Parts of a Novel: 1 of 6: The Setup

1 of 6All well told stories can be broken down into six sections. While there are many ways to breakdown a novel’s structure I like sticking with the six part approach. For the next six weeks I will be discussing one of the six parts to a novel. This week, part 1 of 6, is on The Setup.

The first few pages of your novel are vitally important. These pages determine if the book continues to be read or will be put back on the shelf. While every piece of your book is important your opening is probably the most important part. Without a good opening you have no story.

The Setup, while immensely important, is interestingly enough one of the smallest parts of the novel. The Setup is only about 5% of your novel. Meaning, if your manuscript is 300 pages, only about 15 pages should be dedicated to The Setup.

In these fifteen pages you have several pieces of information that needs to be shown. We need to introduce the main characters to our readers, we need to show the world where the story takes place, and most importantly our readers need to understand what the status quo of the world is.

Our readers need to form bonds and connections to our characters, to be captivated by the worlds we create, and to understand what the day to day life is like. Without laying this groundwork the reader will lose interest in the story. If you can’t draw in the reader your book will be put down, never to be picked up again.

Take a look at the novel you are currently reading. How did that author write the first 5% of their novel? Now look at the manuscript you are writing. How did you write your first 5%?

On a side note I would like to say that the percentage for each section is more of a guideline. These percents are rough cookie cutter examples to help the pacing of the story. As the novelist it is you job to determine if the pacing needs to move quicker or slower throughout the story.

Check back next week for part 2 of 6. To always stay up to date on the latest article enter subscribe to the blog. When new articles go live you will receive an email in your inbox. Any questions, comments, or feedback email me at Axeman@thisweekinwriting.com.



Stop writing and brainstorm

These last few weeks I’ve been struggling with the editing of my first chapter. Editing is an understatement. The truth is that it needs to be completely rewritten. Since the beginning of the year I have started over three times. It seemed everything that I was writing was not the true beginning of the novel. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t come up with a good beginning.

Up to this point I always just sat down and free wrote my novel. Meaning I just wrote what came to my mind without having an outline to guide me. While I always have an idea of where the story needs to go I usually never fully plan or outline my story. I’ve always loved the idea of the story creating itself. However, this past week I realized that while free writing may be good to write the initial story free writing doesn’t work so well during the editing process.

I’m learning that to be successful at writing you sometimes need to stop writing. One day last week instead of writing I spend an entire evening brainstorming and scribbling ideas into a notepad. At first I felt guilty that I wasn’t getting any further on my novel. I had to remind myself that taking this time to outline was vitally important.

During this evening of brainstorming I was able to reevaluate the beginning chapters of my novel. By taking a step back and taking my hands off the keyboard I was able to make my story that much better. I also took this time to look over my notes from my Alpha Readers and review my own notes. I was able to figure out what was wrong as well as what I needed to do to fix it.

keyboard

Had kept going the way I had been, by just writing without planning, I would have kept writing page after page of the novel that would have been a waste to the story. While I will always advocate for free writing there are times where we need to stop writing to think of “what’s next.”

If you are stuck in your story, or if you just keep writing and not sure where the story is going, instead of writing take a step back and have a brainstorming session. You will be surprised at how much you can accomplish.

Novel Progress
Draft: Third
5.93% Complete



Remove the Block

block

The dreaded writer’s block. It happens to all of us. During my first draft of Dust I spent almost an entire month going nowhere. I was stuck in my story and didn’t know where to go. Another time, while writing a magazine article for work, I almost missed my deadline because I couldn’t figure out how to end the article.

Getting over writer’s block is different for each of us. Depending on the day will determine how I get over writer’s block. Writer’s block is like a snowflake each situation is unique in its own way. Meaning that getting over the block will not always end the same. Here are a few things that will help us remove our blocks and continue our writing .

Taking a break is a lifesaver. It’s amazing what a 5 minute break can accomplish. Remove yourself from your writing, do anything else but look at your writing. The short break will give your mind time to rest. The rest can help those ideas flow freely again. If it’s a really bad case of writer’s block it may take a few days before you can get back into the swing of things. If that’s the case taking a break from writing will not help.

