There’s a conversation that I have with a lot of writers, and today I went to visit the old comic book store I used to frequent, as it is changing hands as of tomorrow, and the owner, Jay, brought up a point.
Let’s take a jump to my wife’s business. You may or may not know that she sews bowling and western shirts. She took an order for forty shirts in November and almost lost her mind. Sewing the same patterns over and over, up to four shirts a day, was incredibly strenuous. She mentioned this to Jay, and he said that when he was starting the store he often took on too much and occasionally dropped the ball. They were both looking at the paycheque and thinking that they couldn’t turn down the money. I get that, totally. When my wife was first talking about the order I was so excited for her. In the end she did an excellent job, but she won’t be taking that large of an order for a while.
How does this relate to writing? To the conversation I keep having with young writers? They often say something along the lines of ‘I got this great idea for a series.’ Then they talk about a twelve-book run or something of the sort. They usually start telling me about it, and try as I might to pay attention, I gloss over. It’s like listening to someone talk about a dream they had. It’s interesting for a moment, but for some reason I can never keep my mind on what they’re saying.
Here’s my advice. Write a book. Write a story. Heck, write a scene. Don’t write a series off the bat. I’ve written a number of novels at this point, and I can tell you after 80 000 words I’m a little sick of writing about them, and that’s basic novel length. I couldn’t imagine writing 300 000 words, which is the a little more than the first Game of Thrones novel, and the series is over 1 800 000 words and that’s without the upcoming addition. I can’t imagine how tiresome that would be, personally. But did Martin start off with his almost two million word epic? No, he started with short stories, then novels. He started by taking on reasonable challenges.
Then there are people who say they have only one idea. Bull-poopy! Everyone has stories to tell, and writers daydream anyway, so it’s impossible not to have ideas come up organically. I have my next novel in my head and two short stories, plus one that I may or may not do, or might change into another short story. It’s all there, and if I never do anything with an idea, that’s fine, because I have so many more coming. Don’t worry that it’s your best, and possibly only idea for a novel. You’ll have more. You can even link them to your epic if you’re set on it.
Why not, you ask. Why not start with a series? Well, in my experience everyone who has talked about the huge massive series gets very little done on it. Maybe a few chapters. It’s too overwhelming. They spend all of their time ‘world building’ and coming up with ancient wars and future technology that never actually makes it to paper, or was never intended to. It’s a little masturbatory, I have to admit. It’s fun, but it isn’t meant for anyone except yourself. And there’s nothing wrong with it, but it isn’t going to get anything done. Sorry. That metaphor was starting to go in a weird direction.
I read a book that was obviously meant to be a series. It was interesting, and took on a strange POV which I was enjoying, but then it just ended. No conclusion, no epiphanies, just an end, and an instruction to buy the second book. I didn’t. Instead I just was left hanging, blandly, and unimpressed. It was a fine novel up until that point, but I wanted to read a good story, and I didn’t get it, so why would I keep reading? In hopes of chasing the ending? Nope. Instead I just went onto another book and pretty much forgot about it except for the irritation at not getting an ending.
So build your world, a bit. Start small. You want to write fantasy? Make the rules up, hint at a past, but write the story. Binders full of world-building might be nice for you, but no one else sees it, and if you really want to share your world, you have to write it down. I often use the word ‘percolate,’ as in ‘I have this idea percolating right now.’ It grows. It changes, and when you’re writing, the first draft isn’t the one you’re going to be publishing, so add things in, tag them to remind yourself to go back and make sure it fits with other details, but then keep going. I recently had a character who’s father was dead, and later I mentioned that his father was living elsewhere with another woman. It didn’t ruin anything. I just went through and deleted the bit about his father living elsewhere and made sure he was really dead. Done. I didn’t need to have it set in stone beforehand as he wasn’t the main character. It’s fine.
My final point always seems to be the same one in all these articles. Write. Just write. Start with stories, but write. Don’t worry about the future, about upcoming series and fame and fortune. (Most writers are neither famous nor rich, sorry to say.) So get a story. Show it to friends. Get feedback, and rewrite. It doesn’t have to be complicated.