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Writing and how

Do you have any questions on writing?

I have often been asked for advice on how to approach a novel or the like.

There are no hard and fast rules for this, but I will tell you how I do it.

Additionally, there is good advice or inspiration on how to find your own way of writing on the Internet.

This is what it’s all about: an own way of writing.

Supposedly, there are colleagues who simply start writing and watch in surprise the text that emerges.

That’s a little too daring for my tastes, but well … To each his own.

The Idea

It can happen to you everywhere. It’s the most important thing, the foundation of a story.

Write it down, no matter where, but it’s important to write it down. A small notebook, a piece of paper, a mobile phone, a beer coaster, the backside of an invoice – the only thing that matters is that you keep it safe.

If you have more than one idea for a story or pertaining to a story: all the better!

Write it down and then write down everything that comes to mind pertaining to it, write it down, write it down, write it down, no matter how jumbled it may be.

The Structure

When you have the ideas, look at them, prioritize them, consider a potential order and structure them.

Use fine lines to connect dots that have a common meaning, but are written down in different places.

Now you have a rough structure.

The Background

Now it’s time for the fine-tuning.

The order in which you work is completely up to you.

It is necessary to portray the characters you have come up with, complete with all their quirks. This covers everything from their appearance to their personal preferences, fears etc. Turn all characters in your story into vivid beings with a past.

You should write down all this, too, preferably using index cards.

Some think about the location after having an idea and then come up with the characters; others do it the other way around.

Now it’s time for the surroundings. Here, those who want to write stories set in the modern world have an advantage. :o)

Here are some general questions for you: What does the world look like? What does it smell like? What sounds can be heard?

If we deal with more of a fantasy story, there is room for additional thoughts: Which expressions do people living there use for which things?

Start with a small focus, for example the city/the village/the hamlet in which everything starts and then broaden the view. Create the environment, the country, the neighboring countries, the continent, and the neighboring continents. Think about the political structures.

What gods are there? How did they come into existence? How are they related to each other and how do their respective faithful treat each other? What is the countries’ relation to each other? If there are rivalries, what is the reason for them?

Draw maps of your “world” so you can keep track of it. If you have created the world before writing the novel, you save yourself a lot of brooding what it might look like. This does not mean, though, that you may not or should not improvise while writing.

The Plot

You have the ideas, you have the characters, you have the country.

Now you have to turn them into a plot, a course of action, a schedule. Then you will know who is where, what they are doing and what will happen next.

The plot is your friend. It helps you to keep track and not to lose sight of anything.

My plots usually consist of four pages of catchwords.

Here is an excerpt of an old Shadowrun plot:

1. Poolitzer (the hero) wants to film a feature about the subterranean elves of Pomorya and enters the Elven nation without a filling permission and with a forged SIN. Finds out where the elves live, but is caught and banned from the principality ...

- On the eve of the Landtag elections in the North German Alliance: crowded DNP rally. Poolitzer is there to report

2. Using a miniature submarine, Poolitzer produces a report on an exploration ship anchored in Hamburg that has been hired by the city government to look at some river deltas and take water samples.

Poolitzer hopes for a scandal and some leaks in poison tanks and gets lucky! In one area, his sensors react!

At this point, the ship is suddenly attacked and captured! A group of pirates (calling themselves "the hobgoblins” without actually belong to these creatures!) appears, marooning the crew in inflatable dinghies and taking the ship, complete with its gear that is worth several millions of nuyen.

Poolitzer suspects some con behind the attack, supposed to cover up the results of the water investigation! Luckily, he earlier stole a print out/chip he has analyzed. Yet the result does not justify an attack on the ship.

3. A ship transporting nuclear waste is attacked and sunk (Green Cells). According to the evaluation of the rescue operation, some containers are missing, though ... the NoSe RG is on-site and asks questions.

4. A Russian naval archaeologist is mugged and killed on the eve of the "Baltic Sea Symposium".

5. A luxury yacht and a sailing ship are stolen.

10 corpses are found: The investigation of the bodies shows that seven of them belonged to the Red Corsairs. Before, four of the man had been suspected of having stolen three military powerboats from the Vulcan shipyard in Bremen.

This time, there are no survivors ... Except for one crew member of the luxury yacht! The man has overheard a dialogue between two of the kidnappers and wants to meet Poolitzer, but is killed by a ghost.