If the block is really bad you need to continue writing. Just write something other than your main project. And whatever you do, don’t start a new large project. Write a short story, a poem, or even just random words. This secondary writing allows your mind to remain creatively active while giving your mind a break from the block at the same time.

Always keep something to write on handy. The last thing you want is for your writer’s block to end and not have anything to write your new idea down with. At home I keep a notebook and pen by my bed in case I have a good idea in the middle of the night. I also keep a waterproof notepad in my shower. (That’s right you heard me, waterproof notepad. It’s amazing.) Because some of the best ideas happen in the shower.

Not to mention that I have my phone with me everywhere I go. So when I’m at work or on the go I always can write down an idea and save it for later. Your muse might hit you at the wrong moment, so you always want to be prepared.

Experience something new. Our writing comes from our our own personal experiences. By going out and experiencing new things we add to what we know. Meaning, we add to what we can write. By going on a walk/hike or driving to a part of town that you’ve never been to before we create new memories. If you’re really adventurous try something completely new. Give skydiving a try, take up a new hobby like painting or sculpting, or save your pennies and go on a vacation to some place you’ve never been before.

pin

As a joke I lastly recommend that you get yourself some clothespins. The theory is that using clothespins is a form of acupressure to help relieve writer’s block. To understand the joke and to relive one of the funniest shows from the 80’s watch Alf, Season 1 Episode 14. On Amazon you can buy the episode for $1.99 or the whole season for $4.99. It’s worth the money.

To help get rid of your writer’s block here is a writing prompt for you. As you go through this week listen to the conversations around you. Take a phrase or sentence that you hear and write a one to two page short story using that phrase or sentence.

If you have a topic you would like me to cover send me an email at Axeman@thisweekinwriting.com.

Novel Progress
Draft: Third
5.56% Complete




Write On

This week’s message is brought to you by my phone. This is due to me traveling out of town this weekend. My original article was going to be about writer’s block. I’m going to save that for next week. This week is going to be about the opposite, prolific writing.

I always keep something to write with on me at all times. Sometimes it’s my phone other times its pen and paper. Having writing materials on me allows me the ability to write down ideas when I’m on the go.

In the past I’ve had too many occasions where I had an idea for a new story or a new idea for a project I was already working on and I had nothing to write it down on. I would sadly forget that idea, however in the back of my mind I knew it would have been great. The same thing happens when I wake up in the middle of the night and had an amazing dream. I’ll tell myself that I will remember it in the morning. When morning comes its gone.

As writers we need to get our ideas out of our heads and onto paper. While it may be difficult to write when we are not in our designated writing space we still need to find a way to write. Don’t allow those great ideas to slip away.

I didn’t have as much time to write this article as I had hoped. I haven’t even had time to begin editing it. I just made it home from driving all day back from California and I am exhausted. I’m posting this article now, but don’t worry I plan on working on it more and will have a more in-depth article posted before Wednesday.

If anyone was wondering I wrote this article using the Android app OfficeSuite Professional. If you are looking for a good office suite app for your Android phone or tablet this one is worth the money. I’ve been using this one for the last five years.

Writing Habits: Staying Focused

One of the biggest things I struggle with when I write is staying on task. Sometimes after a few minutes into writing my mind begins to wander. While I’m more conscience of when I begin loosing focus it’s still something I have to stay on top of.

I recently tried counted how many times I got distracted within a 30 minute period. There were so many I lost count. Even now as I write this article I find myself becoming distracted. Here are a few things that have helped me stay on task.

A few articles back (Writing Habit: Getting Organized) I wrote about decluttering your desk. Keeping my writing space free from clutter has helped me tremendously. When my desk is clean I find that I am more productive in my writing than when my desk is dirty.

In order to immerse ourselves in the worlds we are trying to create we need to remove ourselves from the world we live in.

While our phones help connect us to our friends and family they also can be a huge distraction. To eliminate that distraction turn the phone off or at the very least set the ringer to silent.

PhoneI prefer putting the phone in Airplane Mode.

While I’m writing my kids and occasionally my wife have the habit of coming to me to ask me questions or need me to do something. This takes me out of my writing and in some cases causes me to lose the momentum I had been building. For Christmas my wife got me the best gift possible. It’s a simple sign that hangs on the door.

am writingIf the sign is present everyone is to keep out.

