Second, if you’re still intent on being a writer and getting published by a REAL publisher, you’d better have a thick skin and be able to take rejection…after rejection… after rejection! You may NEVER find an agent or publisher for your work. Louis L’Amore, probably America’s most prolific writer of Westerns, was reputedly rejected 350 times before getting his first story published.
So, unless you’re writing for the joy of it…that you really want to get that story down on paper, no matter what…then find some better use for your time.
But if in the face of all that, you still want to write that novel, then here’s some advice.
First, pick up a couple of books on fiction writing. Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel,” and Albert Zuckerman’s “Writing the Blockbuster Novel,” are two of a legion of titles available. Zuckerman’s book gives you a complete roadmap, from beginning to end. You can search Amazon or www.ABE.com (good, like-new used books, cheaper) or the library. While you’re at it, you should pick up Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” which you’ll need later. Read those first, to get you on the right track.
Now, imagine the story you want to write, think of where it’s going and the characters who are going to take it there…and how you want it to end. I write a brief outline, often chapter by chapter, and make up 4 x 6 cards for each major character. Those cards should show each character’s physical appearance (eye color, hair, nose, height, build, distinguishing features, etc.), and who they are (personality), and a list of their various interests. The more complete you make these, the more your characters will take on real-life dimensions. And if while fleshing out your story, you add something to the character, add it to their card. You don’t want a blue-eyed gal to have “emerald” eyes later. Believe me, it happens.
Time to begin writing. Everyone does this differently. Personally, I’ll write the entire story before I do much editing. I don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar while I’m getting my story down. I try to get emotionally involved with my protagonist, and I let him (or her) take over the plot. Each of my four novels changed substantially as I wrote, from my original outline. Even the endings on a couple got changed. In collaboration with my editor at TAG, Dee Burks, I made substantial revisions to much of the end of TRAPPED, although I preserved the very ending.
The hard work comes when you’ve finished the first draft. My immediate task is correcting mechanical errors: spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence construction. Then look at the story. Did you create tension? Donald Maass asks, “What’s the worst thing that can happen to your characters?” After coming up with that trauma, he asks, “What can be WORSE than that?” Wow! Even worse! Okay, you finally think of something really bad, and then Maass asks, “What’s even WORSE than that?” If there’s no jeopardy…no anxiety…no one will bother reading it.
Okay, now you’ve built lots of tension. Now read the dialog out loud. Does it sound contrived or natural? Join a critique group where you can read some pages, and listen to other read theirs…and develop a sense of what sounds good. Good dialog requires few tags. Readers should usually know who is talking, but if you need a tag for clarity, keep it mostly to “he said; she said.” And use contractions. People rarely say “I do not” instead of “don’t”…unless it’s used for emphasis.
Then, go back and find “static” words, replacing them with vibrant words. He “scurried” from the room, not “ran.” She “studied” him, not “looked.” The sun “burst” over the horizon, not “rose.” This is how you punch up your prose, and develop you own “voice.”
Finally, review your descriptive areas. It’s important for your readers to have a mental picture of how someone or someplace looks…but don’t over-do it. Some writers spend a half-page describing how a person is dressed. That’s way too much, and takes your readers out of the story. Find the middle ground.
Don’t think one edit or revision will do it, either. I removed a complete side plot from my original version of TRAPPED. It was exciting, but just didn’t add to that story. But it wasn’t a loss. I’m using it in one of my new Al Warner detective novel, so that manuscript starts out already half written.
In the end, writing the first novel will be a huge learning experience. Few authors get their first novel published. While in a sense, I’m bucking that trend, since TRAPPED is my first novel. But I’ve written three others, and TRAPPED is so rewritten from my first draft, it might as well be my 5th…or 6th !
That’s what it takes to succeed.
George A Bernstein is a youthful seventy-six-year-old, with a B.A. from Northwestern University, now living in south Florida, and the retired president of a publicly-held Chicago company. George's main interest is as a serious novelist. He has attended numerous writers’ conferences and seminars, including that of famous fiction agent, Donald Maass, and he has worked with independent editor, Dave King, all with the goal of improving his craft.
George is also a “World-Class” fly-fisherman, and has held a dozen various IGFA fishing World records. In his life before writing, George ran Outdoor Safaris, a World-wide fishing & hunting tour operator, working with airlines and travel agencies promoting premier sporting trips. He has also published the definitive book on fly-fishing for pike & musky, Toothy Critters Love Flies.
