This book is the answer to a beginning novelist's prayer, and a good refresher for others. It's quite simply a no-nonsense, easy to read mini-course on how to write a novel. Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson are sisters who have co-authored more than 40 novels and numerous short stories. Britton calls the book "stuff we learned the hard way."
The book is divided into four parts: Part 1, Getting Started; Part 2, Constructing the Plot; Part 3, Editing, Marketing And Publishing; and Part 4, Winding Up. Here are brief summaries.
Part 1 takes up the question of getting ideas, with a quote from Flannery O'Connor:
"Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days."
The authors suggest carrying a notebook to jot down ideas or impressions that simply show up: "When you feel depleted, you will always have a backlog of random thoughts, character sketches, and plot ideas for inspiration."
The discussion includes point of view, setting and creating characters. To help create believable characters, they recommend doing character biographies. Cutting photos that fit your characters out of newspapers or magazines can help keep characters fixed in your mind.
Part 2 simplifies plot construction with a workable plot outline: "Do the math first. ... An average-sized novel runs 65,000 words and is about 260 pages. This can be roughly divided into eighteen chapters of fourteen pages."
Plotting in a nutshell:
"Take a sympathetic character and open your story with an urgent problem. As the lead struggles to solve the problem, he or she loses and wins, each impediment to his success becoming worse than the last. At the end the hero either succeeds or fails and because of this experience, in the process learns an important lesson and grows in character."
The authors call the first chapter "the most important chapter in the book because it is the first sample of your writing your readers will see. It must have the power to draw them in and entice them to read the rest of the book."
Their list of what goes into that all-important first chapter.
By the end of the first chapter the reader should:
be introduced to the main characters;
know where the story takes place;
have a feeling for the tone and atmosphere of the story;
understand the main problem or conflict;
experience interest or excitement.
Part 3, Editing, Publishing and Promoting, discusses cover letters, synopses, sample chapters, e-books, independent presses, self-publishing and the many ways of promoting a book.
Part 4, Wrapping Up, includes creative writing exercises for working with the first three parts, a printable character biography worksheet, and recommended books for writers.