The Great American Novel

Feb. 12, 2018

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The Great American Novel

  1. Get Published Now! Coronado Adult Education Winter 2018 The Great American Novel February 13, 2018
  2. “If you decide to become a professional writer, you must, broadly speaking, decide whether you wish to write for fame, for pleasure, or for money.” Ian Fleming How to Write a Thriller
  3. Why Should We Write?
  4. “No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.” Daniel Kahneman Quoted in: Michael Lewis The Undoing Project
  5. It Takes Courage to Write
  6. "Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse to hang him." Cardinal Armand Jean du Plesssis, duc of Richelieu
  7. Recap of What We Covered Last Week
  8. Non-Fiction - The Hungry Market • Being - or becoming - the expert? • Pursuing a subject - or letting life happen? • Scratching itches - or entertaining? • How much to tell and what’s next? • Getting a publisher to buy your book • Examples and resources
  9. A Non-Fiction Writer Margot Lee Shetterly Margot Lee was born in 1969 in Hampton, Virginia. Her father worked as a research scientist at NASA-Langley Research Center and her mother was an English professor at Hampton University, a historically black college or university. Lee grew up in an environment of knowing many African-American families with members who worked at NASA. She attended Phoebus High School and graduated from the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce. After college, Lee moved to New York and worked several years in investment banking: first on the Foreign Exchange trading desk at J.P. Morgan, then on Merrill Lynch's Fixed Income Capital Markets desk. She shifted to the media industry, working at a variety of startup ventures, including the HBO-funded website She married writer Aran Shetterly.
  10. A Non-Fiction Writer Margot Lee Shetterly In 2005, the Shetterlys moved to Mexico to found an English- language magazine called Inside Mexico. Directed to the numerous English-speaking expats in the country, it operated until 2009. From 2010 through 2013, the couple worked as content marketing and editorial consultants to the Mexican tourism industry. Margot Lee Shetterly began researching and writing Hidden Figures in 2010. In 2014, she sold the film rights to the book to William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, and optioned by Donna Gigliotti of Levantine Films
  11. So much for non-fiction… …let’s move on to fiction… …and specifically, novels
  12. Non-Fiction vs. Fiction: What’s Needed to Sell It • Non-fiction: What are you going to write? • Fiction: How are you going to write it?
  13. This Week: The Great American Novel
  14. “For me, I gotta write, and it’s the adventure of it that’s hooked me. As the writer, I can do it all. I get to be the National Security Advisor who recommends the action to the President who must commit the forces. I’m the senior officer who sends his men into action and who feels the pain if they don’t make it back. I’m the enemy and the defender; logistician and staff planner. But most of all, I’m a young man again, that fresh lieutenant who must lead his men into battle.” Dick Couch “So you Want to be a Writer”
  15. 2015 & 2016: “The Great American Novel” • Great or not-so-great? What you need to know getting started • Mainstream or genre? Which way should you go? • Defining your audience and picking a “voice” and point of view • Getting the sale with a publisher
  16. 2017 & 2018: Pitching, Writing, Selling and Promoting Fiction • The high concept and the pitch • Writing your novel and making it shine • Selling your novel to an agent or a publisher • *Promoting what someone publishes*
  17. Optional Homework Assignment for February 13 • Novels have the lowest barrier to entry of virtually anything you can write except social media • You have a novel idea you want to pitch to an agent or a publisher: – Tell us whether it’s mainstream or genre – Tell us why it is “familiar but new” – Convince the agent it will have fabulous: • Plot • Characterization • Action • Put this into prose you can read in two minutes
  18. Writers (left) and Editors (right) • …. • ….
  19. Kelly Please destroy the contents of this box upon my death. It was not a request, but a politely placed order. Written neatly in black marker on a box found in the dusty shed behind the home where she had lived for the last 40 years. The tape holding the box together was disintegrating as was my perception of the lady who wrote it. I realized for the first time I really did not know the woman I had called Auntie Liz. The woman who had given me my first string of pearls and played bridge with my mother. Elizabeth Wells passed away twelve days ago. I am the Executor of her estate. I presumed it was going to be easy. No heirs, no specific instructions except “Do not let them tear down my house dammit. Give the proceeds to the Historical Association.” Easy, but I just found my first instruction and I could not, would not follow it.
