Now that you’ve got a good idea for your novel, how do you turn it into a book? Some writers might advise you to start writing immediately and see what happens. I’ve tried that, and I’ve found that if my idea, characters and plot are lively enough, I can get off to a good start. I began writing my speculative-fiction novel – Not Just A Girl – that way. The character’s conversations sustained the forward movement of the story for nearly half of the first novel. After that, I outlined the rest of the story. I’ve also written short fiction that way too.
Elmore Leonard says he auditions his characters while he’s writing – giving his approach a Hollywood or theatrical spin.
Other writers might suggest that you research you idea, and find characters who will fit the roles needed to bring the idea to life and then learn everything you can about your characters. Then sketch out your plot and begin writing.
On the other hand, your idea might not be an idea at all, but a cast of characters living and carrying on in a particular place and time. You may see these characters and hear them talk to one another or even to themselves. They might be discussing love or sex or the neighbors or gun control or the band or singer they saw the night before.
If you’ve got characters let them talk all they want. Get out whatever you use to write with and start taking down their talk. After awhile they may help you discover your story and plot.
Whatever approach you try, it all starts with the first word, the first sentence and the first paragraph. Don’t be afraid to start. Just remember that all good writing is usually re-writing. That means once you’ve finished writing for the day, or you’ve reached the end of your story or novel, you can and mostly likely will go back and rewrite what you’ve done and make it better.
So why not make a start now. What do you have to lose? What you write doesn’t have to be “perfect” the first time out. Go for it!
I read a front page article from the Sunday edition of the New York Times a few years ago on a new money-making scheme Wall Street insiders were beginning to invest in called – Life Settlements. It was a simple idea that had been around for awhile – purchase the life insurance policies of the old and/or infirm for less than the payout value, continue to pay the premiums, and then collect the payout when the person died – presumably a lot more money than the purchase price and the total dollar value of the premiums the investors had to pay.
The writer of the article hinted that Life Settlements might have the potential of becoming Wall Street’s next housing boom because of the trillions of dollars worth of insurance policies held by Americans. There was an undertone in the article that another Wall Street disaster might eventually occur.
The idea I took from the article was this: if investors wanted to maximize their investment, the insured had to die as soon as possible after the investor bought the insured’s policy. The longer the investor had to pay the premiums on an insurance policy, the less profit the investor would make.
That idea that sat in the back of my mind for a few days. Then I read the article again and highlighted various parts and made notes about possible characters and events that might take place, and areas that I would have to research to build a background of information on Life Settlements.
When I came back to the article and my notes a few weeks later with fresh eyes I realized that Life Investments held a lot of potential, in my humble opinion, for a crime novel. I didn’t have my novel’s title – Insure to Murder – yet, but I was sure that a private detective like Robert Champion would want to take on a case surrounding the untimely deaths of former life insurance policy holders.
People ask me where I get my writing ideas. The best answer is everywhere, but most people won’t find that answer very edifying. I understand their reaction. Everywhere can mean on the side of a breakfast cereal box, in the pattern of clouds in the sky, in the instruction manual for newly purchased software, in other words, everywhere. So where is my “everywhere,” exactly?
I found the idea for my latest Robert Champion novel, Insure to Murder, in an article on the front page of the Sunday New York Times back in 2006. I let the idea gestate for a few years before I developed it and finally wrote the novel. That gestation period will be the subject for future blog entries.
The “idea” for my novel, Not Just A Girl, came during the writing of another novel. The “idea” actually came in the form of the two main characters – Richie and Roxanne. When I heard them talking to each other, I listened. I started taking down their conversation. As I listened to their voices, I began to “see” them. That experience gave me enough information to start creating their story. Other characters, the story line and the plot began to develop. Areas where research would be needed became clear and obvious.
To return to Insure to Murder, many of the ideas I get for writing projects come from newspapers. The Sunday edition of the New York Times is a good source. Newspapers are an excellent source for stories that serve as the seed for a crime story or novel, since one of the main functions of a newspaper is to report on crime. The writer needs only to apply his or her imagination and the tools in the writer’s toolbox to expand and build on a news story, using it without the specifics, to build a new story worth telling.
So where do you get your ideas?
By the way a great blog-resource for self-publishing writers is the writer’s blog: http://www.selfpubauthors.com
The Self Publishing Authors Helping Other Authors blog is run by several very smart, self-published writers who offer plenty advice for new eNovelists-Writers. It’s worth checking out.
I’ve finally published my new Robert Champion eNovel – Insure to Murder.
Here’s a short summary: During private detective Robert Champion’s investigation into the death of his client’s mother, he uncovers a life insurance scam run by bankers, investors and the Russian Mafia, along with a caregiver who also delivers death!
