Part 1 of writing skills : I couldn’t write a book!

I used to think that. I read under the bed sheets as a child. I marvelled at the words before me. I lost myself in the worlds that had been created for me. I occasionally started to scribble words down, but got frustrated. Maybe you feel the same. There is a saying that everyone has at least one good book in them. I think that is probably an understatement.

Now I’m not talking about spelling, punctuation and grammar here. I’m not even writing about producing a well constructed, flowing narrative. Those things are important, but the overwhelmingly vital part of a book is a good idea. Get that and you can work on the technicalities. There are forums out there where you can get advice on improving your technique. I can give some advice too, or will direct you to people who can. Don’t ask me about use of commas, mind. I have enough trouble myself with the pesky things! Nobody will tell you an original concept, though.

First and foremost you need an idea. It can be as basic as you like. Say, you want to write about a woman who is sick and tired of the pressures of modern life and eventually breaks free of all this, living in the remote countryside of Kentucky. Great. It could be anything at this stage. What I would add from a personal point of view, is that the type of story in which your heroine is going to feature must be something that you yourself can relate to and enjoy writing. Anything else and you’ll fall flat on your face and give up in a fit of despondency.

For me, I’m an engineer. I learned how to design machines, work out bending moments and a lot of other stuff you won’t get, unless you’re an engineer yourself. I used to read sci-fi and would now, except that I don’t want to run the risk of sub-consciously plagiarising. So, for me, my heroine would end up in a situation that enabled me to bring this personal inclination into play. You may have other interests that makes you feel like writing horror, romance or a crime novel. Go with your instinct on this.

So you’ve got your basic idea. How do you start to write?

It seems to me that there is no wrong or right way to do this. I am untutored. I have had no fancy creative writing courses. As a result, I can’t write them off, but from what I’ve read on forums, they are not all they are cracked up to be. I have critiqued work that was badly flawed, only to get the response that ‘the tutors said this was right’. I do know what works for me. I also know what looks right, as do you. Probably the person who submitted the poor work was equally literate, but it takes time to be able to see the errors in your own work.  I also know that I vary in my approach to starting a novel, dependent on my mood. I will outline how I first approached this and still do, to some extent. Other times, admittedly, I just set off writing and make it up as I go along. To my daughter, I say that a story writes itself! This is genuinely how I feel. I feel compelled to continue writing as if driven by some external force.

Some do’s and dont’s.

Don’t try to produce a variation of a film or book you’ve seen or read. Forget them all. They are not your story. I haven’t read a book for years and I seldom watch films. The important thing is that it’s to be your story, not something that people will recognise as a variation on what’s already been done. After that, your individual and unique experience of life will dictate what you come up with. My approach may be a bit extreme, but I am so concerned with plagiarism that i do it this way.

Do sit back and imagine. Let your mind wander. Once again, go with your instinct. Think about what annoys you or delights you. you can bet that many others will feel the same way.

Do jot your ideas down only when you feel like doing so. Desperately clutching for an idea doesn’t work for me.

Do go for it when it feels right to do so, even if that is 11:50 and you need to be up at 6:00 the next morning.

On with the idea that you’ve got…

Often, I jot down a brief outline of the story. A cartoonist may call this a storyboard. In this example, it could run as shown below.

Janet hates her ex-husband. He stopped her having kids.

She can’t find anyone else and doesn’t want to.

Debts getting bad. She heads for the hills.

Describe her life in the wild. Birds, avoiding people, food, cold…extreme weather

People are looking for her. what she does to survive gets noticed.

Nuclear war breaks out.

her area so remote she survives bombing, describe her in deep cavern at time (research effect of nuclear blast)

Describe aftermath and her lonely search for companionship, even if she is half- scared of what she will find.

Meets her ex by pure chance…

At this point, it depends what you want to write. Her ex could seem nice and turn out to be as bad as he ever was. He could turn out great, but she runs from him, when he and his band of survivors are her only real hope, but you get the idea. Fix even this much of the plot in your head and start writing.

… page, getting rolling with your book.


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