Action vs. Information

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Rules-headerA blog for fiction writers and impending writers. An editor’s perspective.

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Action vs. Information:
The Oil & Water of Novel Writing

Years and years ago a prolific pal of mine, author Matthew Pallamary (who teaches a pirate’s workshop at Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference) uttered one of the most profound adages I’d ever heard. Matt apparently got it from Barnaby Conrad, who may have heard it from playwright/director David Mamet…so I suspect this little gem may have been around for years. But it remains one of the best tidbits of advice that I know. The simple truth is:

Information is the enemy of Action.
Action is the enemy of Information.

Meaning that, as a writer, it’s my obligation to choose one or the other concept (action-based or informational) to define each scene I develop. I can either depict (spectacular) action or provide (revealing) information to a reader. But I cannot simultaneously provide both, as the two concepts are inherently incompatible. Action sequences typically rely on external cues; on visual, sensory-heightened but otherwise superficially detailed observations. Conversely, information dissemination tends to internalize, and either through omniscient narration or dialog provides pertinent revelation, newfound knowledge or secrets unbeknownst to other characters or to the reader.

For example, let’s say I’m writing a fictional account of the Crimean War (1853-1856). Midway through my tale, I describe a gallant yet foolhardy British cavalry charge into Tennyson’s infamous Valley of Death.* Hidden amid the rocky hills surrounding the valley, dozens of fortified Russian cannon open fire and obliterate most of the advancing horsemen. As the smoke clears, two survivors of the bombardment—brothers, by the way, Niles and Ian—stand bloodied and haunted among their dead comrades. The men talk in a hushed whisper, speaking through tears about the heroism of their fallen comrades, about the enemy they see gathering on the precipice ahead, about the unlikelihood of ever again seeing the lovely Lady Desiree, the woman back home they both love.

The cavalry charge? That’s action. I want my audience breathless—so it’s all thundering hooves and glistening sabers and a distant blare of bugles whipped away by the wind. Explosions and carnage. Glimpses of both unfettered bravery and agonizing death. Action.

But then—cut to a new scene—the big guns have fallen silent. The two brothers crawl toward each other, dazed and isolated on the body-strewn battlefield. Ian begins to bind Niles’ wounds. They speak intimately about life and death and love and—for the reader—that’s information. Character-building usually is. The brothers ponder the probability of their impending doom, not to mention Ian’s long-overdue revelation of his love for Desiree.

As a writer, I’ve intentionally separated the frenetic action sequence (a fictive inhalation) from the more serene informational (a fictive exhalation) sequence. (Refer again to Rule #8: Keep your characters moving. Push them toward drama—inhale—or pull them away again—exhale.)

Can action and information co-exist in a scene? How separate is separate? Certainly, these two attributes can occasionally brush together…but brush lightly. Consider, for instance:

Acrid smoke drifts across the now silent valley. Niles suddenly draws his pistol and aims at his brother—but then shoots a Cossack who’s crept up behind Ian, ready to pounce with a gleaming scimitar. Ian turns, stares for a moment and returns to his comments, his thoughts once again focused on Desiree.

So, yes—a bit of cross-pollinating is perfectly legit; tidbits of action amidst an informative scene is fine. And, yes, one can intermingle snippets of information amid the action—but avoid attempting to force mass quantities of action and information into the same scene. Because the last thing a reader expects, midway through an exhilarating cavalry charge, is a flashback or a history lesson or a love sonnet. For instance, here’s a taboo:

As their horses rush the two men toward certain death, their sun-drenched sabers held high, Ian turns to Niles and admits that he’s in love with his brother’s fiancée, then demands a frank and earnest conversation about the matter.
…..“Now?” Niles shouted incredulously over the roaring wind.
…..“Yes, this very instant, I’m afraid,” Ian replied. “It’s terribly important to me, Niles. And by the way, don’t forget that you owe me twenty quid…”

Um… no. Because whatever raw emotion I’ve thus far developed is now moot, the drama unnecessarily deflated. Sure, Ian may love Desiree, and she may be weighing heavily on his mind—but now isn’t the time or the place to bring that particular plot thread to the page.