The biggest proponent of distraction is the Internet. The Internet is a double edged sword. On one side it is a helpful tool. It helps provide the necessary information needed to help you excel in your writing. On the other side it can be extremely distracting. There are countless times when I went looking for information I could use for my book. Then several hours later I realized I had been watching funny cat videos on YouTube. (In case you were wondering, my book has nothing to do with funny cats.)

DistractionIf you realize that the Internet is more of a hindrance than help just turn it off.

While all of these are helpful tips, your awareness of what you are doing is key. When writing our minds need to be focused on two things. The first and main thing is focusing on what we are writing. The second is to focus on that we are doing nothing else but writing. In the event we start to stray and get off topic we need our minds to actively tell ourselves that we need to get back to writing. This is a skill that must be practiced over and over again. This is a skill that must be mastered in order to succeed, not only in writing but in anything we are doing.

This article was a suggested topic I received though email. If you have a topic you would like me to cover send me an email at Axeman@thisweekinwriting.com.



Novel Progress
Draft: Third
4.05% Complete

A New Year, A New Start

Life, it’s a crazy thing. Right when you think you have everything under control something comes up and disrupts the whole flow of things. November was a rough month; it felt like there was a plague looming over our house. If one person was sick the rest of us were healthy. Then they would get better and someone else would get sick. It was a vicious cycle that lasted all the way up to Thanksgiving.

Since it was so long since I last updated the site I figured I would wait one more month and start fresh with the New Year. So here we are 2016. I have a lot of fun ideas of what I would like to do with this blog. A new year means it’s a time for new beginnings and new goals. There are three main things that I want to work on this year.

My Goals for 2016

     1. Read 50 Books.
I want to read more books this year. Last year I only read three books. With the books I have set aside for myself I figure I need to read roughly 43 pages a day. However, with my current schedule I may not make it quite to 50.

2. Ensure that a blog entry is posted each week.
52 entries, no exceptions. Regardless if I am sick, out of town, or the world is exploding I will have a new blog post. This means that I need to have the current week’s post ready as well as a few extra.

     3. Have Dust ready to send to publishers/agents.
My hope is that I will have the next draft of my book done by the end of June. It’s been slow going with this 3rd draft, and that’s ok. I want to go slow. I want to flush the story out, make it bigger and an all around better story. After that I will hopefully only have to do one more draft before it’s ready to send out. Fingers crossed.

As the year progresses I’m sure I’ll come up with more stuff I want to accomplish throughout the year. But what about you, what goals do you have for 2016? Feel free to send me an email at Axeman@thisweekinwriting.com or leave a comment.

Novel Progress
Draft: Third
3.27% Complete




First Draft

NaNoWriMo if fully underway and I’m roughly 9,000 words behind. Luckily I’m finally feeling better. With the slow start I figure if I write 3,000 words a day I will catch up by the end of the week.

So why push myself to get this next story written? The answer is simple; it’s to get the story out of my head and on to paper. Then the hard part begins, I can begin the editing process. This was something that I unfortunately learned the hard way.

My earliest notes for my novel were from 2006. I would start writing the story, and then stopped to start another project, and then I would start again. This cycle continued till 2013. That’s when I started to work solely on this project. I didn’t finish the first draft till March 2015. The first draft took me roughly 18 months to finish.

When I finished the first draft something clicked inside me. I wanted to see my book finished and in print. While finishing the first draft was a great accomplishment, I feel that taking a year and a half to write it is unacceptable. Looking back I wish I was as dedicated to my writing as I am now.

By finishing your first draft it changes the outlook of your writing. It shows you that being a novelist is possible. Soon after I finished my first draft I had the opportunity to listen to handful of published writers speak. They all spoke on the importance of getting the first draft. If you want to be a novelist, not just a weekend writer, you need to write nonstop till that first draft is done.

Take me for example. It took me 18 months to write the first draft. Once it was completed it only took me 6 months to finish the second draft. Your first draft is your jumping off point.

Learn from my mistake and don’t take forever to finish that first draft. Write it, and write it fast. Get those ideas out of your head. Make the story come to life. The story doesn’t have to be perfect, that’s what editing is for. Just make sure you don’t start editing until the first draft is completely done.

