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.
With a prayer, and with a cold wind blowing in my face, I have finished writing Behold! And if this book’s climax is as good as I dare hope–well, kowabunga!
I’m reminded of an essay (or was it a letter?) by Tolkien, in which he described a conversation he had with a stranger about The Lord of the Rings–who said to him, “You don’t think you wrote all that all by yourself, do you?” It was just the sort of thing, said Tolkien, that Gandalf would have said–and he left it at that.
I thank the Lord of All for giving me this book to write, and pray my work will be fruitful in His service. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Some of you have expressed curiosity about what a writer actually does. Well, here’s a recap of my workday yesterday.
*Before breakfast, put up two blog posts to get the day rolling.
*After breakfast, two or three more posts, at least one of which will require some thought.
*Go outside and write as much of my book as I can.
*Two more blog posts.
*Write Newswithviews column.
*After supper, post a critter video.
This schedule doesn’t leave me a lot of time for deep-sea marlin fishing, high-stakes gambling, amateur bull-fighting, or an interminable train of amours. We are all trying to live down Hemingway. And contrary to popular belief, drink and drugs do not sharpen your creativity. Neither does college.
Now that I finally know what the climax of the story is, and where all the characters have to be when it happens… can I get it all written before the cold weather takes over?
I reckon I’ve got about a week’s worth of good writing days left. Can I wrap up the story, if I work real hard?
Bell Mountain No. 14, Behold!–it’s been a hard hike over rough terrain. Didn’t get the climax till just a few days ago. When that happens the writer runs a serious risk of having his characters just milling around. My editor says I have avoided that. I pray she’s right.
If I can write it like I’ve seen it, my climax will have been worth waiting for.
My office was worse than this. I didn’t have a window.
Once upon a time, there was nothing like a few years as a newspaper reporter to prepare you for a career as a writer. Based on what I see of the nooze media every day, that’s no longer true. But it used to be.
I should have added, though, that when I first tried to switch over to fiction-writing, my short stories read like newspaper articles. That was a problem that had to be solved, and it took several years to do it.
Someday I ought to write about the Creative Writing classes I used to teach at adult night school. “At 8:17 p.m. Roger M. Pooh, height 5 feet 11 inches, weight 178 pounds, brown hair, brown eyes, stood on the corner of Main St. and Pilchard Avenue…” Was this a short story or a police report?
Once upon a time it was hideously expensive to publish your own books. So there were vanity presses that would do it for you, it you paid them an exorbitant fee. But technology has changed all that, and made self-publishing much easier and less costly.
But for the qualifier “Christian” to alert the reader that the book will be inferior to its secular equivalent–well, we have to work to change that, we really do.
What a morning! Hand in our votes, supermarket, pay rent–and all with a cold wind blowing, with 40-mph gusts. Complete with a great big black walnut branch breaking off and falling in the yard. Fortunately it didn’t hit anything. And my leg was just killing me, too.
But all that hassle must’ve cleared out the cobwebs for me, because when we finally got home again, and I sat outside to have a cigar–voila!
I’ve got the climax for Behold! Now I’ve seen what the people in my story are going to behold. And if I can find the skill to write what I saw, as I saw it–well, it’s gonna knock your socks off.
Meanwhile the computer I normally use has gone on strike. Ain’t working.
So kick back and enjoy some dinosaur sounds: it has a bearing on the story.
If you’ve been following my progress, as reported here, I’ve really been sweating it, trying to come up with a climax for Bell Mountain No. 14, Behold! The question gave me no peace: “Behold what? What’s there to behold?” And I’ve been praying about it, asking the Lord to give me the story that He wants me to tell. That’s what I always ask Him; and so far, He always has.
So I was out there in the cold yesterday, too cold to write, finishing up my cigar… and the idea just sort of drifted into my head. Sometimes it comes with a bang, as when the gunslinger in a movie shoves open the doors to the saloon. Sometimes it’s like a flashbulb. Sometimes I get the climax first and have to find the way to it. But this time it just drifted quietly into my head; and when I went back indoors, I got distracted by other things and didn’t think of it.
Until I woke up this morning!
Gee, it was still there. I don’t know how to tell you how unusual that is for me. I get a lot of ideas that don’t amount to anything. But this one was not only still there: now it was much clearer. It was better. It ties together the strands of the plot that were just sort of whipping in the wind.
Hallelujah, I can finish my book! I asked the Lord to show me how, and He did. Now all I need is some friendly weather–and a lot of energy–in which to write it up.
Oh–and I still need some good ideas for cover art for No. 13, The Wind from Heaven. Kirk DouPonce is a great cover artist, but he prefers the author (which is me) to come up with the ideas. I’m still wondering how he gets my characters so real: you’d swear they posed for him.
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.
Well, here I am, in kindlier weather than we have today, scribbling away at Bell Mountain No. 14, Behold! Today, in spite of the fog and the threat of rain, I finished Chapter 31. (Don’t worry–it won’t be as long as Oy, Rodney.) Helki the Rod has just had more excitement than is good for him; and I reckon another half-dozen chapters will do it.
I still don’t know just what it is that the characters in the story are going to behold. Lord, I hope you’ll tell me soon. Usually He gives me the book’s climax a lot sooner than this. For instance, I already have the climax for Book 15. Always in hope that I’ll be able to write it.
Meanwhile, I’ve got to come up with cover art for No. 13, The Wind from Heaven, so artist Kirk DouPonce can get to work on it. Ships from very far away have suddenly appeared off Obann’s coast: maybe we could show the first shore party landing. I await the birth of an idea.