Tag Archives: beginning to write

Writing: A Universe of Choices by Pat Bertram

When we choose to write, we are faced with a universe of choices where all things are possible. Many would-be writers never put a single word on the page because the number of choices to be made seem insurmountable. First, we have to choose what to write about. The topic can be anything: love, abuse, super novas. Next we have to choose how to present the topic. As fiction or nonfiction? As a blog? A poem? A short story? A novel?

By making these decisions, we begin to limit our universe of choices. A blog has certain criteria to be met; it must be brief and interesting or we run the risk of losing our readers. A short story can contain complex ideas, but a novel has the scope for us to develop those ideas more fully.

Suppose we choose to present the topic as a novel. Now there are more choices to be made. How are we going to write it? First person or third? Sassy, sarcastic, serious? Who is going to be the main character? What does she most desire? Who or what is stopping her from fulfilling this desire? What does she look and act like? What are her internal traits, both her admirable ones and less admirable ones? Who are her allies? Who are her mentors?

And those choices lead to other choices. What does the character need? (As opposed to what she wants.) Is she going to get what she wants or is she going to get what she needs? For example, maybe she wants to be a homebody, to marry the boy next door, but what she and the story need are for her to become a senator and possibly leave the boy behind.

And so the choices continue, each choice narrowing the story’s universe a bit more.

Some writers love the choosing, the creating, but I love when the weight of those choices become so great that the answer to all future choices can be found in past ones. The character might need to fight off an attacker, and when we try to choose between success and failure, we realize there can be only one outcome. Because of who she is and what she has done, she cannot succeed. To succeed might mean to kill, and she cannot kill anyone even to save her own life.

When the story gets to the point where it seems to make its own choices, it takes on a feeling of inexorability, as if there was always only one way to tell the story.

But, in the end as in the beginning, writing is about the choices we make.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”

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Hooking a Reader

The age of writing long descriptive passages (or even short ones) at the beginning of a novel is long past. Today people want to be drawn immediately into the story without wading through unnecessary verbiage. An editor might look at the first five pages before tossing aside your manuscript, but potential customers will give you a mere twenty seconds to draw them in. Once you have caught their attention, they might read a little further, and perhaps they will even buy the book. They certainly will not wade through the first five, ten, fifty pages until they get to “the good part.”

That “good part” must be right up front, especially if you’re a first-time writer. That’s all you have going for you — the ability to get off to a fast start and capture the reader’s attention. Your name certainly won’t do it; no one knows who you are yet. Your credentials might help, but only to establish your credibility after a potential reader has been hooked. And they will never be hooked by your ability to turn a clever phrase.

So what will hook the reader?  A character. Always a character. No one reads a book for a description of the weather, a place, or an issue. They don’t even want a description of the character. They want to meet him, to see life through his eyes, to bond with him. They want to know what he wants, what his driving force is. And they want to know who or what he’s in conflict with.

Without conflict, there is no story, but without a character for the reader to care about, there is no story either. Character and conflict are inextricably combined, and together they create the tension necessary to sustain a story. I know you think it’s okay to let the tension rise slowly, which it is, but the tension level at the beginning must be high enough to let the reader know something is going on.

A practiced writer knows how to adjust the tension by temporarily letting up on the main conflict and interjecting intermediate conflicts, or even adding inner conflicts to shadow the outer ones, but all conflicts must be somebody’s conflict. For example, you might be concerned about war, but seeing a specific soldier dealing with his experiences makes you care, maybe even makes you cry. And you will want to know what becomes of him.

That’s what hooks a reader.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One,  and A Spark of Heavenly Fire now available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

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My advice for anyone who says… “I want to write a book.”

 

Do it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t over-think the process. Sit down with a pen and paper or at your computer and see what happens.

Everyone must start somewhere and every book you’ve ever read started with one word. Which is probably not the first word you read when you buy it. That first spark in the back recesses of the author’s mind might not have ever made it as far as the first draft, but it still started there.

Then let that word grow into a sentence. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Many times, I don’t even bother using commas, which is bad to admit, but normally the thought wants to flow out so badly that it takes too much time. That is what editing is for, after all.

Stick with it. Don’t just do thirty minutes once. Sit down every day and write or you might get stuck again for a week.

Join the Second Wind Authors this month on our NaNo page if you need a little push along the way.

 

 

 

Suzette Vaughn is the author of “Mortals, Gods, and a Muse” and “Badeaux Knights”

 

 

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