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So, you just wrote your first science fiction novel. Your friend read it and told you that you were the next Ray Bradbury or Gene Roddenberry. Your fertile mind fantasizes your name up there on a Borders wall poster right next to images of Isaac Azimov and Jules Verne. Before going off the deep end and equating yourself with Hemingway and Steinbeck, give your ego a stiff reality check.
Few of us mortals are literary Mozart's that can plop down in front of a computer screen and author a perfect manuscript the first time around... Lets get one thing straight right now. You wrote a manuscript and not a book. After an author takes the time and care to read, edit and rewrite the manuscript at least five times, the work has finally evolved into a publishable book manuscript. Literary agents have represented my books. Truthfully, I never learned too much from literary agents except that they will show a strong interest in you and your work only if publishers and film producers do.
If the power brokers in the literary world think your work is marketable, then you are a viable commodity. If you have no track record in the publishing industry, then forget all about your friends praise and about your inflated ego. Youre going to have to accept criticism from your agency's editors, compromise ideas and plots in your artistic masterpiece, rewrite paragraphs, sentences and pages to conform to editorial evaluations, admit making errors, learn from these mistakes and avoid them when constructing future manuscripts. Although I never learned too much from my literary agents, I absorbed plenty from editors I had worked with.
It took me three years to finally master what the editors considered the mechanics of the writing craft. I reluctantly learned that good writing involves much more than the demonstration of grammar, spelling and punctuation skills. I picked up a hundred or so suggestions from my literary editors, and I will share some of them now. To facilitate good transitions and chapter integrity, dont begin sentences and / or paragraphs with pronouns (when writing in the third person).
Stay away from lazy sentence patterns such as starting out with There are or There is. And above all else, if you plan to be original and creative, stay away from using stereotypical cliches and hackneyed idioms. A good sci-fi novel or any other genre novel should first be a love story at its core construction with the genre decoration adroitly wrapped around that core. For example, H. G.
Wells classic breakthrough novel The Time Machine is at its core a love story between the Time Traveler and When, and secondly, it is an adventure story about the conflicts between the Else and the Morlocks. In Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451, the success of the novel has as much to do with the struggle in the main character Guy Montag's personal love relationship with his dysfunctional drug wife as it does with the tyrannical government controlled by the powerful fire department that Montag works for. Montag is searching for love as much as he is in quest of truth and justice. So, if you think that sci-fi is simply about alien invasions, green-headed monsters, laser attacks and wars between planets with lots of action scenes, you are dooming your manuscript to both mediocrity and to commercial failure. Your main character must have love or / and must be searching for it. The main character cannot be a villain or an evil person.
Perhaps he could start out that way, but he must change for the better as the story progresses, and the quicker, the better. He or she must be a protagonist that the reader can sympathize with and care about. The reader has to identify with the main characters noble conscience and his (or her) empathy for others. Reader allegiance is the authors greatest weapon. Yes, you can have bad guys in your novel, but they have to be the antagonists and not the heroes. And the bad guys should hang around until almost the end, and if they do hang around until then, they ought to relinquish some of their devious traits and be influenced by the good guys superior personality strengths.
The main character must have character. The protagonist (good guy main character) ought to be present and active in every chapter, and the antagonist must appear or at least be mentioned in every chapter. Each character in your novel should have a separate and unique personality. No two characters should seem alike to your readers. In my satirical novel Ron Coyote, Man of La Manga, Ron Coyote is the idealist, the dreamer out to change the immoral world and his companion Pancho Santa is practical, naughty, and hedonistic. The two engage in many amusing conversations, and their polarities in interests and values facilitate and support the humorous theme of the adult-oriented novel.
No easy formulas are in existence that can guarantee success to an author. One must find his (or her) writing style and voice through years of experimenting, rejection, frustration and failure before fame and fortune become realistic products of your labor. But most importantly, accept criticism from knowledgeable editors, admit youve made mistakes and learn something from them. Writing a novel is not a task; it is a labor of love that is an ongoing project. If writing seems tedious and too much like work, youd be better off writing letters or newspaper ads than attempting to professionally author a book.
Novel writing is like a sickness that you love to do. It is mental madness that must be completed, and while in progress, your book is the most important thing in your life that exists on a higher plane than even food and oxygen. Characters alone do not make a good story. Plots and subplots by themselves do not make a good novel.
Novel writing is akin to the double helix DNA model. Characters on one strand and plots and subplots on a second strand wrap around each other in an upward spiral, forming a symbiotic relationship. Together their chemistry should unite in a synergy that builds and expands and reinforces itself from chapter one until the final chapters last sentence. Good characters need good plots and subplots, and good plots and subplots need good characters. One factor cannot sustain a strong novel without the aid of the other. It all sounds quite simple, doesnt it?
Okay, your sci-fi novel now has terrific characters, both protagonists and antagonism...
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