Writing a novel: Fiction manuscript writing services & tips.
By- Charlene Keel
To say I’m a Stephen King fan is an understatement. His writing entices me, thrills me and satisfies me, as a reader, an author and a ghostwriter. I’ve learned more about writing from reading his books than from any other author (except, perhaps, Peggy Webb, who taught me about the dreaded passive voice).
Maybe it’s because Stephen King writes popular fiction, unabashedly and unashamedly. He writes for the common man — or all of us, not just the intellectuals. He makes his characters, settings and situations come alive so readers feel them as real. And speaking of real, what he writes for his characters is really how real people talk.
Years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles, I came across King’s autobiographical, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I was between TV writing gigs (after having written for Fantasy Island and Days of Our Lives, and creating a series called Rituals), and it appeared it would be a prolonged drought. It seemed a good time to get back to writing books. Fearing an attack of writer’s block at the thought of starting a novel, I latched on to On Writing, which was also available as an audio book.
It was perfect. I could listen to King’s advice in my car, driving the 20 miles of freeway it took to get to my temporary survival telephone survey job. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft confirmed what I was doing right and taught me how to change what I was doing wrong. While it was a revelation and an inspiration, I still didn’t feel ready to tackle any of the three ideas I had for novels simmering in the back of my mind. Besides, I had to find a way to make some money. Telephone surveys were not paying well. I decided to become a ghostwriter.
On my way home from what I jokingly called dialing-for-dollars (joking helps during those lean times every writer goes through), I stopped by the Hollywood Reporter to place an ad. It said something like:
Always wanted to write a book? I can help.
Experienced, published author
Can get it down on paper and show you
How to query publishers.
Not long after I left, a man also stopped in at the Hollywood Reporter wanting to place an ad for a ghostwriter. The kindly classified-ad clerk gave him my number. As a young soldier, Paul Wineman had spent his military career in Iran during the reign of the Shah and was there years later, when the Shah fell. He wanted to tell his life story but since much of his mission was classified, the only way he could do it was as fiction. He had recorded every detail in real time, during the years it was happening, on (what was by then an old) reel-to-reel tape deck.
It was fascinating work, from transcribing the tapes to finishing the final draft. Seventh Dawn of Destiny is still available on Amazon, and it saved my house and my car and satisfied my regular need for nutrition.
When I started ghostwriting, there was some artistic and emotional conflict. On one hand, I felt writing someone else’s story would take the pressure off. Instead of trying to create and execute my own, I could follow someone else’s direction. I also thought (and rightly so) it would ease me back into the process of writing a book, after so many years of writing for television. But I wondered how I’d deal with the potential angst of creating something I would ultimately have to give up — especially if it found a publisher.
Then it hit me. To quote my favorite philosopher, the late great Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Change the way you look at things, and the things you’re looking at will change.”
So I did. I realized that as a ghostwriter, I would be helping someone else’s dream come true. I mean, who hasn’t dreamed of someday writing a best-selling novel? I figured it would be a pretty good use of my talent, and it has been.
A few of my clients actually did find publishers, and some of them even mention my contribution in their acknowledgements. I’ve met many interesting, busy people with fascinating stories to tell but without the time or ability to put them into a book. One of my clients is the owner of a large construction company in Baltimore and while he had the tools and the knowledge to build a big football stadium for a major sports team, his toolbox didn’t contain anything that would enable him to write a novel. He had a great idea for a book, based on his actual sighting of a ghost ship, but his characters needed fleshing out.
In Bag of Bones, one of my favorite Stephen King bestsellers, King attributes this quote to Thomas Hardy: “The most brilliantly drawn character in a novel is but a bag of bones.” Meaning, once you’ve got the skeleton, you still have to add muscle, sinew, skin and hair, and even that’s not enough. You also have to dress it up with the right kind of personality and attitude.
This bag-of-bones concept also applies to the story you want to write. The outline is the skeleton, the firm foundation on which the story is built. Then you have to add floors, walls, a basement and a roof, and you have to paint it, decorate it and maybe do some landscaping.
Creating a work of fiction is also like making a giant tapestry, a theory my co-author and I followed in our award-winning paranormal trilogy (Dark Territory, Ghost Crown and Shadow Train). Throughout all three books, one of our characters is creating a tapestry immortalizing a small town’s history, which is kind of like writing a novel. First you select the fabric or background on which to tell the story. Then you sketch in the characters and the main events. Once that’s done, you make it all come alive by embellishing the background and embroidering everything with color and texture.
But you can’t build anything without a toolbox (for a tapestry it would be a sewing kit). Stephen King says writers also need a toolbox and one of the tools you need is vocabulary. He advises writers not to try and dress things up by using long words (“It ain’t how much you’ve got, honey — it’s how you use it.”). Another necessary tool is grammar (at least the basics). To tell a story you must have at least a noun and a verb.
King also has rules. Among them are: Avoid adverbs (less is more); don’t fall in love with your research (or it will overshadow your story); turn off the TV and read, read, read. He says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.”
Even if you’re a busy person with little time to devote to the novel you’ve always wanted to write, there is a perfect solution for you. Hire a ghostwriter. A good one. One who knows how to weave a tapestry, or build a house or flesh out a bag of bones — with words.
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