Guest post by C. S. Lakin
So much important information seems to be missing in so many novels—especially first novels by aspiring authors. Novel writing is tricky; there are countless essential components that all need to mesh cohesively. To me, the key to reaching that goal is to ask a lot of questions.
Questions Create Story
Starting a novel is asking a question. What if . . .? What would someone do if . . .? What if the world was like this and this happened . . .? Then those initial questions lead to more questions, which shape and bring life to characters and story. Questions are the key.
Thousands of hours of critiquing and editing has led me to notice that there are some questions I seem to ask a lot. Which tells me there are some general gaps that many writers have in common in their novel-constructing process. I thought I’d share these questions, because maybe they’ll help you as you work on your novel.
1) Where is this scene taking place? I shouldn’t have to ask this, right? The writer is thinking, Isn’t it obvious? I know where this scene is taking place.
It may surprise you to know that readers can’t read your mind. The biggest problem I see in novel scenes is the lack of sufficient information to help the reader “get” where a scene is taking place. Just a hint of setting, shown from the character’s point of view, can do wonders. And what’s usually missing is not just the locale but the smells and sounds, a sense of the time of day and year, and exactly where in the world it is.
2) How much time has passed? So many scenes dive into dialog or action without clueing the reader in on how much time has passed since the last scene. Scenes needs to flow and string together in cohesive time. It’s important to know if five minutes or five months has passed, and it only takes a few words to make that clear. Don’t leave your reader in confusion—that’s a bad thing.
3) What is your character feeling right now? This is a biggie. It alternates with “How does your character react to this?” So many times I read bits of action or dialog that should produce a reaction from the POV character, but the scene just zooms ahead with said dialog or action without an indication of what the character is feeling or thinking. For every important moment, your character needs to react. First viscerally, then emotionally, physically, and finally intellectually. If you get hit by a car, you aren’t going to first think logically about what happened and what you need to do next. First, you scream or your body slams against the sidewalk and pain streaks through your back. Keep this adage in mind: for every action, there should be an appropriate, immediate reaction. That’s how you reveal character.
4) What is the point of this scene? This is a scary question. Not for me—for the author. Because if there’s no point to a scene, it shouldn’t be in your novel. Really. Every scene has to have a point—to reveal character or plot. And it should have a “high moment” that the scene builds to.
5) What is your protagonist’s goal for the book? If she doesn’t have a goal, you don’t really have a story. The reader wants to know your premise as soon as possible, and that involves your main character having a need to get something or somewhere, do something or find something. That goal should drive the story and be the underlayment for all your scenes. That goal is the glue that holds a novel together. It may not be a huge goal, and in the end, your character may fail to reach that goal—you’re the writer; you decide. But have a goal.
I actually ask a whole lot more questions than these. And many are just as important to crafting a powerful novel. I’ve found when writing my own novels that if I just keep asking questions—the right ones—I’ll find just the right answers for that story.
If you can get in the habit of continually asking questions as you delve into your novel, you may find it will lead you to the heart of your story.
Writing correctly doesn’t have to be hard
Great writers write well. Grammatical errors mark a manuscript as unprofessional and the author as sloppy or an amateur. But you don’t have to memorize the myriad of grammar, punctuation, and usage rules to have a well-written book. If you’re a novelist or write creative nonfiction, this handy guide is essential—giving you the most common and applicable rules and tips to make your book shine—minus the pain!
Inside you’ll find
- Short, concise, and often humorous explanations of important grammar, punctuation, and word usage rules as featured on the award-winning blog Live Write Thrive.
- Bonus fiction-writing tips to help you tighten your prose and say what you mean in fewer, more appropriate words.
- Easy-to-navigate sections and a comprehensive index so you can find the answer to your grammar question right away.
Whether you’re a novice or experienced writer, you’ll benefit from these clear and helpful explanations of grammar and usage based on The Chicago Manual of Style--the US book publishing industry’s authoritative reference guide. You no longer need to search the web or thumb through a stack of grammar books to find simple answers to your grammar questions. With Say What? at your fingertips, you’ll spend less time fretting over grammar and more time writing. And you’ll become a better writer in the process!
“Good, concise, and easily accessible reference books on grammar and usage is hard to find. I mean, are hard to find. This is one of them.”
—James Scott Bell, bestselling novelist, writing coach, and author of Revision and Self-Editing
“This handy, user-friendly reference book, presented with style and humor, is a must for any writer serious about honing their craft and garnering respect for their works. An essential resource, the e-book will save you time with all its quick links to the short, snappy topics, and the print version is small enough to stay within reach beside your computer, so I highly recommend getting both. Respected editor and writer Susanne Lakin succeeds in making a dry topic interesting and meaningful! And using this book will also help you reduce your editing costs.”
—Jodie Renner, editor, and author of the award-winning Style That Sizzles
“As a self-professed grammar nerd, let me just say this: The world needs more grammar nerds. Editor Lakin is doing her part to make this happen with her pithy, fun, and supremely useful guide to the everyday writing mistakes most of us don't even realize we're making. Her book is conversational and approachable enough to make for enjoyable reading. But it's true value is in its ‘lookupability.’ This is the perfect guide to keep on your desk, next to your computer, for those moments when you're just not sure which word is right.”
—K. M. Weiland, blogger, and author of Structuring Your Novel
C. S. Lakin is a multipublished novelist and writing coach. She works full-time as a copyeditor and critiques about two hundred manuscripts a year. She teaches writing workshops and gives instruction on her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive. Her new book--Say What? The Fiction Writer’s Handy Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Word Usage—is designed to help writers get a painless grasp on grammar. You can buy it in print here or as an ebook here.
Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.