Monday, September 07, 2009
Cara Menulis Novel dlm 100 Hari atau Kurang
by John Coyne
How many times have you finished reading a novel and said, “I could have written that book.” You know what? You’re right. All of us, I believe, carry at least one novel around in our heads or our hearts. Novelist Toni Morrison put it this way: “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Writing a book is no easy task. Nevertheless, every day another book is published.
In 1996, according to Books in Print, 1.3 million book titles were in print. The number of books published in 1996 alone was 140,000 in the United States. So, why not you?
What you need
I believe that if you can write a simple English sentence (after all, that’s what Ernest Hemingway wrote), are alert to the world around you, and want to write a salable novel — really want to, not just kind of want to — then you can do it. I don’t think anybody ever became a writer by going to a workshop, reading a book, or even reading this article. Writing comes from something internal in a writer. However, this article will save you time, point you in the right direction, and help you write a novel in 100 days or less.
It works. I’ve done it myself several times.
I know what it means to squeeze in an hour or two a day (or night) of writing. It is not easy to write a novel, not when you have a full time job, family, and responsibilities, but it can be done. Most writers, in fact, have had to carry on two lives while they wrote their novel. But once you sell your first book, than maybe you’ll be in the position to quit your day job and devote the rest of your life to writing full time.
Great writers have done it
Yes, you have a job. Yes, you have a family. Neither have stopped great writers in the past. The poet Wallace Stevens was a vice president of an insurance company and an expert on the bond market. The young T.S. Eliot was a banker. William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician. Robert Frost was a poultry farmer. Hart Crane packed candy in his father’s warehouse, and later wrote advertising copy. Stephen Crane was a war correspondent. Marianne Moore worked at the New York Public Library. James Dickey worked for an advertising agency. Archibald MacLeish was Director of the Office of Facts and Figures during World War II.
Drawing from pure emotion
What makes a writer? Perhaps it is a single incident — one that happens early in life and shapes the writer’s sense of wonder and self-awareness.
Take the case of José Saramago, the first Portuguese-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The son of a peasant father and an illiterate mother, brought up in a home with no books, he took almost 40 years to go from metalworker to civil servant to editor in a publishing house to newspaper editor. He was 60 before he earned recognition at home and abroad with Baltasar and Blimunda.
As a child, he spent vacations with his grandparents in a village called Azinhaga. When his grandfather suffered a stroke and was to be taken to Lisbon for treatment, Saramago recalls, "He went into the yard of his house, where there were a few trees, fig trees, olive trees. And he went one by one, embracing the trees and crying, saying good-bye to them because he knew he would not return. To see this, to live this, if that doesn’t mark you for the rest of your life," Saramago says, "you have no feeling."
Begin with that pure emotion. Turn it into prose.
Let us begin
Sinclair Lewis was invited to talk to some students about the writer’s craft. He stood at the head of the class and asked, “How many of you here are really serious about being writers?” A sea of hands shot up. Lewis then asked, “Well, why aren't you all home writing?” And with that he walked out of the room.
So now it is time for you to be writing.
What follows is your daily log — each day may have words of encouragement, advice, or wisdom or a task for you to do to get your book written. It is what you need to do each day for the next hundred days to write your novel.
The great New Yorker editor and writer, E.B. White, said when accepting the National Medal for Literature, “A writer’s courage can easily fail him . . . I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.”
On this your first day of writing your novel, make a promise to yourself that you are going to do it. This is critical. Without that commitment, you may as well save your pencils and paper. It isn’t going to happen. Remember, write as often as you can. That’s what writers do — they write.
Carve out specific time to write. This is important because over the course of writing a novel, you’ll get discouraged, bored, angry, or otherwise fed up, and when you start feeling that way, you’ll need clearly defined patterns to keep yourself working.
On occasion you may have to shift your writing times to deal with other demands in your life, but fight to keep them as regular as you can.
What do I mean by specific times?
