It can take 21 months or more to cut a diamond into sparkling perfection. Rushing the process could lead to excessive diamond wastage, unnecessary ugly inclusions and poor shaping. The Diamond cutting business is a prime example of an industry in which “Slow and Steady” wins the day. The same applies to editing and polishing a manuscript. I, for one, have been too keen to take my rough manuscript and hoped it would pass the keen eyes of an accomplished literary agent, only to realise too late that the work needed many more months of fine revision. My humble experience has taught me to not rush the process, and take as long as it needs to make it ‘shine.’ With my first book, 3 WISE MEN, I was not happy until about a year after the first version; with my new book, it has taken a similar length of time to get feedback and re-work the ‘final’ draft. I am so pleased that I slowed down the revision process and hope my readers will be too. A good red wine needs to be opened and sit for a while, allowing it to “breathe”and soften the flavours and release enhancing aromas. Writing is no different? No. JD Salinger took 10 years to write Catcher in the Rye, and the first Harry Potter instalment was six years in the making. Time heals many things and writing is no different.
“Successful authors are those who know just how difficult it is to write a book.” Stephen Fry
“A man who is not born with the novel-writing gift has a troublesome time of it when he tries to build a novel. He has no clear idea of his story. In fact, he has no story.” Mark Twain
It starts with the fear of writing your first essay in English and submitting papers at college. When I look back on my time as a student, not one teacher was able or willing to give lessons on writing a novel or novella. At college, I was taught by professors who had published works, but they were mainly collections of poetry or scientific works. However, most of my teachers were willing to correct mistakes in my writing. If only they had taken the time to inspire writing? Our heroes were sporting stars and famous politicians or engineers, etc. Except for one, and he was significant—so much so, that I just have to tell you about him in the next post!
A good question. When is the best time to introduce your main characters in your novel? I made a big mistake on this in my second novel—the draft did not feature the main character (the protagonist) and antagonist until later in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. When I reworked the script to have these characters appear in Chapter 1, along with a strong hint of the conflict between them, it produced better tension and moved the plot along with more pace.
Definitions (from here):
The definition of a protagonist is basically “the main character”. Here is the Wikipedia definition:
“A protagonist (from Ancient Greek πρωταγωνιστής (protagonistes), meaning “player of the first part, chief actor”) is the main character in any story, such as a literary work or drama. The protagonist is at the center of the story, makes the key decisions, and experiences the consequences of those decisions.”
The Wikipedia definition of antagonist is the following:
An antagonist is a character whose motivations, goals, desires or opinions are opposed to those of the protagonist.
The important aspect in this alternative definition is the lack of hostility. Remember, I am in favor of tension to drive a story, but not in favor of (instant) trouble. Hope this helps your writing; it sure helped mine!
Your Query lands on the Literary Agent’s desk and you hope for representation? No, that’s wrong. Your Query lands somewhere in a pile of Queries like this…
So, what are your chances of having your <great, edited, beta-checked, fabulous) novel accepted? From my research, I would guess about one chance in a pile of Queries this tall. Some calculate that the chance of making it through the Slush Pile is 1 in 100; then 1 in another 100 to have it accepted by a publisher. Others put the chance at 1 in 6000. It all depends upon which literary gatekeeper you refer to.
I had a non-fiction book accepted my Macmillan Publishers and it did very well (with four reprints). Then I self-published my first thriller and it received great reviews, yet these did not translate into spectacular sales. I wonder if the title—3 WISE MEN—put off the non-religious readers, even though it is hardly religious at all?
My latest novel awaits representation from a literary agent and I believe in the book enough to pursue this route until I find the right one. Plus, I want a wide audience to enjoy a contemporary novel that addresses global imbalances in wealth in a post-COVID world, along with Cold War drama and high-tech espionage. My new novel aims to be current and intriguing, with enough tension to keep you awake, and enough humour to enjoy the literary journey. In the next few posts, I will use extracts from the book to wet your appetites. And, if you are keen, I am looking for a few more Beta Readers to give me feedback.
“The more I listen to (literary) agents the more I feel like a ribbon on a kite. Which way does the wind blow today?” Many will identify with this comment. After all, one day you Query Letter is not up to the task, the next your word count is too low; another day you chose the wrong sub—genre, and the next you made a grammatical error.
