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Published: July 8, 2018 (5 years 9 months ago.)
Tags:  Writing

The book in...
One sentence:
Main Character + Goal + Opposition = Conflict

Five sentences:
Make sure you have a great main character. Constantly increase the level of oppostion the main character faces; you can almost not have too much conflict. Start your story just before the story or jump right into the thick of things; don't waste time meandering before you get to the story itself or you will lose the reader. Avoid flashbacks and avoid symbolism as they will pull the reader out of the story and often feel artificial anyway. Finally, write every day and eventually you will finish.

designates my notes. / designates important.


I enjoyed this book. It was a quick read and moved predictably through what is required of a novel.

First, and this should go without saying, is the character. Your focus will be on the protagonists for essentially the entire book, so they should be interesting, more real than real. More noble, more ruthless, more ugly, more real. Your characters should act optimally, they should always be on their A game. It is also suggested to write biographies for your characters. Even if most of this will never make it into the novel, it gives the writer a more concrete vision of the character. How would they react given their background, their beliefs, etc? The author calls this: doing your homework. I think it could be extended to other aspects as well: setting, technology, history, and anything else that is real.

Since the story should follow the protagonist, it stands to reason that the story should follow some kind of progression. From introduction and the initial problem to a climax. The recipe for this is:

Main Character + Goal + Opposition = Conflict

The opposition should be ever increasing, always forcing our characters to evolve, stepwise, scene by scene. Each scene should be a battle; attack, counter-attack, repeat until surrender or resolution.

Additionally, every dialog should have some kind of conflict.

Where should you begin your story? Just before the beginning. Basically you want to lay down a little status quo before quickly jumping off. Another tactic could be to start right in the thick of things and fill in the gaps in subsequent chapters, after you’ve caught the reader’s attention.

What view point should you use? There are three main ones: first person, omniscient, and limited omniscient. First person might be difficult to pull off, especially for novice writers. It has the baggage of: how does this person know everything they know? How would they know what they were not privy to? This can lead to clumsy tricks to clue in your first person perspective.

Omniscient and limited omniscient are easier, but they have their own caveats. Since you, the author, know everything, you might be tempted to peek inside everyone’s head. This viewpoint hopping can be disorienting and should be limited to getting inside only a few characters; Each chapter should be limited in such a way, but you can write other chapters, or scenes with great care, from alternate viewpoints.

Another piece of advice I’ve seen in several of these ‘how to write a book’ books is that flashbacks should be limited, if not outright avoided. Do not use them to flesh out a character’s past. If the “antecedent action must be relevant to the present story”, they may be acceptable, but get back to the here-and-now as soon as possible. In short: use with extreme caution.

A lot of books are chock full of symbolism, classical allusions, and the like. Don’t worry about this, and maybe don’t even try. Making everything red will not allude to anger in your story, it will probably come off as ersatz. Some symbols can work great, like the whale in Moby Dick or the lump of coal in a Christmas Carol, but too many would-be authors bog the story down with artifice.

How will you ever finish? Regularity. You must write ever day, no exceptions. Set yourself a butt-in-chair time quote and stick to it. Alternatively you might set goals in words or pages per day. This advice is constantly echoed in every book I’ve read: everyday regularity, however small, will best the most sporadic Herculean efforts. I follow this advice; it works.

OK, you’ve written regularly and in a few months or a year, you’ve finished your first draft. Now what? Set it down to cool off, start the next project. Leave it sit for as long as you can stand. Some authors suggest leaving it for a year before coming back to it. This way you’ll have a chance to get it out of your system. When you finally do come back to it, it won’t be fresh in your mind. You’ll see only what you’ve written. The gaps you fill in with what is in your mind when you have been thinking about the story for months on end won’t get filled in after you let it sit. You’ll be able to see the holes, what needs work, what needs tossed completely.

Other advice I liked, that wasn’t in this book, was: write big and cut big. If you have 200,000 pages, you’ve got a lot there and will not feel so bad cutting. On the other hand if you’ve barely eked out 90,000 pages, you might be tempted to leave sub par material in simply to fill the pages. Not good.

Lastly, once you are happy with your manuscript, find destructive critics that will tear it apart. Friends and family will tell you absolutely nothing. It is up to you what to do at this point; take the critics advice, rewrite, polish, start over from scratch, but whatever you do, write regularly!

Further Reading

Exceptional Excepts

Table of Contents

· Introduction

page 11:

· 01: What it’s All About is “Who”

page 12:
page 13:
page 18:

· 02: The Three Greatest Rules of Dramatic Writing: Conflict! Conflict! Conflict!

page 43:
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page 54:

· 03: The Tyranny of the Premise, or, Writing a Story Without a Premise is like Rowing a Boat Without Oars

page 71:

· 04:The ABC’s of Storytelling

page 84:

· 05: Rising to the Climax, or, The Proof of the Pudding is in the Premise

· 06: Viewpoint, Point of View, Flashbacking, and Some Nifty Gadgets in the Novelist’s Bag of Tricks

page 112:
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· 07: The Fine Art of Great Dialogue and Sensuous, Dramatic Prose

page 148:
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· 08: Rewriting: the Final Agonies

page 164:
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· 09: The Zen of Novel Writing

page 178: