How to write a book?

Sorry for this very off-topic post, but I have a vague feeling a few people here might be able to spare a valuable hint or two for me.

The basic reason why I’ve joined this forum is that I want to write a book [size=50](in German)[/size]. I never thought about that before, I had no shares in writing before, I don’t even read much, but I suddenly had a vague idea of a story I consider interesting, and when I quitted playing World of Warcraft (which wasted most of my spare time) I needed a new activity I could enjoy and thought about turning this idea into something real. So, now I have this vage plot idea, but no clue what to do since I never wrote anything apart from postcards from my holidays.

Now, I don’t want to write like a semiilliterate, I don’t want to fritter, I don’t want millions of logical bugs, and I don’t want to write 100 pages and suddenly look into them like into something completely strange. I know some of you are experienced in writing - what do you do if you have a plot idea, and how would you advise a complete novice to start? What I did so far is -

  • starting a blog to practice writing short funny paragraphs (the plot idea itself is not funny).
  • starting to learn Inform6 to practice embellishing my scant writing.
  • starting to develop a plot for an IF game which I write down in a Word document (couldn’t make friends with Storybook).
  • starting to write down headwords about my plot idea, like a detailed abstract, with remarks on where research is necessary.
    I’m also thinking about trying to write an ultra short story for a poetry slam to get more practice.

So, if you have an idea for a book, how do you advance? How do you prepare? And how could a complete novice like me get into reasonably decent writing? Any thoughts on this are probably a great help to me.

Perhaps not the most directly applicable advice, but I still think it is immensely important: read good books. You will only be able to recognise what is bad and what is good in your own writing once you have learned to appreciate excellent writing through reading at least some of the great authors.

My more directly applicable advice is to start writing, and then revise, revise, revise – ruthlessly. When you have written something, revise it a day later, by which time you will hate most of your sentences. Revise it again a week later. Reread the whole chapter after a month, and decide which passages work, which have to be cut, and which need to be totally rewritten. Writing takes time. :slight_smile: On the positive side, knowing that you are going to revise everything should make it easier to start writing in the first place, because you know it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time.

Write it. Write without your internal editor, write while it’s still raw and hot. Then set it aside, and come back to it after some time - a few weeks, a few months. There will be plot holes and purple prose and parts that don’t fit. You’ll probably have to rewrite, but you’ll have had some time to grow away from the text, so it won’t be so much about self-doubt. If you revise the very next day, your internal editor will be on all the time, and (for me, at least), that crushes creativity and confidence.

No one produces a first draft of a novel that is perfect, but there’s a difference between looking at 1,000 words and trying to decide what should go in relation to an entire book to come, and looking at 60,000 words and revising with an eye to the whole.

I’m more on gravel’s side than Victor’s here – I’ve never written a novel, but I did write a dissertation, and I find that when I get caught up in revise revise revising each piece before I get to the next I never do get to the next, whereas if I write it all at once and then write it over again occasionally I finish something.

That was a truly awfully long sentence but I’m not going to rewrite it. :wink:

Okay, that gives me a direction: Start. Thanks for that!

I don’t disagree with this at all. Unlike gravel, I really like doing a revision the next day; but the second revision comes much later, and after you have written more parts.

I put the emphasis on the revising because the original poster expressed concern about being able to write good prose, but did not express concern about being able to get things done.

I agree with not proof reading before finishing your writing, and with doing some more reading, but tbh, even though I’m an English major, don’t think the ‘great’ books have as much to offer a writer as good modern ones. The pacing and language is not what you want. Can I ask what genre?

SciFi. Kind of Space Opera, but with a more serious (political) background. Not exactly high literature, but that’s the flash of inspiration I had.

