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.
Well, how about a book update, then? And meanwhile the latest addition to my Bell Mountain series, His Mercy Endureth Forever, doesn’t seem to have quite hit the mark on amazon.com.
Every day it doesn’t rain, I’m outside, writing Behold!, longhand on a legal pad. I got a nice piece of it done this morning.
But if you’re going to ask me, “Behold what?”, I’m afraid I don’t yet know. The title just popped into my head, so I used it. I suppose I could change the title, but I like to write these books according to the guidance I receive from the Lord, day by day. So I still don’t know what anybody in the story is going to behold. I’ve been in this situation many times before, though, and the Lord has never left me hanging.
Sometimes writing a novel is like playing chess. You have all these pieces to move, and if you can steer them into the right configuration, you’ll be in position to deliver checkmate. In the novel you’re moving characters, not chessmen; and for the story to turn out right, each character has to be moved into the right place to deliver the story’s climax.
With this book I feel like something’s got to come together soon because the warm weather won’t last but a month or two longer and I just can’t write fiction indoors. Too many distractions. But if it’s really cold outside, the ink won’t come out of my pen.
I went outside early today because I thought it might rain, torched a cigar (as Mike Shayne used to do so well), and settled down to work on Behold!, Book No. 14 in my Bell Mountain series.
I wasn’t expecting much from this scene, it was just Prester Jod having breakfast with a guest whose identity I can’t divulge without committing a spoiler. I had to get on to something more exciting, and, as is my custom, asked the Lord to give me the story that He wants me to tell.
Well, He certainly did that. The plot suddenly shot off in a new direction. It was something I’d been thinking of, on and off, but as yet had no idea how to pull it off. Next thing I knew, it practically wrote itself. And I had the excitement I’d been looking for, finding it in an unexpected place.
I really love it when a book does that.
Now I have to stop and work on a book review for Chalcedon; but it was a lovely place to stop.
Why else would the author continually editorialize about his characters? How badly do we need to be told that the villain is a bad guy? Page after page after page?
And yet we see this, sometimes in fantastically successful best-selling books. Never mind that those books will be forgotten someday, while better books live on. For the time being, they’re selling like hotcakes.
I think it’s just further evidence that we’re living in a fallen world.
Faith, 12, has asked me for writing tips, so here we go. The nooze can wait.
I was writing stories when I was 12. I was even writing “books,” longhand in one of those black-and-white composition notebooks. I was, of course, fully convinced that these efforts of mine were good enough to be published; but in the meantime, I read them to my friends.
Which is a way of getting started as a writer!
No one wants to hear this–I certainly didn’t–but it takes a certain amount of life experience to write about life. Maybe that’s why children experimenting with story-telling are so apt to venture into science fiction or fantasy: instead of knowing things, they’re free to make things up.
Ah! But your time isn’t wasted. I started telling stories when I was in third grade, nine years old. I had two friends who liked inventing stories, and we would sit together in their cellar and entertain each other with the stories we made up–mostly about monsters.
Writing itself can be tricky. Getting your point across the way you want it, saying what you really mean to say, so that someone else will understand it–these take years of practice. There’s no substitute for practice. In fact, let me emphasize it: THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PRACTICE.
I couldn’t do at 15 or 16 the things I can do as a writer now. I couldn’t do at 12 what I could do at 16.
So don’t be discouraged if you can’t get stuff published when you’re 12 (although when I was 12, there was no such thing as self-publishing). The time is not being lost; it’s being invested. What you need to be doing is telling stories–whatever kind of stories you enjoy telling. Tell them to your friends. If your friends like your stories and want to hear more, you are very much on the right track.
And keep at it. Just keep at it. I didn’t get anything published professionally until I was almost 40 years old. You’re bound to do better than that.
Stephen King once bragged that he could get his laundry list published, if he wanted to–a singularly insensitive comment, given the heartache of so many struggling authors who can’t get published at all.
But the fact of the matter is that a lot of cow-flop does get published.
