Tuesday, May 11, 2021

From Concept to Creation to Completion: the Art of Writing a Book

 Art of writing a book? Drawing is an art. Painting is an art. Sculpting is an art. Composing is an art of sound that creates moods, perhaps even more so than visual art. Writing? That's simply telling a story, right? Let's think about it.

Good writing produces a movie in the mind. This is a tall order for any author because he/she must fill the shoes of scriptwriter, director, producer, reviewer of the daily rushes, inhouse editor, and more before it's ready for a public viewing (reading). Having a specific list of requirements up front and a practical way to address them can turn a chaotic writing process into a smooth, organized production.

How does a writer (or writer wannabe) prepare for this multifaceted job? Listing the stopping points along the writing journey's route provides a solid starting place. 

1. Read, read, read. I first heard this years ago. "That's silly," I told myself. "I don't want to be a copycat." Since those days of ignorance and naïveté, I've learned that reading books written by others offers a full-blown course in effective writing, not a shortcut to plagiarism. It teaches sentence structure, flow, dialogue construction, character development, the vital role of punctuation, plotting, and so much more. It shows the importance of writing for a specific audience. For example, fans of science fiction writer Isaac Asimov might not be enthralled with Louis L'Amour's stories of the Old West. Who's your target audience?

2. Hone your craft. Back in the beginning, I heard this a lot. While the "hone your craft" admonition can apply to a wide variety of fields, the understanding of it is essentially the same in all of them. For example, being a handyman doesn't qualify one as a plumber or electrician. Working as an EMT doesn't make one a brain surgeon. A good rapper probably can't sing the role of Mimi in La Boheme or Lieutenant Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly. In other words, learn your job of choice.

A craft is a specific skill. Writing is a craft. Going back to item 1 above, we soon learn novels written by others become textbooks that teach us valuable lessons. So are writing courses (in person or online). Writers' groups often become classrooms where roundtable-type discussions and reviews teach the craft. While it's difficult to hear some else criticize our work, it can be extremely beneficial if we put aside our egos and listen carefully to what is being said. Often, words of wisdom are tucked into the comments of other or more experienced authors, even if the delivery isn't sugarcoated. 

3. Outline your story. Opinions differ on what kind of outline works best. For me, it's a general one that provides an overview of my story concept. In the beginning, I put a short outline on paper (or hard drive). Now, it's typically in my head—with a few notes listed on "paper" with the characters' names under the working title. 

Side point: One of the biggest surprises I received when writing my first book was the determination of my characters to tell their story their way. While seldom giving them a free hand, I do allow them to share their opinions. If I don't like where they want to go, we brainstorm. The end result, typically a collaboration rather than a compromise, incorporates the best of both ideas. This may sound unrealistic, but it works. Several writers I've edited for have made similar comments about their characters. Conclusion: don't automatically dismiss your characters' input. They may know where they need to go or what they need to do better than you do. 

4. Research components of your story with which you are unfamiliar. For instance, if you have scenes where police are involved, learn about police procedure in the city, state, or country where the story takes place. If you're writing about cowboys, astronauts, ballet dancers, high wire or trapeze performers, or clowns, make sure your scenes accurately depict these characters. When even the smallest details are correct, the writer's credibility rises significantly.

5. Write, write, write. This sounds like a given, but I spent decades planning my first book—and not writing a word. Then a novel by a favorite author sorely disappointed me. Naïvely claiming I could write a better book, I quickly found out that was easier said than done. Believe me, her poorly written (in my opinion) novel was far superior to the first drafts of my tale. "Practice makes perfect" isn't just an alliteration that sounds nice; it's common sense. How many people do you know who could buy the sheet music for "Flight of the Bumble Bee" and go straight to a concert hall and play it flawlessly in front of a full house? They need to practice, practice, practice. Writers need to do the same.

6. Use beta readers. Never underestimate the value of qualified readers in finding flaws. As writers, we simply won't see all the mistakes in our own stories, even after several in-depth proofreads. Writing may be a solitary profession, but getting a top-notch book out to the public takes a (writing) community. 

The art of writing can create some of the most powerful communications among people. It can even affect politics and governments. (Thomas Paine's Common Sense and The American Crisis) A good novel can touch readers in unexpected ways, perhaps even change their lives. A great book is a gift from an artist, a full-length movie or documentary in the imagination of the reader. This holds true whether it's fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, screenplay, stage play, or soliloquy. 

Is the journey from concept to creation to completion worth the effort? 

What will your readers think? What do you think?

Linda Lane is currently updating two previously written novels and is laying the foundation for her new cozy mystery series with a twist, the first book of which should be out in late 2021 or early 2022. She also has a number of partially finished novels that are scheduled to make their debuts in 2022 and 2023. Although still doing some fiction editing, she now focuses primarily on writing and on encouraging beginning writers to hone their skills and read, read, read. You can contact her through her writing website, LSLaneBooks.com.
 

4 comments :

  1. Great advice, Linda. Your number one point, "read, read, read" is the first thing I tell attendees at workshops where I speak. I also encourage my editing clients to read a lot, and not just in the genre in which they are writing.

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    1. Thank you, Maryann. It was reading that inspired me to write, beginning in elementary school. :-)

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  2. Well done and excellent advice. Your post makes it clear that we all write differently. I couldn't outline myself out of a paper bag. Just can't. Each chapter I write tells me where I'm going next. HOWEVER, maybe if I could outline, I'd be able to finish the three or four books I have sitting in my computer. Still, I've completed 14 books my way, so all I can say is to write the way you're most comfortable with. If it works once, it will work 14 times. Oh, except for a few waiting for me to finish.

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  3. We do indeed all write differently. Whichever method works for us individually is the one we should use. I would love to brainstorm with you sometime about those 3 or 4 unfinished novels. If you ever want to do that, contact me on Messenger (Facebook) or email me at familybookhouse@aol.com.

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