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Novel in Progress - Help Needed:

Hello there, fellow tropers.

As is probably obvious by the title, I have decided to try my hand at novel writing. Unfortunately - I need help. What with? Well...everything.

Below is what I've written so far:

  • It all started at my cousin Eddie's bar mitzvah.
  • Not that I wanted to attend his bar mitzvah, of course. It wasn't that I had anything against Eddie himself - he's ok as far as cousins go, I guess, even if he does have a habit of talking in his sleep (and I know this first hand, having been forced to share a room with him for 3 years of my life) - I'm just not a social person. To be honest, if I'd had my way, I'd have probably stayed at home - after all, we're not Jewish; we're not even remotely religious (well, I think Dad might have been Eastern Orthodox, but Mum never mentions him), and it's not like we're all that close to Uncle Jed and Aunt Eliza, aside from the usual exchange of cards at birthdays and Christmas/Hanukkah- but Mum insisted. "Vanessa, " she said, "this is an important day for your cousin, and we should all be there to show our support. Besides, it will do you good to get out of the house - you need some colour in your cheeks, look at you, as pale as a vampire."

As you can see, this is all I have - I haven't even figured out the plot yet! So, I really, REALLY need help, and I would REALLY appreciate it if anyone had any suggestions.

And...um...I don't quite know how to put this, but...is the writing any good? I mean, the sentence structure probably sucks, but if you found this novel in a bookshop, would you keep reading it?

edited 5th Jan '13 3:09:26 PM by fruitstripegum

 
 2 chihuahua 0, Sat, 5th Jan '13 3:08:54 PM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
So you have no idea what your novel is about?

Start with the premise. Determine your protagonist, and her goal in the narrative.

What happens? Does she find love? Get thrust into a murder mystery? An inter-family conflict? Or is she just determined not to have a good time, and bit by bit, her attitude changes through the day, which climaxes with her having a major change of heart, a la Christmas Carol?

That's an interesting idea! A Christmas Carol, but with Jews.

Also, determine whatever the bar mitzvah is an inciting incident or the entire story.

edited 5th Jan '13 3:12:28 PM by chihuahua0

Thank you for the suggestions, but to be honest, I wasn't planning on having religion play a big part in the story.
 
 4 Last Hussar, Sat, 5th Jan '13 7:00:29 PM from the place is here.
The time is now,
Where did the opening come from? is probably the first question you need to ask. Was it there fully formed? Or did you have to work at it? In my experience if its the latter you may well have problems- if it was a struggle to write that bit remember that is 1/500th of a full blown work (100k words).

If it was me I'd sit Vanessa down and ask her a few questions- the BIG one being WHAT started at Eddie's bar mitzvah?!

What do you know about Vanessa? Age, background etc. You may want to ask her some of these questions... http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/posts.php?discussion=9i1tp03xdcjdqfk10taqd55v&page=1

DON'T THINK TOO HARD - your character and thoughts will mask her's. Let her talk. I find being relaxed and listening to music (nothing you have to think about - try classical, I find Grieg good, and often have Jango radio on as I write), or as you lay in bed waiting to sleep. I role played an entire chapter (it was just talking), having been inspired by Wonderwall by Oasis! After 3 run throughs I wrote down what the characters said, then edited it into prose.

Also note you are writing first person - what Vanessa doesn't experince will not be known to the reader unless it is relayed to her by someone expositioning.
Do the job in front of you.
 5 Wolf 1066, Sun, 6th Jan '13 4:14:11 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Do you have any idea of a genre? Romance, SF, urban fantasy, mystery, thriller etc.

So "something" starts at cousin Eddie's bar mitzvah but there's no major religious significance to the story, it just happens to start there and could have easily started somewhere else that Vanessa and whoever else involved happened to be.

Fair enough. Any number of things could start under those circumstances. Vanessa could meet a person by chance and wind up on a whirlwind world tour, world war three could break out and call an abrupt end to the festivities, Uncle Frim could be found face down in the kitchen with a knife between his shoulder blades. Plenty of scope for where to go from there.