Two hours each morning and each evening, and one eight-hour day every weekend, for example. Decide how much time you will spend writing each week, and then do it. Many would-be novelists defeat themselves because they set a schedule but then don’t stick to it. Be realistic in the time you plan, and then live by it.
In the first week, decide upon the story you are going to write. You might not work out every detail, but today you are going to begin the process. You are not going to procrastinate — procrastination is your enemy. Matisse advised his students, “If you want to be a painter, cut out your tongue.” The time has come to stop merely talking about writing your novel. Get started planning it now.
What kind of novel appeals to you? What really gets your juices flowing? Is it a good murder mystery, science fiction, a thriller, romance, general fiction?
Alice Munro is considered by many to be the best short-story writer in the English language. Her books sell about 30,000 copies a year. She is a writer other writers admire for her technical skills and the purity of her style. She is also known for the complex structure of her stories. A typical Alice Munro story might begin at a point that most writers would consider the end, then jump to a time ten years later, then back again. But what is most interesting about Alice Munro — who lives in a small town in southern Canada — is that her stories are about ordinary people: their secrets, their memories of acts of violence, their sexual longings.
Think of what to write from what is around you, from what you know and care about.
It doesn’t matter what kind of book you decide to write. There are no rules other than that the story has to be very, very interesting. It can be exciting, scary, fun, funny or sad — but it must not bore the reader.
Analyze and learn. Take your favorite novel of the type that you want to write and read it again, as if it were a how-to manual for becoming a millionaire. Then read it again, breaking the book down into sections. Outline the action on large sheets of paper that you pin to your office wall.
Although there are no rules about story ideas, I would offer you one caution: think small. One of the worst mistakes most beginning novelists make is thinking big, trying to come up with an end-of-the-world story, in the belief that big is better. That’s not true. Keep your story idea small and focused.
Look into your creative soul and search for a little story but one that has real meaning to you. We are all part of the human family. If you create a story that has deep meaning to you, chances are it will have deep meaning for the rest of us.
Imitation can lead to originality. Do short exercises imitating different styles. Try on a dozen voices until you find one that fits. Ape the sure hand of a master. But remember this: write from your own experience. Your experience is unique. As John Braine, author of Room at the Top, wrote, “If you’re to be heard out of all those thousands of voices, if your name is going to mean something out of all those thousands of names, it will only be because you’ve presented your own experience truthfully.”
Don’t be afraid to write down scenes or sections that don’t lead anywhere. Don’t discard them if they aren’t leading anywhere. Follow the advice of Joan Didion. She pins them on a board with the idea of picking them up later. Quite early in her novel, A Book of Common Prayer, she says, she wrote about Charlotte Douglas going to the airport. It was a couple of pages of prose that she liked, but she couldn’t find a place for it. “I kept picking this part up and putting it in different places,” she writes, “but it kept stopping the narrative; it was wrong everywhere, but I was determined to use it.” She finally found a spot for it in the middle of the book. “Sometimes you can get away with things in the middle of the book.”
Before we leave the problem of finding your story, let me debunk another cliché about novel writing: Write only about something you know.
You’re heard that before. It’s nonsense. Tom Clancy had never been a submarine commander before he wrote The Hunt For Red October. And it’s a safe bet that Richard Bach had never been a seagull before he wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Instead of writing about something you know, you can write about something you love. It doesn’t matter what it is, just love it. For example, Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha, had lived in Japan and was working for an English-language magazine in Tokyo when in 1982 he got the idea for Memoirs. In 1986, after earning a creative writing degree from Boston University, he began researching geishas and discovered “a subculture with its own strange rules.” It took him ten years and several drafts before he sold the book to Alfred A. Knopf for $250,000.
Begin by writing about what you know, if not the novel itself, then something about the place or people in your novel. It’s a lot easier to get started on your book if you are writing about people, places, and things with which you have already grown familiar.
Pick your characters first, as they are harder to pick than a story.
