1. Justin Smith
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    Justin Smith New Member

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    writing my first novel on no experience

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Justin Smith, Mar 24, 2015.

    So I have had a few ideas for novels floating around for years and recently I decided to finally take the leap. I've basically never done any writing outside of English classes in school, and so I'm expecting this thing to be pretty dreadful, at least in the first draft. I'm not really sure how foolish it's considered to jump in this way. I'm currently about 26,000 words into this, and I'd say it's about 65% done in length.

    I decided to start with what I had assumed was going to be the easiest of the stories I had in mind. I'm mostly interested in science fiction and fantasy, but this is not really either. It has a fairly simple plot, a small cast of main characters, and I suspect it will straddle the line between novella and novel. However, it has turned out to be surprisingly challenging, and there are a number of concerns I have and things I don't want to get wrong that I think would be easy to get wrong.

    I started writing this story from a thought I had about disaster movies (Armageddon or Deep Impact, for example). These movies tend to be pretty white, and even when the cast is somewhat diverse ethnically, they focus on characters who are generally well-off financially, and this puts the characters in a position of being able to do something to save the world. I got interested in the idea of a story where the end of the world is coming for some reason, and the story instead focuses on the lives of homeless teenagers living on the street, and how they deal with it being unable to at all influence the fate of the world.

    3/4 of the cast is non-white. One of my first questions is in the depictions of the minority characters. While I had an interest in writing a story like this about mostly non-white characters, I am white myself. One of the things I have been struggling with is finding the area between racial stereotypes and writing unrealistic characters. So my question is, am I likely overestimating how much of an issue this is?

    The intent with this story evolved a bit as I was writing. I had written one section that was very dark and disturbing, and I had realized it was my most well-written part thus far. I've been going more in that direction, such that I would say that a significant objective now is an exploration of the most disturbing aspects of adolescent violence and sexuality. It isn't that the violence is particularly graphic (and I'm certainly not writing erotica), but that I try to keep the psychology authentic. When a 14-year-old boy is forced into nearly killing someone, and he debates finishing the person off, you get into his head, and it's hard to read, and hard for me to write about, and it's natural that this character cries from the ordeal. Likewise, it's been an uncomfortable experience for me writing about a girl that age taking her clothes off in front of a boy for the first time, but not due to being particularly explicit (in fact I've been avoiding directly referring to people's bits because of this perhaps irrational fear of mine that it will be seen as some kind of erotica for pedos or whatever). It's the psychology that's uncomfortable, because I've refused to write her as being mature for her age or anything like that. She's a child doing adult things, and part of her reason for doing it is that she thinks she's getting back at her mom. I've tried as hard as I can to keep the psychology authentic to the ages.

    There is a question in all of that, which is basically, are there subjects that simply can't be written about due to being potentially offensive? Should I even be considering that question? I guess one of the reasons this has been bugging me is the case of the infamous scene in Stephen King's "IT". If you know the book, you know the scene I'm talking about (if not, let's just say without spoiling it for anyone that there is a child sexuality aspect). While the book has overwhelmingly positive reviews in places like amazon.com, there are numerous 1-star reviews and pretty much all those reviews are due to that scene. I suppose one can't be a writer without being open to getting poor reviews, but I'm still curious to hear other thoughts on this subject.
     
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  2. Zelee
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    Zelee Member

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    In my humble opinion, I don't think you have to worry about what you're writing. To be honest I'm intrigued, this sounds like an intresting angle on a popular subject.

    I just recently finished a novel about 2 sisters in India who were dropped into the human trafficking scene. The book had some hard stuff to read because it involved underaged girls but over all it was a good book. It showed the dirty side of what happens to them but not explicitly. My point is, even if its a hard subject to read, it can be writen about. So long as its necessary to your story then go for it.

    Cheers and good luck,
    Zelee
     
  3. VirtuallyRealistic
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    VirtuallyRealistic Active Member

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    I agree with this sentiment. You shouldn't restrict your writing out of fear of negative opinions. Write what is necessary, not what is popular.
     
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  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi, welcome to the forum. I started with a story I wanted to write and little experience writing fiction. Now three years later I have a lot more skill and a pretty good book evolving from the effort to write and learn and write and learn.
     
  5. theoriginalmonsterman
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    theoriginalmonsterman Pickle Contest Administrator Contributor

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    You just got to write. You'll get better as you go along; nobody ever succeeds the first time around. Ask people you know for help. Teachers, friends, and maybe even family. Also if you can try taking a writing class. Simple things like these are beneficial for any writer starting out.
     
  6. kfmiller
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    kfmiller Active Member

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    I was gonna mention the scene in It but then I got to your last paragraph and saw you were already familiar with it :)

    Write the story how you envision it keeping it authentic to your characters and story. Don't worry about potentially negative reviews because some people might not get it or like it because there is always going to be someone who doesn't like what you're doing. You can't let that discourage you.

    For what it's worth, I think your story sounds really interesting.
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write it. Interesting angle and if you're not offending someone in this business, you're not doing your job. If you're writing about touchy issues or worry about painting other cultures with too broad a brush, I'd suggest eventually joining a writing group and shopping it through readers. My plot is laced with racial issues and has multiple characters of ethnicity ies other than my own - which is why I'm very grateful that one of the readers I have going through it is a middle-aged African-American woman with the patience of a saint to help me iron out my own biases. Input like that is invaluable.
     
