I’m sometimes asked how one learns how to write a novel. The only sound advice I can give is “Read, read, read–and then read some more!” C.S. Lewis was a professor of literature. He would have known what good writing looks like. So you read, you study, you imitate–and if you have the talent, the technique will draw it out.
Just one word of warning: you’ll wind up writing what you read.
Yeah, this’ll work! Everybody stop working, and The Government will give you all the free stuff you need from now on. As an economic theory, this beats rubbing your floor lamp until a genie comes out to grant your wishes. Would you believe it was the product of a “think tank”? More like a drunk tank.
As a fantasy novelist, I believe I’m qualified to say that fantasy can make for great entertainment but is a truly lousy basis for public policy.
You’ve got to let your characters be themselves–and they’ll surprise you, especially if you’re writing a series–then they really have a lot of room in which to move around. Writing my Bell Mountain books, I had plenty of surprises provided by characters like Lord Orth, Bassas, Ellayne’s mother, Judge Zerayah, Gallgoid–let your characters do what they’re gonna do, and you can have a lot of fun as a novelist.
Never, never, never write up a character who’s only a thinly-disguised version of yourself, carrying out assorted wish-fulfillments. Readers see through that at once, and most of them don’t like it.
Try to think of your fictional characters as real people with their own lives to lead, their own hopes and dreams and fears; and you, too, might wind up with a Gallgoid or two.
Some of my readers are surprised to learn that I’ve written all my Bell Mountain novels outdoors, with pen and legal pad. Is it really that unusual? Why do I do this?
I guess it started because we had to give up smoking in the house, and smoking a cigar helps me to concentrate on my writing. But I still write all my non-fiction indoors, without smoking. It’s only the novels that now have to be written outdoors. I just can’t write fiction indoors anymore.
My novels are fantasy novels. That means I have to invent a world, invent characters to live in it, and somehow get the reader to imagine what I imagine: to get these people and places to seem real to the reader. But that can’t happen until first I make the fantasy seem real to me. Please note that I said “seem.” We try to stay sane around here.
Anyway, this is not an easy trick to pull off. It requires intense concentration. And I find that the outdoors itself helps me with that. It helps a lot. Squirrels, sky, grass, trees, birds (and I have even been blessed with visits from a deer, and a fox)–these are all God’s handiwork, they are all what’s real. Certainly a lot realer than one blasted robo-call after another, which is what I’d get if I stayed indoors. But there’s something about the sheer reality of the world I live in, God’s world, which somehow assists me in my work of fantasy. It’s very hard to explain how, but it’s worked for 13 books so far, going on 14.
I love it when a squirrel scurries up practically to my shoe and looks up at me, as if he’s trying to figure out what I’m doing. And once a monarch butterfly landed on my knee. Ah! I can’t go to Lintum Forest, but these tiny little aspects of it, as it were, can come to me.
I think most writers would tell you that inspiration’s where you find it; and I find mine outdoors.
Suddenly the idea of a fantasy about a hard-boiled private eye is starting to look pretty good to me. I’ll betcha Anthony Boucher or Henry Kuttner could’ve done it standing on his head. “The dame came through my office door in a rustle of that fancy crinoline stuff like you see in the movies. Real class. But she didn’t open the door to come on…”
I mean, as long as we’re going to be writing bad fiction, it might as well be funny!
Rocky Bridges once said there are three things everybody thinks he or she can do: manage a baseball team, run a hotel, and write a book. And I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “Oh, I’d write a book, too, only I just don’t have the time!”
Assuming you now have the time, here are a few helpful hints to get your started.
The story-teller’s art is as old as humanity itself; and since the invention of the printing press, the story-teller’s audience has grown by leaps and bounds. Until now.
If you love a movie or a TV show, be it known that somebody had to write it before anyone could film it. And someone had to read it. But fewer and people are reading. Fewer and fewer are getting the stories.
Reading is one of those things you get better at, the more you do it. I can tell you that as a person trained to teach developmental reading. Even without someone to coach you, if you keep at it, reading will come easier and easier to you. And for a good reader, with the right kind of book, it’s like having a movie playing in your mind.
How much the poorer I would be, without reading! Never to have stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia, never to have watched Lord Peter Wimsey solve a mystery, never to have roamed the dead sea bottoms of Barsoom, nor visited The Shire, nor explored the ocean’s depths with Captain Nemo–oh, but I could go on all day!
Just to show you I’m not trying to trick you with a stealth commercial, let me say it out in the open: yeah, you ought to read my Bell Mountain books.
Now, what good does it do to fill our heads with stories that are not true? Always bearing in mind that the parables of Our Lord Jesus Christ were not about real people, real events, and so, strictly speaking, “untrue.”
For one thing, these fictional stories do contain abundant truth. They can serve as parables. They can teach moral truths.
For another, stories, like sleep, can knit the raveled sleeve of care (borrowing a line from Shakespeare). When your life begins to look like the lyrics of the Car 54, Where Are You? theme song, you can escape into your favorite books–or into new stories altogether, to see what you might discover.
The more you read, the more you’ll retain; and the more of your reading you retain, the better you’ll be at expressing your own thoughts. I realize that applies to all reading, not just reading fiction. But it certainly doesn’t not apply to reading fiction.
Reading is good for you! Period. Civilization would never have gotten anywhere without it.
I was 11 years old in 1960 and wasn’t allowed to stay up on Friday nights to watch The Twilight Zone. So every Saturday, Bobby across the street would tell me what I’d missed. And I have a very vivid memory of him telling me about this episode, Long Live Walter Jameson.
I read this book, and a couple other clangers, in preparation for an interview. I think it was with Joshua’s uncle, Kevin, on his internet radio show. I look back with amazement that any published book could be this bad.
Sometimes when adults write about teenagers, they come off as space aliens trying to write about human beings without having the slightest understanding of humanity, they might as well be writing about catfish. A book like this is an insult to every poor devil who ever tried and failed to get published. A monkey could write a better one, if you gave him a keyboard.
You owe it to yourself to give this book a wide berth.
The movies spent a lot of money on special effects, but frittered it all away by cringing from C.S. Lewis’ story as he wrote it, in which “Aslan” clearly represents Our Lord Jesus Christ. Never mind what that bog-hopper Liam Neeson said about Aslan being Mohammed and Buddha, too. Really, sometimes I wonder what actors use for brains. Soggy cereal?
The old BBC series may have relied on unconvincing costumes, but one thing they did get right was the spirit of the enterprise.