Starting Your Novel

The first thing that pops in my head when I’m trying to start a book is: DON’T start with a cliché.  That means don’t start with the weather (it was a clear, sunny day) or  starting with a tragedy (car wrecks, health scare or death) or the common – parents divorcing and having to move locations. Starting a book is almost as hard as finishing the book. You have your ideas, possible outline, and may even know exactly what you want to get accomplished within the first chapter. I’ve already discussed much of this in Beginning the Rough Draft, however, this entry is to expand on it a little more.

I once wrote on the power of the initial opening sentence in the entry Word Importance. Save those powerful words for your revisions. They may come later or not at all. Don’t get hung up over it.

Your beginning of your book (the first 50 pages) should have:

  • Character(s) intro
  • Setting
  • Internal/external struggle for character(s)
  • What is at risk
  • The hook for the audience to continue reading
  • Story pace
  • Genre – remember your readability level of your characters. You want them to said age appropriate to the story.

The book, The Plot Whisperer Workbook Step-By-Step to Help You Create Compelling Stories by Martha Alderson, writes there are seven essential elements to a scene:

  1. Time and setting
  2. Dramatic action
  3. Conflict, tension, suspense
  4. Character’s emotional development
  5. The protagonist’s motivation to reach a goal
  6. The “protagonist who goes after something, fails, and tries again”
  7. Final layer of scene that helps set the overall theme of the story

Some books only have a hand full of scenes, others have one per a chapter or more. There is no real guideline into how many scenes a book can have. Just don’t confuse the reader by jumping back and forth between scenes to where it confuses them (and you) of where the characters are located.

Most books begin very early the description of what the character(s) look like to help the reader’s develop a mental image and then the setting.

Try to start your book with something unusual. Starting with action, helps draw the reader in quickly, but that doesn’t work for every book and it becomes hard keeping that pace. Think of something different for the genre you’re writing. If it’s drama/murder/mystery – start with humor. If it is fantasy – start with something that is very common for us today to relate too –  a stubbed toe, a broken tire on a carriage (think of a flat tire), main character’s belief that dragons are myths, etc. Romance – start with a situation of the character already in love with someone else, but don’t make them cheaters. To me, that sets a bad president for the overall relationship for any couples. Or make the main couple already together, then they fall apart and have set backs only to get back together at the end.

To challenge yourself further – make your intro into a metaphor or to parallel of what your final conflict will be.

As I said, it’s hard to begin the story. I have rewritten the intro to many stories before I found those that work. Don’t put much stock into it until you start on the revisions. It sometimes matter more of the flow of the book on to what works the best as the intro.

My best suggestion is to start with a conversation. You can reveal tone of voice, character’s appearance, their personal movement ticks, thought process, initial location, and the intro to the plot within that conversation. Now, this conversation can be overheard by the main character(s), the main character(s) having the said conversation, or it is about them.

Best of luck to you all. I’m starting a new story myself and I’m facing the same struggle.

L. R. Mauck

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Race and Writing

OK folks, I do try staying out of politics, especially on social media. However, time and time again, the issue of race keeps popping up. Racist comments, whether intended or “jokingly”, have been stated from the president to prominent figures to everyday people.

As mentioned before, my grandma’s grandma (Sue) was full blooded Native American – Cherokee. Sue’s husband was also Native American, but we don’t know his percentage or of which tribe (most likely Cherokee, but we’re unsure). Sue’s parents walked in the Trail of Tears, but managed to escape it and settled in central Tennessee. There, Sue married her husband and had (I think) nine children. Just before the 1900’s began, Sue’s husband (census records call him W.H., but his gravestone had something else on it that I can’t remember right now) was accused of stealing a pig. Sue said there was no pig on the farm, nor was there any meat – they were too poor to afford meat. The husband was shot with out a trial or proof. My grandma asked Sue as to why she never called the police. (Number one, this was a different era, so no police.) But Sue responded, “We’re Indian. No one cared.” Sue raised my grandma and told her all throughout her youth, not to tell anyone she was Indian and would refuse to tell my grandma Sue’s family history for fear of being found out. This was in the 1930s and 1940s. At one point, Sue was offered property on the North Carolina Qualla Boundary, but she believed it was a trick of the government and ripped up the forms. My grandma can still buy property on Qualla Boundary, but refuses to because she believes it a betrayal of what her family was put through. My grandma seriously did not know who her great grandparents were until I did genealogy research a few years ago.