When you say you have no idea of plot, are you saying you don't have a clue what happens to Vanessa at all as in "is she abducted by aliens?" "does she meet the love of her life?" "is Aunt Leah murdered at the bar mitzvah?" etc.

Usually people have some inkling of what they want the story to be about, whether it's a murder mystery, an alien invasion, a romance between two unlikely people or a comical misunderstanding that results in confusion and hilarity.

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
Well, to tell the truth, the opening just came to me. No idea where it came from.

And in all honesty, I was planning on just writing down whatever came to my head and seeing if I could get a plot out of it. All I know so far is:

  • The main character is Vanessa
  • She's not a very social person (although maybe Character Development will fix that)
  • She has a single mother, an Aunt Eliza, an Uncle Jed and a cousin Eddie (the last 3 of whom are Jews), and has no idea who her father is (I was thinking about making him a convict, but I'm not so sure about that).

EDIT: Here's an idea I had, but I dunno if it's any good:

Vanessa the fairy gothmother - she insults a guy who turns out to be a fairy, and he curses her into fairy form until she succeeds in granting a certain number of wishes to someone, and unfortunately, that someone happens to be someone she hates.

edited 6th Jan '13 11:59:06 AM by fruitstripegum

 
Hey, I dunno if anyone remembers this thread, but I felt like I had to ask - does this section of the novel look like something you'd enjoy reading, or do I need to work on it some more?

  • To be honest, if it was up to me we'd have probably stayed at home - after all, we're not Jewish; we're not even remotely religious (well, I think Dad might have been Eastern Orthodox, but Mum never talks about him, so I can't be sure), and it's not like there's a law that says we HAVE to attend, so why bother? Besides, we're not all that close to Uncle Jed and Aunt Eliza, and aside from the usual exchange of cards at birthdays and Christmas/Hanukkah, the last time we saw each other was at my grandmother's funeral 9 months ago.
  • Of course, there was no point explaining this to Mum. When I tried, she just got huffy. "Vanessa, " she said, "this is an important day for your cousin, and we should all be there to show our support. Besides, it will do you good to get out of the house - you need some colour in your cheeks, look at you, as pale as a vampire."
  • I was going to ask if she meant "pale as a ghost", but she walked out before I could.

edited 9th Jan '13 1:26:31 PM by fruitstripegum

 
 8 Wolf 1066, Wed, 9th Jan '13 1:57:17 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Of course, there was no point explaining this to Mum. When I tried, she just got huffy. "Vanessa, " she said, "this is an important day for your cousin, and we should all be there to show our support. Besides, it will do you good to get out of the house - you need some colour in your cheeks, look at you, as pale as a vampire."

I was going to ask if she meant "pale as a ghost", but she walked out before I could.

After that, I would expect that the fact her mum said "vampire" rather than "ghost" had some direct bearing on the plot and future developments.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 9 Last Hussar, Wed, 9th Jan '13 3:52:20 PM from the place is here.
The time is now,
Yeah - the whole use of the word 'Vampire' seems to be significant.
Do the job in front of you.
Actually...it's not important to the plot (I'm sick of all the vampire stories out there); I was just thinking maybe her mother has a habit of messing up metaphors.

Here's the plot I'm thinking of doing:

Fairy Gothmother - At her cousin's Bar Mitzvah, Vanessa Roberts insults a guy who turns out to be a fairy, and he curses her into fairy form until she succeeds in granting a certain number of wishes to someone, and unfortunately, that someone happens to be someone she hates.

edited 10th Jan '13 2:50:09 PM by fruitstripegum

 
 11 Wolf 1066, Thu, 10th Jan '13 4:33:55 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
If her mum's in the habit of mixing metaphors, then surely Vanessa would have realised that and her reaction would have reflected that. I didn't get from Vanessa's response that this was the latest in a long line of mixed metaphors.

