Since the dawn of civilization, when men chiseled penis jokes into the walls of their local pub cave, humans wove stories great and small. Throughout the ages, the art of storytelling evolved, but one medium has stood the test of time and even flourished in the modern era. The novel. That is true now more than ever. The e-book revolution has given storytelling back to the public, and the number of authors, self-published and otherwise, is exploding.
Today, if you want to be an author, you have to ask yourself only one question. Do you have a story to tell? Maybe you could create the next Jason Bourne, Jack Ryan or Hannibal Lecter. Here are some tips to help you avoid the pitfalls many first-time novelists encounter.
1. Know your genre.
Before you put that first word on the page, you've got to know what genre you're writing. Can you imagine how irritated you'd be if you thought you were going to see The Dark Knight rise, but instead, the movie involved Christian Bale marrying Reese Witherspoon in a zany romantic comedy? Oh, with lots of giggling too. You wouldn't be pleased, and your reader won't be either if you don't know your genre. Besides, it's the only way you can determine how long your book should be and whether or not you need to kill someone in the first chapter.
Will you write a thriller or maybe a mystery in the vein of Stieg Larsson? Love stories are fine too. Nicholas Sparks is still collecting royalties from The Notebook. Any genre is fine, but you have to pick your poison. That way, your reader will know what to expect. Until you know your genre, you won't know enough to write your book.
2. Do not, we repeat, do not make yourself the protagonist.
There's no kind way to tell you this. You are not interesting enough to be the star of your own novel. Nobody is. Well, maybe Charlie Sheen could write his own story, involving a weekend binge of porn stars that would make Hunter S. Thompson cringe, but most of us don't live in that world. We have children and mortgages. Girlfriends. Nose hair.
Your protagonist should be larger than life. He should say and do the things to his boss that you wish you had thought of. Trust us, he won't be allowed to do that if you lock him into the prison of your own life. This is not to say that you shouldn't write what you know, but stretch your brain. Maybe you're a mechanic. Fine. What if your protagonist races stock cars? Fantastic. This can add author integrity, but he shouldn't have two children like you. His brother shouldn't be an alcoholic if yours is. His girlfriend shouldn't nag him as yours might. Don't pull too much from your own life. Allow your characters to breathe on their own, and they'll reward you with killer stories that sell books.
3. Avoid speaking or even thinking this dumbest author quote. "I don't read fiction. I don't want to ruin my voice."
Stephen King put it this way. "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write."
Imagine if your heart surgeon confided in you as you're being wheeled into surgery, "I don't put much faith in other doctors' techniques or their research. You see, I have my own style."
See how stupid that sounds? Don't be that guy. Nobody is born knowing how to write, and the single best way to learn is to read.
Another similar argument that rookie authors sometimes make is that they don't read because they like to watch movies instead. Though the silver screen may help you hone dialogue, Hollywood is a poor substitute for learning how to make words dance on the page. We cannot stress this enough. Novels are not movies, nor should they be. If you want to write a killer novel, read a book, read nonfiction, and then read a short story. Rinse and repeat.
4. Do not listen to your girlfriend or wife, too much.
Most men love to have their egos stroked. You need to check yours at the door in order to grow as an artist. Though your girlfriend may think you're brilliant, you have to take her praise with a fat chunk of salt. She loves you. She also loves your neck pimple. On the flipside, she may be threatened in some way if you succeed. Loved ones behave in strange ways when authors step to the written word. You shouldn't ignore them completely, but be wary of their praise and their criticism.
5. When the going gets tough, keep on writing.
The only guaranteed way to fail is to quit. If your parents didn't teach you that, they should've. Writing is a skill, and like every skill, you get better with practice. Sure, writing can be tough at times, especially before you hit the first hundred pages, but finishing your own novel is the single greatest dragon you can slay. Think of it as riding a bicycle up a mountain. Once you get to the top, it will be easier pedaling down.
Have a great ride.
For more information from Bonnie and Christopher about writing fiction in the digital age, visit: DIGITAL INK BOOKS