But what if Desiree is important to the story? What if my entire novel is based on a decades-long love triangle. So where does Lady Desiree belong?

Some writers may believe that she belongs exactly when and where she pops into mind—but consider how her sudden appearance will effect the overall pacing and the reader’s emotional quotient. As previously stated, her character certainly doesn’t belong here, in the middle of a raging battle. Amid the carnage, poor Desiree’s attempt for a modicum of stage presence feels extraordinarily misplaced. The importance of her presence, or her words, may easily become lost as readers gloss over this unexpected, lilac-scented intrusion, eager to learn how the attack concludes.

The simple solution? Alternate action and information scenes. (As in often, throughout the entire novel.) Because a more opportune moment for Desiree to bloom would be during a scene or chapter before the cavalry charge, for instance as she tearfully pens letters in her Wembly Park bedroom for both Ian and Niles—letters that may dramatically change the lives of both men. Or else place her in a scene after the charge, perhaps as a flashback in Ian’s memory. Perhaps we see her swoon into the arms of dear Uncle Clive as she’s notified by courier of Ian and Niles’ status as MIA, both men presumed dead. So allow Lady D. and her thoughts sufficient ‘quiet time’ to fully engage the reader.

Be aware that the primary advantage of alternating action and information scenes is in potentially increased drama. How delightful, plot-wise, should Ian reveal his affection for his brother’s betrothed in the chapter preceding the cavalry charge! How might Niles’ thoughts be distracted or tormented as he lines up for the assault in the following scene? Now you’ve piqued the reader’s curiosity—and possibly created a perfect cliffhanger that you’ll tie together in an appropriate, upcoming chapter. Might Ian die (your readers will wonder), his love for Desiree forever unrequited? Might brother turn on brother? So, yes, separating action and information scenes has definitive advantages. Intuiting how and when to separate these two crucial elements can nicely turn up the heat in terms of tension and future plot-development.

A basic rule of thumb to follow would be (and not always, mind you, but more often than not):
Scene-setting: Information
Character-building: Information
Plot-building: Action or information (although tread carefully, as building a plot via information may feel like reader-feeder.**)
Forward Plot Momentum: Action

For those uninterested in the Crimean War, let’s say I’m writing a gently comedic romantic coming-of-age tale. Action can be all about the rampant teenage angst and confusion and turmoil leading up to a first kiss. That slow, undulating tension can be as terrifying as the whole British cavalry charging forward toward certain death. Because what’s action if not a sensationalized visualization of dramatic events?

Oh yes, so now it’s a rule. Rule #26: Don’t mix Action and Information. Keep these two incompatible concepts separate.

And—because every rule has its own #!@$!%?! exception—let’s consider dialog. Dialog can certainly be action-oriented. (“If I ever see your ugly face again,” Sheriff Bob shouted, “I’ll shoot you dead where you stand!”) But dialog can also prove informational. (“I’m afraid I’ve never told you, Penelope, about the letter hidden inside father’s wall safe.” Bertram slowly swung open the heavy steel door. “I believe it’s time you finally know of our nefarious family secret.“)

So then, what is dialog?

…ah, the perfect opportunity for a cliffhanger.

 


*The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It’s what people read before Twitter.

**Reader-feeder (a quick guide):
…..“Steve, I just got a phone call from the hospital. I’m sorry, but Mother passed away last night.” (is not reader-feeder)

…..Steve, I just got that phone call from the hospital we were both dreading all week long. I’m sorry, but our mother, Mary Anderson, passed away last night.” (is reader-feeder)

 


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Index

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Rules-headerA blog for fiction writers and impending writers. An editor’s perspective.

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Welcome to the blog!
……Here’s what’s what.

