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Writing Right: The Blog

CAN ANYONE GHOSTWRITE A NOVEL FOR ME?

Someone asked a question online the other day about finding someone to ghostwrite a novel for him. Here's how I responded.

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Can anyone? Sure. Will that person be top-notch? Not so fast.

 

Here's the deal. A first-rate, professional ghostwriter with an opening in his schedule, who also just happens to love your idea and is on the same track as you, will do the job. More people employ ghosts to write their novels than anyone here can possibly imagine. Sometimes, people have a dynamite idea for a book and don't have the time or skills to bring it to fruition. In fact, oftentimes! The same with nonfiction books. It happens far more frequently than people realize, even among top-selling authors (go figure!).

 

Professional ghosts get their kicks out of writing the book you have in mind. And making it work. The best of the best write in your own literary style, too. Yes, they're that talented. And, of course, they turn out a product of which you can be proud after working together with your ghost for weeks or even months, depending upon the complexity and length of the project. Read More 

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HOW TO WRITE IT

Every now and again, I run into someone who asks for advice on writing when he really should be toughing it out himself. The other day, someone wanted to know how to write "a introductory fight between two mafias." Naturally, that was more than I could resist. This was my response.

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Here's an idea. You sit down, unplug the PlayStation, turn off the video games and the television sets, pull the plug on that stuff you believe is roughly approximate to music, sign out of Facebook, put your cell phone on "silence" mode, and think. Literally. Think!

 

I know I'm from a different generation, and I know we Baby Boomers didn't do everything right. But one thing we did do properly was learn how to think. To envision. To fantasize. To research, read, study, and learn. To ask ourselves questions and get answers we can use. Try starting out with What if? What if? What if?

 

Do you get my drift? No one can tell you how you should write "a introductory fight between two mafias," which I assume you mean "an" introductory fight between two mafia "gangs." Regardless, no one can tell you what to write and have it come out sounding like your own literary voice. (I know, I know—so, Google it!) Writing isn't a team sport, and it's not a collaborative effort, contrary to what all those money-hungry sites all over the Web keep telling you while they prey on writer wannabes. Read More 

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MY CHARACTER'S NAMES ARE FORESHADOWING. HOW DO I INTRODUCE AND NAME THEIR MEANINGS?

That's what someone asked me the other day. My response? Stay tuned.

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Well, it appears as if the other responses to the question you asked assume a lot. As in that you know how to express yourself. They seem to think they "get it." I don't. For example, what does this mean:

"How do I introduce ... their meanings?"

 

Huh? Okay, giving you the benefit of the doubt and imbuing myself with super-human perceptive abilities, "introduce their meanings" would probably imply what? That you want to know how to do what? Introduce these characters in your story? That's what the first part of your question asks?

 

Unfortunately, the second half implies that you want to know something else entirely. As in how to name your characters appropriately. But, appropriately for what or whom? Do you mean to the reader? Or to the story?

 

Regardless, these are two entirely different concepts, you understand. One pertains to when and how you bring a character to light for the first time (which, by the way, in not answerable by anyone but yourself). The other concerns what, if any, play on words you should use to describe a "good" character, a "bad" character, a "dumb" character, a "brilliant" character, etc. (We could go on with the descriptive adjectives forever, but I think Quora has a time limit here; at least, I know I do.) Read More 

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WHAT'S EASIER TO WRITE--A NOVEL OR A SCREENPLAY?

If you've ever wondered about that yourself--losing sleep over the answer, wishing you had a Magic Genie to call upon--you're in luck. The answer is simple. A screenplay is easier to write than a novel by far. If you want proof, check out a novel written by a successful screenwriter. It will suck. Then check out a screenplay written by a successful novelist. It will soar.

 

Those are generalizations to which there are always exceptions, of course. But, being generalizations means they're generally true. While good screenwriters rarely make good novelists, good novelists often make good screenwriters.

 

The reason is that novels are among the most complex things on earth to write well. No contest. A novel has a million moving parts for which an author must be accountable. He has to keep track of a myriad of elements while sustaining the storyline for hundreds of pages and a hundred thousand words or more and wrapping everything up at the end.

 

A screenplay, on the other hand, is a plot being advanced by characters driven by dialogue. Sure, motivation, conflict, and settings all come into play, but the main driver of a script (either screen or stage) is dialogue. Read More 

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HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I SPEND OUTLINING MY NOVEL?

Someone asked this online the other day. I had a thought or two to contribute to several other responses she received. Here they are.

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I think I'm in love.

 

Seriously, I'm so glad you asked this question. And, I'm just a little disappointed in some of the other responses you've received, even the ones from people who mean well but aren't, umm, right on top of things. For example, outlines are not like a "safety net." They are the scaffolding and the foundation of your novel. They help you build it firm and strong from the ground to the roof ridge.

 

And to chastise people who use an outline as not recognizing writing as a "creative endeavor"? Well, that same guy is right. IF you don't give a damn about selling, working as a professional novelist and author, or making writing your future. That's when writing is a walk in the park, a kiss in the dark, and a creative endeavor.

 

Of course, all writing is a creative endeavor. At all times. But, if that's all you want, keep a diary. If you have hopes and dreams and aspirations of making it as a full-time freelance writer and author, you'd better look for more than a "creative endeavor" to sustain you. You'd better look for quality writing that's more than an expression of your creativity. You'd better look for sustainability. Read More 

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DO YOU REWRITE OR JUST EDIT YOUR FINISHED NOVELS?