When writing, the plot may or may not change, but the characters will develop and have a life of their own. As your characters develop, they’ll take on distinct personalities, and as with good friends, you’ll know in certain situations what they will or will not do.
Mystery writer Oakley Hall says that a writer must “listen to the demands of his characters, who, as they begin to come to life, may insist upon a different fate than the givens seem to require.”
Get a bunch of 5 by 7 cards and put each character’s name at the top. Next, think about the role each plays in your story, and what kind of person each is: age, education, place of birth, hot-headed, funny, fat, ugly. What are their quirks? Do they wash their hands 500 times a day? Do they hear voices? Are they kind to kids but love to torture cats? Put it down, put down so much that you finally come to know these characters intimately. Alfred Hitchcock would write down his scenes on index cards, one scene to a card. That way, as he said, by the time he was ready to shoot the film, he was already done.
Some characters will be major ones, around whom the story will pivot; others will play bit parts, but these will be critical too, as every player must have a reason for being in the story. If they don’t have a reason for being in your novel, they’ll slow down the story, and slowness bores readers.
Most novels are written to a formula, especially big best sellers. For example, John Baldwin, co-author of The Eleventh Plague: A Novel of Medical Terror, developed a simple formula that he used to structure his novel.
His ten-step formula is:
1.The hero is an expert.
2.The villain is an expert.
3.You must watch all of the villainy over the shoulder of the villain.
4.The hero has a team of experts in various fields behind him.
5.Two or more on the team must fall in love.
6.Two or more on the team must die.
7.The villain must turn his attention from his initial goal to the team.
8.The villain and the hero must live to do battle again in the sequel.
9.All deaths must proceed from the individual to the group: i.e., never say that the bomb exploded and 15,000 people were killed. Start with “Jamie and Suzy were walking in the park with their grandmother when the earth opened up.”
10.If you get bogged down, just kill somebody.
More about formula. When Ernest Hemminway started as a young reporter for the Kansas City Star, he was given a style sheet with four basic rules:
•Use short sentences.
•Use short first paragraphs.
•Use vigorous English.
•Be positive, never negative
Asked about these rules years later, he said, “Those were the best rules I ever learned in the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them. No one with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the things he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides by them.”
Develop your characters and your plot together. You can’t do one well without the other. Your characters are not wooden people who just dropped magically out of the sky. They are critical elements of the drama you are creating. They must do something logical or illogical (which is what plot is all about) that adds to your story, and moves it to its ultimate climax. Never, never separate characters from plot.
The reader has to believe that your characters exist or could exist — and they need to be distinctively drawn. And nothing better defines characters than their actions, their purpose in life. Their purpose may be good or evil. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the reader sees their actions and purpose, believes them, and is continuously interested in them.
Do not write a story peopled with a cast of thousands. Write a tale about one, two or three memorable characters, all of them filled with purpose.
You need a strong protagonist. Most writers have a problem with creating a character who is larger than life, fully developed, and a consistent protagonist.
Remember, your protagonist is your story’s major character. This is the person with whom your reader will identify. You want your readers to care about your protagonist. He or she is your new best friend.
Figure out who you need in the story and what they do together or to one another, and the story does to them. Are they all pulling together in one direction? Are they pulling in six different directions? Ask yourself the critical question: Which would be most interesting to the reader? That’s the real litmus test of character development and plotting. Will the reader be interested? Will the reader care?
To be successful in character and plot development, you need to make hard choices. You need to be ruthless with your characters and your story. Who’s in, who’s out? What’s in, what’s out?
Frankly, here is where a lot of first-time novelists stop dead. They can’t bring themselves to choose. They become fascinated or paralyzed by the possibilities.
Don’t you dare do that. Be brutal. Try different choices, of course, but move the story forward event by event, bringing each character along with you. As each event unfolds, each character must react to it. Just as they would in real life.
