process. You have to find out what works for you. But it felt a little bit like if I asked someone how to cook - they might answer you need to try different things and see what taste combinations make sense.

Huh? I couldn’t do much with that. As a result – I’m not much of a cook.

I ask you - do you have books you would recommend on getting started? Would have some advice for a person who literally has never attempted such a thing before? Tell him to try plotting? Try pantsing? I mean I just don’t know.

For me one day I sat down and started to write stuff. Seems like pretty weak advice.


Kwana said...

This is a hard one. I'm going to come back to see the answers because I still don't know and I've written a few. Yikes.

Karen W said...

I'd suggest the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall.

Other than that, he needs to just sit down and start writing. Sorry, but honestly there's no other way to do it. Butt in chair, and write. And write some more. And polish and go to seminars and read books and write some more.

Maureen McGowan said...

It is really hard to start writing a book. And it doesn't help that everyone approaches it differently.

Unlike you, I usually don't have my characters figured out when I start... They kind of develop and become clearer to me as I do the first 100 pages or so.

I'm not sure I ever would have had the guts to start a book if I hadn't taken a class where we had to do some specific tasks... like character sketches, and GMC charts and actually write some opening scenes. It got me jump started. Plus, I met Sinead. Sinead kept me going. :)

Maureen McGowan said...

Oh, and your brother should look at this video... or maybe you should if you haven't seen it already. :)

Doesn't sound like your brother is like the man in this, but it is a funny take on people who think writing a book will be easy.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Yeah - my brother is leaping a bit. When talking about his idea he said...

It's about this guy and he turns into a hero. And the girl... she turns into a hero too...

I just know it will adapt to a great film!

I was like one step at a time there brother.

Eileen said...

Oh . . . when I start out, the book is often a big mass of messy stuff in my head. Bits of dialogue. Characters. Situations. None of it linear. None of it connected. Often there's a theme. Organizing it all is painful and hard and makes me doubt myself in a million ways.

One of the books that I've loved is John Truby's Anatomy of Story. I find that VERY helpful. The Marshall Plan isn't bad either, but it felt restrictive in some ways to me. It's very logical. Apparently I don't respond well to logic.

Oh, and Save the Cat! Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet can be an awesome organizing and brainstorming tool!

Sinead M said...

Too funny, Maureen. We kept each other going:)

Steph, I think there is a lot to be said for stumbling through that first book. The first thing to know is can you write sentence after sentence and do the words keep coming in a meaningful fashion...

Maureen McGowan said...

I agree with Sinead about stumbling through that first book.

I did mine about 6-10 pages a week, bringing in those pages, first to the class, then to our fledgling critique group as we formed.

Even though now I write at least that in a day, not a week... it was like a small miracle to me how it kept building into an actual story.

That one never sold... And I probably spent more time than I should have trying to revise it to sell. But I learned so much. (Even if one of the lessons was: at some point, you might just have to give up on that first book and put it in a drawer.)

BTW, the woman who taught that class where Sinead and I met, Lynda Simmons, is my guest on Get Lost in a Story on Monday.

Alli Sinclair said...

"That one never sold... And I probably spent more time than I should have trying to revise it to sell. But I learned so much. (Even if one of the lessons was: at some point, you might just have to give up on that first book and put it in a drawer.)"

Ain't that the truth! I can totally relate to that, Maureen.

Novelist's Bootcamp is a good book, too. It's by Todd A. Stone. It has some really great excercises and helps with learning about the discipline needed when writing.

My DH is an ideas man, too. He had the grand idea of writing a book and got three pages in and said "This is so freaking hard. I had no idea." He lost interest and never touched it again. He's amazed I've written three complete manuscripts (and re-written numerous times) and I am still persisting with getting published. So at the very least, his attempt at a book made him realise this is one tough job and not everyone can do it. So hey, your brother just might grown an appreciation for what you do, Steph!

Wendy S Marcus said...

When I decided I wanted to write seriously, as in seek publication, I took a class on writing popular fiction at my local community college. I would highly recommend this. Also, finding and joining a writers assocation that focuses on what you plan to write. Romance Writers of America was it for me. Good luck to your brother! I'm guessing he'll want you as a critique partner? Good luck with that!

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