Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Report From the Front Lines

Thriller Guy's quote for the day is stolen from the literary quote gadget on his Google homepage. From John Steinbeck, “Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.” Probably good advice.

Constant readers of this blog may remember that TG is shepherding first time thriller writer, code named AJ, through the long and difficult process of actually producing a novel. AJ has a large family and is the CEO of a company that does something really complicated having to do with security. That is to say, he's a regular person with responsibilities, leaving him with little free time to write, and yet he's decided to tackle writing a novel. TG applauds his courage and contends that the process is possible if you break the project into doable segments. TG's first advice was to read Albert Zuckerman's valuable book on how to go about writing a novel. TG asked AJ for a report on how he is doing. AJ sent in the following:

"I bought the book you recommended, 'Writing the Blockbuster Novel' which as Amazon calls it - is part fiction-biology textbook, part cookbook. Its author, Albert Zuckerman, dissects the commercial bestseller, then provides recipes for each discrete element. Settings, according to Zuckerman, should be "topical, trendy, 'sexy'"--either newsworthy hotspots or uncharted territory--and main characters, à la Don Corleone and Scarlett O'Hara, should loom larger than life. Like Hollywood blockbusters, "mega-books" should be high concept, with high stakes. Zuckerman discusses point of view (there should be multiple), character relationships, plotting, revision, and especially outlining. "Every mega-book with which I've been involved was planned and replanned and planned again," he confides. Indeed, a 63-page chapter here features four versions of Ken Follett's outline for The Man from St. Petersburg and an analysis of each. Still, no matter how good your outline, remember that there's a learning curve. A beginning novelist writing a successful blockbuster novel, says Zuckerman, is about as likely as "a high school athlete trying to play with the Dallas Cowboys."

I tried not to be disheartened by that last statement, but the information does seem valuable and very helpful, so I figured I would go through the exercise that he recommended - which involved me reading The Man From St. Petersburg before covering chapter 3, which I did (and enjoyed, who knew homework could be fun?) and am now going through the analysis of the outlines, as presented by Mr. Z. It appears, even from his own advice, that I shouldn't worry too much about the first draft of the outline, but should get it done, so as soon as I finish reading through this particular chapter, I am going to finish the outline according to the advice I found there. I found that I didn't really have any idea how to go about creating an outline for a novel, so I am looking at the examples to get a feel for what I need to do.

I have learned a lot in the past two weeks, and have a lot of ideas developed during that time that will have an influence on what I am putting together. I've also picked up some interesting bits from reading or watching interviews of current best selling authors where they discuss a what they do, and have been squeezing in story related research every stretch that I can. For example, since I have an iphone, during idle moments while out and about I have web pages open, you tube videos to watch, and thriller reading to read. (I have kindle on my iphone, which is how I got through Follet's novel in just a few days).

So, I'd better leave off here, I can hear my work email chiming new messages several times during the typing of this, and I'm sure there are other demands that won't be ignored. Lunch? That cup of coffee that I ran upstairs to get."

TG's advice at this point? Soldier on, AJ. Don't worry about the length of the outline at this point. If you can manage one page, that will do. It's a place to start, not a finished product. You'll find yourself going back to it time and again to write in new ideas. The outline will grow as you begin to work on the actual book.

Courage. Onward, always onward.

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