If a child is hit and killed by a car, the driver’s life is changed forever, the parents’ lives, the lives of the brothers and sisters, friends, even the crossing guard and bystanders. You have to decide what the changes are. You must decide. This is your chance to play God — and if you’re going to write you must play that role. God is in the details, and God decides the course of the novel.
Keep asking the question, “why?” As you reach the end of the second week of defining characters, you will have a stack of 5x7 character cards that spell out intimate details about the personal life of each and every character in your story, down to their waist measurement and favorite color. The novelist Vladimir Nabokov composed all of his novels on index cards.
Your “voice” is your voice. Your “style” is your style. Don’t attempt to “sound like” some famous writer. Many beginning writers feel that they have to add something to their “voice” on the printed page. Who you are on the page is who you are in life, just as sophisticated, just as worldly, or not. It doesn’t matter. Keep writing and keep cutting away at the awkwardness that might creep into your writing. Be a natural. As the French novelist, Francois René de Chateaubriand wrote, “The original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.”
Prepare a rough outline of the story’s action from Chapter One through to the end.
Novelist Katherine Anne Porter put it this way, “If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin.”
Write down the last paragraph of your novel and put it in the drawer. At the end of a hundred days, lets see how close you came to following your imagination.
Do nothing — absolutely nothing — on your novel in terms of actual writing until your plotting (along with your characters and their roles in the drama) is complete and down on paper.
Do not fall victim to that old author line: “I just start out with a basic idea and a couple of characters. I never know where I’m going. I let the characters tell the story for me.” That may work for brilliant and experienced novelists, but most of us need a clear road map if we aren’t going to get ourselves and our readers hopelessly lost.
Hang the cards and outline you have developed around your office or room so that they can be easily read.
A well-written page-turner that is more character- than plot-driven and has a clear beginning, middle and end is what editors (and readers) want.
You now have made:
2.a working schedule
3.a story idea
4.a cast of characters
5.a detailed plot of the entire story
6.a short description of what your novel is about.
Set a goal for your self to write at least four pages a day. That is 300–325 words, double-spaced. Some days you’ll write one page; others you’ll write 15 pages. Try to average at least four pages a day.
Your novel is a work of fiction, but that doesn’t mean your facts don’t need to be straight. Nothing turns a reader off quite as fast as a wrong fact. And nothing gives a story the ring of authenticity like the right fact or detail. Use the Internet for research. It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive. Every library in the world is open to you. Look, too, at magazines and newspapers published at the same time and place as the setting of your novel.
Gore Vidal used old editions of Harper’s Magazine for details when writing his historical novels.
Conversation is not dialogue. Dialogue has a purpose. It pushes the story forward. It keeps the reader tuned in to the story, and makes a person feel at the heart of the action. Therefore, don’t describe distant events second hand. Put the reader in the middle of your story’s action and your dialogue will sing naturally. Keep your talk efficient and forceful. And always make certain the reader knows who is speaking.
Look into the mirror and write about the person you see. Try and describe the person you see in the mirror to a man or woman you have never met. Keep the description under 300 words. Make this “person” a character in your novel, either the protagonist, the narrator, or one of the minor characters of the plot.
Novelist Kurt Vonnegut once remarked that, “Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of a writer. It is like making wallpaper by hand for the Sistine Chapel.”
Commit yourself to a point of view early in your planning. This way the reader can get a footing in the story. Once you have decided which character will be the viewpoint character, stick with your decision. Do not shift point of view. If you decide on multiple points of view, show the story through one character at a time, in order to avoid confusing the reader.
Carry a note pad with you. If you’re waiting for a meeting to begin, start writing. If you’re on an airplane, start writing. Whenever there’s a second to write, do it. Once you have written it down, you own it.
Suspense is a basic ingredient of fiction. Because of it, readers ask: What is going to happen next? They will keep reading to find out.
When using characters to present clues, don’t forget body language. Nonverbal signals can communicate much more effectively than words. Ask any two lovers.
Try writing first in longhand, then on a computer. This will give you two passes at the prose before you start editing.