  20. Kelly This story based on true-life events, is grounded on history but fictional. The facts may never be known, as all the characters are deceased. However, there is enough to piece together the remarkable story of Elizabeth Wells. A young woman, who during World War II married a man she loved deeply, who traveled to Japan to find him and became the only American woman to spend time in a Japanese prison camp. A story that you will not read about in American newspapers but is documented by letters between Liz and Henry and confirmed by correspondence between the US Government and Elizabeth’s parents. It is a story of international tension but it is more. It is the story of a woman, who loved deeply, endured courageously and then lived quietly.
  21. The High Concept and the Pitch: The Great American Novel?
  22. Mr. Clancy said none of his success came easily, and he would remind aspiring writers of that when he spoke to them. “I tell them you learn to write the same way you learn to play golf,” he once said. “You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.” Tom Clancy Quoted in the New York Times October 2, 2013
  23. The High Concept and the Pitch • What you need to know getting started • Mainstream or genre? Which way should you go? • Getting story ideas • What a reader wants from a novel
  24. The High Concept and Pitch: Of What? • The king died and then the queen died. – A story • The king died and then the queen died of grief. – A plot • The queen died, and no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king. – A mystery
  25. Some Preliminaries: Dean Koontz’s Recommendations to New Writers • Thought • Care • Storytelling • Craftsmanship
  26. Great or Not-So-Great? What You Need to Know Getting Started • Lots of decisions to make: – Mainstream or genre – Publisher or self-publish – Single work or a series – Time-bounding to complete • The competition is intense: – Increasing number of novels published – This means that far-fewer are commercially successful – In many ways, the market is over-saturated – Compared to non-fiction, there are fewer barriers to entry
  27. Two Types of Fiction • Literary fiction o Literary fiction, also known as serious fiction, is a term principally used for fictional works that hold literary merit, that is to say, they are works that offer deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition. • Trade fiction o Trade books are published for general readership, and usually are headed for bookstores and libraries. They are not rare books or textbooks for small, specialized or niche readerships. A trade book can be paperback or hardback. It can occupy a wide range of genres.
  28. Mainstream or Genre? Which Way Should You Go? • Mainstream… • Genre… • Niche… • Other…
  29. Dean Koontz On Generating New Story Ideas • Read! • Write! • Tickle the imagination and generate story ideas by playing around with exotic titles • Type out a bunch of narrative hooks and find one that is intriguing • Prime the idea pump by building up a couple of characters in enormous detail • Whatever you write, you must begin your novel by plunging the hero or heroine into terrible trouble
  30. What the Average Reader Demands of a Novel • A strong plot • A great deal of action • A hero, or heroine, or both • Colorful, imaginative, & convincing characterization • Clear, believable, character motivations • Well-drawn backgrounds • At least some familiarity with the English language • A style with lyrical language and striking images
  31. Defining Your Audience and Picking a “Voice” and Point of View • Who are you writing for? • What point of view should you pick? – What POV do you most enjoy in the fiction you read? – What POV seems most natural to you? • Go for a test drive – Write three chapters in third-person – Write the same three chapters in first-person
  32. Writing Your Novel and Making It Shine
  33. “There is only one recipe for a bestseller and it is a very simple one. If you look back on all the bestsellers you have read, you will find they all have one quality you simply have to turn the page.” Ian Fleming How to Write a Thriller
  34. Writing Your Novel and Making It Shine • Success stems from this quality as a story-teller • That said, the three most important things • Other essential things • The quality control process
  35. Success Stems From This Quality as a Story-Teller “It’s not what you know that counts, it’s whether the reader believes that you know something. This effect is called the suspension of disbelief. Oscar Collier and Frances Leighton How to Write and Sell Your First Novel
