Okay, we’re going behind the scenes in the creation of Northern Knights, Book I in the Lord of Columbia Series. Today, I’m taking you through the journey of my three years of struggles while writing this book, which is unlike Swords of Destiny, Missing in Columbia (not released yet), Book IV, or the beginnings of Book V.
From July 2015 when I really buckled down and got serious with the plot until August 2018, when I launched the book on Amazon, Northern Knights went through more changes than the techno world did between the years 1990 and 2018.
All within three years, how about that?
This is an article less about myself and the Lord of Columbia Series and geared more toward budding writers who are working on their first novel in hopes that they avoid some mistakes I made that continually delayed the release of Northern Knights.
Northern Knights contains more backstory than any of the other books and while backstory exists in each of the books listed above, they’re not in the same capacity as shown in Northern Knights.
The biggest lesson I can give to any author is to stop with the throat-clearing, which is a fancy phrase for using too much backstory early in the book, which is a common mistake a lot of novice authors make.
Novice authors believe the reader needs to ‘catch up’ as to why the book is at its current starting point which always occurs two to three chapters later.
It’s why a lot of writing coaches tell their students to delete their first four chapters; because the story always begins after chapter four.
This happened to me, and as I posted on my writing blog, My Freedom Flame, where you can find a fully detailed article regarding backstory, is that I ended up rehashing the hash.
In other words, I retold the entire backstory within the plot.
My recommendation is to allow backstory to occur through dialogue, within the actual plot, and not in someone’s thought bubble as they gaze into the mirror running a hand through their hair and admiring themselves.
You can always hint at backstory on page one, but to dedicate an entire chapter or even a paragraph will turn today’s readers off. Readers want and need action in the current story, not the story before the story. If backstory is that important, perhaps the book you’re writing should be a sequel.
Point of View
I used an omniscient point of view that was all over the place. I changed point of view within the same scene or within the same chapter without handing the reader a heads up.
Authors, do not confuse your reader unless you want to enter the old ‘so bad it’s good’ crowd, where it’s only good because readers will be reading your work and making sarcastic remarks to their friends and family.
These days, fiction has to be believable, and nonfiction has to be unbelievable. It’s what readers look for these days. And if you go back to any work of fiction you’ve read, you want to believe the work is occurring.
Didn’t we all want our Hogwarts letter?
J.K. Rowling made it believable.
The same should apply to you.
So, just as you live life from your point of view and not someone else’s, you need to do the same in a book.
Why should it be any different from in real life?
The way you live your life, with your five senses plus a sixth sense in a book when it comes to seeing the point of view character’s thoughts is exactly how you should convey the work to your reader.
For more information, check out the article over on my sister site.
Again, readers want works of fiction to be believable, so stop with the endless dialogue tags.
Give each character a distinct voice.
For Northern Knights, the reader has an easy time discerning who’s who.
Cain loves to swear, call people by nicknames, and make snide remarks.
Lira emphasizes every few words and is the word of reason.
Micah is the king of one-liners.
Rand has a passive voice.
The list is endless.
Even if the reader doesn’t pick up on voice, we still don’t need dialogue tags unless it’s necessary.
Too bad I didn’t learn this until I started editing Northern Knights, or else it would’ve saved me a lot of work early on.
It was always ‘he said,’ ‘she said,’ or something similar.
Worse yet, I caused further damaged by using tags such as ‘growled,’ ‘grunted,’ ‘groaned,’ and other similar tags. People don’t groan while you’re quoting them. People also don’t wheeze, sneeze, or cough while they’re talking. But I didn’t know any better at the time until I bought a writing course.
It took me a while to rid unnecessary tags.
So, how do you know who’s talking?
When someone’s excited, so their excitement and don’t tell them. If their eyes light up then speak, you know the character is excited. If they’re jumping up and down while clapping, you also get an exciting vibe. If they throw their arms up, you know they’re annoyed. Chuck a book across the room? Angry. Collapsing onto a couch? Tired.
Explaining….my Thorn in the Side
I didn’t explain things once, twice, or even three times.
I explained things multiple times and after reading my first draft I grew annoyed with myself.
Readers don’t like being told things or having the same things repeated to them.
Again, think of yourself as a reader.
Heck, think back to when you were a kid. Did you like having things explained to you all the time?
What about these days at work and your boss is lecturing you?
The same goes for readers and it wasn’t until I was taught to resist the urge to explain did I find how bad my original manuscript was.
One day, I’ll show it off, but right now, I’m just warning authors that the single most annoying thing you can do is continually tell the reader why the main character is carrying out Action A or Action B.
Cain was led here because….
Cain is acting this way because….
Yeah, those early days of writing….those two lines were all over the place.
Continually describing characters characteristics, personalities, etc.
Describe through action and the reader will pick up. If Cain twirls a stray curl in his hair, the reader knows his hair has curls.
If Savannah’s core muscles are showing, the reader doesn’t need to be explained that Savannah’s entire body is toned.
When Cain makes a snide remark, the reader can pick up that he’s a bit of a cocky soul. We’re not saying Cain is cocky. When he plants his team’s flag on the opposing team’s logo and taunts throughout a game, we know his personality. We don’t need to say it.
The reader could tell Lira gets annoyed with Cain through their dialogue, not by me saying Lira was often annoyed with Cain but they were still best friends, as you see in some manuscripts.
Learn and Implement
I chose backstory, point of view, dialogue tags, and explanation as my four cornerstones for this article because they were my top struggles in creating Northern Knights and the primary reasons why it took a little over three years since starting my first draft to publish the book to Amazon.
Definitely take my advice to heart, beginning with inserting backstory into the overall plot and letting the reader in on it as they work their way through the book.
Pick one character per scene, per chapter, or ideally per book and stick to their point of view. Let the reader experience the story from their eyes just as you experience your life’s story from your eyes.
Use action and distinct voices to let the reader know who’s talking. Only use tags when clarification is needed. If you, the author, can’t tell who’s speaking, it’s time to use a dialogue tag if you can’t utilize a distinct voice.
And finally, your reader wants to experience and become part of a story, therefore they don’t need everything explained to them. Just like in real life, explain once and only when clarification is needed, just like when you’re on a job or experiencing something for the first time. Go for the experience, and not repeated explanation.