NaNoWriMo Progress
Book 2 First Draft
5321 Words

Alpha Readers

The Book is done, well sort of. The second draft is done. It’s currently in the hands a select few to find everything wrong with it. So why only a select few, why not give a copy to everyone I know?

Since your book is written in stages it should also be read in stages. For example, my first draft was only read by my wife. After she gave me her input I did some major editing. Things drastically changed from the first to the second draft. Currently the second draft is being reviewed by my Alpha Readers which consist of my wife and five more people. After receiving their feedback I will write draft three and then give it to any adult in my family that wish to read it. The fourth draft will be given to the adults and the kids.

I personally found it difficult picking my Alpha Readers. I have plenty of family members who want to read the book unfortunately I had to narrow it down to only a small handful. Don’t choose your readers in fear of who will be offended if they are not chosen. I spent months determining who was going to be my readers. It was not an easy task.

When choosing your Alpha Readers you need to make sure that they are aware that they aren’t reading the book just to read it. Their job is to go line by line seeing what works and what doesn’t work in the story. In some cases they will be as familiar with the story as you are.

As the author it is your job to decide what your Alpha Readers are looking for. Since this is the largest writing project I have ever worked on I asked them to look for several things pertaining to the story. How does it flow, does anything not make sense, things like that.

My plan was to give my readers a hard copy of the manuscript. I received some pushback with them asking for it electronically. At first I thought, no I want them to have it in hand and write their notes on the page. Soon after I took a step back and thought about it. They are doing me a favor by reading the book. They are taking time out of their lives to read and take notes about my book. I needed to be courteous of their needs.

Now I wait to see what they have to say. I asked them to give their feedback at the end of the month. This gives them plenty of time to read and take detailed notes.

NaNoWriMo Progress
Book 2 First Draft
227 Words

How’s NaNoWriMo going for everyone? Even with this being Book 2 it’s still a new story. Since I have been spending so much time on the first book I forgot how much fun it is to begin a new project. I can’t wait to see where this story goes. Unfortunately I’m a bit under the weather so I wasn’t able to get much writing done today.

Preparing for Book 2

The first thing I need to say is that I am very sorry for not getting an article out last week. While I love the rain, the power apparently does not.

The time has finally come. It’s time to start writing my second book. The second book will be a continuation of this first book. “But Michael, you don’t even have the first book published yet. Why are you starting your next project?” The answer is simple; I’m a writer, that’s what I do. This time next week my 2nd draft will be in the hands of my Alpha Readers. I won’t have anything to write until I get their feedback. So, while I wait I might as well start the second book.

These last few weeks I have been throwing ideas around of where I want the story to go. I know how it is going to start and how it is going to end. In between I have a few ideas that I know will make it into the story, but for the most part it’s all up in the air.

When I started Dust (it’s what I’m currently calling my first book) I knew that it was going to be a trilogy. Knowing that places and people would be appearing in all three books I took notes while I wrote. Whether you are writing a stand alone novel or a multi book series I recommend taking notes. It helps keep track of character names, descriptions, places, rules that you put in your world. What you don’t want is have issues with continuity.

Next week, November 1st, is the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Every year I say I am going to participate but I never do. Last year I even started, but quickly stopped when I realized it was taking away from the novel I had already begun. This year is different. My second draft will be done. I figured this was the best time for me to start Book 2.

NaNoWriMo is a writing event that takes place during the month of November. The goal is to write 50,000 words by the 30th. To put that into perspective The Hobbitis 95,022 words. To “win” NaNoWriMo authors need to write 1,667 words a day. I’m personally going to try and write 2,000 words a day. If I do the second book will be finished on the 24th.

More information can be found on their website http://nanowrimo.org/. I encourage all of you to participate. NaNoWriMo is a great time to write that novel you have always wanted to.

On a side note I would like to thank everyone who has been reading the blog. I appreciate the emails and comments I have received. While I haven’t responded to all the messages I wanted to let you all know that I do read them. Also, subscribe to the blog to be notified by email when new posts are available.

Novel Progress
Draft: Second
83.97% Complete