  36. Let’s talk about three of the most important ingredients in writing a successful novel…
  37. CharacterizationPlotting Action You must do all three well!
  38. Plotting
  39. “There are only two plots: The hero takes a journey and a stranger comes to town.” Timothy Spurgin “The Art of Reading” The Great Courses
  40. The Classic Plot • The writer introduces a hero or heroine who has just been – or is about to be – plunged into terrible trouble • The hero or heroine attempts to solve his or her problem but only slips deeper into trouble • As they try to climb out of the hole they’re in, complications arise, each more terrible than the one before, until the situation could not become more hopeless, then one final unthinkable complication arises and makes matters worse. • At last, deeply affected and changed by his awful experiences and intolerable circumstances, the hero learns something about himself and the human condition. He then understands what he must do to get out of the dangerous situation in which he has wound up. He takes the necessary actions and either succeeds or fails, succeeding more often than not.
  41. “You can distill anydrama – a Greek tragedy, a Shakespearian play, a modern novel, a TV drama or comedy, whatever – into a simple equation: ‘What do these guys want, why do they want it, and what’s keeping them from getting it?’” Bill Bleich Writing advice
  42. Plots • Create a compelling plot • Write a grabber opening • Write a successful ending • Create a middle that keeps the reader involved
  43. James Hall – Hit Lit • Gone with the Wind • Peyton Place • To Kill a Mockingbird • Valley of the Dolls • The Godfather • The Exorcist • Jaws • The Dead Zone • The Hunt for Red October • The Firm • The Bridges of Madison County • The Da Vinci Code
  44. Let’s take a deep-dive into one well-known way to design or deconstruct a plot….
  45. The Freytag Pyramid
  46. Let’s Deconstruct This Using a Book We All Are Familiar With • Pride and Prejudice • Ulysses • War and Peace • Anna Karenina • Don Quixote • Little Women • The Wizard of Oz
  47. The Wizard of Oz Exposition The exposition stage of the story sets the scene and introduces the characters. In The Wizard of Oz, the exposition is everything that happens from the beginning of the story to the tornado. We meet all the major characters. Dorothy runs away with Toto and meets Professor Marvel; and on her way back to the farm, Dorothy is overtaken by the storm.
  48. The Wizard of Oz Inciting Incident Next comes the inciting action, which is the event that introduces conflict into the story. This is a bit tricky in The Wizard of Oz, because there are two elements in the story that might be called the conflict: • One is the conflict between Dorothy and Miss Gulch, because Miss Gulch wants Dorothy’s dog put to sleep. This is what causes Dorothy to run away from home, leading to the blow to the head she receives during the tornado. In this sense, we might consider Miss Gulch’s threat the inciting moment. • But this conflict becomes more complicated when the tornado transports Dorothy to the Land of Oz. There, Dorothy’s house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East and kills her, and the Wicked Witch of the West threatens to kill Dorothy in revenge.
  49. The Wizard of Oz Rising Action The rising action is where the plot becomes more complicated and exciting, building tension. This includes Dorothy’s departure from Munchkinland, her meetings with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, her arrival in Emerald City; her audience with the Wizard, and her capture by the witch: • During this part of the story, small obstacles are thrown in the path of Dorothy and her companions, and the two conflicts mentioned during the inciting incident are reemphasized. • The two conflicts are then explicitly linked when the Wizard tells Dorothy he’ll help her get back to Kansas if she brings him the witch’s broom. • Dorothy and her companions then face their most difficult challenge, with Dorothy getting carried away by the flying monkeys and her companions breaking into the witch’s castle to rescue her.
  50. The Wizard of Oz Climax The climax is the most dramatic and exciting event in the story. In The Wizard of Oz, the climax comes when Dorothy and her friends are trapped in the witch’s castle, and Dorothy kills the witch by dousing her with a bucket of water. At that moment, much of the story’s tension is released because at least one of the conflicts, the one between Dorothy and the witch, is ended, and the plot begins its descent down the other side of the pyramid.
  51. The Wizard of Oz Falling Action The next element is the falling action, which is made up of events that result directly from the moment of climax. The element after that is called the resolution, where the character’s conflict is resolved: • After Dorothy has killed the witch, she take the broomstick back to the Wizard. He solves the problems of Dorothy’s three companions, and agrees to take Dorothy back to Kansas himself. • This is the falling action: it shows the results of the death of the witch, but it doesn’t resolve Dorothy’s second conflict, the fact that she wants to go home to Kansas.