She'd know full well what her mum meant and that it was a common thing for her to do. She wouldn't be wondering if her mum meant "pale as a ghost" and contemplating asking her. A stranger might wonder, on meeting her mum for the first time, but a daughter wouldn't.

The Fairy Godmother plot sounds workable.

edited 10th Jan '13 4:36:07 PM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 12 cityofmist, Fri, 11th Jan '13 2:54:14 PM from Meanwhile City
turning and turning
It sounds too boringly factual and expositiony, like your character is giving a fairly dull speech about their life. 'We're not even remotely religious', etc., is really just exposition. The transition to the mother's direct speech at the end is a bit awkward - I would try and make that a bit smoother or at least put in a line break or something.
Scepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.
- Clarence Darrow
[up]Thank you for the advice, but could you provide an example of what you mean, please?

edited 12th Jan '13 4:05:47 PM by fruitstripegum

 
Terracotta Soldier Man
If cityofmist is thinking the same thing that I'm thinking, it's probably to do with your second paragraph.

You could probably condense it down to something like:

To be honest, if it was up to me we'd have probably stayed at home - after all, we're not Jewish, and the last time we saw each other was at my grandmother's funeral 9 months ago.

Without losing anything of value to the story (unless anything I omitted actually does turn out to be important later).

Also, it's the general principle of "Show, don't tell." Don't just mention things in infodump fashion; make them relevant to what the characters are saying or doing in the scene.

Thank you, I'll try something like that.
 
Hey there, it's me.

Ok, here's a rewrite of the last section. Do I need to make any more changes?

  • It all started at my Cousin Eddie's bar mitzvah.
  • Well, that's not quite true. It certainly HAPPENED at the bar mitzvah, but it didn't START there. I guess it would be more accurate to say it all started the day we got the invitation.
  • To be honest, if it was up to me we wouldn’t have gone in the first place. It wasn't that I had anything against Eddie himself - he's ok as far as cousins go, I guess, even if he does have a habit of talking in his sleep (and I know this first hand, having been forced to share a room with him for 3 years of my life) - I'm just not a social person. In fact, if you gave me a choice of staying home curled up with a book and going out clubbing on a Friday night, I’d chose the former every single time. As for Facebook and Twitter, I wouldn’t know how to use them if my life depended on it, so I’m hoping it never does.
  • Mum, on the other hand, was practically planning what we should wear the minute the embossed and gilded piece of card formerly inviting us to attend Edward Blumenstein’s ba mitzvah dropped through the letterbox. Of course, she’s always been a party person, although HOW she was planning to get boozed up at a bar mitzvah was beyond me.
  • I tried pointing out why we should stay at home - after all, we're not Jewish, and it’s not like we’re all that close to Uncle Jed and Aunt Eliza, (in fact, aside from the usual exchange of cards at birthdays and Christmas/Hanukkah, the last time we saw each other was at my grandmother's funeral 9 months ago), but there was no deterring her. "Vanessa, “she said, "this is an important day for your cousin, and we should all be there to show our support. Besides, it will do you good to get out of the house and socialize. They’ll be other children there."
  • I tried to resist the urge to roll my eyes at that. “Yes there will, and they’ll all be people EDDIE knows, none of whom I’ll ever see again after the event.”

edited 21st Jan '13 1:04:23 PM by fruitstripegum

 
Terracotta Soldier Man
Your writing is definitely improving. The latest sample flows a lot better than your first ones. I get the feeling that Vanessa is actually sitting there telling me the story herself, which I'm guessing is what you're aiming for.

A few things that stood out to me on the first pass:

  • You missed a typo in "Edward Blumenstein’s bar mitzvah" in the fourth paragraph.
  • Might be just me, but the "...after the event" in that very last sentence sounds a bit unnatural for casual conversation. I might cut it off at just "...none of whom I’ll ever see again."