I received this question the other day from someone whom others had already advised. I had a bit to add to their comments.

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First, rewriting and editing are not "close cousins," as someone advised you. The two are totally different concepts. And, no, the only reason you rewrite a novel is not because "you couldn't complete the idea," as some other brain said. These are absolutely ridiculous, shameful, amateurish responses. No wonder these people aren't full-time freelance writers. I'm surprised some of them are full-time freelance people.

 

Of course, editing and rewriting and reworking and refining and adjusting and readjusting and tweaking and everything else that goes into making a revision better than an earlier draft are all on the table. Are you kidding me? When you've written something and then go back to read it later, and you find problem areas, do you think you're going to tell yourself, "Well, that needs rewriting, but I'm only editing now, so I'll pass on that." Read More 

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MAKING YOUR BOOK UNIQUE

Have you ever wondered how you can create a unique book when it's eerily similar to another book that's already been written? Good question.

 

First, ignore the similar elements between your book and any other, and envision your story in your mind. Describe it to yourself. Fine-tune it. Flesh out the weak spots and trim the dead weight. Own it! Then, push the original story as far from your mind as possible. After all, there's a reason for the phrase, "There's nothing new under the sun." That applies to books as well as life in general. Get used to the fact that your book, no matter how unique you think it is, will be "similar" to another book or two or ten thousand in one way or another. So?

 

But, if you're still concerned someone may compare your work to a previous tome, emphasize the differences. After all, you're the author; you can write whatever you want. Be more detailed. Place your book in a different part of the world. Populate it with different characters, different places, different descriptive narrative, and different dialogue. Give your characters unique ethnic backgrounds. Set the story in a different time period. Use your own literary voice, of course, and not the other author's. (Which, I would hope, you're beyond temptation from doing anyway.) Read More 

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WHICH NOVELS ARE BETTER--MODERN OR CLASSIC?

I was thinking the other day about how many truly great novels are being turned out today as opposed to, say, a hundred years ago or longer. Many people believe that writers back then cranked out the best literature around, and most modern writers can't compete.

 

Me? I'd say, that, throughout history, most published novels have been garbage, no matter when they were written. And, most novelists don't merit the designation. Back in the Golden Age of long-form fiction writing, probably 95 percent of all novels were junk—words on paper that some publisher hoped would catch fire and sell. Most of those publishers were wrong, and most are long since gone.

 

Today, I imagine an equivalent percentage of novels being cranked out are pure crap. Either the novels' storylines are weak, their plots are convoluted, their logic is skewed, their dialogue is unrealistic, their narrative is weak and wandering, their conflict and resolution are inadequate, their characterizations are shallow, and their grammar and punctuation are suspect (See? I can put things mildly, too!). And, for the really bad novels, check the box marked "All of the above." Read More 

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RETAINING YOUR NOVEL'S ESSENCE

Can a person make revisions to a novel without destroying its essence? That's a question someone asked online recently, and the answers were eye-opening. I mean, they were horrible, if not outright harmful. Here's how I responded to the writer:

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I'm constantly amazed at the bad, offtrack, and irrelevant information people disguise as responses to serious questions. Contrary to what one respondent wrote ("Don't give editing a lesser weight in your efforts than the writing"), you didn't ask that nor did you imply that's what you intended to do. And, it's absurd that he said you can't revise a novel without changing its essence. I know it's tough to use such big words correctly, but that's what dictionaries are for, and he should buy one.

 

Ditto to another respondent who advised you, "The whole purpose of revising a novel is it isn't working as it is. If your novel isn't working, revising the essence of it may be exactly what you need to do." In addition to being at least partly erroneous, I don't see how that answers your question at all.

 

A third respondent, talking about art school and "one shot" prints, missed the mark by a country mile.

 

Here's the real deal: Read More 

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SETTING YOUR NOVEL "RESPONSIBLY"

A writer grappling with how to write a novel responsibly while placing it in Incan/Mayan lands received a suggestion from a "College/University" respondent to travel there to research the locality personally. My advice to the stymied author?

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Wow, leave it to a person whose credentials for answering a serious question are "attended some College/University." That's the person I'd want giving my friends and loved ones such life-altering advice as "travel to Mayan/Incan land" where you can learn firsthand how to write ethically while "thriving in context." You know, I have a piece of advice of my own for Mr. College/University: Go back to school and learn how to think things through practically.

 

The truth here is twofold. First, as for ethics, approach your subject ethically by being aware that we're all real human beings, some of whom are fortunate enough to be citizens of the United States of the Real World. In other words, don't worry about being politically correct. Do worry about portraying people and their cultures without bias. Treat all people equally, both in your writing and in your life, no matter what their culture is, and you're sure to be a winner. Don't talk down; write up!

 

Second, as for your book thriving in context, do some research. Travel there if Mr. College/University will pick up the tab. That's assuming you're not averse to the gangland murders and cartel mayhem spreading throughout the land. (Wow, good choice--Mexico!) Otherwise, listen up, because I have an alternative. It's called research.

 

Don't know how to research? Then either 1.) learn or 2.) set your fantasy culture in Detroit or Pittsburgh or someplace with which you're more familiar. Read More 

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