  52. The Wizard of Oz Resolution The resolution comes when the Wizard accidentally takes off in his balloon without Dorothy, and Dorothy learns from Glinda the Good Witch that she could have taken herself back to Kansas at any time just by using the ruby slippers. At this point, Dorothy’s conflict is finally resolved. The threat from the witch is liquidated, and she realizes that she always had the power to go home.
  53. The Wizard of Oz Dénouement The denouement is the ending of the story, when order is restored. At this point, we are often shown the characters one more time so we can see what happened to them. In The Wizard of Oz it’s the final scene in Dorothy’s bedroom, where she is reunited with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and the now-familiar farmhands: • In some stories the denouement simply shows that order has been restored, and the world is now back to the way it was. But this isn’t usually the case, and it’s certainly not the case in The Wizard of Oz. • Dorothy is back home, but everything is not back to the way it was before she went to Oz. Dorothy’s understanding of herself and her place in the world have profoundly changed.
  54. Characterization
  55. “There are only two plots: The hero takes a journey and a stranger comes to town.” Timothy Spurgin “The Art of Reading” The Great Courses
  56. “There are only two plots: The hero takes a journey and a stranger comes to town.” Timothy Spurgin “The Art of Reading” The Great Courses
  57. Important Qualities for Heroes, Heroines and Strangers • Virtue • Competence • Courage • Likeability • Imperfections • Change: – Layers – Arcs
  58. Character Motivations • Love • Curiosity • Self-preservation • Greed • Self-discovery • Duty • Revenge
  59. Character Traits • Physical appearance • Movement and gestures • Past life • Religion • Sexuality • Vocation • Skills and talents • Fears • Dreams • Pleasures • Plans for the future • Sense of humor • Politics • Voice and speech
  60. Presenting Character Traits Thoughtfully • How many major and minor characters to have • All major characters must have a biography • Develop a “job description” for each character • You will know what your characters will do • You are writing a novel – not a movie script – You have to get your characters from Point A to Point B – Your characters are not dead when they’re off the page • What is each character doing? – On stage – Off stage
  61. Take a female character who is on her way to her high school reunion. She’s 50, attractive, divorced, and has had no contact with her graduating class since she left Iowa for Berkley in 1985. There was a guy she jilted when she went off to school. Develop her. • Physical: height, weight, hair color, best feature, worst feature, etc. • Occupation: attorney, doctor, college professor, executive, runs a startup, etc. • Personal: strengths, weaknesses, phobias, attitude toward men, attitude toward all others, etc. • Family: siblings, relationship with mom/dad, rivalries • Relationships: good/bad/difficult, marriage(s), children? Present her in a way that’s not a “police blotter”
  62. James Hall – Hit Lit • Gone with the Wind • Peyton Place • To Kill a Mockingbird • Valley of the Dolls • The Godfather • The Exorcist • Jaws • The Dead Zone • The Hunt for Red October • The Firm • The Bridges of Madison County • The Da Vinci Code
  63. .…let’s color in three characters….
  64. New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly & USA Today Best-Seller! Let’s color in one character, Anne Sullivan, Op-Center’s Deputy Director
  65. “Anne Sullivan was a retired General Services Administration super grade who had made a career in Washington. She knew all about the government, including government contracting, hiring, firing, and funding, and how to sidestep the issues. These were things Williams never had to deal with, even during his multiple tours in Washington.”
  66. “Unlike Williams, Sullivan came from money. Her father had fashioned a successful and lucrative career in finance with Bain Capital Ventures. Between that family money and her GSA retirement, she was looking forward to a comfortable life. She enjoyed the D.C. social and cultural scene and traveled often, primarily to Europe and especially to Ireland. That plan was interrupted when Williams recruited her— charmed her, really, she readily admitted—to be his deputy.”