One final suggestion: Bullet point formatting is sort of awkward when reading a continuous narrative. It's not quite as bad as straight "Wall of Text, " but it's still a little hard on the eyes. I'd recommend using the [[*quoteblock]] [[*/quoteblock]] tags (minus asterisks) to separate your writing samples when posting here, which gives you something like this:

"Did you know that the King of Sweden once tried to sell me an aquarium?" I said.

"No way! Did you buy it?" She leaned forward, pressing her elbows into the table's surface.

"Of course not. I didn't even know how much it cost! You think I know the exchange rate for Swedish money right off the top of my head?"

EDIT: Somehow the formatting did not do what I expected it to do. Annoying.

edited 21st Jan '13 1:29:51 PM by Specialist290

 18 chihuahua 0, Mon, 21st Jan '13 1:37:49 PM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
I suggest that you, if you aren't already, should start writing more of the story. Getting stuck with the beginning is a mistake I made in the past.
Thank you all for the suggestions.

So, does it look like something you'd really want to read so far? Because I'm not so sure about the second and fourth paragraphs.
 
 20 Last Hussar, Tue, 22nd Jan '13 10:39:43 AM from the place is here.
The time is now,
I agree with Chihuahua. Don't get hung up on every paragraph to start with. Write, see where it takes you. Thats the advantage of Word Processors - 30 years ago a rewrite meant literally that- now we can edit easily.
Do the job in front of you.
Out of interest, how much planning have you done for this now? I've tried writing without a detailed plan a few times and it's never worked for me (that said, quite a few people seem to write this way). If you get bogged down, I'd suggest taking some time to plan your novel out a bit before you actually try to write the story.

Well, I haven't really done any planning - I'm just writing whatever comes into my head and seeing where it takes me.
 
Hey everyone, it's me.

Yeah, I know I haven't posted anything in a while - I decided to wait a bit and see what I could think up. Well, I've given my beginning a bit of a rewrite, and I was wondering - how does it look now?

It all started at my Cousin Eddie's bar mitzvah. Well, that's not quite true. It certainly HAPPENED at the bar mitzvah, but it didn't START there. I guess it would be more accurate to say it all started the day we got the invitation. I remember it so well, if only for the way Mum reacted. Of course, everyone who lived near us probably remembers it – after all, it’s not every day a 40-something woman starts screaming and jumping in the air like an idiot the minute she reads a piece of card. I swear, when I looked out of the window and saw her, I nearly died of embarrassment. I leaned against the table as she re-entered the caravan. “Anything good?” She held up embossed and gilded piece of card. “We’ve been invited to attend Edward Blumenstein’s bar mitzvah!” I tried to resist the urge to roll my eyes at that. I shouldn’t have been surprised – Mum’s always been a party person, although HOW she was planning to get boozed up at a bar mitzvah was beyond me. Then again, I probably wouldn’t be surprised at the result – she’s the sort of person who could turn a funeral wake into a proper blowout – heck, even if the world was coming to an end, she’d crank the music high, start swigging the vodka, and dance until the planet finally crumbled into little pieces. I, on the other hand, was trying to figure out how I could convince her not to go. It wasn't that I had anything against Eddie himself - he's ok as far as cousins go, I guess, even if he does have a habit of talking in his sleep (and I know this first hand, having been forced to share a room with him for 3 years of my life) - I'm just not a social person. In fact, if you gave me a choice of staying home curled up with a book and going out clubbing on a Friday night, I’d chose the former every single time. As for Facebook and Twitter, I wouldn’t know how to use them if my life depended on it, so I’m hoping it never does. I tried pointing out why we should stay at home - after all, we're not Jewish, and it’s not like we’re all that close to Uncle Jed and Aunt Eliza, (in fact, aside from the usual exchange of cards at birthdays and Christmas/Hanukkah, the last time we saw each other was at my grandmother's funeral 9 months ago) - but there was no deterring her. "Vanessa, " she said, practically planning what we should wear even as she said it, "this is an important day for your cousin, and we should all be there to show our support. Besides, it will do you good to get out of the house and socialize. They’ll be other children there.” This time I DID roll my eyes. “Yes there will, and they’ll all be people EDDIE knows, none of whom I’ll ever see again, so really, what’s the point? Anyway, I’ll probably just end up doing what I always do at parties – sit in a corner by my lonesome.” “You will do no such thing! I may not be smart, but I know there’s more to a bar mitzvah than sitting around. And you might find someone nice to talk to, like at your grandmother’s wake.” “Mum, the guy was 70 years old AND a pervert! He spent half the day staring down the front of my dress!” “Well, maybe if you’d worn something less revealing…” “It wasn’t revealing! And another thing –” But she’d already left the room. Typical – whenever she’s in the wrong, she walks out. But that wasn’t the worst part, oh no – she insisted on dragging me around the shops to find something to wear; something other than “the tatty Gothic stuff you insist on wearing”. She just can’t seem to get it into her head that it’s not a phase I’m going through. If there’s anything I hate more than socializing, it’s shopping, which is why I ended up sitting on a stool in a changing room wearing only my underwear while she browsed for some stupid outfit she expected me to wear at this whole shenanigan. Right on cue, she walked in carrying a lime-green dress with a frilly collar. I swear, I’m not joking. Don’t ask me where she got a lime-green dress, because for the life of me I couldn’t tell you. “You have got to be kidding me.” “And just what’s wrong with this dress?” “Besides the fact it’s hideous?” “It is not.” “Mum, it’s lime-green. LIME-GREEN.” “Nothing wrong with green.” “That’s not the –” Before I could say anything else, she shoved it over my head, forcing me to wear it.