My name is Dave Workman. I’m an acquisitions and content editor for Muse Harbor Publishing. I began writing Rules of Engagement for beginning (or curious) writers, based on what I perceive to be fundamental obstacles that many of us confront when beginning, or struggling through, a new novel. Perhaps I can offer useful advice—or maybe not—although I certainly know what excites me as a reader—and what excites me as an editor who accepts and rejects manuscripts. Thus, the following blog may be worth a look.

1. Good Writing, Bad Advice.
Rule #1: Finish your book.
Rule #2: Don’t listen to anybody if the advice doesn’t resonate.

2. Simple, But Exciting (Part 1)
Rule #7: Write in clear, precise sentences.
Rule #8: Keep your characters moving. (Either push your characters toward drama or pull them away again.)

3. Simple, But Exciting (Part 2)
Rule #5: Continually scene set, character build or move the plot forward. (Nothing else matters.)

4. Exciting, But Simple.
Rule #3. Always write for yourself.

5. Active Writing (Part 1): Active Voice.
Rule #20: Don’t extend a scene past the “just enough” point.
Rule #12: Write only what matters. Leave out the boring parts.

6. Active Writing (Part 2): Active Language (Grammar)
Rule #6: The Jumping Cow Rule (Active vs. Passive Voice).

7. Active Writing (Part 3): Active Composition (Plotting)
Rule #14: Develop your story from A-to-Z. (Know where you’re going)

8. Where To Start.
Rule #11: Get acquainted with your story. (Discover your core elements.)

9. Perfection.
Rule #25: Perfection in writing doesn’t exist.
Rule #4: Do the best you can.

10. Action/Reaction.
Rule #10: In fiction, for every action, provide a reaction.

11. Show, Don’t Tell.

12. What’s Your Intention?
Rule #29: Your characters may remain elusive or distracted, but your prose must remain clear and concise.

13. Focus on the Now.
Rule #16: Focus on the now. (Stay in the moment.)

14. Hammering It Out.
Rule #25: Write one thought at a time. (And don’t worry about the rest.)

15. My Favorite Films About Writers and Writing (A personal aside.)

16. Finding Your Voice (Part 1)
Rule #9: A great novel is not so much what you tell, but how you tell it. That’s a writer’s style.

17. Finding Your Voice (Part 2): Do your characters speak to you?
Rule #12: Shut up and let your characters tell their own stories.

18. Finding Your Voice (Part 3). Point of View: Narrative vs. Authorial Voice

19. Basic Plotting (Part 1): Right Brain (creative thinking) vs. Left Brain (critical thinking). Unfortunately, we need both halves.

20. Basic Plotting (Part 2): Plot ahead.

21. Basic Plotting (Part 3): It’s all about the drama, dahlings.
Rule #27. Make drama your novel’s constant companion.

22. Action vs. Information: The Oil & Water of Novel Writing.
Rule #26: Don’t mix Action and Information scenes. Keep these two incompatible concepts separate.

 


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Basic Plotting: Part 3

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Rules-headerA blog for fiction writers and impending writers. An editor’s perspective.

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Plotting (Part 3): It’s all about the drama, dahlings.

Books and blogs about “plotting a novel” are as ubiquitous as leaves on a summer tree. I suspect some of these efforts are actually very good. Others? Not so much. That being said, let me cut to the chase. Good plotting can be explained in one word: Drama.

Yup. Drama. It’s all about the drama, dahlings. That’s the secret ingredient; the single most important element of successful fiction. Writing a book that’s lacking dramatic impact? It probably won’t (IMHO) sell.

And don’t confuse drama as “some little ruckus” that one sprinkles sporadically around a story. Drama isn’t a garnish. Nor is it specifically reserved for those dark, thunderous Shakespearean epics where witches cackle, swords clash and treachery abounds. Drama is a constant that should infuse every fictive work. That should be a rule—and so now it is! Rule #27. Make drama your novel’s constant companion. It lurks upon every page—either undulating or overwhelming—ready to spring or having already sprung, hiding, panting, waiting to lunge again. Waiting to snatch away banality. To consume normality.

