Writing primer

introduction

Creating a text body – a story, an article or a memoir; is both emotionally satisfying and at times rewarding. Anyone who is fond of reading literature and any kind at that; be it genre fiction, non-fiction, articles in magazines/newspapers, plays/screenplay, etc is not only interested in getting the information but also in the writing process. When you have this passion for reading, you tend to notice difference in writing styles and creative use of words to generate imagery. At times we have ideas of our own on how the story or article could get shaped and then the really creative ones attempt to put down in their own unique ways their own tale.

This article hopes to help you advance that passion for words into a successful published content.

Resources

A pen and paper works just fine. Carry a small notepad along to jot down ideas when you are out and get an inspiration for a write-up.

A computer with a word processor will help you edit your work faster and is more efficient. Various tools such as spell check, fonts, layout format, word count, etc are useful and commonly used.

Your work is to be submitted in a typewritten or a computer printout page only. Handwritten texts generally give out unprofessional impression to an editor.

Ideas

There are a lot of things to write about and most of them have been written about. Getting a good idea which is unique is difficult but not impossible. On the other hand if you are into genre writing – there are essential elements which you cannot change. But all this doesn’t matter as your story is your perspective and how you put the spin on the used-abused idea is your choice and your USP.

Example: Dracula is the original vampire but there have been books about vampires for a long time and many are successful and more so than the works of Bram Stoker (such as books of Anne Rice).

Sherlock Holmes is the most recognized private detective but that didn’t stop the likes of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe from being bestsellers.

The key is to find a unique voice for your story and characters. This is your spin on the classic crime-punishment or forbidden-love or space-alien theme.

Develop your style by reading more books from the genre you have selected. Why this is important is explained next.

Marketability

Okay, so you have the idea, the plot (explained later), the characters, the unique spin, etc. Now you need to study, yes study, the other works of that genre. Whether it is a fiction novel/short-story or a non-fiction travelogue/memoir; you need to know what the editor wants to see on his desk. When you read enough romance novels you get the idea of how the conflict is created and how the characters mix and gel or cause sub-plots. Then you get the idea of what type of language to use and how much bedroom description is required. Read contemporary authors which are considered popular. For articles read the magazine/newspaper to understand article length and subjects covered in that publication.

So study the genre and understand what makes it to the bestseller lists. Writing is a great creative release but if you want to make a career out of it then you have to get your foot in the editor’s door first. After you are more recognized in publishing circles you will be allowed to take risks on subjects – that if it came from a newbie would be rejected outright.

This is definitely not to be considered as hack-writing. You are not churning out story based on formulas. You are going to understand the market first, what the reader wants to see, what the editor expects out of a submission and then tailor your original work to suit this market.

Example: A private-eye who has super-powers and is in love with a girl whose father is a crime-lord while the police hunt him for interfering in the crime-scene – this seems like a fantastical idea but you have to decide what genre it should belong to and shape it accordingly (crime/romance/gangster/fantasy).
Best suited would indeed be the fantasy genre though it fits in like a comic book rather than a novel. If you research the fantasy genre you would find out how they work and why they work.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_Shell is a piece of work about a female cop with special powers fighting fantastical villains. It mixes technology with fantasy and so involves researching the scope of existing technology as well as fantasy elements. It is a successful animation and source of inspiration to the movie ‘The Matrix’.

NOTE in your study:

  • Elements
  • Characters (humans/non-humans)
  • Characterisation (use of these characters)
  • First-person / third-person narration
  • Number of characters relative to book size
  • Complexity of plot
  • Frequency of sub-plots
  • Whether each chapter needs a cliffhanger ending (as in detective/thriller/horror genre)
  • Use of imagery and sound through words
  • Researched facts used
  • The back-cover description

Once you have done this Market Research you are ready to go ahead and engage your resources and efforts into creating a body of text. This saves time and disappointment later.

The Text

For a short story or an article it is important to have your own voice and spin on the subject to make it saleable. The first paragraph is very important. It is in the first 4 lines that the reader or editor decides whether to go on reading the rest of the text.

Example of first paragraph from my Biker Fiction:
http://www.bikernet.com/fiction/PageViewer.asp?PageID=1382
It was a small house, even had a chimney, cost me $35. I wanted to kick it’s resident’s ass. Bruno, the name sure sounds tough, but any wimp could have him running for cover. That’s my German shepherd pet, and he was in his single room home hiding his face in his fairly strong paws. Maybe it’s high time I stop feeding him candy. He is hairy, overweight and just lost his job, a reflection of his owner.

Do not use all your best ideas at once. You need to space out these good elements in your text so as to keep the reader interested. The basic layout for any short-story or article is Starting paragraph-Body-Conclusion.