Aim for one startling image on each page. For example, try and match this image of a sunrise at sea by Philip Caputo in The Voyage:
A golden shimmer appeared where the horizon was supposed to be, then a red sun pushed up, like the head of some fiery infant bulging out of the gray sea’s womb — water giving birth to its opposite element.
Don’t overwrite just because technology lets you do it. The mechanics of the computer and the internet make everything easier, from research to writing to revising. Keep thinking small. We all think that movies and baseball games are too long. What about books? Publishers and editors will tell you: context determines length. Just remember that The Great Gatsby is only 200 pages long.
Without descriptions the reader doesn’t have a sense of place and time and mood — all critical for your story. But with too much, your story will bog down and get boring. Get in. Give the telling detail. Then get out. Don’t drown in your descriptions (or your research). Create a world where your characters can live and breathe, but not vegetate.
Ideas, new and unique — that’s what surprises, satisfies and pleases readers. Stay away from the tried and true. Write with imagination.
Rick Bass, one of our finest stylists, says that fiction writers — like masons — require both power and precision to construct a good story. “You’ve got to lay the stones one on top of the other so they fit together, but you’ve got to have the strength to lug them around.”
Shirley Jackson, as the mother of four children and wife of a college professor, rarely had time to write during the day. Yet when she sat down at her desk at night, a story like “The Lottery” flowed out in a perfect first draft. Why? Because she had been thinking about it all day. Count on your subconscious taking charge and “working over” ideas that come to you during the day.
Good characters grow and evolve out of basically two things: their actions and their beliefs. We develop a sense and understanding of people by what they do and think in the dramatic events of the story.
The Roman poet Horace observed around 14 B.C. that writers should attempt “to say at once what ought at once to be said.” In other words, grab your reader by the throat from your very first sentence.
Don’t get discouraged. Keep writing. Remember the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Ironweed by William Kennedy was rejected by 13 publishers before Saul Bellow intervened on its behalf. In rejecting Laurence J. Peter’s The Peter Principle, an editor wrote that he could “foresee no commercial possibilities in such a book.”
Anton Chekhov’s remarkably simple advice was this: “If a gun hangs on the wall in the first act of the play, it must be discharged before the end.” You have to “look” at the total work with that piece of advice in mind and cut out anything that doesn’t help the story complete itself.
It is emotionally costly to write well. Dancers, for example, know that they're going to have bloody feet. Pianists know that they'll have to practice until the pain in their fingers makes them cry. Writing a novel is not like writing a letter. Writing a novel is mentally exhausting, far harder than a nine-to-five job. When you write a novel, you live the lives of your characters.
In 1979, at the age of 80, Jessie Lee Brown Foveaux began to write the story of her life. She wrote innocent tales of her past, tales of her grandmother and of a distant Aunt Clara who chewed tobacco and could spit in a cat’s eye.
Every morning she went into the kitchen of her white two-bedroom house in Manhattan, Kansas, where she had raised eight children. She sat down at the table and, aided by scrapbooks, letters and photographs, she wrote. Day after day, week after week, she wrote in longhand the story of her life, noting down the watershed events: births, deaths, one marriage, three wars, one flood, as well as the things that just struck her fancy, like the first time she saw Lawrence Welk. Having told the events of her life, she began then to write about the world that she never spoke of. Her feelings and thoughts.
Jessie Lee wrote all of this for a teacher, Charley Kempthorne, at his Harvest of Age, a program for senior citizens. Her writings were published by the local college and entitled The Life of Jessie Lee Brown From Birth Up to 80 Years. About 30 copies were printed for her family and friends. That was 20 years ago. Family, friends, and strangers are still reading her 208-page book now entitled Any Given Day: The Life and Times of Jessie Lee Brown Foveaux: A Memoir of Twentieth Century America [Warner Books, 1997].
