Read my guest post on Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s blog: ‘How to Write Strong Female Characters‘ It’s not exactly a tutorial, but it shows what difficulties are faced and some possible solutions when writing female characters from a male feminist point of view.
I will not be posting very often for a while, because I will be focusing on writing RIP and completing the spy novel, set at the beginning of the Cold War, which is set to be published sometime late in 2016 or early 2017.
However, I will still be sending out my quarterly newsletter, so if you want regular updates, subscribe to the Lazlo Newsletter now.
So Rudolph is desperate to guide the tractor on Christmas eve, but his nose won’t glow properly. Erma makes him an enormous apple pie to make him happy and promises him a good night in bed afterwards. She wants that new TV!
How do you you get the structure of your story right?
For your first draft, don’t worry about structure. Just get the story down. It will come out chronologically, that is, with the events in the order in which they happen. They may not stay this way, but that’s fine for now. Too many writers worry about writing a blockbuster with their first draft. You won’t. All writers have to write a second draft, so don’t try and avoid it.
By now, you will have the basic story written, and hopefully the characters will be starting to interact naturally and seem real. You will also have enough ideas to keep the reader’s interest, but the pace may be uneven and the first few pages may seem a bit bland.
All stories, including those of Tolkien, J K Rowling and plays by Shakespeare, have a beginning, a middle and an end. In plays, these are called the first, second and third act. But they can be subdivided. Your story needs to have this basic skeleton:
- Optionally, a twist
- Ending or denouement
What is a hook?
The hook is really what happens on the first page, and probably in the first paragraph or even the first sentence. It is the bit that hooks a reader into wanting to read the whole story. Research has proved again and again that when a potential reader sees your book description, likes that and then decides to read the first page (as they almost always do in a bookshop, or on Amazon), they will decide within a few seconds, thirty at the very most, whether they want to read the rest or not.
That is all the time you have to really grab them! So make your first paragraph, and if possible, your first sentence, really grab them. Make it unusual, even odd, and make sure it contains some emotive words. For instance, have a look at this first draft of the first sentence of our Rudolph and Santa story:
Santa asked Rudolph to meet with him. He then proceeded to tell Rudolph that he has lost his sleigh, so they will have to hire a van. Rudolph says okay but he has to check with Erma, because he told her he should always check any changes to his working conditions with her. ….
That is okay, but it’s not going to make somebody want to read the rest of your book. Let’s try again:
The telephone rang in Rudolph’s apartment.
“It’s for you Rudolph!” his wife, Erma, yells up the stairs. “It’s Santa. Says its urgent!”
Rudolph turned away from the bathroom mirror and ran to the phone.
“My nose will never glow properly again!” he told himself.
“Rudolph! Is that you?”
“Yep, it’s me Santa.”
“I’ve lost my sleigh! It’s Christmas Eve. You know what that means?
“I will have to use a van! That means I don’t need you!”
“I can’t pull the sleigh? Okay. Wait, Erma is trying to tell me something.”
Erma tells her husband. “Your union rules say you have to deliver the present. That means you have to drive the van!”
Now this is much better. First of all there is a lot of dialogue. Readers tend to prefer dialogue. They want the characters to show them what’s happening. They don’t want the narrator to tell them. It’s called ‘show, don’t tell,’ and is an important trick for story-telling. Basically people want to work things out for themselves. Good writing should have at least 50% dialogue, or monologue.
You can see also that there is a sense of urgency and tension with the dialogue. And already we can see that Erma is going to be instrumental in the events that follow.
How do you write a climax? First of all, you should work out in your head what sort of climax it is. If its action, then you will need to use many more action words like ‘ran,’ ‘desperately lunged,’ ‘screamed,’ ‘screeched to a halt,’ etc. Try to use shorter sentences at this part of the story too; it makes for more tension. By now the reader should have had all the insight they need into the main characters’ emotions and motivations, so you can spend much less time on this. Focus on the action and make the reader anticipate the moment of climax by building a scene of terror or dramatic tension or scenery.
On the other hand, your moment of climax might simply be psychological. If you are writing an emotional love story, it might be the scene when the man finally proposes to his long lost love. Draw it out. Use lots of warm phrases like ‘heart burst with happiness’ or ‘finally she knew she had found true love.’
In our story it might be that Rudolph delivers all the presents on time and gets a big bonus from Santa. Not only can they get a really good wide-screen TV but he can take Erma on the honeymoon they never quite had (due to heavy work schedules at the time).
A story doesn’t need to have a twist, but a twist can leave the reader feeling, ‘Wow! That was a great book!’ so you might want to try it.