One thing you need to keep reminding yourself is that the ‘answer is blowing in the wind.’ Just hang on to that kite!
Like you, I am hoping that the wind will blow my way. I have published before, have self-published, have a couple of blogs going and believe in the book I have finished enough to stay clinging to the tail of the kite I am chasing!
I came across a wonderful quote recently, by Gloria Gaither. She said, “You need to have ideas bigger than your life.” How profound and how ideal to sum up a writer’s goal. Novels, like paintings, can lift us above the ordinary and create worlds far bigger than our own lives; far longer than our histories and far removed from our world. Thank you, Gloria, for inspiring us to have ‘Ideas bigger than our lives’!
Hello again! Publishers look for the ‘hook’ in a thriller, etc. As writers, we look for the ‘divine moment’ that gives us the hook, or at least an important plot. My second thriller (shh, no name yet) was inspired by a small newspaper clipping that mentioned submarines—which explains the picture below :-). The article fascinated me and led to a world-wide hunt (including visits to the USA, Croatia, Gibraltar, etc.) for more information. I am grateful for contacts who expanded my ‘Aha!’ moment, and provide fresh insights to help put the book together. Yes, divine moments are key to my writing!
How does an author find their characters? Here’s a clue—look around you when out and about, at the cafe or while shopping. Everyone you meet and everyone you see has the potential to be a character in your novel! I have used friends and even people sitting opposite me on a train (well, their shoes got into a novel). You can have fun when writing to invent a character who is a blend of a few people. Take someone’s nickname, another’s hairdo. Add a dress from a shop window, and a handbag from a google search. Next, add some details—a hook nose, bald head, unshaven, tattooed, limping, sunken eyes, etc. In my new novel, one of my characters wears lots of yellow. This may not seem significant, but it does later in the book when Sir Christopher Jenson (based a someone close to me) discovers a woman wearing yellow who is cuddling up to another character who has just lost his wife in a skiing accident. Yellow connects these two women for the reader and…I can’t tell you what happens!
I had to answer this question for myself: “How true is my writing to me?”
What does this mean? Put it another way; am I writing for me, or for others? The artist in me wants to write in my voice, my style. I want my writing to reflect my thinking—the way I see my world and how I connect dissimilar objects and events. Steve Jobs, of Apple fame, had a great ad campaign called, “Think Different“. That sums it up for me. I need to “Write Different” as an author. I must be true to myself and not have to copy another author. Yes, I should learn from others, but develop my own style. I cannot stand the works of Dan Brown, yet I learned from him. Great artists break established ways of doing things—that is how new styles develop in Art. Writing is no different. I am still learning, but getting closer to my own style. How do I define that style? Here’s an example. During a trip to Venice I saw a lady wearing a fur coat, yet I never came across any cats. I saw an immediate connection between cat and coat! Unrelated events can be connected through the imagination and it is through “thinking different” that I am learning to “write different”, with a sense of discovery and, yes, fun. I love writing funny stuff in thrillers! I just hope me readers enjoy this style too!
“Your best work is more like being a secretary than being a creative person—you just take the stuff down.” Stephen King in an interview by BDN Maine. Stephen mentions that he never knows how his novels are going to finish. He waits until he gets there before choosing the end—much like choosing dessert after you have finished the main course. John Grisham disagrees and must have the last chapter figured out before he starts a new novel. Me? I have done both and can see merits in either approach. I love the freedom of seeing where the writing will take me, but also appreciate the discipline of plotting a novel before beginning. My first novel, 3 WISE MEN, was like following a string through the darkness. Even I was surprised how it ended and readers loved the spontaneous events that shocked them on the way through. In my second novel, I knew how and where it would end, but still had to fill in the details. The conclusion to Ideas and Writing? Both approaches work fine. It is up to the author. However, have you ever noticed some authors using a formula for their plot development? It gets boring! I’m one who likes to mess it up and surprise readers, as well as myself! I remember the strange experience of sitting down during a break in my teaching and the words poured out, and included an event that even shocked me. It might have been subconscious, but it was real and many commented that they “never saw it coming.” If your writing never sees an event coming, then your shock is magnified for readers!