Test the waters.
Write a couple of test stories. Ask your friends to come up with an idea and then write a little story or scene around it. One of the blogs I follow (http://ryanlanz.com/) did this, so I took the challenge. Spent maybe 15 or 20 minutes and came up with a scene based around the idea.
Look for those competitions that start something like ‘in 50 words or less…’ and enter them. Practice. Do you have kids? Are you an uncle or auntie? Take the opportunity to weave your tales to a (hopefully) captivated audience.
Look around for some of the short story competitions, even if you don’t actually enter them. There are a number of sites out there that run ‘wonderful competitions’ for short stories. After reading the terms & conditions I haven’t actually entered one (for many you’ve lucky to get $20 for a lot of effort & they get the rights to the story), but I’ve used the idea behind the competition to practice. In fact I’ve posted here the start to a short horror story. This convinced me of two things. Firstly that I’m not a good horror story writer and secondly that I suffer from verbal diarrhea too much to write good short stories (you can tell that by the absence of short posts here).
Also, once you decide the genre that you are going to write in, find some friends who like that genre and who you trust to be honest, then write a trial of the first few pages. Get an appraisal from them. Remember that the first few pages are vital to your book’s success, so if they aren’t coming back to you with threats about your physical well being if you don’t hurry up and finish the story, rethink.
Listen to their comments and decide if you can fix the issues or if you are happy with the issues.
The suggestions and critiques were things I could deal with, so I went the completely self publish route. I’m a fairly nasty editor myself and I have a number of friends who are even worse, so I decided that I wouldn’t use an editor. the $20 per page sort of helped me make that decision. But if you’re not in that boat, then you need to decide either to budget for an editor or be willing to find one that will do it for a cut in the royalties.
It’s important to listen to the comments. One of the early ones for me (that I had to listen to as it was my wife) is that the manuscript was confusing. I honestly looked at that and changed two things. Firstly I have a bad habit of phrasing sentences differently to many people. This comes from how I think and write. So I had to track down (as part of the revision process) all the occurrences of sentences like The quick brown fox, as it approached the lazy dog, jumped over it and replace them with The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
For me, I love commas. But I used them to the point where people got lost in the sentence, instead of using them to bring clarity.
Oops, I just did it again. I mean, ‘People get lost reading my sentences because I use commas too much, loosing clarity instead of gaining it’.
Some advise you will chose to ignore and that is fine. So long as you chose to ignore it for the right reasons. One of the complaints from one of my ‘early readers’ was that the later versions of the manuscript were a less like me sitting around a fire telling a story. The complaint wasn’t that it was bad, just different and their personal preference was for the other style. I agonised over that, looking at the differences and why they were there. In the end I decided for my sanity I needed to do it the way I did because the other style would have driven me crazy with a larger story. I didn’t have the skill to be able to write that long a story in that casual a method.
Take each comment and look at it rational and practically. What can you fix? What should you fix? But remember that in the end you are not writing their story, you are writing your story.
The comments about the inconsistent punctuation, the lack of dialogue tags, too big a size variation in the chapters. All of these I took on board and dealt with – happily. I’d much rather a friend tell me then go to all of the expense and trouble of publishing and then get told!
How do some of your favourite TV shows or books do it? I recently watched the whole of NCIS and was fascinated that after having written a book I was a lot less happy with the series! I kept picking all the holes and implausibilities in the scripts! But I learned a bit about using that first chapter or scene. Some of those intro suck you straight into the story, others have nothing to do with the story, they just grab the listener. What I had instinctively done in my manuscript I was able to now see and understand why it worked.
I’ll dig up a copy of the very first version and post it so people can see the changes.
Brett L. Bridger