How to write a (fantasy) novel

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.  (Anne Lamott)

The above quote is quite true, the beginning is absolutely terrible. First line is the hardest, because you’ll try to impress your readers with a monumental phrase, which – absolutely – must remain imprinted in reader’s mind and soul, forever.

Nonsense! First line will always be, if not catastrophic, “at least” lamentable. You will change it – for sure – at least twice. Trust me! Then you’ll have to finish the first page. You managed it in the end? Congratulations! You have taken the first step toward immortality: you are about to become a writer.

What satisfaction you’ll have when you’ll go on the second page: “Wow! I wrote the first one!” You will feel like those guys who go to the gym and draw a heavy dumbbell twice, then looked around for approving glances: “Huh? Am I strong, or what?” From now on, however, it’s easier. You know how it is: it’s hard to do your first million, the rest will come by itself (well, maybe … I do not know … but I heard from others that that’s so it works). From now on the gaps will begin to fill: the characters outlines, the plot, the features, the emotions…

You will start to create images for the reader, images that will help you penetrate his mind, creating that “state of well” that he/she has been waiting all day long.

You don’t need to write down simple phrases, but true “verbal paintings”. OK, let me explain for the uninitiated. Let us assume that, in chapter three, I would have used a “flat” description: Robert came into the room and saw a bed, a cupboard and a table full of fruit.

This description will awaken any emotion in you? I’m sure not. It would have been a description like in a “crime scene report”. Instead, you will find the passage in the book describe things quite differently:

As soon as he went in, Robert noticed with amazement the huge canopied bed which dominated the entire room. He then saw the wardrobe, the table and chairs, all drenched in the sunlight that flew into the room through a wide window.

Clean, fresh air, scented with jasmine and mint could be felt through the room, inviting him to rest. On the table there stood a bowl of fresh fruit which delighted the senses: red apples from the Kingdom of Clouds, big and juicy grapes hand-picked from the hills of Akros, oranges ripened by the warm sun in the Kingdom of Water and all sort of other kinds of fruit that Robert had never seen before.

Something else, right? Have I transposed you into the room, next to Robert? Already salivating, thinking about the grapes from Akros? Images, images, images … use the details, creating to the readers the feeling of being there, into the story, sitting at the table with the hero, fighting shoulder to shoulder, suffering with him, laughing together…

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.  (E.L. Doctorow)

At one point It will happen to have an ethical issue: can I use elements from other books? I admit, I had the same problem, somewhere around page twenty. I found the answer in an article on Bloomsbury Publishing web page, “guilty” of publishing the Harry Potter series: “Renowned writers’ tips for novice writers.” A writer (I apologize, because I don’t remember her name) said that (I quote from memory) it’s OK to use elements from other sources – books, movies – as long as you create your own story because after all the books written throughout history it is very difficult to conceive something new. She was right. I thought that all the stories (ancient or modern) have dragons, elves, wizards, animals that can talk, heroes who can handle fire or water, magic realms or giants, as in detective stories, you can find thieves, criminals, cops, detectives…

Having solved this problem, I found myself before another challenge: finding suitable names for places and characters. Whenever I thought of a fancy name I was looking on the internet to check if someone else has used that name. You’ll be amazed: every word you invent, you will find it on the internet. Because another madman already thought to it, or because it means something in another language, or because they are actual places or persons, about whose existence you had no clue. Believe me, after a while you will abandon the research and you’ll try to create strange names, without check them anymore, hoping that nobody had ever thought about them.

When – finally – you’ll get rid from all these anxieties, the story will start to flow and you will end up on page one hundred (how happy I was then), then two hundred, three hundred… depends only on the imagination that you have and the talent to “split hairs in four”.

Finally you will lay out the last word of the book, as the artist puts his last stroke on the canvas. You will smile and you’ll feel a huge satisfaction. Is that unique moment, when you’ll reach the Everest of self-gratification and you’ll find it worthwhile, because – isn’t it? – all good things have an end.

Even if you’ll not succeed to publish, my advice is to not give up writing, because You fail only if you stop writing. (Ray Bradbury)

Good luck!

This post is contributed as Guest post by I.B. George.

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