I’ve enjoyed writing about Robert Champion and his world in the wine country of Central California and Santa Barbara. I hope you will enjoy stepping into his world too. You can read Chapter 1 of Insure to Murder right here on my website. You can read more and download Insure to Murder for $2.99 on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Insure_to_Murder/dp/B00A9IEOR8
I’ve spent the last few days tweeking my new Robert Champion crime eNovel – Insureto Murder. What exactly is “tweeking”? It’s what I call fact checking, weather coordination, name checking, place checking and other cross-checking, as well as polishing the prose to make it read better and easier.
One of the handy tools in MSWord is the ability to bookmark specific items, be they words, paragraphs or chapters in a manuscript. When I started writing on typewriters (anyone other than writers remember them?) I used to have to write down page numbers, scrible notes on the pages or use Post Its and keep a list of notes in order to remember what to fix when I returned, sometimes months later, to fix problems. I still keep a note log of little and big details that pop up as I write, and in that way I can continue writing knowing that I’ve captured a detail that I need.
An example from Insure to Murder: “the tattoo on a man’s hand” – I bookmarked the first instance of this word in a conversation between Robert Champion and Wolf (Champion’s Native American associate). Wolf mentions a tattoo of a cat and a skull seen on the back of another man’s hand. I wanted to make sure I that I described the tattoo correctly as it figures into the story several times further on. I had also reasearched this specific tattoo before writing the passage, and I wanted to double check my sources later, so I added a book mark to the manuscript so I could return to it once I had finished the first draft of the novel.
Bookmarking – what a great writer’s tool. Now back to tweeking and spell-checking.
I’ve just completed the first full edit of Insure to Murder, my new Robert Champion crime novel. I’ll be going back to a few chapters I’ve bookmarked to make sure the writing makes fictional sense. And then I have to launch spell check and make the thrilling journey through all 258 pages again.
I’ll print out a copy for one of my first readers, after which I’ll enter the spelling and grammer corrections they find and look at any structural problems they might find.
So I’m just a little ahead of schedule for releasing Insure to Murder on Amazon and Smashwords, as well as put up the novel’s first chapter on this website. Keep your eye out for it. I’ll let you know on this blog when it’s ready to read, which will be before the complete book is ready to download.
I’m closing in on the finish line on my first edit of my next Robert Champion crime novel – Insure to Murder. I’m still on track to finish the first edit by October 16th. The process is going well. As I mentioned in an earlier post, editing requires that I re-imagine the scenes and the characters. I must see how the characters look, hear how they talk and re-imagine what takes place in each scene in the book.
It’s not quite like the first draft and putting words on a blank screen or blank page. The words on the screen take me right back into the the characters’ imaginary world. When the original text works the entire process flows along in the fictional dream.
But when changes need to be made, or a “fact” needs to be check, I’m jerked back into real time and another part of the writer-brain takes over. Those stops in the flow might require a trip out on the internet, or picking up a reference book, or looking in a folder full of notes before the editing can resume.
I used to hate this kind of editing because it can be long, hard and tiring. But for me, there’s no way around it. No matter how hard I try to get things right the first time around, it’s impossible to catch all the misspelled words, bad grammer and punctuation choices, and bad sentence and story logic. So onward I press reliving the story with Robert Champion and the other characters.
If you’re a writer, please share your editing experiences.
After about 100 pages of editing, my new Robert Champion crime novel Insure to Murder, I’m discovering that after about ten pages I start to get tired and have a hard time concentrating and making decisions about changes. I read every word and sentence looking for misspellings, errors in grammer and other language problems.
I also try to strenghten the prose and tighten up the meaning of a sentence if it sounds vague or fuzzy. I try to edit my work from the 30,000 foot point-of-view of the overall story beginning to end. Since I know the ending I can take out anything that might give away the ending.
There’s a lot of balls to keep in the air from the reuse of specific names for places like coffee shops and restaurants, to time lines of past events, to the sound of each character’s voice in the dialogue. It amounts to reimagining the story again.
If you write tell me about your experiences with editing, and/or send me any questions you have about the editing process.
I’ve just finished the first draft of a new Robert Champion crime novel called Insure to Murder. I’ve begun to run Word’s spell check on the 80,000 word novel. If you’ve ever spell-checked a long manuscript you soon discover that if left to its own devices MS Word would change enough of your language to make you look like even more of an idiot in print. It has real problems with the contraction “it’s” versus “its” along with the spelling and uses of “their” versus “there”.
Yet spellcheck does catch a lot grammar hiccups in my prose like noun-verb agreement that happen when I’ve gone back and made my next-day revisions of the previous day’s prose that I do before facing off with a new day’s blank screen (comparable to the often dreaded pre-computer-stone age blank 8 1/2 x 11 page).
I wonder if there’s a way to correct or teach spellcheck-grammarcheck besides the “add to the dictionary” command. I admit that option has been one of the most helpful over the years. Any thoughts on the matter?