I’m delighted to welcome author Stefan Vucak to Global Mysteries. He has consented to share some useful suggestions for beginning writers. In reading his post, I found that many of his ideas can apply to experienced writers as well.
Practical Advice for Beginning Fiction Writers
A guest post by Stefan Vucak www.stefanvucak.com
So, you want to be a writer, eh? I’d suggest you take up golf instead. Still
I’m not going to talk about why you want to write. That’s a story in itself. You have read widely and perhaps dabbled at writing some short pieces, and after seeing what’s out there, you’re telling yourself it can’t be that hard. You can do a much better job and you’ve made up your mind to prove to everybody you can do it. You also decided that you can take the pain, the loneliness, frustration and exasperation that goes with writing. Have you? If you haven’t, do think about it. Writing a 300 page book means many hours with a pen, notebook and computer. Time where you don’t want to be interrupted by anything or anybody.
Still want to inflict this on yourself?
When I started, I had grand dreams about getting published and my books in every
store in the world. I’d be famous! Perhaps you might make it, but before you
jump into the writing tar pit, knock any expectations you may have about fame
and money out of your mind. If you want to write for money, become journalist or
a freelance. Better still, get a paying job. That’s my first bit of advice. The
second: forget about becoming famous. If you are honest with yourself, you will
understand that you are driven to write, and you want to share what you have
written with somebody. Everything else is secondary. If you don’t have that fire
burning inside you, goading you to write, never leaving you alone, than you’re
kidding yourself. Remember what I said about golf?
Okay, let’s get serious. Like any profession, writing is a craft and there are
tools you must master to be any good at it. What did Einstein say; ten percent
inspiration and ninety percent perspiration? He got that right. Having a story
idea is nothing. Getting it down on paper in a form readers will not want to put
down is everything. As with anything new, practice makes perfect. If you haven’t
already, write some short stories. Why? The effort will tell you how good you
are at manipulating words, creating sentences, scene breaks and chapters. It
will show you if you have problems with plotting, whether you are character or
action writer; whether you like prose, dialogue or are in love with flowery
adjectives. By the way, drown those adjectives – most of them anyway, or take up
poetry. You need to find your voice. You need to discover your writing style
with which you are most relaxed and one that doesn’t impede the flow of words.
Stilted, awkward narrative and dialogue is death, regardless how good the story
itself might be. Don’t try to imitate an author you like. You must be true to
Some basic things that get overlooked, but are important:
– Format your manuscript correctly. Use 1 inch margins all around and have a
proper header: Author Name/Book Title at left, and page numbering at right.
Amazing how many people get this wrong.
– Use double spacing with your sentences, and don’t right justify the text. That
part comes later when the book gets published.
– Always use the word processor’s automatic paragraph indenting. Have a hard
page break, never one you create using the Enter key to space down the page.
There are other small things, but the idea is to get the fundamentals right
before you put down that first word. Believe me, it will help in the long run.
Why do all that? Firstly, submission editors have rules on manuscript
formatting, but more importantly, you are developing yourself into a
professional, not some amateur who hopes a brilliant story will carry you over
all the bad parts. Long ago, editors helped iron out poorly written manuscripts,
but those days are long gone. Today, your manuscript must be perfect, ready for
typesetting and printing.
Become your worst enemy! You need to develop editorial skills and be prepared to
cut that favorite word, phrase, sentence or paragraph. Never, never become so
attached to your writing that you cannot prune. Like a shrub that needs cutting
in order to make the whole live, you must be prepared to trim your writing. I
know. It’s like hacking off an arm, but you must become inured to the pain, your
eyes set on the end product. It takes time and practice, but it’s worth the
effort. If you don’t do it, your editor certainly will. He will do it anyway
just to demonstrate his superiority over us lesser mortals. Grin and bear it,
and have a bourbon.
Develop a disciplined approach to writing. You would never build a house without
proper architectural drawings. In the same way, never jump into writing that
book without having thoroughly research your subject and written a detailed
outline and worked every plot angle. Careful not to get carried away with the
outline or you’ll end up writing what should really be ‘real’ writing. An
outline is a skeleton on which you write the book around. And like any skeleton,
every bone must be in place or things will start to fall off when you begin to
write. That’s called writer’s block, and can drive you to thoughts of jumping
off tall buildings. It can also result in a book that will be all disjointed and
pieces won’t fit. You can write a short story on the fly, and I’ve done it, but
not a full-length novel. I have seen results of such amateurish writing and I
still shudder when I think of them.
Develop your characters. There is nothing worse than coming across a character
that has blue eyes in one chapter and brown in another. There is more to it than
that, of course, but you get the idea. Every major character in your book should
be fully developed, like a police mug sheet. And like that mug sheet, it should
contain everything: height, color of hair, distinguishing features, mannerisms,
likes and dislikes…you get the idea. This not only beds down the character in
your own mind, but enforces a consistency of behavior by that character. If you
have given your character a quirky mannerism, you can use it with confidence
throughout the book. It will also make your reader comfortable, knowing you will
not spring a surprise on him. If your character is a badass, keep him that way.
Don’t introduce a brand new mannerism way down the book simply to make a point.
There are lots more things I could talk about here that every author needs in
his toolbox, but I have to do some writing on my own novel. You will run into
mental potholes, wander why you’re bothering, thinking that drinking your way
out will help, but there is one thing you must always keep in mind. Writing can
be tremendously satisfying. There is nothing like the buzz you get when the
words flow and everything clicks together. The pure joy of creation can be
giddying – and addictive. Once hooked, I’m afraid there is no cure, and no cold
turkey withdrawal will help.
Still want to be a writer? On your head be it.
Stefan Vucak is an award-winning author of the sci-fi Shadow Gods series of
books. His contemporary political thriller Cry of Eagles has won the coveted
2011 Readers Favorite silver medal award.