And yet, don’t confuse drama with impending tragedy. Yes, a tragic tale is fraught with drama. A child’s death, a war, an emotional breakdown, a marital conflict… all dramatic, fictive situations that a writer can utilize to build a story. But what about light-hearted romance? What about comedy? Realize that every romantic tale is laden with great gobs of interpersonal drama. And comedy, even slapstick comedy, is simply drama interpreted through a playful or joyous lens. But it’s still about drama, first and foremost.

Don’t believe so? Think of any comedic film. (I’ve discovered that remembering a film sequence is far easier than remembering a specific snippet from a book. And easier to dissect as well.) For instance: Notting Hill. Lovely romantic comedy—and filled with drama. The Holiday? Filled with drama. Annie Hall? Filled with drama. Wedding Crashers? The Princess Bride? It’s a Wonderful Life? The Hangover? Drama. Drama. Drama. And drama. Remember Finding Nemo? The little guy loses his mother and 99% of his siblings. Gets lost at sea. Almost eaten by a shark. Captured and confined to an aquarium. Makes a daring escape. It’s funny—but it’s also constant drama!

Groucho Marx once said,“Comedy is when you slip on a banana peel. Tragedy is when I slip on a banana peel.” And yet both banana-based scenarios contain drama—both genres must provide a continual tool bag of genre-specific dramatic moments to survive, and to thrive in its fictive form.

Refer again to Rule #8, which states, in part: Keep your characters moving. You’re either pushing characters toward drama or pulling them away again.

I can’t really give a writer much additional structural information on basic plotting. Have an idea? Play with it! Test it! My personal belief has always been: write what you feel, write what you want. (So long as it’s dramatic, of course.)

And do understand that dramatic plotting isn’t always about remarkable external circumstances, about drooling zombies or horrific wars or big ships slowly sinking. Good plotting is also about (and sometimes only about) great character development. (Check out: The Madness of King George. Or Before Sunrise. Or Pride and Prejudice. Beautiful films, with stories predominately carried by superb dialog.) I’ve often said that if you lock two interesting people in a closet and give them great, dramatic dialog, I’d rather read that book than about all the Transformers in the world.

So, yeah, successful plotting is a combination of great dialog, great timing, great suspense (comedic or tragic) and certainly great writing in general. Good drama is larger than life. Deeper than reality. Great plotting is the result of daydreaming that begins with a single, simple “what if?” concept.

Another secret ingredient: Daydreaming.

Another word or two about “creative dreaming.” (More about creative daydreaming in Plotting: Part 1.) Remember when people (probably your parents, your teachers) told you that daydreaming was a waste of time? Well, don’t believe them. Daydreams have their place in the creative brain. If you’re a novelist, daydreams have a crucial, creative role to play. Every daydream is a potential novel.

Think not? Pick a daydream. Any daydream. A friend once told me; “I sit in front of a monitor 8 hours a day and crunch numbers and hammer out Excel spreadsheets. There I sit, day after day, thinking about running through a sun-drenched field filled with wildflowers.” That’s it. That’s her daydream. Doesn’t seem like much, does it? But what happens when that particular daydream belongs to a writer? Sooner or later that flowered field is going to lead me toward…? Maybe a dark, encroaching forest? Over a rickety bridge laden with cackling crows? In the distance, might I glimpse the crumbling spires of a deserted castle? A forgotten cemetery? A cave deep beneath a massive granite outcropping?

Any writer worth their salt will, of course, move forward for a closer look. Am I simply out for a stroll? Perhaps. Or am I searching for someone? Running away from something? Sounds like a more potential dramatic scenario, right? (Because I can also build a plot backwards as well as forward!) As I push my way through the tangles of underbrush, maybe I come upon a forgotten, weed-choked mansion, hundreds of years old. Intriguing. Broken windows. A shattered doorway. After a few moments of exploring, I hear a child crying from somewhere deep inside….