I write this to show/tell you what racism does to people, especially to my great, great grandma. Yes, this was a different time. Yes, this did not happen to me. But why is this still an ongoing issue today?

The truth is, I don’t know. At times I wonder if it comes down to the child is the product of how they were raised or a bad situation resulted in negative reasoning. But I don’t think that is the majority of cases. Part of it is down to the individual and how they perceive the world around them.

I’m from a predominantly white community in rural Indiana and was in for a “culture shock” when I went to college in Kentucky. However, I met some of the best people there and a black lady was so loved by our classmates that she was referred as “Mama” for the duration of the program. I’ve graduated several years ago, but still chat and meet with Mama regularly. I adore her. In comparison, I’ve got a white individual who lives near me who has had multiple run ins with the neighbors and the law. My point is, that it doesn’t matter the skin color or culture, there are good and bad people of every walk of life. We should not judge someone by their skin color, blood status, or culture.

A few examples of this are in writing:

  • Harry Potter series doesn’t so much focus on race exactly but does with the magical blood status. They are all magical, but there is the pure blood vs half blood vs muggle born.
  • In the Twilight Saga, I like how she did highlight the Quileutes Tribe.
  • Other examples are in Non-Traditional Characters

So to you writers: give your story depth. Add characters of different backgrounds and explore those backgrounds. You may be able to relate to a much wider audience and find additional plot twists to use. But don’t rule people out just because of something as minor as skin color.

I leave you with an explanation of three characters from Boy Meets World sitcom:

“All of us are from different backgrounds, like cards in deck.”

“Some cards are red, some cards are black. Some are kings and queens and some are sixes and sevens.”

“But without even one of them, the deck of cards doesn’t work. And that is what Mr. Matthews says is America.”

Watch it here.

L. R. Mauck

P.S. This is not written to create a discussion or a political piece. I only ask for people to open your minds and hearts.

Odd Places to Find Writing Ideas

Sometimes, writing ideas just come to me without even thinking of a new idea. Very few times, I’ll stare at the wall, struggling to think of a story line or a good twist.

Well, one of the best tips to find that idea is view the world around you.

  • Watch TV
    • Watch Judge Judy or some of the other televised judges. Some of the stories people come up with for their cases would make for a good book, as long as you put in your own plot twist.
    • Dateline / 2020 / or any of the crime drama shows.
  • Read
    • Read some of the classics. I’ve seen people write books with new spins off of Shakespeare or Grimm Brothers.
    • Some of the stories in the Old Testament of the Bible can draw some wonderful plot ideas.
  • Talk to people
    • Talk to your grandparents. My grandma loves to tell stories of her grandparents when she was a child. They were Native American, so hearing of how they lived on a social level back in the early 1900s and the family drama is fascinating.
  • Explore new locations
    • If you have an extra day or so, pull out a map and take a day trip. Try to hit several towns / cities in that area to drive to. Visit museums, art galleries, coffee shops, parks in that area. Sometimes, just being in a new environments will give you that push you need.

L. R. Mauck

The Motivational Character

Let’s face it, there are times when we are down a mental or physical destructive path and we cannot get ourselves out of it. So, we turn to that one person who always knows the right thing to say or do to help us. Some times it’s a parent, a teacher, or a friend that will give us the perfect advice that we need.

I recently bought several seasons of the Boy Meets World television series. I remember Mr. Feeny always as the inspirational rock in the show. He always offered sound advice and never hesitated to point out where people were wrong. He even apologized a few times when he was in the wrong. You can’t hardly find anyone like his character in shows today.

However, there are several in books: Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter), Gandolf the Grey/White (Hobbit and Lord of the Rings), Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird), Charlotte (Charlotte’s Web), etc. If you google it, you can find so many character’s who mean sometime to anyone based on actions and/or reasoning.

