Saturday, November 23, 2013
Between the Bindings with Evans Light
Evans Light is one of my favorite authors, writing both horror and suspense short stories. He's got a lot of talent and if you haven't had the opportunity to read any of his stuff, you really need to. I suggest you begin with his short story anthology, SCREAMSCAPES: Tales of Terror (Amazon link) - and definitely grab his latest, Don't Need No Water (Amazon link), just released. (You can find more information on Evans through his Goodreads page: Evans Light)
He took the time out of his busy schedule to share his advice and I really feel honored to share it with you here:
For me, writing a novel has been a much different process than writing short stories.
With short stories, you're typically dealing with a single narrative arc, fewer characters and often a compressed time period. This helps to keep things fairly straightforward in the plotting department, and the challenge comes from trying to breathe life into characters and creating compelling and satisfying situations in an extremely tight format. Not an easy thing to pull off.
With a novel, however, the canvas is as broad and wide as you want to make it - you've got 250-1,000 pages to work with, possibly more if it's a series. That leaves a lot of room to lose readers, and the challenge here comes in being able to keep a reader's interest for a sustained period of time while maintaining tension and forward momentum in the process.
I can make no claims at having mastered the form, so I'll just give a little bit of insight into how I'm approaching the novel-writing process. This isn't going to be a step-by-step comprehensive guide, just some of the things that I do that I've found work best for me.
When first starting on a project, I have the overall idea, usually in a somewhat amorphous form - the scope of the story, what it's about, the basic setting, who are the major characters, what generally happens and how the story might conclude.
I will typically write out a single page story outline to solidify the idea as a ready-to-start project.
Then I begin to consider how the story would best be told: first person, third person, single or multiple perspectives? A single narrative or intersecting stories? The choices made at this point will determine a lot of the complexity of the overall project.
A first-person, single perspective story may best suit beginning writers, while those looking for a challenge may want to tackle the tale using a third-person perspective with multiple story arcs. Managing the reader's perception of the passing time can also be a challenging issue to deal with in some instances.
Call me Captain Obvious if you like, but it's worth noting that there's no single correct way to write a novel. Some sit down with a blank piece of paper and a general idea, and let the words take the story wherever it may roam. Others like to intricately plot out every single bit of the story before putting a single word to paper.
Personally I like to take that initial story outline I've composed and begin to flesh it out into chapter synopses, in which I describe in a very basic way what will occur in each chapter. This allows me the ability to piece together the flow of intersecting story lines, and also allows me to jump around while writing the novel like a director shooting different scenes, something I love being able to do. If I get a little tired of working on a particular section (or stuck), by using chapter outlines it's easy for me to jump to another part of the story that interests me and work there without getting off track on the overall flow of the storyline.
Another difference between short fiction and novels is that novels tend to be full of "stories within the story" - character histories, amusing conversations and the like. As I encounter random characters with interesting tales in real life, or have (or overhear) a particularly fun conversation, I like to take notes and add it to the stack of ideas for the book. Some get used, some don't, but it's always better to have more ideas than you can use when you sit down at the keyboard than it is to waste time trying to remember that great thing you heard the other day, but then find you can't quite recall what it was.
I take notes immediately as ideas pop into my head, and have multiple ways to collect them for use in fleshing out the novel later. I can't stress this enough. A notepad on the desk by my bed, a "notes" app on my phone, emails to myself - my best advice is to never let a good idea get away. You'll think that you'll be able to remember that idea later - it'll seem so unforgettable when it occurs to you - but if you don't write it down right then and there, nine times out of ten it will be gone forever.
Find a system that allows you to capture your ideas and save them for later, and you've won half the battle.
Editing is a whole other, but perhaps even more important issue in any sort of writing. When you've finished the first draft, take care to remember that you're only about twenty percent of the way done.
Repeat after me: "It's not about writing. It's about rewriting."
That's the single most important thing you should take to heart if you ever want to be a truly great writer.
For me, after I type "THE END," I like to let the finished project sit for at least a couple of days before I start doing any revising.
In the meantime, I'll share that first draft with a trusted friend or two with some editorial capabilities to hack and slash, to tell me what's working with the story and what isn't. It always hurts when lines you've labored on and love dearly get cut during the editing process, but you editors are almost always right when advising that you do so.
I usually have at least five full drafts of any major work I publish. Sometimes a couple more, but seldom less than five.
When I think it's almost perfect, I like to hear it read out loud to me (I typically use IVONA text-to-speech software for this). During this step, you'll find things to fix that your eyes didn't detect.
Then I suggest reading it out loud - preferably to someone else - but out loud to yourself works, too. Again, you will find more things that you'll want to fix, and yet new ways to make the writing and the story even better.
After that, it's probably as good as it's going to get.
Here's a link to an article by Joe Hill about the writing process that I really like, it rings true to my own experience: Pour Me Another Draft by Joe Hill
I hope this has been helpful!
Wow. What great advice, Evans. Thanks so much for all of that very useful information. :)
Check back again guys. Next Saturday, I will have some more great writing advice from yet another great author :)