Poolitzer smells a story but doesn’t see any structure behind those various events. He writes a piece on the pirates and finds that they have been robbed themselves! The powerboats belonged to pirates (the real "Red Corsairs"), and they are angry with the "Hobgoblins" because they poach in the wrong “territory”.

Cooperation with Poolitzer

He looks for a pattern: no ships were offered for sale. Actually, nothing at all happens on the black market ... Poolitzer keeps getting more and more wary …. etc. etc. etc.

This is how a plot emerges; it’s a novel’s skeleton, and the words, the sentences, the chapters arising from the plot are its flesh.

Writing is a creative process. While writing you will notice things, you have new ideas, you’ll change the storyline.

Great!

Improvisation is necessary, but never lose sight of your aim. Except if you have a new aim. But then, don’t forget to change your character’s routes accordingly.

The Writing

I have chosen the simple, clear language, even in the fantasy genre.

I prefer short sentences. To not create monster sentences that cover 10 lines, and in the end you ask yourself what has happened, where the main clause is and how many accessory sentences there were!

Most people want to relax when reading, and after a stressful day at school, in the office, at the university or wherever this is only possible when the author does not make his readers’ brain – that has been working hard all day – going to overdrive again by confusing it with multi-clause sentences. Not all information has to go into a single sentence. Really! :o)

The characters are living, breathing beings in your head – show that in the book by having them do more than speak and see: they touch, they smell, they taste, they feel things, and that is what the reader needs to know. A person’s five senses should be used in the book, too.

I do not want to withhold the fact that especially in the fantasy genre, a work sometimes obviously has to sound pretentious, stately, and archaic. Readers who love such texts will not like Ulldart and the Dwarves novels, for example.

This proves again that everything is a matter of taste. In the end you decide what your book is supposed to sound like.

Don’t try to "write like X or Y", it will not work anyway – plus, this style of writing is already in existence.

Role models are great, but don’t become a decal. Even a good copy is a copy. No more.

Try things, experiment, find your own style.

Oh yeah: writing needs a good deal of discipline.

You can set yourself a daily stint. For me, these are at least three pages per day, sometimes I write more, sometimes it doesn’t work at all. :o) Usually, in the end it levels out.

Also, for a novel/a story it’s good if the author works on them with a certain single-mindedness – he will simply be able to better keep track of the coherencies.

Done?

Not by far.

Let the work rest for a week once you think you are done, do something else and ignore it.

Then you get back to it, and you’ll see that you’ll notice “bumps” that you haven’t seen before.

The time of rewriting starts anew … I call it filing and dressing.

Often, I write a whole scene and then review it, restructure sentences, embellish them, sharpen dialogues, describe actions differently.

Reading the text aloud is a good idea if you think that some part of it just doesn’t work. Hearing the words gives you a better impression of what they actually sound like. But keep your windows closed. Otherwise, you might confuse your neighbors. :o)

When the story is done, you will need literate and honest (!) friends as test readers who critically review the work, annotate it or give you some other form of feedback on what they have noticed and especially what they did not like.

They see more than you do.

As an author, you quickly become professionally blinkered or simply know too much about the world you have created. Thus you take things within the novel for granted that the reader cannot understand for lack of knowledge.
Listen to the voices. :o)

What to do with the manuscript?

Yes, I know. You want to get it to a publisher.

How do you find the perfect publisher?

Luckily, there’s the Frankfurt book fair which has a great website. You can list publishers by genre there and easily generate a giant choice of potential candidates, including addresses.

Great, isn’t it? Simply browse the list.

If necessary, your friendly local bookseller right around the corner can help you out with a list of publishers. And while you’re there, you can set a date for a reading. ;o)

To advertise a manuscript, you’ll need a great deal of courage, self-assuredness and:

  • an exposé of the novel that you generate by tidying up your catchword outline and creating a general overview. Add a short description of the main characters.

  • An extract. That’s the bait.

Take a part that you and your readers especially liked and that’s about five pages long.
The format: 30 lines per page, 60 characters (including blanks) per line.

Print out the extract with page numbers. Even better: add your name and address to every page, just in case the extract and the accompanying letter get separated. Use white paper and staple the pages together.

  • an accompanying letter introducing yourself, the length of the novel and the genre as well as your target audience briefly.

What now?

Now you wait. :o)

Don’t get discouraged by rejection.

There is a colleague whose work has been rejected by publishers many times (!). Today, some years later, it has sold millions of copies … and even Miss Rowling is said to not have found a publisher right away, either.

Stick it out.

Never surrender!