Given that the canon shows us every possible pace and register of language, how could you make such a sweeping claim? Sure, the pace of Apuleius and Lucian might a bit too fast for a modern reader to follow; and anyone raised on modern “high fantasy” would be shocked by the narrative speed, the moral skepticism and the eroticism of Ariosto; but that doesn’t mean you cannot learn from these authors. Exact imitation was never the point; it was the opposite of the point; and if anything, I’d say that older authors are less dangerous to read because there’s less of a chance that you will unconsciously imitate their writing. But recent great works are of course excellent as well – nothing wrong with reading some Beckett, Roth, or (since the original poster is going to write in German) Hesse or Kafka or Mann. They all have something to teach you, even if you are going to write a book completely different from anything they ever did. Perhaps especially if you are going to write a book completely different from anything they ever did. I think it would be wonderful to read those weird, insane little parables of Kafka while continually asking yourself how you could apply them to Space Opera! (If you like Kafka on a basic level, that is. I’m not advocating reading writers that you do not connect with. Also, and I should stress this, I’m not saying that you should postpone writing until you have “read more”, because that way, you can postpone forever.)

There are probably many strategies of revision, but I personally have always found it easier to start revising than to start writing; and I have used the revising as a springboard from which to move to the writing. By revising a part I have written earlier, I get into the mood, and then go on to write new stuff. But you should do whatever works for you, and if you tend to get bogged down in revising, you should probably skip it until you have your first draft ready. (Which is my strategy for writing non-fiction, an activity that I experience as very different from writing fiction. Again, that may be more me than anyone else.)

In the same vein, some people may find it easier to write a detailed plot overview first, while others may prefer to start writing a scene they have a good imaginative grip on and see where it takes them. You’ll have to find out what your own preferred way is.

Whether it’s high literature or not doesn’t depend on the genre, but only on the execution. :slight_smile: Anyway, you are of course completely right to stick to your inspiration and not worry about its external merits. I’m not sure whether you are just going to write for the fun of it, or would actually like to publish the result, but either way your own vision of what the story should be is your best guide.

I’m not really a fan of space opera as a genre. I enjoyed Elizabeth Moon’s though. I think her military background gave her a solid base to work from, so a bit of military research is something I’d recommend, if that’s the direction your ideas are coming from, or about sea traders, if you’re doing space trading, etc.

If it were me I’d write at least a bit first (possibly even all of it if I could). It helps me get my mind in writing mode, and I’m more likely to have ideas when researching. The idea for one of my novels (all unfinished, as yet, but this one’s got legs) came from a local history titbit that came up. I have hit a wall, and when I have time I plan to look into getting some more info from the Adelaide museum.

My work is spec-fic. But there is so much we can take from the past and apply to the future, so that we get the details right. Obviously different writing styles work for different people (as this thread demonstrates). We can only really give advice on what works (and doesn’t work) for us.



I’m aware of that, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for. Like, this “just write, and put emphasis on revision” already gave me confidence that I have a chance to get beyond the first pages. I’ll continue with my abstract though, in order to have a concept to brachiate through.

While there are many different approaches to writing a story or novel, one thing that I think can be very helpful is to spend some time defining your characters. Really try to get inside their heads about who they are, their backgrounds, their motivations etc. Then try to define the plot or challenges in regard to those characters. (James N. Frey has some excellent books in this regard, e.g. “How to Write a Damn Good Novel” etc)

For my game-in-progress The Z-Machine Matter, before I wrote a line of Inform7 code, I spent several weeks (months?) writing out a Word document (now around 30+ pages) that defines the characters (e.g. the player and NPCs) and their secrets, a timeline of events prior to the start of the game (e.g. what actually happened) and the events that unfold during gameplay. I also defined the settings (1950s cold war era research lab) some ties to historical events etc. It’s a murder mystery where the player is a detective, so the plot is somewhat conventional about trying to discover what happened, gather evidence etc. I also wrote up a game description in the style of classic Infocom games to convey the ideas.

Now I’m perhaps about 25%-30% through the coding (now alpha testing), but without this kind of character study and outline, I don’t think I would have been able to have a story or game that converges. I’ve found it helpful to keep me on track.

Best of luck.