Friday, December 11, 2009

Aspiring Advice: Beginning with an Epic

Until my sophomore year of High School, I gave little thought to the craft of writing, let alone read anything besides the funnies and Goosebumps. I'd go to my English classes, wait through the motions, read a required book from the 50's, 20's, or 1800's, and correct grammatically incorrect sentences on an overhead projector. Boring. Borring. Seem familiar to anyone? My grades were never impressive, C+ at the most, and my classmates weren't much better or interested either. It was at that moment in my life, however, when a thought entered my mind, a line of narrative, a plot of cosmological proportions, so vast in scale, that I was compelled to construct sets and custom characters out of my Lego collection to help me visualize my ideas. This wasn't enough. The story had to be told. It would not leave me alone. Pen and paper were the only tools that I had at my disposal, so I started to write, seriously, for the first time. A year and a half later, I finished my first novel, a Science Fiction novel, The Origin. Let me tell you. It's epic. Even Cameron's Avatar looks inferior to what I've envisioned in this fictional universe.

There's just one problem. Okay, several.

1: I hardly read anything before I started to write. Ender's Game was the first novel that I had read on my own free will beforehand.
2: Rules of grammar, sentence structure, world building, plot development, etc, was completely foreign to me.
3: I did not let anyone read what I was writing until the first draft was finished.
4: I never attended a workshop, a writing class, or a critique session, nor did I know of their existence.

To make a long story short, my first novel is thoroughly unreadable. It amounted to nothing more than 140k words of weak character building, shoddy blocking, and cheesy Sci-Fi elements that would make Ed Wood cringe. When I presented the first five pages of my 9th draft to a critique session for the first time, ten years later, a moderator went as far as to say, "That was a waste of five pages." You know who you are and I thank you for the long overdue wake up call.

The only thing that kept the story remotely interesting for the poor souls who actually read the beast were the original theories, the proposition of humanity's next phase of evolution, and the complex political system. Members of my family feel that it's a story worth telling, but I'll have to start over from scratch. To make matters worse, I drafted two sequels. Hey. At least I can say I've written a trilogy, right? Not only that, but my grades in English turned to A's. I earned nothing less than that from then on. College professors appreciate a good research paper.

Here's my advice. You may not want to write your epic first. If you are venturing into the craft of writing for the first time, you will want to learn about writing and practice writing before you actually begin something huge. This will help you save years (a decade in my case) of figuring out your voice through trial and error. If you're up to the challenge, there's no stopping you. I won't tell you to not write your epic first. Some have managed to publish their first book (some epic) and become a best seller. That's not likely for most of us, however. Draft short stories. They don't have to be anything groundbreaking, but if you learn how to catch the eye of a reader through a short story first, than a novel will be much easier for you to construct. It doesn't hurt to read plenty of shorts and novels too, particularly the genre and the market that you want to write for.

While you're doing this, brainstorm your epic. Think it through and chart it out. More to come on brainstorming next Friday.

That's my advice for the week. Blog's closed for the weekend. Come back next week for an update and more Word Rouse.

-David Powers King

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