Lesson No. 2: Writing your novel

September 6, 2013

As so often happens, when an instructor begins to teach a classroom full of students something important, there becomes two schools of thought among those students.

Such is the case after the first lesson from Vincent’s Famous Columnist School.

Last week I explained how I had recently been inundated with urgings to pay boatloads of money to writing schools so that they could teach me how to become a better writer. A beginner’s class, I noticed, would cost me far less than an advanced class — which led me to believe that, with every dollar more I invested, I would be one more step closer to writing either like Dave Barry or Will Rogers.

But since my bank account wouldn’t even come close to helping me write like Jeremy Bimboschmatz (don’t bother Googling the name … it’s a pseudo name), then I decided to get into the teaching-how-to-write-for-money scam … er, scheme myself.

But after my first lesson, which simply tried to ease any potential students into the class by offering — FREE OF CHARGE — some interesting tidbits about the keyboard and words in general, the backlash or repercussions or ripple effects (note the potential choices you have when writing) of all that have been two-fold.

First, there are sit-in-the-front-row types. They are the ones with some serious interest in learning from a master wordsmith — and I plan to have one as a guest sometime soon.

The second is the sit-in-the-back-row and toss erasers types. These are the students whose main goals in life are to get a tramp stamp and/or promote Ebonics as a world language.

But while the erasers continue to fly from the back, Lesson No. 2 must go on.

This week’s class, again FREE OF CHARGE, will show you how writing your very own novel can be done. So here we go …

The beginnings of novels aren’t that difficult. You toss out a little, what we in the business call a hook, which will invite the reader to swallow just a bit more.

Beginnings used to be easier than they are now, though. Generations of journalism students were given, as a good example of a hook, the following: “Damn,” said the duchess, as she lit the cigar.

That obviously won’t cut it in the new millennium.

So, to hook a reader in a jaded world, you’ll need something slightly less mundane. I’ll leave you to craft one that best suits your taste — but it could go something like this: “Sparky the spaniel wagged his stub of a tail and his big brown eyes flashed death rays of 257 million volts, which blew the head off his master, Jeff.”

See that? Not only do you have the start of a novel, but you may also have the start of a pretty good movie.

OK, now you’ve got your beginning. Now comes the absolute painless part of filling the middle.

Most people won’t take time to read the middle. It’s a fact. They’ll skip to the last page to see what happened — much like most of you in the middle rows are doing with this column. BUT! Because of your last paragraph, which we will get to shortly, they will eagerly go back to the middle, into which you can pour just any ol’ thing you want.

Adjectives are always good. And for this you’ll need a thesaurus — a book that gives you a list of usable words that all mean relatively the same thing. Try this on for size:

Richard looked into Courtney’s mug.

“The blueness of your eyes tax description,” he whispered. “They are at once azure, cerulean, robin’s egg, peacock, hyacinth, cornflower, sapphire, turquoise, lapis lazuli, beryl, aquamarine, ultramarine, cobalt and really, really blue.”

Courtney slapped him … hard.

See what you did with adjectives? You filled several lines with utterly no effort.

You’re rolling toward your destination now and, to pick up speed, it can be most helpful to throw in a famous quotation. Familiar quotes put readers at ease and make you seem like a “regular” person. Happily, there is an entire book of these — called “Book of Famous Quotations” - from which you can mine at your leisure.

In the cab of his mighty 18-wheeler, roaring through the night, Barney heard a ping in his engine.

“Twitched strings,” he thought. “The clang of metal, beaten drums, dull, shrill, continuous, disquieting; and now the stealthy dancer comes undulantly with cat-like steps that cling.”

It was from Arthur Symon’s ‘Javanese Dancers,’ one of Barney’s favorite poems studied at the A.R. Crushhammer School of Massive Truckery.

Finally, if you still have not filled the allocated space, you are encouraged to employ some dialogue — like so:

“Oh, Paula!”

“Oh, Roger!”

“Oh, Paula, my minx!”

“A cat with a rudimentary tail?”

“That’s a Manx.”

“Oh, Roger!”

And now, the reason that when people skip to your ending and then bounce straight back to the middle again is that, at the finish of your literary construct, you might have — and cleverly, I might add — written the words:

“To be continued …

Next week we will take an in-depth look at Vincent’s 21 Rules for Perfect Prose. Be sure not to miss it.

Class dismissed.

W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at