Everything You Wanted to Know About Novel Writing
Thanks to bensound.com for the intro and outro music!
ASK THE AUTHOR: From Bill Giovannetti via Facebook: What are your top tips for great dialog?
AARON: Thanks for the question, Bill. We’ve done several casts on dialog. I’ll link some at the end of my comments here. To keep this short, I’ll list one or two of my top tips, and then we’ll let Pops and Molly do the same. For me, my number one rule is: “Less is more.” Use it as little as possible. And when you have to use it, make it as short as possible. We tend to overwrite, so this rule helps keep us closer to the realm of appropriate length. My second rule is that characters should never say things to characters that the second character already knows. Such as, “How’s your mom, you know, the one dying of cancer?” These types of conversations are stiff, awkward, and unbelievable.
POPS: The purpose of dialogue is to make your characters sound real (not just act real). My top tips are: 1) Listen to how people speak and make notes of anything interesting. This includes regional speech. Yes, in California, people really do say, “Dude.” Southerners have a ways of phrasing things that are unique to their region, as do people brought up in New Jersey or New York. 2) Dialogue should reflect the history and education of a character. Highly educated people often phrase things differently than those will little or no education. Be true to the character. 3) Remember, dialogue is action. Someone is doing something that advances the story.
Molly: Great dialogue includes non-dialogue action. We don’t stand dormant when talking to each other, neither should your manuscript. Add action such as “She took a sip of coffee before answering.” Or, “How are you really doing?” He raised his eyebrows. Also, make sure the reader understands the tone and who’s speaking. If a character is angry, you can have them growl before responding or balling their fists while speaking.
Firsts in Fiction
EVERYTHING YOU’VE WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT WRITING NOVELS BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK
Some time back I (Al) spent several days at the Zondervan headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan with other fiction writers. It was a great time. The most meaningful of which was the time spent with the writers. We sat up one night and just talked. There in the hotel lobby we visited, shared our joys, frustrations, and insecurities. It was wonderful. I learned a lot about them. It also gave me a chance to ask questions.
Here are some things I’ve always wanted to know from other writers. A potpourri of topics.
1. Questions about writing schedules.
We have always been fascinated by how much time writers spend at their craft. Some amaze us almost to the point of disbelief.
- Isaac Asimov wrote 8 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Faulkner said he did the same thing. Hemingway called him a liar and said it couldn’t be done.
- Steven King writes four hours a day everyday but four in the year.
- Dean Koontz has confessed to spending three nights awake to meet a deadline.
- Jerry Jenkins has said that he has, at times, hit 50 pages in a day. Remarkable.
- Angela Hunt says she has done 30 to 40. Remember, those are very long days. (Al’s personal best has been 24 and I’ve only done that once or twice. Aaron’s personal best was about fifty, but none of them were good.)
It seems to me that most writers judge their day by the number of pages they produce.
Page per day approach.
- 2 pages per day; 5 days per week = 10/week = 40/mo = book in 8 months.
- 3 pages per day; 6 days per week = 18/week = 72/mo = book in 4.5 to 5 months.
- 4 pages per day; 5 days per week = 20/week = 80/mo = book in 4 months = 3 books per year. Or . . .
- Most can write 2 to 3 pages per hour. But even at 1 page/hr, it would only take two hours to meet a daily goal.
Generally, Al tries to write 5 pages per day minimum. Aaron’s goal has always been 1,000 words a day, though he’ll do more over the summer.
The time you choose to write is up to you. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again. Learn what works best for you and stick to that. Morning, afternoon, or evenings, in the park with a journal or at your home office. Doesn’t matter, so long as you’re getting words on page productively.
2. Rewriting. How many time do you rewrite?
- King rewrites 3 times.
- Koontz rewrites as he goes.
- Some writers never rewrite. (A mistake.)
- Some writers rewrite 10 times.
Will you need to rewrite? Yes, in some form or another. Al rewrites as he goes. Normally, he writes his 5 or 8 or 10 pages. The next morning, he reads them over breakfast, make notes, then sits down at the computer and puts in the changes. This helps get him in the writing mood.
Rewriting is mandatory. How much often depends on the project. Some need more TLC than others. No first draft is ever as good as the second draft can be.
For those who like to listen to their work to listen for errors, check out balabolka.com.
3. How does the “process” work?
Process = after contract to the shelf.
- Substantive changes from the editor/staff.
- Edit/line edit. They do this. Be thankful. (bowl and bowel are separated by one letter, and sometimes the sun peeks between two peaks.)
- Author approval of changes.
- Somewhere in here, cover design happens. Authors often have little say, but the publisher will, as a courtesy, ask the author’s opinion of various designs.
- Page Proofs (sometimes called galleys) and/or interior design also happens somewhere in here. These also need to be proofed. Get used to reading your novel. You’ll be able to quote it from memory.
- Final line edit/input changes.
- Fan notes, calls and letters: “Did you know that on page . . .” (Always blame the publisher.)
- What about agents?
- Do you need an agent? Not necessarily.
- Is it best to have an agent? Yes.
- Stand in the gap.
- Promo the author (not the book). They have connections that you don’t.
- Agents can read contracts and make recommendations before you sign, though they are not lawyers.
- Oversee other rights and opportunities.
- It’s fun to say, “I was just talking to my agent . . .”
- Beware reader’s fees.
- 10% to 15% of everything.
- The Imperative No One Talks About. (Managing Your Business.)
- Please understand: This is a business. Not just an art or a craft. It’s hard-core business. Don’t expect agents, editor, or publishers to do it all.
- When to stick to your guns.
- Research. (Window in high-rise building. TI.)
- Characters. (BMH, nightgown became dressing gown.)
- Always be professional. Open your ears before your open your mouth. (Ben Bova, Analog SF magazine. “Don’t argue with people who buy ink by the barrel.”)
- Isn’t all this your agent’s job?
- In fact, you have to manage your agent.
- Check up on everything. Publishing has cracks in it like any business.