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L.T. Suzuki

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Blogs by L.T. Suzuki

Writing Tips for the Novice Novelist
7/7/2009 9:57:21 PM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

Recently, I received this email from one of my Imago fans:

Hi Lorna

For fun I have been writing a little bit and I have this idea for a novel. For the last little while I have been fleshing out characters etc. Basically, whatever has been popping into my head when I think about the story, I’d write it down. Now when I attempt to start writing the story I am having trouble and don't really know how to begin.

I have a couple of questions: How do you start a story? How do you put all your ideas together and make it make sense? Also, where did you learn how to write in the form of a novel? How long or how many words should a novel be. Sorry for all the questions, but you are the only author that I know.

Anyway, any advice you could provide would be appreciated. Like I said, I am just doing this for fun in my spare time, but I would really like to get this story on paper.

I never really gave the writing process much thought before I received this email. I just plunked myself down at my laptop and typed away. But after thinking of an intelligent way to explain how I write, this is what I shared with him:

First & foremost, you're on the right track: Writing because it's fun! It can also be very cathartic.

Secondly, do write down your ideas as they come to you as it's easy to forget when you get going as a rush of ideas can overwhelm you.

When you are ready to write, start with a hook that will draw the reader into the story. One of the biggest mistakes a novice does is to open with a description of the place or the weather, etc. The driving force that compels a reader to keep turning the pages doesn't appear until you're well into the book. If you cannot grab and hold their attention within the first few paragraphs, you're screwed.

Everyone has different methods when it comes to writing and there is no one right way. This will come with experience. I find that I first determine what kind of story I want to tell and in what genre. (For the last 5 or so novels, I knew how the story starts and how it ends, but because it takes so long to get to the ending, I will write it first so I won't forget all the details that made it stand out in my mind in the first place.

Once I know the basic story, I'll hold what I can only describe as a casting call for characters. I determine who are principle characters and who will end up as cannon fodder so I can decide how much I can invest in them. When you flesh out your characters, it means not just knowing what they look like, it means understanding their personality, motives for thinking or acting as they do, their flaws & weaknesses, their strong points, etc. The more real the characters are, then the easier it will be for them to tell their story to you.

If you're having a difficult start, try this: Think of your novel as a movie. Envision how you would see it unfolding on the big screen. Think of all the movies you've seen and what stood out to really catch your imagination and kept you wanting to watch to the end.

Writing can be like piecing together a big puzzle. Often, I'll be in the midst of writing one scene and then, all of the sudden, something completely out of left field that has nothing to do with what I'm working on will come to me.
I don't dismiss it, especially if it's really great. I'll quickly write this scene and then save it for later. I end up cutting & pasting where it'll best fit into the story.

When I first started writing, I just wrote. I had no formal training. I basically wrote the way I like stories to unfold. It was only after I went to the Surrey International Writers Conference did I really learn the craft of writing. The conference is in October, I'll be going and I recommend you attend too. It's a great place to learn from some of the best teachers (bestselling authors like Diana Gabaldon, Jack Whyte, Terry Brooke, Hallie Ephron and more. Check out the site at www.siwc.com.)

My writing style has changed drastically since then. If you compare my first book to my latest, you can see the difference, right from the very first sentence.

Just be careful of little things that will mark you as a novice: i.e. starting a paragraph with "Suddenly, the lights went out..." or having a grocery list description of a character: i.e. "She had tanned skin, long, blonde hair, beautiful green eyes, etc. Instead, try to work character description into the story something like this: She tossed her long, blonde hair over her bare, sun-kissed shoulder, gazing shyly in his direction. That one, fleeting glimpse was enough to make his heart skip a beat when he caught sight of her dazzling, emerald eyes...
See the difference?

Of course, these are just some basic tips to get an aspiring author on the road to writing. Hopefully, this will help! And just remember, it’s a craft that only improves the more you write and the more you are willing to learn.




Comments (1)

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