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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Just how *do* you begin to write a book?

How do you do it?
guest post 

Greg Kiser

Getting Started

Think of a high concept.  For me, that’s the ability to tap into the internet with your mind. So you can surf the internet the way you peruse your own memory today. 

Try to remember the lyrics to a song.  Might take a few seconds, then you remember.  You find that information in your brain, obviously.  Sort of a local hard drive, to use computer terms.

Now imagine you’re transparently tapped into the Global internet 24x7. Try to remember the lyrics to a song.  They’re there instantly.  Feels like you found them in your brain, just like before. But you didn’t.  You found the words on a server in Germany.  Doesn’t matter, all transparent to you.

Characters make a great story. 

For me, anyway, it’s all about the characters.  I’ll give a book 50 to 100 pages.  By then if I haven’t connected with at least some of the characters then I generally won’t finish the book.  Unless, maybe, the plot is just a killer, like The Da Vinci Code, or something like that.  Preferably, I’m looking for the protagonist to blow me away because most of the time you are reading from his/her point of view.

But occasionally it’s enough if the antagonist is blowing me away, such as the Hannibal series by Thomas Harris.

Now, you put together a novel that has two or three characters that I can identify with?  Or more?  That’s a novel I’m not going to put down.

Character driven plot – rare gems these days

They make the best TV and movies too.  Think about Breaking Bad – hell yes the story is outstanding.  But the cast, the cast!  Walter, Jessie – sure.  But also Hank, Skylar, the various villains.  So you don’t mind when they switch scenes because the cast is great so all of the subplots are intriguing.

Confidence is key

Just know that if you get in front of the keyboard at the right time of day for you, then you’ll write.  Think about your characters, where the story is going to go.  You don’t have to have it all planned out.  It doesn’t have to be the next Da Vinci Code in terms of plot development.  It just has to flow, to take on a life of its own. 

Don’t start off thinking about how the hell you’re going to write a 300 page novel.  Just start off and let the journey occur.  Think about it and make your characters come alive and write their thoughts and lives and then let the interactions occur and you’ll be amazed and surprised and hopefully delighted by the results.


OK – so you have the high concept.  Now what? Well, you have to have conflict.  For me, I created a moral dilemma between the protagonist, the ‘monster’ Cheslov, and a local politician who thinks he has a direct connect with God. 

Next – ratchet up the tension at every opportunity.  I made my protagonist an ex-Navy seal so he could pretty much deal with anything.  Made Cheslov part wolf, paranormal.  Then went into detail explaining how screwed up the politician is, he’s hooked on drugs due to his wife’s death, etc.  Keep ratcheting up.

Then create an outline – and write, write, write to fill in the outline.  Don’t worry about adjectives or effect or the best dialogue or even grammar/punctuation.

First Draft

My initial draft took 3 months to write.  Then finishing the novel took another 3 years.
Oh – and don’t let ANYBODY read that initial draft.  It will suck, indeed.

I finished the first draft and put it down and thought – hey, this has got to be one of the best books EVER.  The agents will be beating down my door when they get so much as a whiff of this manuscript!  So I set it aside and took a little break.  Felt like I was on top of the world.

A month later I opened the manuscript and started printing and reading (you must print and read to get the full effect.  Not good enough to read a word doc directly from the computer.  Better yet, print and read out loud to understand how the dialogue really sounds – helps avoid unrealistic speech.  Example:  “What is up with that” quickly becomes “What’s up with that” when you’re reading aloud).

Anyway, I started reading and was horrified at how bad it was.  Thus started the 3 year polishing cycle.

Creating the initial draft is the hardest. The initial overall idea of what your book is going to be about.  Who are the characters, what’s the high concept, where will the conflict come from. 

Once you get past that and start writing, it gets easier.

And once you get that initial draft completed – then it’s fun.  Truly.  From that point forward, you only need to polish.  


Keep it Direct, descriptive, colorful, REAL

BAD:  Jim had worked hard his entire life.
GOOD:  Jim worked hard his entire life.

Avoid the word “suddenly”
Surprise and startle the reader through your action, thru events, by an action occurring unexpectedly. Don’t surprise and startle by using a time related adverb.

BAD:  She was suddenly hit in the knee by a ball.
GOOD:  The golf ball struck her knee at one hundred and two miles an hour.
BETTER:  The golf ball struck her knee doing over a hundred miles an hour with the force and indifference of a mechanical bull.
NOTE:  There is no ‘BEST’ in writing.

Pay attention to points of view (POV)
Put the reader inside someone’s head and then leave them there.  Being inside someone’s head is VERY INTERESTING because face it, we’re all voyeurs at heart.  Within a few sentences in every chapter, the reader should know whose head they’re in.  Whose POV.  And don’t switch around within a chapter without a white space separating paragraphs. 

“Said” nearly always works.

