Thank you Erik for your time today. I hope everyone enjoy's his guest post. Don't forget to check out his book Resthaven!
“Any tips on writing a book?”
This is, without a doubt, one of the most common questions I’m asked. I don’t think a week goes by where I don’t come across someone who has either A.) Started writing a book, or B.) Dreamed of writing a book. And why not? We all have stories to tell, and the physical act of writing is nothing more than putting a pen to paper, or typing words into a computer. Right?
There’s more to it than that, of course, but for this conversation I’m going to assume you have a basic grasp of language, some natural talent, and a general idea of how to use punctuation. If so, I’ll kick things off with two pieces of advice before we get started.
First and foremost: Never, ever begin the process by thinking, “I’m going to write a 300 page book.” That’s way too daunting. And depressing. Instead, sit down and think, “I’m going to write today, and it might be only one page—or even one paragraph—and that’s OK.” And it really is. Life is busy. Paying your mortgage probably isn’t dependent upon completion of your book, so there’s no reason to rush. Writing isn’t a race. I’ve been writing since the age of fifteen, and it still takes me at least two years to finish a novel. Go at your own pace.
Secondly (and equally important): First drafts are a mess. They’re supposed to be. This is the time to pour everything onto the page to see what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to write badly. Just get it down and don’t look back. If I get to a scene that’s causing me problems, I’ll simply write INSERT CHASE SCENE HERE and keep going. Seriously. I’ve done this. And so have other authors. It’s allowed. Everything can be fixed later.
Still with me? Awesome. Now comes the fun part: Telling your story. There are a million things I could say here, but I’m going to narrow it down to three simple “guidelines” that have always worked for me. I have no doubt you’ll eventually forge your own guidelines; but until then, these should help you stay on the path.
ENTER THE SCENE LATE & LEAVE THE SCENE EARLY
In the original draft of my debut mystery, Mortom, my main characters discover the rat and key (the clues that drive the story) on page 30. When I did my rewrite, I realized that everything up to that point wasn’t really needed, so I “entered the scene late” by cutting out 25 pages, which led my characters to discover the clues on page 5. The beginning of the book immediately improved, and the reader was now immersed into the story much more quickly. I then ended the chapter “early” by cutting right after my characters find one last (shocking) clue, which—in theory—left the reader wanting to come back for more.
RAISE THE STAKES & CONTINUE TO BUILD THEM
This rule came heavily into play with my second novel, Resthaven. In my first draft, my characters’ main conflict was to escape a locked building while being chased by the antagonist—a creepy, old dude who is out to get them. The story worked OK, but it still felt like something was lacking. In my next draft, my characters find a young boy hiding inside; so in addition to trying to escape, they also have to keep the boy out of danger. Adding the boy “raised” the stakes tremendously and helped pull the story together in a more fulfilling way. From there I continued to “build” the stakes by throwing endless obstacles in their path, until there wasn’t only the possibility of injury, but also of death.
EVERYTHING MUST SERVE THE STORY
This sounds like a fairly obvious statement, but it can be a hard rule to follow—even for established authors. In my upcoming novel, there’s a scene between two characters that has great writing (in my opinion, anyway), fun banter, excellent scene description . . . but no real function. The scene doesn’t advance the story or add anything to the characters’ motivations, so there was no reason to keep it. These are the hardest scenes to cut, but once they’re gone, it always makes for a stronger read.
And there you have it. All of my infinite wisdom boiled down into a handful of paragraphs. Writing a book isn’t easy, but when you finally type those two magical words—THE END—it’s all worth it. Until, of course, it’s time to begin the rewrite.
But that’s a conversation for another day.