  67. New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly & USA Today Best- Seller! Let’s color in one character, Kate Bigelow, Commanding Officer, USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) Freedom-Class Littoral Combat Ship
  68. “Kate Bigelow was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. She’d gone to the Academy for two reasons: to play lacrosse and to sing. Coming out of Montgomery Blair Prep in Silver Spring, Maryland, her two passions had been playing lacrosse and singing in her school glee club and church choir. She was an all- state midfielder and also had a strong voice. Her grades were good if not outstanding, but the Academy women’s lacrosse coach saw her play and liked what she saw. Lacrosse was a rough sport, even the woman’s game, and Kate Bigelow, while owning a technically sound game, was not above flattening an opposing player with a legal hit. She started for three years on the lacrosse team, beating Army two of those three years, and had sung in the Catholic Choir and the Naval Academy Glee Club.”
  69. “Kate had graduated in the upper half of the bottom third of the Class of 2002. She’d never really considered a full career in the Navy as a seagoing officer, two things intervened that kept her from leaving the service. She found she liked U.S. Navy sailors and she had a knack for leading them. Secondly, she found command intoxicating. There was nothing like it on the outside, so she stayed in the Navy. She had previously commanded an MCM ship like Defender that now followed them out of Sasebo.”
  70. New from Braveship Books Let’s color in one character, Lieutenant Laura Peters, Intelligence Officer, U.S. Southern Command
  71. For Laura Peters, it was an opportunity for professional growth that might not come her way again. It was not surprising she loved what she was doing. The daughter and only child of a Navy chief petty officer, she had been the apple of her father's eye. Master Chief Donald Peters had risen through the ranks as far as he could, but he always wanted to be an officer. That goal, unfortunately, had eluded him. When it was clear his marriage would produce no sons, he regaled Laura with the opportunities that beckoned in the Navy. The master chief knew enough about how the Navy worked and what it looked for in its officers—and particularly its need to recruit more women officers—that he groomed his daughter throughout high school to make her a shoe-in for winning a Navy ROTC scholarship.
  72. She had thrived at the University of Virginia, earning top grades, and lettering in cross-country, squash, and tennis. Sensing that the Navy was still not enlightened enough to fully accept women as equal partners commanding ships and aircraft squadrons, she opted for the intelligence field upon graduation, correctly surmising that it would provide a more level professional playing field and afford her the opportunity to prove herself and advance through the ranks. In her seven years since graduation she had sought out only the toughest assignments, usually registering firsts, breaking ground where female officers had not gone before.
  73. Here’s a better example
  74. When he finished packing, he walked out onto the third-floor porch of the barracks brushing the dust from his hands, a very neat and deceptively slim young man in the summer khakis that were still early morning fresh. James Jones (From Here to Eternity, opening sentence)
  75. "Jones packs a hell of a lot into that first line. He tells you it's summer, he tells you it's morning, he tells you you're on an Army post with a soldier who's obviously leaving for someplace, and he gives you a thumbnail description of his hero. That's a good opening line." Ed McBain in Killer's Payoff
  76. …plot?...characterization?...which is more important?
  77. Plot or Characterization • You have to have plot to make the reader turn pages • People are the story and the whole story ???????????????????????????????????????????????? • Plot has the entertainment value to pull the reader along • The characters are the vehicle, the tools through which you tell your story • Readers want you to tell them a story • Dialogue brings your characters to life!
