I haven't had a guest blogger in a long time. Today I am happy to introduce Michael Barron, an up and coming writer who has been commenting on my posts here at Keep The Wisdom. I visited him at his blog and learned that he has written a fantasy novel for Young Adult readers entitled Wilderness. His website, Barron Wilderness, features the first three chapters. I read them and was quite impressed.
I invited Michael to write something for my blog and he has sent me a fascinating account of what it was like for him to write his first novel. Welcome Michael!
A few years ago I was driving home from Dover, DE where I bought a birthday present for one of my friends. As I let my mind wander, I glanced to my right at a clump of trees behind a cornfield. There wasn't anything unusual about the sight (there are millions of cornfields in that part of Maryland), but I was struck with the image of a seemingly normal young man slipping out of his girlfriend's house to meet with friends in the woods. These friends would be like family to him but a part of a double life no one else, not even the girlfriend, knew about. For the rest of the drive I thought about this strange young man and tried to figure out his story. As soon as I reached my college's parking lot, I ran inside (so fast that I left my friend's present in the car), grabbed a pen and started writing.
The wonderful thing about rough drafts is all you need to do is just “vomit” your ideas out onto the page without caring how good they are. Seriously, who cares if the characters don't make sense or if the plot is filled with more holes than the car Bonnie and Clyde were shot up in? No one else is EVER going to read it until you're ready for them to. What I learned from Wilderness is: just write and let the story take you where it needs to go. I guarantee that when you finish writing a first chapter a little voice will say “Wait! You need to go back! It isn't perfect yet!” My advice is to gag and hogtie that voice until you write the second draft. Otherwise, you will spend all your time polishing something you will eventually change anyway. The first draft of Wilderness is nothing like the version I am submitting to agents. It was about a thousand pages long, half the characters hadn't been created and the rules of the magical world were confusing. I spent too much time pushing around commas and rearranging sentences when I should have just been writing and discovering the characters. Fortunately, I got wise, plowed my way through and created a rough draft I could later rewrite.
Many writers turn their noses at outlines. There is the attitude that “real writers” just write. I agree with this to a certain extent. The danger of outlines is that a writer won't use them sparingly enough. He or she will spend months (or even years) outlining the story rather than writing it. At the end of the day they will have a very beautiful outline, but when people go into bookstores they want books, not outlines. Then again, jotting down notes can work for some authors. My ideas come to me so rapidly and from so many directions that I can never get them down fast enough. Outlines can be great if you're just jotting down ideas for scenes and character but time spent outlining does not count as time spent writing. Honestly, I didn't even use that many notes until Wilderness' later drafts. By then I had so much material it was impossible to keep it all straight in my head. Making an outline (especially on notecards) can help with revisions because you're rearranging the pieces of the puzzle in front of you as well as in your imagination. I would keep outlining a rough draft to a minimum and save the heavy stuff for the rewrites. Also, never forget the golden rule of outlining: YOU NEVER HAVE TO FOLLOW IT! Just because you've jotted it down doesn't mean you have to include it in the draft.
In a perfect world, I would just tie my manuscript to the talons of an eagle, the bird would fly into the heavens and copies of my novel would rain down all over the world. Unfortunately, getting Wilderness published is going to be much more difficult. I have only just begun submitting the book to agents, but I have spent the past few months preparing. First of all, I created a website where one can view the synopsis along with the first three chapters (see link above). Along with a website I created a “Fans of Wilderness” Facebook page (see link below). The purpose of the Facebook page is to gain as many “friends” as possible for the book. This way I can show it to agents and say “See! A ton of people already know about my novel!” (Feel free to join the group and help out an aspiring author.)
I also learned how to present my book by creating the following pitch:
“Lee is a normal nine-year-old boy...or so he thinks.
“On Fourth of July, a crazy neighbor shoots a coyote outside his house. As Lee approaches the body, he notices war paint smeared across the animal’s face. Before the coyote dies, he speaks with a human voice, whispering, "Sister Raven." Lee’s world is blown to pieces.
“Lee discovers that the forest behind his house is a gateway to Mid Country, a world of talking animals and ancient spirits. There, the lonely boy befriends a warrior raccoon and a girl with a maze of tattoos that tell an ancient story. He is also hunted by a tribe of demons known as Ashmen. They were once honorable warriors but became feral beasts with beautiful faces after selling their souls to the Goddess of Fear. The Ashmen believe that they can free their mistress from banishment by devouring Lee’s flesh.
“In our world, Lee’s father abandons the family. With their money dwindling, the boy and his mother are on the verge of becoming homeless. Determined to save their house, Lee searches for a treasure hidden in Mid Country’s forbidden territory and in doing so uncovers a conspiracy that goes back to the beginning of time.”
This pitch sums up both the story and spirit of the novel. It describes the main character (Lee), gives us his motives (saving his home), introduces the buddy characters (the raccoon and song) and tells us about his problems (finding the treasure / the Ashmen). Even more importantly it is short. When you are describing your novel to anyone (especially an agent) you don't want to go rambling off on every single subplot. There are several characters and story elements I left out here, but an agent doesn't need to know about them right now. All they need are the characters, the plot, the problem and a cliffhanger that makes them want more.
So that is a (very brief) summary of my adventures writing a novel. While I have just started the submission process (and we all know what kind of road that will be), I am optimistic. With luck, that weird little story that grabbed my imagination while driving home will someday be available for everyone to enjoy. I have started the rough draft of a second novel which is coming along much faster because of all the things I learned from writing the first.
Check out and join Michael's Facebook group: Fans of Wilderness.
I hope you enjoyed Michael's writing story. Of course you can comment here but it would make Michael very happy to hear from you at his website (where you can read his first three chapters) or at his Facebook page.