Thursday, June 30, 2011

Read What You Write

6/29/11 -- I gave a talk last month and was asked to tell about writing my first novel, Where Love Once Lived. My college degrees are in mathematics and computer science, so all I could do was tell them about my experience. I must admit I went through a long learning curve for this book, taking more than six years to go from a serious first draft to a completed book.

Before I dissuade you from writing a novel yourself, let me add that I finished my second book in less than a year. The Vengeance Squad is not for sale yet, but all that's left are a few mechanical steps.

I prepared a two-page handout for the talk I gave last month and I'll send you a copy if you email me a request ( However, two pages only allows for the highlights. What I want to do today and in future articles is to fill in the list with more details. Today, we'll begin with step one:

Read the type of novel you want to write.

I confess this is simplistic, but it helped me when I started and it may help you. Especially if your formal training is not in creative writing. This simple statement says to study the competition. Read books similar to what you want to write and analyze their construction. I bet you are already reading such books anyway. If not, perhaps you need to consider writing a different book.

This doesn't mean you can't enjoy reading other types of books. I read a lot of different books. However, it was Jan Karon's Mitford series that made me think Where Love Once Lived could be a book. All I had at the time was a germ of an idea. I didn't know how to get started writing a novel, but I read all the books in the series, and examined several in detail noting the length of each book. I looked at to find books in the same category as the Mitford books.

At Home in Mitford, for example, is in two categories:

Books > Literature & Fiction
Books > Religion & Spirituality > Fiction

From the page, clicking on Fiction in the second item above will take you to a list of all books in that category. When I did so while preparing this article, this particular list contained 21,669 books. To make the list valuable to you. Change the order from bestselling to publication date by using the pull-down menu on the top right, then review a page of two of the what's being published now in your category. You'll see what's popular, who's publishing what, as well as what's coming soon.

I used one of Jan Karon's books for this example. To do this for any book, go to the book's Amazon page and scroll down near the bottom of the page and look for this header: Look for Similar Items by Category.

As I mentioned in another blog article, picking the right categories can sell books.  See:

In my case, I studied several Christian novels to learn to write. As I learned more about the craft from taking classes, I had to stop reading the Jan Karon books because the point of view was different from what I was doing. I'll tell you more about taking classes in a future step. The next step in my a two-page handout is:

Study genres and subgenres. Determine which one best suits the story you have in mind.

Join me for that discussion next.

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