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  • C.Lhotak

I wrote and published my first novel. Wait a minute, that’s not the whole story ...

So, the thing is, I like to keep busy and get bored easily ...

It was the beginning of the pandemic and endless lockdowns, and going on vacation or even seeing friends was out of the question. So one day, I started writing something for the simple reason that I was bored. Since I hadn’t planned to publish any of it, I hadn’t paid much attention to structure, word choice, and other odds and ends. Let’s just call it a journey to discover the creative streak in me I didn’t even know existed. At that point, becoming an author hadn’t been on my mind, not even for a millisecond. The only experiences I had with this part of the world were that a) I’m a passionate bookworm myself and b) I’m working as a translator of short novels.

It wasn’t until I had almost finished my story that I realized that it had gone from written words and phrases to something halfway decent. Could it be that I had a gift, or, let’s say, that I wasn’t completely incapable of bringing a coherent, exciting story to life? That was the moment I had first considered making something more of it than a hobby. Maybe it was time to share my creative mind with the world after all?

After the initial shock of surprise about my newfound ‚talent‘, I sat down and started polishing and structuring my story. The result was quite readable, in my humble opinion. At that point, I shared my idea with the person most important to me - my daughter. And since then, she has been nothing but supportive - such a sweetheart.

But back to business. So, what would an aspiring writer who has no idea how the cruel publishing world works do? Right - I decided to look for some expert advice. So I opened my browser and searched for tips on how to get it right. After all, I didn’t want to embarrass myself because of missing a few tiny things.

So I set off into the endless spaces of the Internet. On my adventurous journey sitting on my high horse’s back, I stopped at many places to rest and strengthen my knowledge. On my quest, I came across countless websites and forums where authors and editors were giving their two cents. It seemed that I had crashed into a panel of experts. Just what I needed. I had discovered the holy grail of creative outpourings. This was the place that would cut me from a rough diamond into a presentable gem.

I treated myself to a cup of coffee, leaned back in my comfy chair, and began my first master class in How to Write a Novel. Remember, I had already written the first draft, but it was still a rough version. I was confident there would be endless advice to turn my first draft into a manuscript that will raise me to the level of bestselling writers out there.

But after days of reading, I felt mentally and creatively exhausted. Horrified, I realized that I had done just about everything wrong. All those rules ... Wait. What was that? Rules? I had no idea they even existed. I’m such a dummy. Here was I, thinking writing has something to do with being creative. But no, writing has something to do with rules - a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware that we must follow certain rules for everything in life. Otherwise, humankind would still not be civilized. But as a completely oblivious newcomer to the world of art and the universe of creative work, I was a bit surprised to read about so many rules.

So, to save all aspiring writers from slogging through the Internet for days to learn the valuable tips (rules) from the experts who know everything because they are professionals (and you are not), I have summarized the most crucial (strange) ones for you.


Here we go ...

1) Never start a book by writing about the weather – But what if it’s a book about climate change? Or the protagonist of the adventure is freezing, sweating, or getting wet because it’s raining? Ooops, my bad. Just pretend that there is no such thing as temperatures, wind, rain, sun, heat, cold, fog, storm, etc. Nobody is interested, at least not during the grand opening. Besides, it’s a rule. If you really want to write about the weather, wait until you are on the third or fourth page, or perhaps better, the next chapter. It doesn’t fit your story? Who cares? It’s a rule, which I broke, by the way.

2) Avoid prologues - Why? A prologue used correctly has a right to exist. And what about epilogues? Are they just as naughty? Or are you allowed to write them? And if so, why? And if not, why not?

3) Never use a verb other than ‚said‘ to carry dialogue - What? He said; She said; They said; His mother said; Her dog said - wait, barked? Sorry, I’m confused. What do I do if my protagonist shouts something instead of saying it? Or is ‘nobody is allowed to shout, yell, scream, etc.’ another rule I wasn’t aware of?

4) Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose - Hear hear, my dear aspiring writer friends. You are allowed to use two or maybe three per 100,000 words. No matter if your story or dialogue needs more than the allowed amount of exclamation points. Go back to your dilettantish work immediately and delete them! Oops! Do you see what I did here? I made good use of my two allowed exclamation points.

5) Never use the words ‚suddenly,’ or ‚all hell broke loose’ - Why not? What would happen if I use the word ‚suddenly’ in my story? Would all hell break loose? Ha! Gotcha! (two more exclamation points, I’m such a daredevil)

6) Use regional dialect - Well, that’s a really tricky one. Most likely, the writer is not a traveler but has settled down in a particular region of whatever country. But because of the author’s immense wisdom, he or she knows precisely how the world’s entire population talks. Not only in different countries, no, the knowledgeable writer knows about the nuanced differences of dialects in different regions as well. If not, by all means, don’t be brave and (heaven forbid) continue writing. Instead, relocate your story to the country and region you are familiar with. Can’t do it? Then delete the whole thing and write a new one. Tell us about your village, town, city, neighbors, dog, or whatever. It’s not about the story; it’s about using the correct dialect.


You see, my dear fellows and aspiring writers, it’s not easy to keep the gods of the literary world happy. So, after taking in all of those rules, I had to take a long walk around the block. I needed time to digest my sadness, frustration, and disappointment about my story, which broke quite a few rules issued by the masters of the (writing) universe.

I returned to my desk with my head hanging in shame and began painstakingly adapting my novel according to those rules. An elaborate thing to do, but if those rules come from the sages of wisdom, they must be true. I wondered how writers had managed to publish good work before those experts had spread their writing superpowers to the world via the Internet.

After the first five chapters of strict rule adaptation, I stared at my word document. I had them polished and shortened until my story looked like a sad dwarf. I had erased all the charm and pep. But at least I now had five chapters that fitted the rules appropriately. Who cares if it read as if it had been brainwashed. But it only took me a moment to realize that’s exactly what it was. There was nothing left of my prose. As a matter of fact, it looked a bit like a school essay. Every unnecessary word (unnecessary based on the holy rules) had been destroyed and buried. Many words, which had made their way from my creative mind into the first draft of Oliver G. Finch, had been released into the heaven of repudiated words. But it was unbearable to endure this carnage any longer, so I began to revive my story by slowly and carefully reintroducing all words and phrases rejected by the rule-makers.

The moral of it is, don’t let your creativity be murdered by people who claim to know better. Please write in your style, build your characters, and don’t be castrated by the ‘experts’ and their weird rules. Look for advice that is suitable for your project. There is a lot out there. It is just a matter of finding it buried under all that babble.

The important thing is that you have fun while writing your masterpiece. And I had almost lost it after trying to stick to those rules. Having said that, I have imposed my own. Simply for myself because, as a first-time novelist, I will make mistakes. And I will always listen to people who reward me with constructive feedback instead of bludgeoning me with their self-invented rules.


Here they are ...

1) Entertain the reader - I will only succeed by creating a good story plot and making it as exciting as possible.

2) Don’t leave the reader confused after every other page - I will do my best to structure it. Sounds simple? Well, wait for what your beta-reader will tell you and listen to it, which brings me to number 3.

3) Find a very good beta-reader and ask him or her nicely to read your work - Only that will give me an idea of how potential readers out there will take my story. Listen to the beta-reader, especially when it comes to holes in the plot and structuring.

4) Describe characters to a certain extent - Otherwise, readers will have difficulty getting an idea of what I am on about. I admit, too much detail is killing the reader’s imagination, but depicting the characters superficially comes across well, superficial.

5) Don’t distraught and frustrate the reader - Certainly not with endless grammar and spelling errors. That’s why I’m almost paranoid about chasing them down. But as we all know, it’s a game we’re never going to win. Still, I consider proofreading and feedback from others significant before and after publishing anything I write.

6) And this is my personal favorite rule - Have fun writing and be as creative as you want to be.


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