Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Anatomy of Book Writing with Guest Blogger: Blair Bancroft

Welcome featured author Blair Bancroft 
to the Book Boost today!

She's here to discuss a wise author’s approach to writing a book and here's what she had to say...

The following is an outline of a workshop I’ve been creating over the last few weeks. Once you have your “grand idea,” I hope the following suggestions may help you write a better book.

1.    Fresh Twist.  Nurture and expand your initial idea. Give it a new twist, something that will keep the reader turning pages instead of groaning over yet another version of same old-same old.

2.    Research. Before you begin, do your research. Whether it’s Renaissance, Steampunk, police procedure, arson investigation, high finance, medical, or whatever, be sure you know what you’re talking about.

3.    Title & Names. Give your book a title, even if you change it later. Name your major characters and at least the secondary characters in Chapter 1. Note their physical descriptions and their relationship to each other. I suggest a typed Character List. It’s good psychology, providing support through those pesky first moments of creation.

4.    Opening.  Take your time with that first sentence. And take your time with the rest of the first paragraph and the first page. This is where you not only capture the attention of your reader, but more importantly for beginners, this is where you capture the attention of a busy agent or editor.

5.    Characters.  Characters are the backbone of a book, the thing that makes a book come alive. Creating interesting and believable characters with whom a reader can empathize is the single most important aspect of your book. The best plot in the world will fail if your main characters are shallow, uninteresting, or not properly identified.

6.    Plot.  Whether your plot is simple or complex, at least a hint of it should be apparent in the first chapters. Readers want to plunge right into the story with the hero and heroine, and if your book reads like a standard romance in Chapters 1-4, but turns out to be a Suspense in Chapter 5 or 6, readers are going to feel misled.

7.    Goals.  Every author has a different approach to plotting—from “out of the mist” to extensive outlines, storyboards, etc. No matter which method you use, you should always keep your goals in mind. You need a goal: for the book, for a scene, for a chapter. You need short-term and long-term goals for both hero and heroine. (And for a villain, if you have one.)

8.    Motivation.  You can get away with almost any plot, goal, or action, no matter how bizarre, if you give your characters proper motivation. Never forget to make it clear why they do what they do.

9.    Conflict.  Without conflict, your story is: boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, and live Happily Ever After. Three chapters, tops. Which means: Conflict is the most essential ingredient in a Romance.  Conflict is not bickering between the hero and heroine. Conflict is some seemingly insurmountable problem, such as feuding families; incompatible lifestyles or jobs; medical problems. Or outside influences, such as a murder threat, a business takeover, being caught in a blizzard; a hurricane, car wreck, war zone.

10.    Setting.  A setting needs clarity and color. Otherwise, the characters are talking heads against a blank canvas.  Readers also want to get a feel for date & location, something easily solved by a Date & Location line at the beginning of the manuscript or scene.

11.    Dialogue.  Don’t let dialogue rule your book. Take a close look at your dialogue. Did the dialogue in that scene tell the reader something vital? Did it move the story forward? Did you leave out introspection (the thoughts of the character whose Point of View you’re in)? Did you charge through the scene with only short tags or no tags without inserting any action, giving the reader a skeleton with no meat? Cute or clever is not enough on its own. Dialogue must add color, and it must have a purpose.

12.    Narration. Dialogue only shows the surface. Unless you let your readers know what your main characters are thinking, we’ll never know what’s really happening. What your character is saying and what he/she is thinking might be entirely opposite. Be sure you let the reader know that. Also needed are all those words that add color, set the scene, tell readers what your characters look like, explain backstory, etc. - the 90% of the story iceberg that remains underwater unless you describe it for your readers.

13.    Pacing.  A lot of things slow pacing. Are you “telling” instead of “showing”? Put simply, are you looking at your story from the outside, “telling” your readers what is happening, instead of getting inside your main characters’ heads and letting us see the story through their eyes? Are you using twenty words when ten would be more clear and move the story along faster? Or are your sentences too bare? You forgot to add color, descriptions, settings, and/or enough background information so readers can understand what’s going on.

14.    Point of View.  (See comments under Pacing.) In addition, it’s recommended beginners stick to the POV of the hero, the heroine, and perhaps a villain. Do not “head hop.” Stick to one character’s POV through a whole scene. Or if you must change, do it near the middle, allowing the hero and heroine “equal opportunity.”

15.    Transitions.  It’s so easy to look ahead toward your primary goal in a scene that you fail to wind up one thing before beginning another. The effect is something like knocking the reader off a diving board before they’ve reached the end. A true “Huh?” moment. Bad transitions can be more readily spotted during editing. Keep an eye out for those “unfinished” moments.

16.    Mechanics.  Yes, mechanics count. If an editor has two manuscripts of equal appeal, but one had correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and the other one is going to cost the company money for hours of editing and copy edits, which manuscript is the editor going to choose?

17.    Self-editing.  Unless you have a particular problem finishing a book, edit as you go along. At the end of each chapter. At the end of each 5-chapter section. If you do that, you won’t be faced with the enormity of editing an entire book from a rough first-draft. Then you start back at the beginning and do it all again. Most successful authors have been through their books four or five times before submission. Self-editing is an absolute must!

Be the Wise Author. Think! - both before & after you type.

A Note From the Book Boost:  Great tips, Blair!  Thanks for sharing.  Please tell us more about your latest.


Miss Araminta Galsworthy travels to the home of her new guardian, Baron Julian Rochefort, an inventor like her father, only to find herself hastily married, shot at, and attacked by evangelicals who consider her husband’s airship the work of the devil. She is also expected to play hostess to a bevy of guests, all of whom seem to be engaged in treason.

Their intent: restore the monarchy. A shocking concept to Minta, who was only ten when the Duke of Wellington seized the government. Lord Rochefort’s enemies are legion: rival aeronauts from the continent, rival monarchists who want to place the Duke of Cumberland on the throne (or possibly the Duke of Cambridge). And a wily Wellington, who has allowed an already autocratic nature to grow into despotism over the course of his reign.

Minta struggles to adjust to new friends, new enemies, a new husband. To the concept of being an integral part of a revolution. Not easy for a girl just shy of her majority. But she finds her way past all obstacles, to become an important part of the great day when Lord Rochefort sets down Aurora, the world’s first airship, in Hyde Park. All does not go as planned, however, and Minta almost loses her chance to live a life where she, not Aurora, is the center of her husband’s universe.

Want More Blair?

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Beth said...

Oh, I like that list. Very Succinct. Sometimes we need to hear the basics. :D

Grace said...

Bethanne, I spend a lot of time blogging about the Nuts & Bolts of writing with newbies in mind, but it's good to hear that even an experienced author might find something helpful in today's blog. Thanks for posting. Blair

Suzi Love said...

Wonderful advice on writing your book. Thanks,

Maggi Andersen said...

Great advice and your story sounds intriguing!

Grace said...

Thank you, Suzi & Maggi. I appreciate the kind words. Would love to have you stop by my website.

Ella Quinn said...

Wonderful comments.

Roxy Boroughs said...

Perfectly encapsulated.