  78. Action
  79. “There is only one recipe for a bestseller and it is a very simple one. If you look back on all the bestsellers you have read, you will find they all have one quality; you simply have to turn the page.” Ian Fleming How to Write a Thriller
  80. What About Action? • Action evolves naturally from the plot • There is no “formula” for having action in your novel • As Clancy said, don’t overthink the action • That said, here are some things to consider: – Different kinds of novels lend themselves to more or less – Write all the action you can – then consider Goldilocks – If riveting, hold-your-breath action is anywhere – up front – Balance scene and summary to bound action scenes
  81. But That’s Not All! (Mainstream and Genre) • High Concept (Think in movie terms) – The Coronado Conspiracy – For Duty and Honor • Theme – The Coronado Conspiracy – For Duty and Honor
  82. Selling Your Novel to an Agent or a Publisher
  83. “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
  84. Selling Your Novel to an Agent or a Publisher • In many ways, it’s all about the sale to an agent • Getting an agent to read your proposal and ms • Packaging yourself professionally • The query letter and the pitch • The Treatment • The Narrative Outline
  85. It is All About Getting the Sale • Query agents – get the statistics on your side: – Forty years ago – 30% of books were agented – In the last decade – Over 85% of books were agented • Small publishers – you will likely bear some risk – Probably no advance – Limited print run • Be your own agent – to find an agent: Richard Curtis How to Be Your Own Literary Agent
  86. Getting an Agent to Read Your Manuscript • It starts with being familiar with books in your “field” • Then you find out which agents agented those books • Stay in the library: Get contact info for agents • Go back to what you’ve learned about query letters: – High Concept (back to the movies) – Treatment – Narrative Outline – Full Manuscript • Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: One example
  87. Let’s “Deconstruct” a Treatment and a Narrative Outline
  88. Let’s Deconstruct a Novel Treatment • Cover • Organization • Organizing Impulse and High Concept • The “Old” OpCenter Dies • The “New” OpCenter is Born • New Character Details – Preamble – Those who spend a great deal of time physically at OpCenter – Those who deal with crises overseas in each scenario – Those who deal with crises domestically in each scenario • OpCenter Plot and Scenario Plan – Preamble – Short Plot Synopsis • For us, this was 17,000+ words
  89. Let’s Deconstruct a Narrative Outline • Cover • Front matter • Chapter summaries – Separate sections – One or two paragraphs per section • Epilogue • For us, this was 19,000+ words
  90. Promoting What Someone Publishes
  91. “You are the CEO of your own career.” David Sona Navy Transition Course Spring 2000
  92. Promoting What Someone Publishes • What you should think twice before doing – Pestering friends and family to buy your book – Taking your books from event to event to sell • What you should think of doing instead – Create anticipation for your book – Establish a world-class online presence – Use social media to the extent writing is still first – Write about your book’s subject matter – everywhere • We’ll cover these subjects over the next two weeks
  93. Resources • E.E. Forster Aspects of the Novel • Francine Prose Reading Like a Writer • Richard Curtis How To Be Your Own Literary Agent • James Hall Hit Lit • Dr. Linda Seger – The Art of Adaptation – Advanced Screenwriting • Robert Masello – Robert’s Rules of Writing – Writer Tells All • The Great Courses, especially, Jane Friedman How to Publish Your Book • Bob Mayer (Writing tips on Slide Share via LinkedIn): =1&q=Bob+Mayer&qid=e14407c8-676f-4ab8-9857- 82cab373669b&searchfrom=header&sort=relevance
  94. “Being a comparatively successful writer is a good life. You don’t have to work at it all the time and you carry your office around in your head. And you are far more aware of the world around you. Writing makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living, though you might not think so to look at most human beings is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product, even if you only write thrillers.” Ian Fleming How to Write a Thriller
  95. Slides Posted: E-mail address: E-mail me if you’d like: The Treatment and Narrative Outline for Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes
  96. Next Week
  97. Establishing an Online Presence • Review of weeks one through four – Writing in general – Writing for and selling for publication – Writing and selling non-fiction – Writing and selling novels • Developing the Heart of the Story • Establishing an Online Presence – What makes your online material unique? – Beating the competition for “eyes” – Balancing content and entertainment – Doing-it-yourself…or…?
  98. Optional Homework Assignment for February 20 • Developing the Heart of the Heart of a Story – Even if you’re not keen on writing a novel, come up with an idea for a story, any idea and write it down • Establishing an Online Presence – Think of a few writers that you enjoy – “Google” their names and find their author websites – Pick the one that impresses you the most – Walk us through why it’s impressive
  99. Backups
  100. "It is utterly implausible that a mathematical formula should make the future known to us, and those who think it can would once have believed in witchcraft." Jacob Bernoulli
  101. "It is utterly implausible that a mathematical formula should make the future known to us, and those who think it can would once have believed in witchcraft." Jacob Bernoulli