Or, perhaps I hear the faint echo of a woman laughing. Or the sound of a gunshot. Or an ominous growl. And at that point, my daydream has officially become a plot concept. Maybe not one I write down (yet), but one I might consider. Where do I go from there? Can I transfer that same curiosity, that same excitement, to the page? Can I find a sufficient creative flow to ask-and-answer these same “what if?” scenarios for another few hundred pages?

Basically, that’s how a book starts. Frankly, that’s how it ends too—a constant stream of carefully sequenced daydreams that the writer weaves together, page after after page. Oh, and while keeping up the story’s dramatic impact at every possible moment!

And, because it’s important enough to say again, here it is! Rule #27: Don’t confuse drama as “some little ruckus” that one sprinkles sporadically around a story. Drama isn’t a garnish. Drama is your story’s constant companion.
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Basic Plotting. Part 2

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Rules-headerA blog for fiction writers and impending writers. An editor’s perspective.

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Plotting (Part 2): Plot ahead.

To reit: Can one begin a novel with an incomplete plot in mind? Absolutely. However, the sooner you understand the direction of your novel (its purpose, its story line, its various, integral nuances) the better your ability to create and cohesively complete an intelligent tale.

One suggestion, before (or as you begin) a novel: Consider drafting an outline/timeline.

The process of outlining doesn’t work for all writers (it’s often tedious) but if you’re contemplating your first novel, or if you’ve started a few times and have never been able to write more than a few pages or chapters, an outline/timeline may provide you with the appropriate impetus and excitement to continue. Think of an outline as the basic, skeletal framework of an otherwise unwieldy beast. Even the mightiest of lions, without a backbone, is pretty much a slug. And nobody wants to write a slug.

An outline need be nothing more than a few brief notes you jot as a reminder: What info do I need to impart in this chapter? Who’s included in this segment? What keys fit what locks to forward the overall plot? Lacking an outline, some writers tend to get caught in aggressive wanderlust—on a momentary whim, veering away from an established plot (or idea) into uncharted waters, sooner or later completely unsure of any credible direction.

Some writers, of course, relish this sort of unfettered and unrestricted approach—although I suspect those writers, knowingly or not, have the ability to construct a rough mental map of their whereabouts. For many of us who can’t play chess—or outline novels—in our heads, the fewer false starts and wrong turns, the easier (and far more enjoyable) the eventual process of creative writing.

For instance, an outline can be as simple as:

Chapter 17. The Volvo’s radiator shot, Johnny finds himself stranded in a small, nameless town, somewhere in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Across the crumbling two-lane highway, in the diner, a few townspeople (whom he’ll soon meet) regard him suspiciously as he walks toward the dreary looking post-office/sheriff’s office and—as Johnny discovers—a three-room fleabag hotel. Except for the gas-station/diner across the street, and a distant scattering of drab trailer homes, he sees no other structures. Yet inside the $20/night hotel room, Johnny discovers [INSERT A TWIST HERE.] And the discovery boggles him!

So while the chapter itself may eventually fill 20-30 or more pages and contain several conversations and introduce multiple new characters, even a significant plot twist or two—the gist of choreographing this, or any, chapter is simply to remind you what should or must happen here, at this moment. Perhaps Johnny’s unexpected discovery drives the entire story forward. Or maybe he finds a friend, a useful device—through dialog, for instance—to more deeply delve into Johnny’s motivation for, well… [INSERT MOTIVATION HERE]. Drafting an outline may not immediately supply an author with necessary answers, but it prompts us to think about our plot structure, and all those potential “what if?!” possibilities. It prompts us to ask new questions. An outline should force a writer to create, to improvise, and to improve our original concept. An outline need not contain minutia—only the necessary basics. For some writers, the bare bones of the chapter might be as simple as:

Chapter 17: Johnny gets stuck in Bumfuque. He meets a mysterious stranger. The stranger tells Johnny a secret.

