This is an excerpt from my booklet how I go about “Writing a Genre Novel” the full version of which is available for free on my website.
I would like to start by putting the excerpt into context by giving a summary of the overview of my approach. I think of genre writing as having four components: concepts (theme, idea, plot, story etc), process (six stages: discovery, planning and research, organising, revision, editing & polishing), language (grammar, prose-writing, figures of speech) and story-telling (the 6 elements of fiction, use of details, characters & symbolism). In addition I have a short “Random Thoughts” category for ideas that don’t easily fit into the four components just mentioned.
This excerpt is about the organising stage.
The third component (of four) of the craft of writing a genre novel.
Grammar – I am not going to say too much about the formal English grammar rules. There are many good books, websites and other sources for that. The one thing I will say is that writing an effective genre novel calls for the deliberate breaking of grammatical rules when it serves the purpose of the story. Scan any modern genre novel and you will quickly come across sentences without subjects, even one-word paragraphs etc. Learn what is and isn’t done by reading your favourite authors and paying attention while you read.
What I am more concerned with here is the use of language to further the ends of a genre novel which, for me, is the telling of a compelling story, with effective local colour and verisimilitude (the appearance of being true or real) in such a way that the reader doesn’t even notice the language used. It’s not about how clever the writer is but all about the story.
Prose writing 101 – please note that all of the following do’s and don’ts could quite happily be “correct” grammatically but they serve to make a narrative tedious or even unpleasant to read. The list of rules I use is as follows:
– Don’t overuse adjectives and adverbs – go the specific route instead, eg, Mercedes instead of “expensive” car or sprinted instead of ran “quickly”.
– Avoid the passive voice
– Avoid “weak” qualifiers, eg, very, rather, really, little, quite etc
– Avoid unnecessary words – write simple sentences don’t be convoluted.
– State things in positive terms not negative terms, eg, wrong = Mary didn’t like Frank, right = Mary disliked Frank.
– Prefer concrete to the abstract, eg, wrong = John bought a new car, right = John bought a Porsche.
– Prefer simple words to fancy ones, eg, exclaimed/said, precipitation/rain, veracity/accuracy, exhorted/ encouraged.
– Rearrange sentences for strength, eg, wrong = To get a better look John walked to the window, stronger = John walked to the window to get a better look.
Figures of Speech –the two most important are simile (“like” or “as”) and metaphor (“was” or “is”) and I have few rules for their use:
– Simile is weaker than metaphor so it’s a judgement call from the writer when you want to use the stronger or weaker one.
– Having said that if you’re using one it’s usually better to use the stronger one.
– However if, for whatever reason, you want to use two (not really recommended) then start with the simile (weaker) and move on to the metaphor (stronger).
– Generally speaking however less is more – don’t overuse similes and metaphors.
– Avoid clichéd and commonplace similes and metaphors, eg, he drank like a fish.
– Don’t use two similes together.
– Don’t use two metaphors together, ie, especially don’t use mixed metaphors.
I personally find that I seldom use the other figures of speech but, having said that, they are occasionally useful:
– Personification, eg, animate the inanimate.
– Hyperbole (exaggeration), eg, the only way across the street is to be born there.
– Onomatopoeia, eg, Bang! Crash!
– Cadence, eg, the repetition of words.
– Alliteration, ie, the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words – beware of being too clever about this – it’s about the story and not how clever the writer is.
I hope this gives some insight as to how one writer goes about his business. A free copy of the complete booklet on the subject of how I go about writing a genre novel can be found at my website: http://jackwelles.com and just click on the “For Writers” tab.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author Jack Welles has had a varied working life from seeing action as a professional soldier through flying helicopters commercially to his own practice as an attorney.
He recently relocated to a small village on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, where he writes full-time. He is married with one son.
Visit Jack’s website at http://jackwelles.com