Well, is it ok? Or should I make some changes? If I should, what changes should I make?
 
[up]

You might want to split that up into paragraphs. Just saying.

I'll give it a proper read and response this weekend, if not before.

Terracotta Soldier Man
[up][up] What [up] said. Nobody likes having to wade through a Wall of Text; it's a bit overwhelming to see that many words all crowded together. You especially want to use paragraph breaks during dialogue; whenever the speaker changes, that should be a new paragraph.

I'll go ahead and dive into this, although I'm feeling a little under the weather today, so I might not catch as much as I usually do.

Anyway, doing this line-by-line:

I remember it so well, if only for the way Mum reacted. Of course, everyone who lived near us probably remembers it -

Might be better rendered as something like: I remember that day well. So does everyone else who lived near us, probably - It gives the following section a little more "punch" when it hits the reader, and those extra words soften the blow a bit.

Then again, I probably wouldn’t be surprised at the result – she’s the sort of person who could turn a funeral wake into a proper blowout

I'd cut out everything between "then again" and that first dash, mostly for the same reasons as above.

As for Facebook and Twitter, I wouldn’t know how to use them if my life depended on it, so I’m hoping it never does.

"So I'm hoping it never does" is a bit superfluous, unless you're foreshadowing that this will indeed be the case later on in the story.

She just can’t seem to get it into her head that it’s not a phase I’m going through. If there’s anything I hate more than socializing, it’s shopping, which is why I ended up sitting on a stool in a changing room wearing only my underwear while she browsed for some stupid outfit she expected me to wear at this whole shenanigan.

Suggesting: She just can’t seem to get it into her head that it’s not a phase I’m going through, or that if there’s anything I hate more than socializing, it’s shopping. [paragraph break] I ended up sitting on a stool in a changing room wearing only my underwear. While she browsed for an outfit for me to wear, I started wondering how stupid it would look - and how stupid I would look wearing it throughout this whole shennanigan.

Other than that, nothing really stands out at the moment, although I might have to take another look later. Let us know if you need any pointers on paragraphs, too.

edited 20th Feb '13 11:16:17 AM by Specialist290

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