Oy vay, it’s hot today! But if I want to keep on writing Behold!, I’ve got to take the heat. What I wouldn’t give, though, to be out on that boat with Gurun, with cold water splashing my face.
Unexpectedly, it seems the wine of Durmurot will have a role in moving my plot forward. My wife has developed a taste for the golden wine of Durmurot, but you can’t get it around here. Heck, we can’t even get American-grown parsley, these days.
We had a couple of cooler days last week, and that left us unprepared to face the return of the perishingly hot weather. I’ve just been out there finishing up a chapter, and I’m knackered. Time for an enormous glass of iced tea.
Elijah Holsten’s sister, Faith, 12 years old, has asked me for some writing tips. In the spirit of today’s weather, Tip No. 1 is simple: Just keep at it. If your work that day isn’t all it could be, you can always smarten it up later. That’s why my first draft is always written longhand, on a legal pad. Keep the story moving. Stylistic niceties I add when I move on to the typed draft I’ll submit to my editor.
Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe will last forever as a literary classic. Even so, there’s one little clinker in it that makes you wonder if Scott was quite sane at the time.
To show the futility of any dream of ousting the Normans and putting a Saxon noble on the throne of England, Scott gives us a lout named Athelstane as the last remaining repository of that hope. Although descended from Saxon royalty, Athelstane’s main interest in life is eating. You could put him in a stall with a feed-bag, and he’d be happy.
Toward the end of the story, Athelstane gets killed in a battle. The larders of England breathe a collective sigh of relief. The reader promptly forgets there was ever such a character as Athelstane–
Until, in Chapter XLII, Sir Walter Scott brings him back to life.
Now, this was not like Conan Doyle being forced by public outrage to bring back Sherlock Holmes after drowning him in the Reichenbach Falls. Why bring back Athelstane, a clod? Let’s let Sir Walter himself answer that question, in his own footnotes to Ivanhoe.
“59. The resuscitation of Athelstane has been much criticised, as too violent a breach of probability, even for a work of such fantastic character. It was a ‘tour-de-force,’ to which the author was compelled to have recourse, by the vehement entreaties of his friend and printer, who was inconsolable on the Saxon being conveyed to the tomb.”
That’s his excuse–an inconsolable printer? Well, it’s feeble enough to be true. What a soft-hearted fellow Sir Walter must have been! The return of Athelstane was unnecessary, unwanted, and preposterous; and you wonder how a literary giant could have taken such a fall. It’s like Hamlet’s pants splitting with an audible riiiip! in the middle of “To be or not to be.”
Note to aspiring authors: Don’t think you’ll ever get away with a honker like this.
We are under another heat advisory today, and I doubt I’ll have the opportunity to lie down in a nest of ice cubes. I could try, I suppose.
But the business at hand is to proceed with writing Behold! The Lord hasn’t yet shown me where this story’s headed–just a few tantalizing hints. What’s going to happen with those strange ships off the coast of Durmurot? Ebed the spy, who’s maybe eleven years old, is the only one who can find out…
Am I writing this so I don’t have to go outside?
Grab the pen, legal pad, and cigar–and go to work!
I’ve been chewing over this idea for years now, and a few readers have encouraged me in it. Why not write a Bell Mountain book about things that happened before the events so far related in the series?
The story that pulls me the hardest is that of King Ozias, who lived 2,000 years before Jack and Ellayne et al. Ozias had a thousand enemies, and a thousand narrow escapes. But he trusted in God, he obeyed the directions of the Spirit, and God delivered him out of all his dangers–and promised that his line of descent would continue down the centuries, and never fail. Yes, I think I’d like to write that.
But there’s also the story–well, there must be one–behind Ellayne’s favorite book, The Adventures of Abombalbap. Was there ever such a person as Abombalbap, who was raised and trained in warrior arts by the Seven Hags of Ballamadda? Were his adventures inspired by real events? What was life in Obann like, centuries after the Day of Fire and centuries before King Ryons?
And here’s me, wondering if I should try to write these books. It would mean departing from the story arc that has so far held together 13 books in a series. It strikes me as a rather large risk to take.