Dialogue is your best character development tool.  Keep it simple, no need to state the obvious.  Let your reader fill in the blanks.

“What time should we leave,” Fran asked.  She wasn’t sure about the color of his tie.  Funerals required a certain degree of somberness. 
Jim glanced at his watch.  He thought about five o’clock traffic on the cross town.  He didn’t think they should take a chance with that mess.  “We should split in half an hour,” he finally replied.

“What time should we leave,” Fran said.  Wow, was he really wearing that tie to a funeral?  Staring at his watch now. Come on, this isn’t a hard question.  We need to leave soon, that’s the point.
“We should split in half an hour,” Jim said slowly.
Fran nodded.  “Fucken A we should.”

Pay attention to your words
Blond is a hair color.  Blonde is a person who has blond hair.
Passed refers to distance.  Past refers to time.
BAD:  He ran past the barn.
GOOD:  Running at break-neck speed, he passed the barn.
BETTER:  He ran at stomach-cramp speed, passed the barn.  Clutched his gut and ran some more.

Great Edit Searches with Microsoft Word

One of the great challenges of writing a novel of any length is the fat fingering.  Misspelled words are easy to find.  But basic mechanical mistakes are harder.  My final draft had about 80,000 words and I swear to God, every time I read it I found some small mechanical issue.

I finally got smart and figured out some universal searches that helped.  A LOT.
The following special characters should be entered into the ‘Find and Replace’ box, ie not the search field.

NOTE:  in most cases you can use ^$ for “any letter” or ^^ for “any character”.  The advantage of ^^ is that you would also pick up numbers.

This is “any letter” followed by a paragraph mark.  Will find any sentence at the end of a paragraph you forgot to end with a period.

^^ Z
This is “any character” followed by a space then capital Z.  Do this ^^ A thru ^^ Z.  This will find any sentence within a paragraph you forgot to end with a period.

^$ .
This is “any letter” followed by a space then a period.  Finds any sentence you inadvertently inserted a space before the period.

." ^$
Period, double quote, space, “any letter”.  This will occur normally but this can also help find where you used a period instead of a comma for dialogue.

And finally…

Just pick your gem every few days and polish for a few minutes.  Hear someone say something funny at the mall, consider a tree limb in a park and how you might describe it, smell a familiar smell and let your mind run – all of these ‘experiences’ … feel them and bring them back into your novel as you polish and make it shine and breathe life into it.

That’s the best part.  Oh, it’s so hard to get that gem established at first.  But once you do, it’s your gem.  And it may never sell, it may never make millions of dollars – but it’s your gem and you can publish it and you can get it in print and you can show your friends and one day your children and one day, many years from now, you’ll read that work as a different person, as an older person.  You’ll wonder who wrote that?  

You’ll be amazed all over again.

inSyte is a paranormal-thriller that according to Perry Crowe of Kirkus Reviews, is equal parts Crichton, Clancy and King.

It’s Tampa Bay and the year is 2020. Ex-Navy SEAL Mitch “Double” Downing discovers how to tap into the internet with his mind. His new inSyte provides transparent access to the sum of all human knowledge recorded since hieroglyphics. More than mere information – Mitch can see into men’s hearts and be all places at all times (easy in an ‘always on’ surveillance society with fourth generation tweets). Sort of like God.

If knowledge is power, Mitch just became the strongest man in the world.

But inSyte has ideas of its own as the software exposes a politician’s “divine” plan that will unwittingly slaughter millions of people. Is killing the man the only way to prevent Armageddon? The politician’s daughter would probably disagree. And she happens to be the love of Mitch’s life. Losing Kate would be too damn much collateral damage.

At the center of the conflict is a wolf-like killer who will stop at nothing to murder the ex-Navy SEAL. And Mitch must come to grips with inSyte’s dark side – a dominating addiction that soon controls his thoughts and places him on a steep slide to self destruction.

Buy from Amazon:

Greg Kiser is happily married to a wonderful and inspirational wife, Serena, and has two beautiful children – Miller and Grace.

Greg graduated from Southern Polytechnic University in Atlanta with a BS in Electrical Engineering. Greg also earned his MBA from the University of South Florida. He is currently a Director at Cisco, a high tech fortune 50 multinational corporation.

Greg has written extensively for fortune 50 high tech firms in describing next generation networks and painting pictures of the true evolution of technology for the consumer.

Email – gkiser@cisco.com
Blog - http://gregkiserinsyte.blogspot.com/

Click below for excerpts

He watched a flock of seagulls move across the sky. A dirty gull in the lead carried some morsel in its mouth that the others wanted. They swooped and turned and pecked at his tail until he dropped the scrap. It landed in the water and was devoured from below by a school of pinfish.

He smiled at the silly selfish birds. They were like people in their behavior and conviction that the entire group should starve before merely the strong should eat. Responsibility therefore fell upon the truly bold to take what they deserved. Any real mother and, indeed, true creator would be pleased to observe the strongest of her children satisfying their appetites.