There is not much I can tell you about the twist, except that you should have planned it from the start and given readers small clues that something peculiar might happen. And then when it comes, it must be as big a surprise as possible. They will feel cheated if they either anticipated it, or if there have been no clues whatsoever that something was coming. Leave them gasping or saying “Wow!” and you have a fan for life! A really good example is the twist at the end of The Sixth Sense and. In our story it might be that Rudolph’s father was actually a farm reindeer, and so Rudolph turns out to be the best tractor driver ever!
The Ending or Denouement
It might seem a bit obvious to say a story needs an ending, but it does need to be structured. It needs to leave the reader with the message you worked into the story (see the Themes tutorial) and don’t forget the character needs to show that they are changed of have learned something. You might also need to explain the twist a bit. But if you know there will be a sequel, you might not want to explain anything, but simply put the twist in the last sentence and leave the reader desperate to read the next book (as I have done in The Synchronicity Code). This is the moment when you want all the strands to come together so that the reader says, “Ah! Ha!”. Then they will be satisfied and want to read your next book.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this tutorial, you might need to address other matters of structure during the second draft.
The second draft is really where you take the first editing step; structural editing. If you are paying a very good editor, they will suggest these changes to you. But what is structural editing?
If you have a lot of background and character building to get into the first chapter, it’s going to seem slow to some readers. Other readers won’t even buy the book, unless they get a feel for how good the climax is going to be. Fortunately, you won’t need to worry about this once the reader has read a few of your book. But how do you get round this problem with your first book?
I have found that sometimes it helps to take a preview out from just before the climax and put it in near the beginning or even before Chapter One. For instance, in Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, the climax is a confrontation between the main character and his arch enemy. Fortunately for us, he has recorded what happened on a tape-recorder, so his wife can set down the events. This is done in the form of a small insert, in italics, at the beginning of each chapter. In this way, I feed the reader a taste of what is to come later, and make them want to read more. Judging by the reviews, this technique seems to have worked quite well.
Take a Tip From the Movies
Lastly, I have discovered some very useful techniques used by movie makers. You might not want to try these ideas at all, but here is the structure for Gladiator. See how it develops the tension and keeps the watcher glued to the screen? You might want to try something similar with your books, especially if they are action adventures.
- A film should start with a scene that shows the main character doing what he/she does best
- Then comes the opportunity
- And then the new situation
See you next time when we discuss 5. Varying the Pace.
And if you are wondering about the third draft, this will come later, in tutorial 6. Editing.
Let me know what you think of my tutorials by commenting below.
I am feeling a bit introspective this week due to the death of a friend recently. So here is a poem.
Why are birthdays so profound?
The years sound out like death bells,
For the lost, those that shot,
their load too soon,
Those that fell, the hours spent waiting,
The messages not sent, the letters not written.
The times you betrayed yourself,
Not wanting to climb the mountain.
I feel lost and found,
At least I know I can wait,
The time has come to do,
Something great for those I love,
I cannot abandon hope,
That I have one last shot, of straight, dark rope,
to pull us through the rotten defile,
and take us over the final mile.
See further down for competition to win a free copy of my next eBook.
Here is the latest news…
I have just finished editing an illustrated novel for a very talented new writer. It’s very exciting work and I can’t wait to see the finished product but it is all top secret at the moment. I will announce the book here when it’s published.
I have the basic framework for two scifi novels in my head and of course there is the second Wartime novel and the third installment of the Ordo Lupus series, both of which are with publishers and agents. I am hoping for to get signed but, if not, I will publish myself. If you want the very latest on release dates, competitions and free offers, sign up for the Newsletter. The next issue will go out in late September or early October.
It’s no secret that I am working hard on a new novel. It’s a romance set between the end of WWII and the Korean War and a work of literary nature, a genre I have only dabbled with in the past with The Ice Boat. The genre is highly competitive and readers expect an extremely high standard. Think Shakespeare, Dickens, Thomas Hardy, The Brontes, George Elliot, Jane Austin, D H Lawrence and Harper Lee and you will see what I mean. I don’t know who would qualify for that from 21st Century writers. Answers in your comments please! Best answer will get a free copy of my next published novel!
I wanted to let you know that I will only be posting every second Monday from now on. I have to focus very hard on my latest novel and the real world tends to intrude as well so I don’t have to much time.
If you really want exclusive inside information on what I am working on, what is coming up, competitions freebies AND THREE FREE THRILLERS, then you need to sign up for the Lazlo Newsletter.
You will always find a page with the link to the Newsletter in the menu at the top of all my blog pages.
First of all, because this is a post which includes information about air warfare, I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the families of victims from the terrible Shoreham Air Show crash on Saturday.