You can see quotes all over the internet that are inspirational. I want to encourage you, as a writer, to make your characters a little more than just run of the mill. I want your characters to have meaning in life, to inspire others to reach for those goals that others say they can’t reach, to get up when they have been beaten down so hard that they can barely physically move. I want them to face battles (war, health, drama) head on with the idea that they will overcome it or die with dignity. Have that motivational character always in the background, cheering the main character(s) on. Even in romance novels, you can make it to where the main characters need that push to open up their hearts again by having them gain advice from others.

Yes, this is a hard thing to do. You, as a writer, need to step out of your character’s world and reach out to the reader. Meet the reader on a deeper field with the same words to inspire other characters.

Note: You don’t have to clutter your novel up with meaningful messages from cover to cover (unless you’re writing a Chicken Soup book). Just place a few well meaning words at the start or close of the climax and it should work wonders.

L.R. Mauck

P.S. This was written while at work. I apologize if it doesn’t flow well or there are mistakes.

Extra Details

As a writer, it is very tempting to get as much as possible into a story so that the readers can see the same story and details that we see when writing it. Through editing, the story gets refined and sometimes details are cut because they do not add anything additional to the actual story plot.

However, I would say to keep in a few of those extra little details. They may not add to the plot, but they add to the story.

The best example I can give is not a modern book: the Bible. I hardly know of any other books that has the same plot, situation, and people, but has different writers. In the book of Luke, the extra details given do not take away from Matthew, Mark, or John, but adds to it. In (NKJV) Luke chapter 6 verse 1: “Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands.” Matthew (12:1-8) and Mark (2:23-28) mention the same situation, however, they do not included the “rubbing them in their hands.”

wheat

I’m a farmer’s daughter, so I mentally picture the grain as raw wheat. If you have seen raw wheat in the fields, then you would know that there is an outer skin protecting the grain seed. It is rough and there is hair-like fibers on it (see picture). If the disciples were walking by the field, plucking the grain heads and eating them, I automatically want to cringe. However, the extra detail Luke provides, says they were “rubbing them in their hands”. That extra detail turns my cringe into understanding. Rubbing the raw wheat heads in their hands would breaks apart the outer skin to separate the grain seeds.

With this example, you see small five words changed the description. I don’t mean that you as a writer need to lay out every single step-by-step action. That gets redundant and tedious. However, a few well placed details provides a more refine mental image to the reader.

An additional note: don’t be too descriptive in your writing.  You don’t have to describe the fluffy clouds or how blue the bluejay’s feathers are. Keep the story moving. Paint the picture, but don’t lose the picture image because of the brush strokes.

L. R. Mauck

 

A Happy Moment

Most stories have a drama flare or an intensity that keeps building throughout the story. Your story needs to have that fight/pull feel to it to get to that climax and to keep your readers in suspense. However, you also need to have intervals that break up the intensity and help pace your story.

There are several ways to accomplish this:

  • Create hobbies for the characters. See Adding Hobbies
  • Create a character that is the comedy relief. The character doesn’t need to be funny 100% time through the story, but can be a someone who can be naturally funny or tries to relieve uncomfortable situations by telling jokes. Think of Chandler from the sitcom Friends.
  • Have the main character do some quirky traits. See Character Personality Traits and Character Flaws – Note: they don’t have to be negative traits or flaws. Challenge yourself and create good ones or funny spins to them.
  • Your story overall needs to have Character Growth. The intensity of the story can slow down in places to have the character growth focused on. It helps set the pace a bit more.
  • Add in something unique to the character: an anniversary, a birthday, gaining their college or high school degree, drivers license, a speech to prepare for then give, etc.
  • Adding in Road Blocks / Challenges to the story can really slow the pace of the story. Don’t have nothing but road blocks building up to the climax, but add them in as twists or ways to help with character growth. Note: Same as above – challenge yourself and create good road blocks in the story.

