From my work on Yahoo!Answers, here is a third set of questions from folks who are working on various writing projects, along with my answers:
Question #1 – How many times should a story change while you’re writing it?
I’m currently writing a book, and as I work on it, I find myself making numerous changes. Characters who are romantically involved with one another become antagonistic, settings change radically, conflicts shift, and characters develop different purposes. When you are writing, do you make changes like these?
Answer to Question #1
The time and effort that goes into creating a finished piece of writing, especially fiction, far exceeds that which most people are willing to invest. The writing process includes two major steps: 1) the production of the raw material (rough draft) and 2) the shaping of that material into a finished product (editing). The first of these is a singular, magical experience, and the second is an arduous, seemingly never-ending struggle.
It appears as though you are still fashioning your rough draft. Once you have conceived the entire story, you will be ready to move to the editing phase. Unlike the rough draft, the editing requires many drafts to complete. For nonfiction articles of medium length (1,500 words or less), I do approximately ten drafts to produce a final piece. For short fiction, the process takes longer, usually around 20 drafts.
Tying up the loose ends in long fiction is complicated, and the editing effort required is far greater than for shorter pieces. Completing my first novel took more than 100 drafts, and I have put similar amounts of energy into other extended works. (I define a draft as reading the manuscript and making all the changes I can identify at the time. Each set of corrections solves some problems and reveals others; thus, the need for subsequent drafts.)
Writing a novel is a difficult, labor-intensive enterprise, so you need not feel that anything is wrong just because you make a lot of alterations. When I finish each writing session, I ask myself the following question: Is the draft better now than it was when I started working on it? If I have worked diligently, the answer is always yes.
My advice to you is to continue writing, editing, rewriting, and reediting your work, and eventually you will have a novel that is far superior to the initial draft. Even if it’s not a bestseller, you will have learned a lot and will be better prepared to tackle your next writing project.
Question #2 – Should I write a prologue to my book?
I am writing a fantasy/romance/action novel, and I am considering adding a prologue. Is this a good idea?
Answer to Question #2
A prologue is a preliminary portion that foreshadows events that occur later in a book. It supplies information that the author is unable to incorporate effectively into the story. Although it does not always weaken the narrative, many editors perceive that it does. Generally, editors and publishers assume that a writer who needs a prologue is unable to craft an effective first chapter.
Prologues have fallen out of favor with editors and publishers, because they tend to dampen the impact of the book’s initial paragraphs. After writing the book, you should examine the beginning, middle, climax, and ending to see if they function well together, and only if an irresolvable problem surfaces should you do a prologue.
You include a prologue in a manuscript you send to a publisher at the risk of the piece’s being rejected without a fair reading. Add a prologue only if you have no other choice. Normally, the time you spend writing a prologue would be much better spent crafting a spellbinding opening chapter.
Question #3 – Can you help me write a vampire story?
I want to write a story about vampires, but I don’t know much about them. Would you give me a tutorial? I’ve not read any vampire books, so anything will be helpful.
Answer to Question #3
You can do one of two things—read books and articles about vampires and attempt to glean from them the details you want to use in your novel, or dive straight into the writing and make up the rules as you go. Nothing requires you to give your vampires preset characteristics. For the purposes of your story, vampires can be anything you want them to be. It’s a matter of convincing your readers to suspend their disbelief for the time it takes to read the book.
Once you have constructed the fictional world in which your characters live, you must obey your own rules, or you’ll alienate your audience. Readers dislike being misled, so remaining within the confines of the imaginary setting you create is important. Some time ago, I wrote a novel about a dragon, and I purposely refrained from researching dragon lore beforehand in order to avoid tainting my own creativity with preconceived notions about dragons.
My suggestion is that you write a rough draft of your story, establishing the rules as you imagine them, and then read about vampires in order to see if you want to make any adjustments. Your final draft may be quite different from the initial one, but if you write the story before reviewing related materials, you will retain the wonderful spontaneity that is central to the art of fiction writing.
Question #4 – May I ask some questions about writing a novel?
I recently finished writing a 95,000-word novel that has taken me three years to complete. The story is a romance-mystery, with a few compelling twists, and is interesting, as I have a vivid imagination. The problem is that I am not a good writer. My ideas flow well, but when crafting descriptive passages, I find myself at a loss. Do you have any advice on how I can improve at describing settings and helping readers relate to my characters? I shall greatly appreciate any assistance you provide.
Answer to Question #4
Practice, practice, practice! You’ve only begun the process. Good writers spend thousands of hours perfecting their skills. At this point, you have two choices. You can set your novel aside and write another one, incorporating into the second book what you’ve learned from working on the first. Or you can continue to refine the piece you’ve finished, rewriting and reediting it as you hone your writing abilities. I’ve used both approaches, and I can assure you that either method will further you as a writer.
That said, the best way to improve your descriptive passages and the identification of your readers with your characters is through assiduous editing. Once you sharpen your editing skills, you will be able to reshape a mundane first draft into an artistic final manuscript, and many of the problems you see at earlier stages will disappear magically.
You can solve the writing problem you cite through writing, editing, rewriting, reediting, and more reediting. The polishing process is the same for writers as for wielders of other skills. Artists put many final brush strokes on their paintings. Automobile mechanics fine tune engines to run smoothly. Professional golfers work diligently on tiny aspects of their games. Similarly, writers must thoroughly edit their work in order to achieve the impeccable results they desire.