Here are four of the warning signs of First Novelist Disorder:
Like those tiny cars in the circus from which two dozen clowns emerge, many first novelists try to cram every idea they've ever had into their first novel. The result is a plot so dense with information that it never gets past the first reading. Literally; it's too much of a good thing. Save some of those great ideas so that you can write ten good published books instead of one great unpublished book.
Some first novelists create characters merely by naming them and deciding on an eye color. Not enough.
Readers want to relate to your characters, they want to love them, hate them, and, most of all, and they want to care about them.
You should know everything there is to know about your protagonist. Do your homework. Create bios for the protagonist and antagonist. Get to know them and what they believe in, what they've done, and what their self-concept is. Make your characters so believable you start bringing them up in conversation over dinner.
The worst dialog I've ever heard was created by a writer who taped real people talking and just wrote it down. As my late mentor, Gary Provost used to say: "Good dialog is "conversation's greatest hits."
It is not the way people really talk; it's an imitation of the way they talk. Like imitation cheese, it seems real but it is not. The good dialog should define the characters, or provide information, or further the plot.
4. UNREAL FACTS
Even if you set your novel in your own home area, as I did with my Veronica Slate books, you must get your facts straight about your settings.
The biggest problem is not what you don’t know; it's what you think you know. Because you think you know it, you don't bother to check it out. Once you do have your facts straight, use only what paints a picture. What the reader wants is an impression of the setting, not exact measurements.
As writers, we must strive for verisimilitude. That's a fifty-dollar word meaning: "The appearance of being true or real." In other words, we must convince the reader that the "real facts" are true so that they will believe the "fake facts" we present in our novels.
No matter how arcane or narrow the subject about which you are writing there's going to be someone, somewhere, who knows all about the subject.
If you have a character walking south on 61st Street in Manhattan, where all the numbered streets run east and west, you can be sure someone will let you know.
If, as I'm ashamed to say I did in my first novel, KILL CUE, you have a character gazing at the running lights of a yacht which is anchored in the bay, the head of the local yacht club will call you. [He did, really. He pointed out that those lights are called riding lights.]
This bears repeating:
It's not what you don't know that hurts you, it's what you think you know. Because you think you know it, you don't bother to check it out.
Those are the warning signs of First Novelist Disorder.
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