  8. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    At some point every author wrote their first novel, including the controversial ones. Nothing is strictly taboo anymore, but you could alienate readers. Unless it is grossly pornographic (as in, purely for getting a rise). It needs to have merit. Look at Burroughs. Naked Lunch was deemed unpublishable, but he wrote it. Selby went hardcore. And then, of coarse, there's American Psycho. If you worry about offending anyone, don't write at all. Just research the heck out of it and use your skills, if you have them, of observation. As for writing ethnicities that are different, just avoid blatant stereotypes, but you can use basic ones simply because stereotypes exist for reason. If you get it wrong first off, that's what second drafts are for.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You sound as if you've thought this through and I reckon you have quite a meaningful and worthwhile story on your hands. Yes, do get it written, and don't worry about what people will think of it. If you yourself are disturbed by aspects of it, that's actually no bad thing. It means you are honest in your writing, and that's the quality a good writer needs, in order to deal with big issues.

    As far as your concerns about writing ethnic groups you're not a part of, well, you can do worse than write them as if you are a part of these groups. Dig in and use your imagination. If you are able to do that, your perceptions won't come across as stereotypes.

    If you are really unsure about an angle or a particular passage in the book, ask a member of that ethnic group for feedback. You can even do it here on this forum! We have a wide variety of members here, all ages, nationalities and ethnic/racial groups. Somebody will be happy to help you out, if you ask directly. But don't be afraid to dive in and do it yourself.

    If you believe, at your core, that folks aren't all that much different under the skin, then whatever YOU feel about a situation will apply to your characters, no matter who they may be. If somebody makes fun of how you look, how does that make you feel? If somebody ignores you because they assume you can't do something, or don't belong, or are an inferior being, then how does that make you feel? If you are flung into a group of people whose ways have nothing in common with yours, what do you do? Do you join in and pretend to agree with them? Do you take them on and argue with them or fight with them? Do you truly care what they think? If so, why? Do you feel there is something deeply unfair in your family background? Or something that makes your family better than others? All of these issues can be dealt with in your own head. Much of being a fiction writer is putting yourself in the shoes of others.
     
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  10. Justin Smith
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    Justin Smith New Member

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    Some very interesting responses. Thanks, I have a lot to think about. :)
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    "I think there's just one kind of folks - folks!" - Jean Louise Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee).

    A couple of thoughts and recommendations. First, when writing about people of different ethnic backgrounds than your own, I have found it can be very helpful to read some fictional works about them so as to pick up on such things as idioms of speech and cultural nuances. Learning these will allow you to imbue your characters with a greater level of authenticity and variety, thereby making them more interesting.

    Secondly, I would encourage you to press on and write. It sounds like you have both a good idea for a novel and some sense of how you want to proceed. Writing is very much a learning experience. As such, when you review what you've written, it's fine to be dissatisfied, but when you are, seek out examples of what you consider to be excellent writing and then compare yours to that. But for now, I would just concentrate on moving forward.

    And enjoy the ride!
     
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  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I write first and worry about what I want to show ( in the end ) in editing. I've written some controversial things sometimes I self censor sometimes I don't. My first novel is actually pretty shocking when I think of some of the scenes I wrote - child rape, incest, an act of cannibalism ( and it wasn't a zombie book ), pedophiles, a brothel, serial murders, male rape, mutilations, hallucinations and other grotesques. I'm not sure when I attempt to rewrite it if I will keep in some of these things. But having them down I have something to work with. I can keep them sharp and 'real' ( I always hate that real should be synonymous with graphic - something I don't believe ) , emphasis the tone and hint at them rather than show them or keep them in shadow with hints. It all depends on what I'm going for.

    As for the race issue. Stay away from clich├ęs but maybe do some research into the place ( say New York or Toronto ) and their part in in. For instance in some cities they could be the majority or minority.
     
  13. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    I would do research about the different ethnic groups that you wish to write about. Also keep in mind there is a difference between ethnicity and culture. For instance one can be say black but there are many cultures in the black community. As you said try not to come off as too stereo typical.
     
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  14. TheWingedFox
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    TheWingedFox Active Member

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    This certainly sounds like an intriguing and original idea. Looking at this idea,a group of homeless adolescents facing the end of the world,the premise certainly doesn't sound like a children's novel! So I think you have free reign to relay what would happen in this situation. I daresay there will be elements of violence,sex,nihilism but also times when the reader is surprised by how the characters react in their situation,even positively or compassionately. If these are characters who have been held back by society throughout their short lives,the imminent end of that society should liberate them from any norms impressed upon them,moreso than the general white middle class we see portrayed normally.
    Perhaps also,there is freedom to have your characters act in any way you want;after all,there's no litmus test for this scenario,so who can tell what people might do?
    I think the age group is more of the issue of the work than the ethnicity; there is the idea that adolescence is a subculture of its own that can somehow transcend race; so you may hinder your creativity in that aspect if you are too bogged down in presenting ethnicity perfectly
    I was reminded of the 1998 film,'Last Night',featuring David Cronenberg. A group of characters,again,middle class,facing the (reason never revealed) end of the world,and how they deal with it
    Look forward to reading this!
     
  15. wellthatsnice
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    wellthatsnice Active Member

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    I would say your subject matter is perfectly fine, however if you are worried about stereotyped racial profiles...maybe you should take a look at doing some volunteer work with homeless teens at a shelter. I guarantee you they are not what you expect And I think you will come out with much deeper and developed characters for your story
     
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  16. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    i wouldnt worry about the fact that this is your first novel. not everyone gets their first novel right first time (i should know, mine was painfully bad!) write it and see how you feel about it, use it as a learning curve and say, "ok, what can i improve?" and go from there.

    go forth fellow writer and make as many mistakes as you like, (thats why we have editing!)
     

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