It would appear that my blog, at least for the near future, will be monthly. I am spending most of my writing focused on Nunzio’s Way, which I hope to get to my publisher in the fall. Here I am and welcome back to another, “Rewrite It.”
Also, instead of writing one step at a time, month by month, I am going to discuss all seven-steps (although I have discussed number one, and six previously, I may refer to either again for context) in this edition of “Rewrite It.”
I will appear on r. r. (Ryan) Campbell’s Podcast, “The Writescast Network.” The podcast will take place on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, and he is primarily interested in my Seven-Step Process for writing a Mystery/Thriller. If you’re not familiar with The Writescast Network, please do tune in anytime firstname.lastname@example.org. Ryan is an accomplished author, speaker, and host of The Writescast. Since we will be discussing this process, it makes sense that you have a window into the complete process. I apologize for the length of this edition of “Rewrite It,” and will return to a more surgical look at aspects of writing in the future.
Based on a couple of comments, “Why is “research” not included in your Seven-Step Process?” And, again, “Wouldn’t this process apply to other writing as well?”
My “Seven-Step Process” grew out of a fifteen-step process, “From Idea to a Publishing Contract,” which did included research, editing, rewriting, etc. Out of, but including, the fifteen-step process came the Mystery/Thriller specialty. Research is a big part of the process. I spend about 70% of my time researching and about 30% writing. Out of the fifteen-step process, you can mold any genre. So, the Seven-Step Process can apply, to some extent, to other genres, which might be fun to do in a blog at some point.
#2 How to Start
In my last blog, we discussed finding the idea and scribbling it down and a bit about POV. So now you’re ready to write that first draft.
Do you need an outline? Many of the very best authors will create an outline before they start writing. Some authors, like Patterson, will create a rough outline and then will refine it several times before he begins his first draft. Other authors using an outline will create just one (that may be updated or revised as they write). Many authors just start writing without an outline by the “seat of their pants” (thus, “pants”), having the story develop, and “come to life” as they write their first draft. Others and I am one of them, create a list of implication points. These are the significant moments for character, story, or plot. And, of course, some authors will mix and match. For example, Dan Brown will just start writing (pants) for two or three chapters and then create an outline that may cover the rest of the novel or several chapters along the storyline.
There are a ton of books, as well as articles on the web, about how to create an outline from a rough draft to a detailed guide, from very narrow to the complete story. Try them and find what is comfortable for you. Please know, there is no one right way.
So, you’re ready to write that first draft (let’s say pants), how do you start.
Well, first a few don’ts. 1. Don’t start with a dream or someone waking up. 2. Don’t start with the weather. 3. Don’t start with a cliché. Do let us know who, where, and when seamlessly as soon as possible. Especially, if like me, you start with dialogue. If you do not begin with dialogue, make sure you add some in the first couple of pages.
Now for the dos. Hook us with your opening sentence or paragraph, at most. You must grab my attention and not let go. Open your favorite books. Look at the openings. There are so many great openings –
“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.” – Albert Camus, The Stranger.
“You better not never tell nobody but God” – Alice Walker, The Color Purple.
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” – L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between.
I have a list of my top forty opening lines. If you would like a copy, let me know.
Let’s get back to your opening line. Joyce Carol Oates has permitted us to write as our first line/paragraph – “An unsolved mystery is a thorn in the heart.” That is your entire first paragraph. Now write your second paragraph using all five senses. Once you are satisfied with your second paragraph, remove the Joyce Carol Oates line and your second paragraph becomes your opening. This is a fun workshop for whatever you’re writing from memoire to romance, from YA to mystery. It adds to the exercise if participants write five different second paragraphs. Give it a shot.
#3 The Characters
Let’s move on to your characters. Limit the number of primary and secondary characters. And get to know each one. Have a cup of tea and a piece of pound cake with each character twice. Once from your POV or your narrator’s POV, and second from your character’s POV. Your reader should be able to identify each character as unique in some way. Make your hero and your villain complex. There must be stuff we like about your villain and things we don’t like about your hero. What makes your primary (and some secondary) motivated and angers your characters. What do they want and what’s standing in their way? There are a ton of books about creating believable characters; one of my favorites is, “Take Your Characters to Dinner” by Laurel A. Yourke.
Secondary characters should also be unique/distinguishable and exciting. You are creating a kind of intimacy between the reader and the characters. Third level characters should blend with the story along the arc. However, if you make one too interesting, you might be creating a promise that must be kept.
An excellent workshop here is defining characters from popular books and movies. For example, James Patterson offers Harry Potter – Orphan, modest, loyal, brave, irritable. Hannibal Lecter – Monstrous, brilliant, serial killer, refined gentleman. I had great fun doing this with a 4th-grade class using stories they had all read.
Discussing characters is a perfect opening to “painting your character into a corner. Remember, in the mystery/thriller genre; it is not so much about “what,” it is about “how.” In Weepers, Angelo is walking home and playing with snow with his father behind him. When Angelo turns around his father is gone. Vanished. No sign of him. At that point in my writing, I did not know what happened to Angelo’s father. But as I continued to write, the story unfolded before me. Write yourself into a corner can be part of an outline (notation- now what and why?), or pants, or listed as an implication point. The thing is, what you want your reader saying is, “and then what happened?” over and over as she reads your novel.
Now, a warning about writing yourself into a corner, you may not get out by means of a magic bolt of lightning, wake up from a nightmare, or use any other trickery (unless specific to your genre). I promise you will not keep your reader if you do. In fact, you want to leave clues (and some red herrings) here and there. So, when your hero escapes the corner, your reader says, “Oh yeah, that’s right, I remember the missing car. Cool.” Here is a brilliant opportunity for a workshop about locked room (and other puzzles) mysteries.
Thanks for being here and stay healthy and hopeful, Nick
My Seven Clues which appear in more detail in my first blog HERE and are summarized below:
- Finding the idea and scribbling it down. (POV, past or present, where and when – it’s not the “what” it’s the “how.” I am often asked, “Where do you find an idea?” “Must I write in third-person past-tense?”)
- How to Start (outline, pants, I-points or m&m). Hint, an unsolved mystery is a thorn in the heart (Thank you, Joyce Carol Oats)
- The Characters. Limit the number of main characters and distinguish each from the other.
- The Corners. Yes. You must write yourself into a corner you do not (yet) know how to get out of.
- The Plot, Clues, and Red Herrings.
- The Story and Keeping your promise to the reader.
- How and when to End. But it must be inevitable and a surprise. (Thank you, Aristotle).