Since writing her first memoir, Jessie Lee has written two more books. The latest, Granny’s Ramblings of This and That Two, was published in 1993. That year she wrote to the teacher who encouraged her to tell her story, “Thank you so much for not giving up on me,” she wrote. “I am not a writer, but my poor efforts have made a great difference in my life.”
If Jessie Lee Brown Foveaux isn’t a writer, who is? Everyone’s life is a book. Jessie Lee told her story. And Warner bought her story for one million dollars.
Persistence is what is required. Novelist Harlan Ellison once said that if anybody can stop you from being a writer, then don’t be one.
The gifted writer Jo-Ann Mapson, who has published a half dozen novels, believes that writers should have a physical hobby. “Something that takes you away from books and criticism, because it teaches you, it informs you, and it changes your writing.”
The novelist and poet James Dickey, talking to students near the end of his life, said, “I don’t mean to sell the poet so long or at such great length, but I do this principally because the world doesn’t esteem the poet very much. They don’t understand where we are coming from. They don’t understand the use for us. They don’t understand if there is any use. We are the masters of the superior secret, not they. Not they. Remember that when you write.”
Most successful writers have had unhappy childhoods. Dean Koontz, for example, was the only child of a physically frail mother and a violent, alcoholic father who twice tried to kill himself and was eventually committed to an institution. Instability was a constant in his family. This terrible childhood stirred a passion for books in Koontz.
One of his very first memories stemmed from a period when his mother was hospitalized for several months. At the age of 3 or 4, Koontz was kept by one of her friends, who, every night, would tuck the little boy into bed, give him an ice cream soda and read him a book. Koontz connected these sensations of safety and happiness with storytelling. This has stayed with him.
Koontz has read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame at least 50 times, relishing the theme of “friends pulling together to overcome the bad guys.” Koontz credits books for showing him at the age of 9 that not all families were like his.
“I am a driven adult child of an alcoholic,” says Koontz. Today he works six days a week, arriving at his desk by 7:30 a.m. He writes until dinner, skipping lunch.
But what does one do who hasn’t had an unhappy childhood? Ernest Hemingway once said that writers have to have had a terrible childhood, or at least think that they did.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “Character is action.”
Characters do not operate in a vacuum. Their actions usually involve other people, and these interactions are what make up scenes. Full scenes, half scenes, and narrative passages are the building blocks for constructing a unified story line.
During the making of the film "Friendly Persuasion" — from a novel by Jessamyn West, West remembers director William Wyler, saying, "We’ve got to get one more ‘Will he? Won’t he?" into this." As a writer, West tended not to do enough of creating that tension, which is what readers want.
Go to the library and browse through books on food and gardening. Authors of these books describe smells, tastes, touches, and even sounds in precise detail. When writing, always mention scents and tactile sensations. Good description observes all the senses.
Select your details. As Mark Twain said: “Use the right word, not its second cousin.” Remember that verbs are the strongest parts of any sentences. As Rita Mae Brown puts it, “Verbs blast you down the highway.”
Strunk and White in The Elements of Style make this point: “If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on one point it is on this: The surest way to arouse and hold the reader is to be specific, definite, and concrete.”
Take a break from your novel. Take either a day off, or a week. After this period, you’ll see your work with a fresh eye.
Remember that novels can be light on plot and short on style, but flesh-and-blood characters with believable traits and motivations can save any book by gaining the reader’s sympathy.
There’s an old adage in writing: “Don’t tell, show.” It means, don’t tell us about anger, show us. We then will read and feel the anger. Don’t tell the reader what to feel. Show the reader the characters and situation, and that feeling of anger (or sorrow, love, honesty, justice, etc.) will awaken in them.
If you have written five pages a day for the last 60 days, you have written about 90,000 words. It is time to begin to rewrite and edit your novel.
You have written approximately 300 pages.
But are these pages a novel?
Do they have a beginning, a middle, and an end?
Re-read your novel and ask yourself: Have I raised a question or presented a puzzle, and then solved it?
If you can give a satisfactory answer to this question, then continue.