Worth the Wait
By Elizabeth Chayne
Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth Chayne, All Rights Reserved
You know you've got it --
the idea of a century. A mind-blowing plot, a realistic hero, and a good
store of one-liners. Everything a good book could ask for. Maybe even
more than that.
This Book (capital B to
emphasize importance), once done, will give J. K. Rowling, Dan Brown,
and all the rest of those bestselling writers a run for their money.
You'll make it to the New York Times bestseller list in the first
day, and everyone will be quoting your characters for years to come.
Fired with excitement, you
head to your computer and start typing out the first chapter, only to
find yourself blocked after the first page or so.
What went wrong? It sounded
so magical and feasible when it was in your head. Why does it look so
fake on paper?
The little imp in your head
kicks in somewhere around this point. Does this mean that you're a bad
writer? Maybe you shouldn't be writing at all. Real writers don't seem
to have problems like this…
Take a deep breath and
relax. First of all, it's perfectly normal to have first-page writer's
block. It doesn't mean you should delete the story and never write
again; it only means you need to go deeper into the story: get to know
your characters, rethink the plot and fill up the holes.
If your story takes place in
a specific location that actually exists, consider taking a weekend off
to visit it if you are able to. This helps you to build up an authentic
atmosphere for your piece.
When that's not possible,
research! This is especially important if your tale is happening
sometime in the past (WWI, the sixteenth century, etc.). You'll need to
know all the details. Did they have compasses? What were the people
like? Were there certain objects reserved for royalty that your
non-royal heroine shouldn't be able to get? Be careful not to overload
the book with information, though. There's no need to start the book
with a history lesson. The best facts to add are the ones that you found
intriguing or interesting. After all, the things you find boring will
probably be boring for your reader too.
It's equally important to do
research if your piece takes place in the present, particularly if there
are medical or legal matters to be taken care of. (Remember to thank the
doctors/lawyers/other experts on the acknowledgement page of your book!)
You'll be amazed at the fine points that come out to bug you.
But what if your story
occurs in an imaginary land? What kind of research should you do in that
case? Basically, your job is to familiarize yourself with the rules of
your location. Is it a magical land? If so, what type of magic does it
contain -- witches and wizards, fairies, mighty enchanters? What
language do the locals speak -- Common, Elfish, Dwarfish? If it isn't
magical, what sort of time period is the land living in? Is it medieval,
or more like America in the thirties?
Now's also a good time to
draw a map of your land. Use a bit of high school geography sense to
help you out here. Don't make rivers flow up mountains, for instance!
Dictionaries, thesauruses, and baby name books are all helpful tools
when you need names for lakes, forests, and cities. You can also "steal"
names from a world atlas or a more local map.
After you've gotten enough
background information, start getting to know the characters. The first
one to begin with is, obviously, your hero or heroine. What kind of a
person is he or she? Timid, sassy, bold, clueless? How many family
members does he have -- or is he an orphan? How many languages can she
speak? What does he look like? What is her personal motto? Collect all
the information and fill it in a character fact sheet or pop it into a
folder so that you can have a place to go to for reference. You don't
want your hero to have a different hair color in every chapter.
Next, the sidekick
character, if you have one. (It may be an animal, not a person.) Fill
out a fact sheet for him/her/it. If an animal, decide the breed, size,
and general appearance. Also, decide whether it can talk, or just think
thoughts the hero can't hear.
You can fill out fact sheets
for other characters now, or you can worry about them when they actually
show up. There's no point filling up five-page fact sheet for someone
who only says a couple of sentences in the entire book.
Keep your notes and
character profiles in a folder, shoebox, or some other easy to reach
place. Keep a small notebook in your wallet or purse, and jot down any
ideas that come to you. (Don't the best ideas always come at the most
inconvenient times? Be prepared!) Toss the notes into the folder/shoebox
when you get home, so you'll see them the next time you go through the
box for help in advancing the plot. Because that is, after all, what the
box is for. It keeps everything in one spot and keeps the magic alive.
If you feel like "cheating," skipping ahead and working on the later
chapters first, that's fine, and the box will help connect the dots when
you need to put the earlier and later chapters together.
You may find that the
process of writing a good story is hard work, and tediously slow hard
work at that. This is especially true if writing is only a part-time
job/hobby for you, and you only have a few hours each week at most to
devote to your book. At times, you feel as though you've forgotten what
the parts you've already written are about. Other times, you may feel as
though you're spending your time trying to fill a black hole. After all,
there are so many enjoyable activities you could be doing. At such
moments, when the chips are down, so to speak, give yourself permission
to take a break. Enjoy a lazy evening doing nothing, or go outside and
socialize with your friends. Writing is, by nature, an unsociable
As for those days when you
have writer's block, and your inner critic kicks in, making you feel as
if nothing you write could ever be worth reading, open up the shoebox
and read through what you've done, congratulate yourself for doing such
a good job, then start writing anew.
Good stories, like good
wine, take time to mature. Both are worth the wait and the effort.