How to fill the blank page

You’re very determined: after evaluating your alternatives, after pondering your ideas, now you have no doubts left. You will write your book!

Just remember: the result of all your efforts is at risk of falling on a publisher’s desk together with thousands other Covid-19 literary products, so you really want your manuscript to stand out. How? Here are 4 useful technical tips — no guarantee your book will be published, though, sorry.

1. Take all the time you need

Don’t be hasty, do not be afraid of wasting time. Experiment, rewrite, edit, change. Remember that “haste makes waste”. It would be a pity to actually waste a good story just because you can’t wait to write the words THE END.

2. Experiment

An evergreen tip is to keep a journal.

Not only is it therapeutic, especially when times are hard. A journal is perfect for all sorts of experiment, which allows you to find your voice, your style, the genre you feel more comfortable with. That’s because in a journal you don’t have to concentrate much on the story, so you can give all your attention to the formal aspect of writing.

Photo by My Life Journal on Unsplash

You can write about your day, your feelings, your thoughts, memories, ideas… A journal is usually very personal — which will hopefully prevent you from attempting publication one day.

How can you experiment? Here’s a couple ideas:

- Write a letter.

To whom? You can start with “Dear Journal”, if you like, but you can pretend you’re writing to your granny, to a friend (real or imaginary), to a super-hero, to your favorite literary character…

- Write a newspaper article.

How would you write about your day, if it were a piece of news? Make believe you’re a reporter and remember the 5 questions you have to ask yourself when writing an article: Who? Where? When? Why? How?

- Write a piece for a magazine.

First of all, you have to decide what kind of magazine you’re writing for: is it going to be a fashion magazine, a car magazine, a finance magazine? Think back to your day and write about it appropriately.

- Write an interview.

This is going to be a good self-analysis moment, believe me. Ask yourself interesting questions and give yourself well-constructed answers.

- Write a short story.

Write about the details, describe the setting and the characters, add a plot twist… Pick a genre and write about your day as if it were a love story, a thriller, a spy story, a fantasy or sci-fi story, a horror story or a humorous story. There’s 7 days in a week: if you change genre every day, at the end of the week you’ll have a pretty good idea of which is your favorite writing genre.

3. Build your world

Your diligence is going to be rewarded.

You experimented, you wrote, wrote, and wrote. You filled page after page with words and thoughts, trying out different styles and genres. You realized that Comic Sans isn’t entertaining as you thought, and you learned that listening to Mozart increases (or diminishes) your productivity. Kudos! You’re now ready to build your book. Oh, yes. As in many paths in life, preparation is crucial in writing, too.

Of course you’re able to fill a whole notebook with words with no preparation whatsoever. I know. However, preparation makes the difference between a book, and a good book.

Worldbuilding doesn’t mean you have to explain or describe everything in your book — unless you’re going to write a handbook or a travel guide.

Photo by Jeff Finley on Unsplash

Letting the reader grasp details of your world through the story is always the most elegant option. If you choose a fantasy or sci-fi setting which is considerably different from the real world, you’ll have to clearly explain and show all the details that the reader needs to know in order to follow the story. No more than that, though. Remember: you don’t have to explain everything. The reader is going to be really bored, if you do, and your editor will wish to get killed soon. What’s important is: you have to know everything. You need to know about your world and setting as well as you know your own home, through all your 5 senses (okay, maybe 4, unless you’re used to tasting your couch or licking the dining room table).

Internet is your friend:

- If your novel is set in a real place, you can use Google Maps in order to check distances and know where’s what. Find information about the city/place you want to set your story in and learn about anecdotes, squares and monuments that the people living there use as landmarks, and so on.

- If your novel is set in a borrowed setting (i.e. an imaginary world that someone else invented, such as Walhalla, Mt. Olympus, Atlantis…) remember to study it well. This will prevent you from making mistakes that a fan will spot immediately.

- If your novel is set in a world that you made up, ask yourself what makes a real place… real? Draw a map (there’s plenty of online resources to do that). Your imaginary world must feel real to your readers.

[A couple of novels with good “made-up” setting: the “Thursday Next” series by Jasper Fforde; the “Invisible Library” series by Genevieve Cogman; the sci-fi “Luna” saga by Ian McDonald]

4. Be coherent

Have you ever heard of the “suspension of disbelief”?

It means the following: when readers open your book, they enter your world and they need to stay there until the last page. You have to write such things and in such a way that this happens and the suspension of disbelief is not broken.

Coherence is always important, but it is crucial in fantasy novels. Why? Isn’t a fantasy novel the place where anything can happen? Yes, it is, but remember about the suspension of disbelief: what happens in the story must be plausible inside your setting, events must follow the rules you set. Donkeys do not fly in the real world, but if you decide that, in your book, they do, then they can. Beware, though: if donkeys fly, they do so always, not only when you need them to. If they suddenly don’t, you need a reason why.

In a sci-fi setting, pay attention to technology and physics. Don’t be ashamed and ask for help. If you don’t know anyone who can assist you, then you should subscribe to a forum and ask your questions there, to make sure what you write is not a complete nonsense. If you want to put a Black Hole in our Solar System , for example, you need to check which kind of planet could still be there — if any.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Should you find out that the setting you have thought of is impossible, or if you realize that an explanation would need twenty chapters and the readers would forget all about the story, you can find an elegant way to bypass the need for it, like Neal Stephenson did in his novel “Seveneves”: the Moon has been split into seven pieces that are bound to fall on Earth quite soon. Nobody knows how that happened, but all governments decide not to dwell on the issue, because there is very little time to prepare before the planet becomes inhabitable. They have to concentrate all their efforts on finding a way for the human race to survive, instead of trying to understand what happened and how. So the reader never knows what happened to the moon, because that’s not the story. The story is how humankind survives this disaster.

Next time we’re going to learn how to write an outline and why. Don’t miss it!

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Chiara De Giorgi

Chiara De Giorgi

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Dreamer, reader, writer, storyteller, editor, translator, traveler.