Writing like a painter: in layers (12 steps to making your novel better)
07 Friday Sep 2012
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Write like a painter. A picture says a thousand words, so you should be able to write a thousand words about a picture right? Wrong. Make the reader see the picture in their mind’s eye with a few lines and you’ve succeeded. The hard part is figuring out what few lines you need to help your reader’s mind paint a picture. You probably can’t figure out the perfect sentences while writing your story down because you have a great idea and you need to get it on paper (or on your hard disk). So don’t try. Do it later. Think of an artist in front of a canvas. She wouldn’t just paint one area of the canvas at a time. She first paints the whole canvas a background color, and then she adds main objects and she continues to go over and over the canvas with new paint until all the detail is there. You can do the same with your Novel. I am going to skip all the steps you do before you start writing and go straight to what you do when once you start writing. Just go over your story multiple times like a painter continues to go over his canvas multiple times with different colors.
- First, write the story start to finish and if you didn’t do this beforehand, document all characters, and their tendencies, the world, the plot, all in separate text files as you go.
- For the Second pass, go over the story and make rewrites as necessary. Repeat this step multiple times if necessary.
- Make every intense scene more intense. Do it again. Make every intense scene more intense but this time focus on characters – bad guys worse, good guys in more turmoil, emotions stronger, conflicts deeper.
- Find details that can become themes throughout and add them in throughout.
Hint: Foreshadowing is easier to add after the novel is written.
- Replace telling sentence with showing. Don’t say how they felt, show how they felt. Don’t say he looked, tell them us what he saw.
- Replace imprecise words with precise words. Think of precision as a sliding scale, where each word can be low, medium or high precision.
- Low precision verb example:
Move – what moved, how did it move, what speed.
Move (low) = Walk (medium) = Strutted (high)
- Low precision non example:
Car – What type of car?
Car (low) = Black SUV (medium) = Black Lincoln Navigator (high)
- Low precision verb example:
- Remember your five sense: Seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting
- Add surrounding details to the novel. What does the viewpoint character see around him.
- add sounds to the novel. Not dialog, sounds. What does the character hear?
- How do things feel on your hand, against your skin. Does the wind blow your hair?
- Add smells. What does a room smell like? A person? An emotion.
- Add tastes.
- Remember how you documented your characters? Document how they show emotions and replace any “he felt sad” or “she cried” or “I was angry” with something that shows their emotions. Make sure your characters are consistent.
- Now go through and cut out all the useless words, sentences, and paragraphs. Start with the first few pages. Repeat this if needed. Also, let a proofreader give suggestions on what they thought was unnecessary. Hint: If it is your first novel, you likely need to ax your first three chapters.
- Now edit the dialog. Make sure each character has their own voice. Their own slang, words, etc…
- Now edit your Novel. By the way, editing has a lot of its own steps. Hire an editor. It is worth it.
- Now have beta readers with a system for them to enter errors and suggestions. Just keep having beta readers until no one is reporting errors.
99% of aspiring authors do #1 and #2 and maybe one or two other passes. Yet they wonder why they never get published. If it’s your first book, you probably should try to get through all twelve passes before you even think about publishing. The reality is that your first few books may suck anyway. You will get better with practice. After writing a couple of books and following the twelve steps, you will hone your skills and your subsequent novels will start out better after step 1 so steps 2 thru 12 come easier. If you really want to be a writer, don’t quit.
Don’t give up. Sure, if your tenth book is still horrible after following the steps above on each book, and your skills just aren’t getting better, then you might want to give up at that point. Or take some classes, read more books on writing and write your eleventh book.