We like to cater to the desires of all types of writers, from fiction to copywriting. So when Larry Brooks, an old friend, an ex pro baseball player and most importantly a bestselling novelist, offered to write a series on fiction writing and getting published, I was quite happy to say yes.
Some really smart people do some really dumb things when writing their first novel – or their tenth, for that matter. They read – at least, they should, if they aspire to write – and because the pros make it look easy, these people believe they can write a novel just as well as published authors. If not better.
It’’s not all that hard. Writing a novel just needs a throat-gripping idea and a couple of months.
Well, Tiger Woods makes his game look easy, too. But the smart people that watch him play wouldn’t dream of entering the U.S. Open qualifier to compete against him and hope to win.
The odds of turning pro as a novelist, of actually publishing a novel, are about the same.
That’s the first of the five things you absolutely need to know before you write a novel. If you know this, if you really get that you need to work hard, be serious and not be remotely cavalier about what it takes to get published, then it can be done.
That’s what the rest of the points are about.
Architecture is More than a Fancy Building
The second thing you need to know before you write a novel is that there is such a thing as story architecture. It’s much more complicated than stringing together a beginning, a middle and a spiffy ending.
Screenwriters have an inflexible story paradigm. The parameters novelists use are much looser and rarely spoken aloud – but you depart from them at you own peril. Publishers aren’t looking to reinvent the novel; they’re expecting a great story told from within accepted parameters.
The Secrets That Get You Published
What are those secret parameters? What is story architecture? It goes like this:
- A set-up with a killer hook
- Character intro with back-story and context
- A sense of place
- Foreshadowing and the establishment of stakes
- The hero’s impending need and inner demons
- The emerging seeds of a subplot
- A major plot point that introduces the story’s antagonistic element
- The definition of the hero’s quest or need
- Scenes that deepen the tension as the hero responds
- Refining the nature of the quest and the elements of its opposition
- A mid-story mind-numbing context shift that changes everything
- The evolution of the hero into a pro-active warrior
- Another significant plot twist that puts all the cards on the table
…followed by a series of scenes that show how the hero is applying what he’s learned to become a catalyst in the story’s oh-so-satisfying conclusion.
It’s all learnable. It really is. Learn it, master it, and you will publish.
The Six Core Competencies a Novelist Needs
Thirdly, story architecture is only part of one of the six core competencies you need to render at a professional level before your book stands a chance:
- Plot sequencing
- Scene construction
- Writing voice
This section is really simple. If you are weak in any one of these six core competencies, you’re dead in the slush pile.
You’d Better Like Baseball If You Want to Write
Fourth, the criteria for a new author is different than for a previously published, name-brand author.
Famous authors trade on their brand; their stories only need to be good enough. That’s where you got the notion you could do just as well in the first place. But don’t be seduced – you have to submit something that is other-worldly original, provocative, powerful and artful. You have to knock it out of the park.
Which cleverly brings us to the fifth point…
Publishers are looking for home runs. Don’t settle for good – go for the fence. Publishers have plenty of good novels from contracted authors. To take a chance on a newbie, they need a story that knocks their socks off in a way you can’t anticipate.
You have no idea how cynical and jaded manuscript readers and editors can be.
To paraphrase Neil Sedaka, breaking in is hard to do. But it happens. And it might as well happen to you. Before it does, you’ll realize that there are far more than five things you need to know before you write your novel.
More like 175 things.
And the most important of them is this: It is worth all the work.
Knocking it Out of the Park is Better than Golf
You can’t cut corners in the novel-writing trade. But if you humble yourself before the immensity of the task, if you search out and master the 175 things you need to know and write your story with passion and courage and art and craft and great hope, you’ll find yourself standing in the aisle at Borders or Chapters.
You’ll be staring your book in the face. You’ll be all choked up and blushing. And you’ll be thankful you took up writing instead of golf.
Because writers experience life in a way others don’t. We’re observers and chroniclers and analysts. We’re players. In the roles we write, we are alive and present. We matter. What we write outlives us.
Which is exactly why it really is worth all the work.
And if none of that is important to you… Well, there’s always caddying.