Predation, after all, is not violence. Merely the act of survival. To filter sick, weak animals from the herd is a vital part of any healthy ecosystem.

Mitch felt an impact like a stick of dynamite going off in his shirt pocket followed by somebody swinging a sledge hammer into his back. He reeled sideways and dropped. Adrenaline flooded his body like a heavy drug as his central nervous system fired out of control and the outside world was transformed into a macabre slow motion picture show. A strobe light flicked off and on like someone beating a drum in his brain.

Then the pain stopped and he lost his eyesight and his world went perfectly quiet.

The world didn’t go black, more like a white out on a winter mountain. He felt like he was sliding down a soft hill, falling to whatever awaited him at the bottom.

He saw a shape and as he began to pick up speed he knew someone somehow shared this odd journey. He was conscious of his heart the way you might be conscious of your hand if someone held it. He knew who was with him.

“I’m coming to be with you,” he said.

“Son, I’m not ready for you to come home just yet,” his mother said with a translucent smile.

“Not sure I have much choice, here,” he said.

“You always have a choice. About everything. It’s up to you if you’d rather live or die.”

“How is it up---“

“And it’s not just you, now, is it? Goodness, no. You’ve got your friend out there who can’t make it through this without you.”

It was important for him to get a point across. He knew this was fleeting and he fought an overwhelming sense of urgency. “Mom, I still have so much to learn. But I’ve learned a lot, haven’t I?”

His mother’s spirit smiled and her aged eyes looked weary. “Not enough, I’m afraid. You don’t belong here. Go back and help your friend and you’ll see. God has special plans for you, son. Special plans. You will learn so much.”
He thought about trying to slow his descent. But the temptation to close his eyes and accept the fall was overwhelming.

Why am I here?” Mitch asked again.

“You are a most impressive young man. Of course, they told me you have this ability. Somehow you know things you are not supposed to know, yes?” Cheslov’s eyes widened in reproach. He reached beneath his coat and removed a long cigar. Snipped the tip using a guillotine cutter that looked like a worn, hungry mouth. Lit it up with a battered, gunmetal Zippo. Leaned back in his chair, took a deep drag. Exhaled a thick, hot, blue stream of smoke.

“Which is why you find yourself here. In my home.” Cheslov’s face saddened. Then he continued, as if explaining to a child. “I am sorry, young friend, to have to say this to you. That this is not a place a man wishes to find himself. This is not a room from which people live to see a new day. No, my friend, this is a room in which people take their last breath, see their last light. Hear their last sound.”

Mitch remembered a long ago camping trip.

Cheslov smiled warmly down at him. “Why were you meeting the Deter bitch?”

Mitch said nothing.

Cheslov raised the cigar cutter to his face and a raven eye peered through the opening. He smiled as he slid the blades together. “What was your intention?”

Mitch started the process of extracting himself mentally from his surroundings. He ran number patterns through his head to take his mind beyond the pain and the possibility of what the lunatic might do next. There was only one place this was heading.

Of course he wouldn’t answer any of the lunatic’s questions. The best strategy to resisting interrogation is to simply not provide any information at all.

“Where is the file?”

Once you start to give up information, even about minor unrelated topics, it’s hard to stop and easier to give up important information. The answers to the current questions didn’t matter in the least. The only thing that mattered was to protect Kate. At any cost.

“With whom have you shared it?”

Mitch said nothing.

Cheslov walked to the head of the bed and slowly examined Mitch’s fingertips.

“You wear your micro on your index finger. Painted with green resin. Quite the fashion statement. To whom have you sent the file?”

Mitch said nothing.

Cheslov grasped Mitch’s left hand and held it the way a man might hold the hand of his son. Mitch felt a softness to the giant’s touch.

“Why do you not answer? Are you afraid?” Cheslov gazed down at him with a not unkind expression. The giant’s thick, dark eyebrows rose as if trying to coax Mitch to speak.

Mitch said nothing.

“I’ll ask you once more,” Cheslov said and a note of sadness crept into his voice. The hesitant father who does not wish to punish but is left no choice. “You have nothing to gain by continuing your silence. And quite a bit to lose. Yes, quite a bit.”

Mitch stared at the overhead ceiling. Focused on the intricate wood carving.

Cheslov spread Mitch’s fingers.

Mitch said nothing.

“Tell me. With whom have you shared the file?”

Mitch said nothing.

“Enough of these games,” Cheslov said.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Louise~

    Thank you for subscribing to my blogspot and for your sweet comment :) Nice to meet you there and at the MOA forum over at Amazon. I had a great time reading your blogs here.

    When I think one thing about my writing, readers will find something different and it always then proves to me how subjective any story is. I thought my work was more character driven, and yet the plot, itself, seems to be more the ticket for readers thus far. It is so interesting how that works.