Ann Weisgarber

Suggestions for the Novice Writer

I had no idea what I was getting into when I first started this novel. I knew it would be a challenge but other people had written books so why couldn’t I? I had my character — Rachel DuPree — and the setting — the Badlands. Everything else, I figured, would just somehow just fall into place.

That was my first mistake and I realized it by the end of page two. I didn’t know the first thing about dialogue, I wasn’t really sure what a plot was, and I certainly didn’t know how to give Rachel a personality. Then there was this mysterious thing called “point of view.” I was baffled, and I had only written two pages. It was time to slow down, take a deep breath, and learn the mechanics of story telling.

If you’re feeling baffled, here are a few ideas.

Study a Book You Like
I picked a novel that I admired, Cold Mountain, and decided that Charles Frazier, the author was my personal teacher. Starting on the first page of Cold Mountain, I studied and hand copied each sentence, line by line. I studied the structure of the sentence, what it accomplished, and how it fed into the next sentence. In a separate notebook, I kept a list of tag lines, phrases that expressed emotion, and phrases that showed personality traits. The process was slow and laborious, but it was cheaper than attending a degree program in creative writing. Best of all, I learned what a flashback was, how to transition from the present to the past and then return to the present, and the correct punctuation for dialogue.

Keep Writing
Don’t become so engrossed in the studying the mechanics that you forget to write. Set a goal for everyday but be realistic. Some people decide that they must write five pages a day, but that can be so overwhelming that it becomes a dreaded task. For me, it was better to think small. I started out with the goal to write one paragraph a day. I could always manage that. If one paragraph lead to another one, hot dog! But if it didn’t, that was fine. I had achieved my goal. And remember, if you write a paragraph every day, eventually you’ll have a novel.

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