Remember, outlining isn’t a first draft. It’s simply a useful tool.

An admission: Outlining isn’t my favorite part of novel writing, but I typically discover new ideas and characters, and unexpected plot twists, waiting to emerge. So it’s become an integral part of my own personal process. I audition each and every new thought. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But if a notion doesn’t make the cut, I’ve saved myself a lot of time and heartache dumping it quickly, rather than trying to puzzle-piece a square peg into a round hole.

I found an early outline/timeline that I created for my crime novel On The Edge. I’m including a random snippet below, to better illuminate the intent of the outline; that is to function as a convenient shorthand, reminding the writer: where, what, who, when and how. BTW, the text shown in red indicates incomplete thoughts that I’ll tackle later. Note that the italicized words are in-place chapter openings that allow me, with a quick glance, to more easily reacquaint myself with exactly where I am in the novel. (A timeline isn’t necessary, but if you’re working with multiple characters who must converge in a timely fashion, a timeline can be a life saver!)

Thus:

(Page) 112 • THURS AM
He sat on an aluminum chair in a small room…
Bobby’s questioned by the two cops (Scaggs and Ramona)
who are suspicious of his alibi. Bobby suspects Peter Dumas
is the killer but the detectives don’t share that assumption.

pg 119 • Backstory
Two weeks before Dumas pointed a gun at Elliot…
Elliot and Peter Dumas talk
about the hacked Intek secrets.
Dumas believes the data
is highly confidential, perhaps even
military secrets. He
tells Elliot to drop the matter. Too dangerous
for them
to pursue. Elliot reluctantly agrees—but end the scene
with
Elliot grinning mischievously when Dumas’s back is turned.

• THU PM or FRI AM?
Segue back to present. Bobby and Niki scene (who’s POV?)

but conversation probably about Dumas. Did he or not kill Elliot?
Motives??

pg 124 • FRI PM
Niki Song took a ticket stub and pulled her Celica….
Niki meets with agent Mitch Raleigh. She confirms
that her undercover status has not been compromised.

pg 131 • Backstory
Elliot had died for his sins… (Dumas reflects.) Flashback.
Is he frantic here or self-assured? First glimpse of Dumas’s
sociopathic behavior—or save this trait for later?

pg 135 • FRI PM
Dumas pokes through Elliot’s briefcase, looking for info.
Clues of Elliot’s deceit begin to fall into place.

pg 141 Backstory
(Put this here? Or move before pg 135?)

In a sane world, Mitchell Raleigh knew an agent…
Mitch Raleigh reflects. Worries that
he may be putting Niki
in harm’s way.)

pg 143 • SAT AM
Niki drives to Rancho Madera; meets with Dumas to chat.

pg 150 • SAT PM
She couldn’t stop thinking about Bobby Leland….
Niki searches for Bobby. She finds him and invites him to spend
the night in her guest room.
(Not a romantic scene. More like
two friends making amends.
Careful. Cautious.)

And so on…

Note that a timeline can be as basic as the outline itself. Many plots don’t need to choreograph a timeline. In my case (above) I have several sets of characters who will converge at a specific moment in the story. Thus, by creating even a vague timeline, I’m assuring myself that everybody gets there on time.

So, yeah, thinking ahead helps. Outlining can spark a creative energy that pushes your plot forward, catches wrong turns before they happen, and can even offer new ideas, fresh out of nowhere. So, for most of us, it’s a necessary tool. But, again, s’up to you.
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Basic Plotting. A few thoughts.

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Basic Plotting (Part 1)

Right Brain (creative thinking) vs. Left Brain (critical thinking). Unfortunately, we need both halves.

The fiction writers I know—we’re all daydreamers at heart. The obstacle confronting us is that, well—we’re all daydreamers at heart. But daydreams don’t magically turn into completed novels. If I had a dollar for every plot idea that wiggled into my head, I’d be driving a Tesla. And I do not drive a Tesla.

