Jun 10, 2011

6 Normal Searches, and 2 That Make No Sense

Harry Kellar
Sometimes, strange people end up on my blog.

Most visitors who find me through a Google search are looking for answers about the craft of writing. That doesn’t surprise me.

Others, I have no idea what they want.

Basically, search strings leading to Start Your Novel break down into 2 categories: fairly normal, and inexplicable. There’s nothing in-between.

Group One: Fairly normal

1. How to begin a story
2. How to start your novel
3. A funny way to begin a story
4. What you need to know to start your novel
5. Starting your novel with a dream
6. What does fiction teach you

Group Two: Inexplicable

7. Chinese woman sharp teeth pics
8. You will notice the demonic

Numbers 1-6 prompted me to write this post. The ‘how-to’ queries are very common, which means that people want information from someone who’s already dipped their toes in the water.

So I asked myself, what do I really have to say on these topics? What nuggets of wisdom have I gathered over the years as an insatiable reader, teacher and translator? I did some soul-searching and decided to share.

I. Fairly normal

1. How to begin a story

a)      Introduce your main character(s).
b)      Introduce the main conflict/problem, or any event that will lead to it.
c)       Do this as soon as possible.
d)      Don’t start with the weather, unless it matters.*
e)       Don’t start with the time of day, unless it matters.*
f)        Don’t start with trivial details unless they mean something to the characters.

*If such details are not going to affect your characters’ lives in any way, leave them out.

2. How to start your novel

a)      See #1, above.
b)      Make the reader ask “What the hell is going on?” from the very first line.
c)       Start by breaking rules. Go too far. Stop to look over your shoulder, then keep going.

3. A funny way to begin a story

a)      Don’t use clowns. Everyone hates clowns.
b)      Don’t use jokes or puns.
c)       Focus on a character who is down on his luck, whose life is full of stuff that doesn’t make sense. Keep it light. Think My Name is Earl. Comedy is about laughing at someone who is worse off than you, or not as intelligent as you are. One of the comedian’s goals is to make you feel smart; another one is to prove that nobody’s perfect.  
d)      Study your favorite comedies. Find out what they all have in common.
e)       I don’t write comedy, to be honest. Cracked or CollegeHumor might prove better sources of inspiration. Both NSFW, by the way. (At least my computer never got cooties from those websites, so that's one point in their favor.)

4. What you need to know to start your novel

I)                   The uphill battle

a)      It’s going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever tried to do.
b)      You’re going to develop some kind of addiction while you work on that first draft. Chances are it’ll be a ridiculous one, like peanut butter & gummi bear sandwiches.
c)       Writing is not always fun. It can be incredibly frustrating. Get ready for migraines, teary eyes and sleepless nights. Also, guilty feelings that you’re not writing enough.

II)                 The ingredients

a)      Characters. You need to decide who your characters are before you begin. Introducing new characters just to solve problems you didn’t anticipate does not, and will never work.
b)      Plot and Structure. You need to have very clear notions about your beginning, middle and end. Plan every chapter and scene. Would you go on a journey of a thousand miles without a roadmap? The ScriptLab is a great place to learn about narrative structure: read some five-point plot breakdowns over there. Worth your while. TV Tropes has a page on the seven basic plots, which is another good place to start. When you're ready to go a little deeper, Janice Hardy's blog is one you can't afford to ignore.
c)       Language. Write like mad. You only find your writing voice when you have worked beyond exhaustion. When you’re so tired that all the gremlins of self-censorship have evaporated. Ray Bradbury said one should read poetry every day – which works as calisthenics for the writing mind. That’s good advice. Keep your language fresh. You know that week-old lemon half, still in the fridge? Fresher than that.

This little girl already understands what makes a character compelling. I find her use of language utterly fascinating -- it's lyrical and funny at once. If any youtube video makes a case for tapping into your inner child, this one does. I want to write about Jack, the Monkey. He sounds like something out of a China MiĆ©ville or Jim Woodring book. 

5. Starting your novel with a dream

a)      Terrible idea.

6. What does fiction teach you

a)      Problems exist so the characters will overcome them.
b)      Your characters are the focus point for your story. Your main character is the one that conveys the chain of events from beginning to end. Do not mistake ‘main character’ for hero. There’s room in stories for multiple heroes.
c)       Happy endings are not only possible but expected. Real life doesn’t always work that way. Satisfactory endings are always expected. What constitutes a satisfactory ending? One that your characters have fought for.
d)      Poetic justice is not only satisfying but rather common.
e)       Its darker sibling, poetic injustice, also haunts the pages of many a brilliant novel.

II. Inexplicable

8. Chinese woman sharp teeth pics

a)      If you’re not an anthropologist, then you’re afflicted with morbid curiosity.
b)      Here’s a picture of a pelican. Chinese ladies with pointy teeth? Ach. Pelicans are much nicer.

Painting by Melchior d'Hondecoeter

9. You will notice the demonic*

a)      Messing about with the dark side is not always pleasant.
b)      You’ll notice the angelic as well. Do not despair.
c)       “You have to live in hell to see heaven.” – W. S. Burroughs knew a thing or two about a thing or two.

*I got two hits from this string. Two. Why? I don't want to know.

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