The body will contain the bulk of the plot twists and characters’ interaction. It is here that the story unfolds and gets a conflict and reaches a possible solution. The conclusion should basically wrap up the text without too much fuss. It could also create more intrigue/interest.

Example of the Conclusion from my Biker fiction where the opening paragraph had mentioned the character being laughed at by the full-moon. Towards the bizarre conclusion things change.
http://www.bikernet.com/fiction/PageViewer.asp?PageID=829
I looked at the blackness grow wider and my hand slipped into my back pocket to yank out a picture of my ladylove. “She was so sweet, she shouldn’t have left me. Too bad Pinocchio killed her. I had asked him to do so on a coke-laden whim.” I rode on as the moon hid itself behind cloud curtains.
Always resolve conflict through believable means and not through luck or lottery. The protagonist should be able to solve it or get help but not from a fairy (unless it’s a fairy tale).

For a novel or book-length work you need to create interest within the first 20 pages. No editor will read any further if he is bored within these 20 pages.

An important clue is that if the writer is uninterested in the project, his work would subsequently be uninteresting to the reader.

Submission

After requesting the editor through a query letter, send the entire short-story or article. Book-length work is submitted only through sample chapters. Do not bind or staple your pages. Just mention the page numbers in the paper and send it loose for ease of use. You can send 3 of your best chapters and hopefully including your first chapter to the editor. Read all the submission guidelines, different publications may have some unique requirements, ensure you meet these and then include a Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope (SASE) in your mail.

Make sure you keep a copy of your work and the editor is not obliged to mail you back your work or communicate anything with you if there is no SASE included.

A query letter is a simple formal request by an author to get the editor to show interest in his write-up. Some publications demand a query letter always while others are open to submissions based on guidelines. Either ways a query letter will enable you to get it right.

A synopsis of your story or article is essential. You may include this along with the query letter. This is a gist of your work. The synopsis should clearly show the framework, structure and flow of your text matter.

Sending incomplete works is okay only for book-length projects. This helps the author know any specific editor’s requirement and only then start the detailed work with subject research (covered later). For articles that also need time, effort and money to research you may query an editor to find out interest before completing your article.
Example: Everyone has knowledge of the Taj Mahal, so your travelogue/romance may not interest anybody. But suppose you put the modern spin of pollution from neighbouring areas causing visible damage to this heritage while the Government turns a blind-eye – you may interest quite a few editors. Research on this subject may require major expenses on traveling and getting appointments so better ask an editor for newsworthiness.

Subject Research

It is not impossible to write Science Fiction without having a Physics degree. It is not impossible to write about Japan without having been there. But you have to ensure that the facts you use are facts. If your planet does not have an atmosphere and humans have begun to live there as on Earth, then you need to give an explanation with some substance to make it believable. It is Fiction but the reader wants to believe it and if your hero flies through flaming hoops without you explaining how, it will make for a poor story.

So research your subject matter. If you are writing about what unfolds on a cruise liner then you need to know about cruise liners. If your protagonist solves crime through medical excellence then you need to know about forensic sciences. Read up on the research but use it creatively. Don’t overload the reader with facts and trivia. The reader wants a story not a manual on Zen and Motorcycles (refers to a creatively written philosophy book by Robert Pirsig – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Pirsig).

Your Market Research should give you a good idea of the level of expertise in the subject that the characters possess and how much facts are inter-woven with fictional elements.

For articles having pictures or photographs helps to close the sale.

Example: For an article about Royal Enfield motorcycles I read up about the different models available and then went to the dealership for photos. I got information on specifications and efficiency though discussion forums and reliable websites. I also got photos from friends of touring on this 50 year-old technology (still in production).
http://www.bikernet.com/roadtests/PageViewer.asp?PageID=1502

My unique angle was the traditional Cast Iron engine Vs the new AVL lean burn engine. So a newbie can understand what he should go for with all facts and comparison readily available. This article was a personal desire to learn about Bullets and I bought one using the same information I dispersed in the article.

Conclusion

Writing can be a very personal thing for some. It is up to you to decide whether you intend to see your efforts in print or use it for your own personal emotional need. To get published a constant effort to improve, add, adjust your skills is required. Once you understand what is expected out of a professional writer, you would be better placed to start off independent projects and find an editor later.

Agents can help too and finding overseas market can be useful in issuing re-publishing rights and electronic media rights. Do not plagiarise as the author’s reputation is one and only thing he has to make a sale. Get information on legalities, markets, publishers, agents, etc in books such as ‘Writers Market’.

**** THE END ****

Copyright Ujjwal Dey 2007
Author Name & Contact: –
Ujjwal Dey
Mumbai – INDIA.
u_dey @ yahoo.com ,

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