How to Eat a Dinosaur Before It Eats You
A simple introduction to starting your own book
You may wonder why the title was chosen. As I set out to start my second novel, I found that I had eaten my first dinosaur without realizing it. As I spoke to others who were just sitting down to the writing-table, I found that the process of starting a book of your own can be a very difficult task if you are looking at the entire process all at once. There are so many variables to consider before you start and often they are very alien to the one who wants to get started.
I taught high school math and science for years before entering the world of literature and I discovered some tricks that helped the students learn complex problems without their brains melting out of their heads (you can tell to whom this has already happened when you witness a rebellious student in the classroom).
Starting a book is very much like trying to subdue and consume a large predator. If the subduing does not proceed the consuming—well you can guess what that would lead to at the dinner table. As we go through this process in simplified terms, please keep in mind that this is just an appetizer. There are many wonderful books and programs on these subjects that can really help with the meal planning of your writing career. So take a deep breath and join me in the thought process needed to subdue your dinosaur!
So let’s get started. Most of the great programs out there ask this question first – Why do you want to write a book? I am not sure that is the approach most people take when they want to get something going but I do agree that this must be asked because it helps to determine your goals—but I think this should be the third question.
To me, the first question should be—what kind of books do you like? It is important that you be comfortable in your writing skin—so to speak. If you read books in a specific genre, then you will be familiar with what others have written and successfully published.
The second question to ask yourself is do you have any ideas about what you would like to write? Sometimes the ideas will be far afield from you usual reading materials, but that is okay too; it just might require a little more research to be able to accomplish.
Now the third question—Why do you want to write a book? What is your goal? Is this just for kicks or do you plan to publish your work? Now don’t panic—at this point, you don’t need to care about who is going to publish your book but you do need to know this. If you are writing for a hobby, you will not have to concern yourself with many of the things you have to pay attention to if you plan to publish your book-length, grammar, punctuation, style, and storyline. You are merely entertaining yourself.
However, it is a little different if you have hopes of publishing your work. Now that you have explored these beginning questions and received some answers (remember, you don’t have to act on the answers right away and you can change your direction anytime you want), you are ready for some more questions that need to be answered if you are serious.
Let’s use the newspaper journalist’s simplified questions of “who, what, why, when, and where” to cover them.
Who will be producing this masterpiece? Will you be writing it or will you have someone else do the actual writing—or ghosting?
What tools do I need to produce my masterpiece?
Why am I doing this again??? Always reaffirm within your mind and heart your convictions. Then this will not be so overwhelming.
When do I want to start this masterpiece? What is my timeline for this? We will discuss setting up a timeline a little later on. Just be aware that no matter what you plan, the odds are it will take a little longer—so budget in extra time.
Where will I write this masterpiece?
Though these are the main questions, there are a few more to consider. But let’s assume you have a place that you have carved out of your living space to write—someplace that you will be comfortable while writing. And you have an idea as to what your story will be about. But how do you plan to get the idea down on paper?
The tools of the trade, so to speak, are numerous. Computers, tablets, writing pads, software…and a host of books telling you how to get started. But you have to be comfortable to work on your story, so pick the method you would like to use. I prefer the computer but you might like an old Royal typewriter. My friend jots most of her story down on a yellow tablet and then types it up afterward. It is entirely up to you as to how you get it down on paper; just consider that if you wish to publish your work yourself or if you want to work with a conventional publisher, you will need to produce an electronic file at some point in time.
The questions listed above, once defined, will get you ready to start. Now some people sit down and just start writing—more or less off the top of their heads. Others like to outline their books to ensure they know where they are going. Some use a combination of both. It may take you a book or two before you decide which way works best for you, so do not get hung up on it at this point—just start writings.
In our next newsletter, we will discuss some of the other gourmet dinosaur dishes that are needed to help you on your way with your writing.
Bona Petit! MJW
I recently had the great pleasure of meeting someone who had heard that I wrote a book. As I look back now, it was really quite comical but, at that moment, I had taken great offense. Perhaps I should back up a wee bit and start from the beginning.
I was in the grocery store with a friend of mine when I ran into an old acquaintance. We exchanged the proper half-hearted smiles at one another and continued to go about our own business. Ten minutes later, I hear my name being called down the aisle and look up to see this same person pushing her cart at me, in a very quick manner. She threw out the standard—“hello…how are you,” and then she threw out into the conversation one of those sentences, that is more a question than a statement.
“I heard you wrote a book?”
I still find myself disbelieving that I did indeed write a book and it does give me a great feeling when I can answer this question with a “yes”. However, when she asked who I was published with, her look of approval went right out the window. My credibility as an author went with it. Why? The answer is very simple, I self-published.
There is astigmatism that goes hand in hand with self-publishing, and although over the past several years the shadow has ebbed a bit, there are still those who find self-publishing vain. I, however, do not. I had the pleasure of choosing one or the other and found that being published through a noteworthy company just wasn’t for me.
After an editor got ahold of my manuscript, to do what they do best: grammar, spell check, punctuation, coarse content and several other things, I didn’t even recognize my own story. How my protagonist spoke was different and she had become a stranger to me. My twists and turns in the plot were removed and replaced with what they thought would sound better. I had to make a choice—take the changes and be published by a credible company or decline the offer.
For me, the decision was easy; I wanted people to grow close to my characters as I molded them, not someone else’s view. To me, being published by a well-known company wasn’t necessarily important to me. So I made the choice that best fitted my needs— to self-publish.
I am my own boss; I set my own deadlines and if life happens in between and I need extra time, I have it. My characters are exactly how I want them to be, look and talk the way I want to, but most importantly the story unfolds and sends the message I had intended in the first place.
As far as people assuming that my work is not plausible or worth reading because I published it…well, I think they are missing out on a great story!
Your Favorite Characters
I have a question for you—what type of character do you enjoy the most? What type of personality do you like in your characters? Do you want someone who is always good? Or someone who is always smart, always clever, always ditzy, broke, rich, mean, nice…well, see where I am headed. As readers, we form our opinions on the characters as we read about them and some of the characters we can take or leave without thought. But others stick in our minds and we want to read about them over and over.
As writers embark on their stories, they often get emotionally involved with their favorite characters. For me, I love to write about my baddies. I never really realized this until later, when I started my next novel and was flushing out who was my main villain. I was having so much fun with it that I decided to have a group of baddies—not just one. That will give me more to play with. And I do PLAY!
When you read a book, oftentimes you might identify with one of the characters. Maybe not outright…maybe you just understand what drives them or why they do some of the things they do because that is what you would do. We often make unconscious decisions about the type of characters in a movie or book and ignore them or hate them; we just don’t know why. There are some movie characters that I can’t abide…I just want to smack them for being the way they are in the picture. But if you asked me why I am not sure I could give a very coherent answer.
As a writer, I enjoy the psychology behind the characters. I don’t want to have them ricochet around without purpose. There is no point in having inconsequential characters if they do not move the story along. I also want my readers to react to the characters—not ignore them. I strive to make the characters have strong personality traits, in order to evoke a reader response to them, whether it be love, hate, empathy, or amusement.
So the next time you read a book, think about how you react to the characters and let the author know. Authors want to appeal to their audience and need to know what they can do to strengthen their craft. I know I do! So make sure to email the author or review the book on their website. They will appreciate your feedback tremendously!