I am working hard on a new book. I don’t want to reveal the plot but I will give you a clue:
With all the tension between North Korea and South Korea at the moment, it’s sad for me to think that my father fought for the United Nations trying to push back the oppressive North Korean regime when it invaded the South in 1950. Lim Jong-un has taken over from his father now but sadly, the regime still starves its citizens and shakes its fist at other countries. Of course the conflict has a complex history and if you don’t know much about it, here is what wikipedia says about the Korean War:
The Korean War (in South Korean Hangul: 한국전쟁, Hanja: 韓國戰爭, Hanguk Jeonjaeng, “Korean War”; in North Korean Chosungul: 조국해방전쟁, Joguk Haebang Jeonjaeng, “Fatherland Liberation War”; 25 June 1950 – 27 July 1953)[a] was a war between North and South Korea, in which a United Nations force led by the United States of America fought for the South, and China fought for the North, which was also assisted by the Soviet Union. The war arose from the division of Korea at the end of World War II and from the global tensions of the Cold War that developed immediately afterwards.
Here are some interesting facts about the Korean War (1950 – 1953):
- The Korean War was the first military action of the Cold War.
- There are still more than 7,000 U.S. soldier missing in action from the war.
- Although the British Army was present on the ground, the RAF had no squadrons based in Korea. They did however suffer casualties because pilots exchanged with pilots from the United States Air Force (USAF) and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), both having squadrons present.
- The North Korean pilots flew many MiG-15s, generally reckoned to be the best jet fighter at the time. I outclassed by a large margin the RAF’s best jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, which may have been a reason the RAF did not want to send its squadrons there.
- The RAAF did however send it’s own Meteors, making its pilots sitting ducks.
- Even the USAF’s best fighter, the F-86 Sabre, was no match for the faster and more agile MiG-15 for the first year of the War. Later updates allowed the American fighter to deal with the Russian jet on a more equal basis.
- The Russians denied they had their own pilots in Korea but it is highly likely that they did. None were ever take prisoner to prove this.
- The MiG-15 used a copy of the Rolls Royce designed Nene engine. The British had give the Russians 25 Nene engines in 1946 as a political gesture of good will, believing it would take the Russians too long to copy the engine for them to be threat. The Russians tricked the British and worked out the secrets so fast that they had the MiG-15 flying within 2 years. It went on to be the most successful jet fighter of all time, thanks mainly to the British-designed engine, while the British never used the engine themselves in large numbers. Some MiG-15s are still in service today with the The Korean People’s Army Air Force (North Korean air force).
- The Korean War took a heavy toll—up to a total of 5 million dead, wounded, or missing, and half of them civilians.
- North Koreans who were born after the Korean War in the late 1950s are on average about 2 inches shorter than South Koreans.
- During the Korean War, the South Korean government provided women for its troops. According to one account, the government standard of performance for such women was to service at least 29 men a day. Intercourse should not last longer 30 minutes so the prostitute could move on to other men and make the maximum daily profit. There is heated and ongoing debate about how much the U.S. military was involved in providing prostitutes for its men.
- The U.S. Army used approximately 1,500 dogs during the Korean War and 4,000 in the Vietnam War.
- There were 7,245 American POWs during the Korean War. Of these, 2,806 died while in captivity and 4,418 were eventually returned to military control. Twenty-one refused repatriation.
- An estimated 86,300 Korean War veterans are women, making up 7% of the estimated number of all female veterans.
- According to the 1990 Census, of the 4.9 million Korean War veterans in the U.S., 4.5 million (92%) were white; 339,400 (7%) were African American; 30,400 (less than 1%) were American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut; 39,300 (less than 1%) were Pacific Islander; and 35,000 were of other races. There were an estimated 133,500 Hispanic (who may be of any race) Korean War veterans.
- The world’s first all-jet dogfight occurred ruing the Korean War on September 8, 1950.
- The United States still keeps troops in South Korea in case North Korea ever attempts to invade again.
- The capital of South Korea, Seoul, changed hands four times during the Korean War. It was first captured by the North Koreans on June 28, 1950, and then retaken by UN forces that September. The Chinese seized the city in January 1951, but gave it up two months later.
- One of the most brutal battles of the Korean War was the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, fought from November 27 to December 13, 1950. What made it different from other fierce fighting was the intensely cold and bitter weather. Temperatures dropped to -54° F. One survivor of the battle designed a bumper sticker that read: “Once Upon a Time Hell Froze Over. We Were There.
- Up until WW II, Korea had been one nation, known as the Korean Peninsula, and was part of Japan. After WW II, the winners of the war divided it into two countries. The Soviet Union took the northern half, and the U.S. took control of the southern half. It was divided at the 38th parallel.
- In occupied areas of North Korea, the North Korean Army executed every educated person (such as those who held education, government, and religious positions) who could lead a resistance against North Korea.
- One of the very few films that deals seriously with the Korean War’s political causes is The Year of Living Dangerously, starring Mel Gibson
Source: Random Facts