The truth is that daydreams—those misty thought-bubbles from which all novels spring—and the reality of churning out a book; e.g.; sitting down to write for months or years, require two completely different facets of a writer’s personality. Our Right Brain—the artsy-fartsy, huggin’ and feelin’ hemisphere—is content to sit on a comfy couch all day, dreaming about pirates or unicorns or maybe what happened that one night at summer camp. Our Left Brain—the logical, mathematical, factual part—pays the bills. For many of us who write (or sing or paint or philosophize), our Left Brain may be underutilized—unpracticed, whiny and suspicious of both hard work and success—and must, at some point, take the cerebral baton from our Right Brain and run with it.

And trust me, that race will be a marathon.

Successfully passing the baton from Right to Left is, IMHO, where a majority of novels stumble and fail. A notion may sprout, may grow a leaf or two, but then the idea withers or stagnates, only to dissolve back into a hazy daydream. And while there’s nothing wrong with that—most novel ideas don’t go the distance—without an eventual, diligent merging of the Right Brain and Left Brain, no novel will ever leave the warm, fertile comfort of your mind. And that would be a shame.

Refer again to Rule #1: Finish the book.

Which of course means starting the book, and then powering through the middle; endless days developing a coherent plot, re-thinking and rewriting scenes, missing more than a few weekends with friends and lovers. And then diving back in, day after day, and always into the deep end, scrubbing every word, sentence and scene until you feel that you’ve “got it right.” No, it’s not an easy task. Oh, but when it’s complete, that’s a feeling unlike any other. I can promise you that.

I’m not certain if anyone can truly explain how an idea, a daydream, a concept, can ultimately transform into a cogent story line. Plot development is in the eye of the beholder. Writing is a solitary journey. Most of us begin with a kernel of an idea; maybe only a wisp of dialog, a half-baked scene that sparks a series of “what if” questions. What if Adolf Hitler had won World War II? Or, What if I found an old suitcase washed up on the beach that contained an enormous diamond, a severed human hand and a mysterious note?

Maybe: What would happen if a small, bespectacled orphan turned out to be a sorcerer with a mysterious past? Or even, What would happen if seven kingdoms vied for power in a medieval fantasy world where dragons once reigned and a frozen wall saved the people from the walking dead?

Just thoughts. Daydreams strung together and eventually made real by the diligence of a single writer, by the power of the written word. ‘Cuz that’s how all novels begin.

If you’re new to the idea of writing a novel, new to the concept of formulating a plot, I have a few ideas. If you’ve never written a novel (but you’re excited to try) sit down and attempt to write a short story—3 or 5 or 10 pages. Short story plots are relatively simple, or else the sliver of a complex issue, but simply told. (A.K.A.: A slice of life.) And if those few pages result in a definitive conclusion, give yourself a high-five, write ‘THE END’ and relax. Then (after the hangover subsides) start another story. Many budding fiction writers find themselves to be highly-efficient short story writers, first and foremost. (And short story collections do have a place in today’s market.)

As you write, however, you may discover new thoughts crowding into consciousness, vying for consideration. You might discover that a few short stories feel suspiciously like chapters in a book—and with a little extra cogitating, your collection can become a novel.

Or perhaps your idea begins with grandiose underpinnings. What if I traced the life of a small street urchin who battled an evil witch and ultimately became the queen of a magical fantasy realm… 2000 pages hence. It all begins with a simple “what if?” scenario that takes hold and won’t let go.

If you discover yourself in such a predicament; that is, ready, willing but paradoxically uncertain, just begin writing. Certainly don’t ponder too far ahead at this point—and certainly don’t fret about finishing, or even worry about the uncertain vastness between now and then… simply start. The only way to succeed is to concentrate on one page at a time.

Refer again, should you desire, to Where To Start. Also see Focus on the Now.
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