George's first novel, Trapped, is published by TAG Publishers, after being a finalist in their Next Great American Novel contest. Dee Burks and her staff really love the story, and her revision suggestions helped make Trapped the best it can be. Trapped was also a finalist at the 2012 Florida Writers Association RPLA fiction contest in 2012. Trapped has received virtually all 5-Star reviews on Amazon.
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The darkness is still, silent. Jackee Maren’s heart pounds reverberating through her body as fear sears her veins. Someone’s coming. No way out. This time they will kill me. Her breath is short, her chest burns. Must run. Faster. Faster! Her eyes fly open, her heart still racing with blinding fear. Jackee breathes deeply with relief and stares at the ceiling desperately trying to calm herself. The same dream. Something, someone is watching . . . and waiting.
A tragic car accident leaves beautiful, vibrant Jackee Maren completely paralyzed, in “Locked-in Syndrome,” able to move only her eyes. Jackee’s husband, Phil, is devastated and her two young boys left with nothing but a shell for a mother, but still, Jackee senses the foreboding of an evil presence and knows time is short.
Slowly, Jackee learns to communicate with her physical therapist, Kevin, by blinking her eyes. As evidence comes to light that her car accident was no accident, Jackee doggedly strives to expose the person who wants her dead before they get a second chance.
While Jackee struggles to put all the clues together, she’s stunned to discover she has the ability to sense the thoughts of others, but she hides this talent from everyone but her sons, not knowing whom she can trust. By actively exercising her new psychic ability, Jackee finally learns who masterminded the “accident” but feels helpless to stop them from trying to kill her again.
Desperate to survive, she slowly concocts a psychic plan to not only ensure her boys are safe forever, but to exact retribution on her would-be murderer. Jackee vows not to rest until this villain understands what it is to be TRAPPED! But she must hurry. Her psychic manipulations of the players in her “skit” of revenge are sapping her meager reserves, leaving her with only months to live.
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Excerpt from trapped:
Turn signal flashing, she eases into the right lane in front of a large, battered pick-up, with less than a half-mile to the Old Orchard Exit Ramp. Jackee Maren rarely drives so aggressively, but first delayed by her two sons’ late departure from school, and then navigating around a minor fender bender on Dundee road, she is already ten minutes behind, and she’s never late. The Northern Illinois Chapter of the United Way won’t start their planning session without their chairwoman, and Jackee hates the idea of keeping so many busy people waiting.
Peeling onto the ramp, her attention is drawn to her two boys, bickering and shoving in the back seat. Glancing back at the road, a ridge of goose bumps cascades down her spine. They’re hurtled toward a string of glaring taillights… cars unexpectedly stopped by a red light at the first intersection off the expressway.
Jamming a foot on the brakes, she’s stunned when the big Mercedes slews sharply right, smack into the path of the huge pickup truck, which had exited behind her. It slams into the rear fender of the sedan, sending it careening off the road, the seatbelts gouging her shoulder, crushing the breath from her lungs.
“Hang on boys,” she gasps. Oh God! My sons! They can’t die here.
They spin down the embankment like an eccentric top, ricocheting off a bridge column. The wheel torn from her grip, the air filled with the screech of rending metal and the stench of burning rubber, the car rears like a great angry beast, its rear legs hamstrung. Slamming down, it hurtles backward into the culvert, bucking and skipping along the steep embankment.
Despite seatbelts, Jackee is flung around like a rag doll in the jaws of some huge terrier. The air bag erupts in the midst of their tumultuous downward plunge, rushing out at 200 MPH, just as frontal impact slings her forward.
Her face catches the brunt of the blow, skewering lips on her teeth, smashing her nose. A searing bolt of pain fires across her brain, igniting a burst of red heat behind her tearing eyes. A sharp pitch right crushes her left cheek against the window, knocking her momentarily senseless. The sedan teeters, enveloped in a cloud of dust, hunkering precariously on its haunches before crashing down on its wheels, coming to a thunderous, grinding stop.
She awakens to wailing and blubbering from the two small boys in the rear seat.
“Mommy!” The call gasped through ragged breathing.
“Mommy!” Now a frantic screech.
“I’m…I’m here.” We’re alive! Thank God, we’re all still alive.
She sags against the seatbelt, every joint singed with agony, unable to will herself into action.
Help should be coming. She moans. Gotta hang on… She slips out of consciousness.
The continued bawling and moaning of her sons stir her, drawing her out of the fog of semi-consciousness. One of her eyes is swollen shut, but the other flickers open, glazed with shock.
Where the Hell’s Fire/Rescue.