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Archive for December, 2012

IMG_0061Writing Is Like a Christmas Tree

copyright 2012 by Sherry Garland

Not so long ago I met a person who really, really wants to write a novel but has no idea where to begin. He asked me: “How do I start?” Recently, as I was decorating the Christmas tree, my mind was stewing over his question, when it occurred to me that writing a novel is very much like trimming a Christmas Tree.

First, you search for the perfect tree. Maybe you go to a tree farm or to the local Home Depot or a tree lot. You look at trees until you find the one that has the perfect form and limb structure. The tree is like the basic story outline for your novel. You know it has to have certain aspects to be a novel — character, plot, setting and so forth. You have an idea for your novel, but you don’t have all the details yet. A rough outline will help you visualize the novel before you start.

The next step is to put lights on the tree. Some people will put all clear lights; some will have all red or multi-colored. Some will use big lights, others the tiny ones, or a mixture of both. To me, the lights are like the novel’s setting. It’s an aspect that will affect the novel, but usually stays in the background.

Next, you start putting on the major decorations — these are bigger and heavier and require a strong branch for support. In a novel, this is like the major points of the story — the main characters, the main goals, the main conflicts, the climax and resolution. You have to get these down first–you have to know who is going to be in the story and the main things that will happen.

Then you put the medium sized ornaments on the tree. You start filling in the gaps — maybe a long cylinder here and there. For the novel, this is the increased development of the characters and plot. You add secondary characters,  more scenes and sequels, more conflict and tension, more twists and turns.

Next, you add the smallest ornaments — the cute little miniatures that add joy and fill in the smallest of spaces. This would be minute details for your novel — more descriptions of people and things.  If it’s a historical novel, you double check your facts and add little bits and pieces to make sure the story has the feeling of the time period. If it is set in another country or culture, you add details to capture that locale or culture.

Now, you step back and look at the tree. You will notice that maybe you have too many red ornaments next to each other, or three green lights in a row, so you start moving things around. Maybe that ornament that your Great Aunt Mabel gave you is really hideous, so you tuck it to the back side where it won’t be noticed. This correlates to revising your novel for the first time. After I finish my rough draft, I like to put the manuscript “on the shelf” for a while and come back and read it with fresh eyes. Then I start cutting and adding and rearranging. These are often major revisions. At this point, the author may even feel like the whole thing is hopeless. But don’t give up. Have faith that the manuscript will eventually look great, just like that Christmas tree will look good.Kato - 2009 - 3

There will be breakage! As you redo parts of the Christmas tree, you will probably run into a few problems. I have these adorable little ceramic white doves that are hollow so that you can fit each one over a tree light. But you have to clip it to a branch and it gets very difficult. Then there is the cat who thinks the tree is put there as his personal plaything. I have to move low-hanging ornaments out of paw’s reach. Your novel, too, may have to go through several revisions as you work out problems of plot or dialog or characterization. After awhile, you may think it is perfect, only to have a critique group knock it down. Don’t get discouraged; don’t give up; in the end, all will work out for the best.

Lastly, you add those final little touches to make the tree sparkle — maybe icicles or candy canes. This is your final editing. Look for grammatical errors or awkward sentence syntax. Check for misspelled words; use strong verbs and nouns; avoid overuse of adjectives and adverbs; replace passive verbs with active ones. Make sure the manuscript is formatted correctly.

Voila! There is your beautiful Christmas tree in all its shimmering glory. And there is your finished manuscript ready to be shipped off as a gift to some lucky editor.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!  May 2013 be the year we all sell beaucoup books.

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