I’m sure there’s more, but just remember that not all experiences are bad. Even the bad ones, we learn and grow from it. Don’t limit your story and more importantly, don’t limit yourself.

L. R. Mauck

When your Muse is Gone

Many artists – from musicians to actors to chefs to athletes to painters to writers – will draw inspiration from something other than themselves. It can be anything from someone close to you to an idea or goal to a physical object to a personal experience to a spiritual level. This source of inspiration is what is called a muse.

Having a muse can be great. It gives you an outside perceptive (out of the box look) to view your work. The more muses you gain, the larger pool of inspiration you can pull from.  However, a muse can be bad when it is suddenly gone. Trying to find your creativity is like being lost in the middle of a wooded wilderness. You have an idea and a direction, but you just can’t put one foot in front of the other.

This is where I am now.

For many, many years, writing is a hobby of mine. To help me focus on my writing, I use music as background noise. But, when my favorite band comes on, my mind uses their music as a source to write by. If it’s a scene that is very active or intense, I’ll listen to one of their hard rock songs. Those scenes do tend to pick up speed that matches the songs. When it needs a slower, calmer scene, I’ll listen to some of their more meaningful songs. The lyrics are absolutely amazing and can speak so many different levels that I have never been unable to relate to any of their albums. Now that I’m on Twitter, I see just how down to earth each of the members of the band are and how, even now, interact often with their fans. If you have read any of my previous posts, you would know instantly that I’m speaking of Linkin Park.

Just after joining Twitter last year, I followed the band and assumed that they would continue putting out new albums up until we are all deaf from old age and I wouldn’t care any more. Then, sadly, July 20th happened that sent an earthquake through many fans and stopped the band in their tracks. It still hard to believe that Mr. Bennington is no longer here. I had no idea just how much the band had influenced my writing over the years until those days immediately following his death. I sincerely felt that this was the last of Linkin Park. Just that thought seemed to freeze every new creative notation within me. I had many ideas already recorded prior on a single flash drive (yes, I know backups save lives). Then the flash drive disappeared in the fall. You all probably saw that my blog posts started tapering off. I no longer had an outline of topics. My writing in general has been suffering as well.

But Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park) surprised many with releasing three new songs this year that were created solely by him. Over the last few weeks, I’ve listened to the songs. When the songs first played, I examined the content of the songs and mentally compared them to other Linkin Park songs. Then later, I thought about how I felt when Chester passed. But tonight as I’m currently listening to the songs right now, they finally clicked in my head. Linkin Park drew their own inspiration from the paths they walked themselves. Mr. Shinoda is still doing the same thing with his new material. Each song speaks of exactly how he found his way to get back to his craft. He was lost after his band mate’s death and needed to find that first step to getting his life back. Then he had to deal with grieving while on stage (literally and figuratively). I can’t imagine how they would have felt, but the songs give a window into the roller coaster of grief.

This was what I needed tonight. To see what I myself must do. Yes, Linkin Park will still be my muse for much of what I do. But I need to look to myself and make those necessary steps to get back on track.

Ways to get passed your dead muse &/or writers block

  • Set aside a time to think about your story. Take notes.
  • Read – the more you read, the more your imagination is in use
  • Interview your characters
    • One suggestion I received was to write a background story of how the characters met
  • Research – the more you work with your material, the more twists or ideas will aid you
  • Set aside a time to WRITE
    • There are times that you just have to get your hands dirty
    • Set a daily goal to write just a paragraph, then increase it as you start writing
    • Setting a timer beside you will help push you and keep you focus to write the word count goal and not give into checking Twitter or playing cards
  • If you can’t find the inspiration you need where you typically write, change locations
    • Just don’t try writing in front of the tv. Trust me, it doesn’t work.
  • Talk to someone or out loud to a wall about your story. Hearing it verbally described will make you think more about your characters and the overall story plot. They may even be able to offer additional ideas to use.
  • If you aren’t on twitter, you need to be. There are so many other writers on there offering support and tips.

I hope these help you in your writing. I am still struggling, but I’m setting a daily goal of writing. Every little bit will build to a story.

L. R. Mauck