The Literary Agent Era

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Inexperienced and unpublished writers are continually asking me, “How do I go about getting a literary agent?” And “Do I really need a literary agent?” Having once been an inexperienced and unpublished writer, I can empathize with their concerns and confusion. Here are some answers to the questions:

Free-lance or hobby writers of stories and articles who do not have a writing reputation or a track record of sales should not bother enlisting the aid of a literary agent. Most agents will not accept them as clients. Their work is not worth much money.

The average agent’s fee is 10% to 15% of what the publication pays. Selling one story or article every four months for $1000 may impress the writer but it represents only $100 or $150, every four months to the agent. That would not cover the phone bill or stamps.

Literary agents are not engaged in furthering the cause of American literature or literary works. Most agents are just dreary merchants with artistic affectations. Business people are not sympathetic to penny-ante writers with long-term hopes. They are geared to function for writers who produce big goods that will turn them a high profit.

Without a literary agent to represent them, free-lance writers must search out their own resources for getting published. The four standard publications that are devoted to listing possible outlets and the methods for reaching a particular medium are: The Writer’s Market, The Literary Marketplace, The International Dictionary of Little Magazines and Small Presses, and The Writer’s Handbook.

They provide the name of the publication, the address, the editors, and a brief summary of what type of material they favor. They cite the circulation, terms of payment and the rights they acquire when the material is purchased. There is little more that the writer needs know.

When you write a story you consider salable, send it to the magazine you believe will be interested in publishing such material. Since it is only a story, it is not necessary to first forward a letter of inquiry to the editor to learn if he is interested in the work. Send the entire story with a brief letter: “I am submitting my story, “The Grim Reaper Titters,” for publication. Thank you.”

If you want to sell an article, it is not necessarily to write the article first and then submit. You send the editor a query letter stating what you intend to write. Offer the title (“Is the Fountain Pen Making a Comeback?”) and use the manner or tone you will use in the writing. Example: (breezy) Tired of those ballpoint pens that run dry when you are signing a million dollar contract? (Actual) When the first ballpoint pens were introduced in 1941 the sale of fountain pens and liquid ink dropped for 33%. (Informational) The original fountain pen, made of an Asian bamboo stalk,  used a bladder made of fused guppy lungs. It was invented seven minutes after King Leopold VI was dethroned. He took the fountain pen with him.

Include in your letter of inquiry the sources of information and if photos or drawings of your subject are available. You can also include why you believe readers will be interested in such an article. It is not immodest to present a brief view of your writing background, and a list of other magazines that have published your writing.

The query letter should be typed single space and no longer than one page.

The greatest difficulty is the waiting. Popular magazines will not respond quickly to your submission. Their excuse is that they get hundreds of submissions a month. The unknown writer is in no position to antagonize them.

Wait a month and then send a letter asking for information on your article or story. After another month send a more emphatic letter. Persist until the story is accepted or rejected.

If your story or article is rejected, violent suicide is not the sensible way for conducting a successful writing career. Nor does a cold form rejection mean that your writing is unpublishable. It could merely mean that the material was not submitted at the right time.

If a magazine can only publish eight articles and three stories a month, and it receives 83 articles and 94 stories then 75 articles and 91 stories will be rejected. They are not all rejected because they are unsuitable. There is just no room for them this month.

My advice is to send the same material back to them. You might touch the right time or, by that time, the magazine will have a new staff of editors, or it will have modified what it deems acceptable.

The literary agent is necessary only when the writer has a big property. A book. If they are competent agents, they have the contacts and know the contract. They can haggle for larger advances. But they have become more influential and powerful than they should be. They believe they are directing the course of the writer toward an illustrious destiny. They offer themselves as critics and collaborators. But they are still only merchants peddling the written word.

©2013 The Estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published August 4, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)

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Men Will Be Boys

by Leonard Bishop, Author of Dare to Be a Great Writer

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

It was a good day in both our lives. A day separated from the world of calamity and fright–from decisions and moralities. There was only Luke and me–a nine-year-old boy and his dad–fishing.

My son has become an eager fisherman. The only time he speaks to me these days is to ask, “Dad, take me fishing, please, please.” What I know about fishing you can hang from a gnat’s belly button and it would still not be weighted down. But fatherhood demands that I become my son’s role-model. That he patterned his growing-up-years after the masculine qualities in my character. My RUSH to adventure!

There is a large pond on a neighbor’s property. He has it stocked with all sorts of fish. Crawdads, bluegills, catfish, and other brand names that Luke has suddenly learned about. The neighbor agreed to let us fish there. We bought some hooks and line, some worms and red plastic balls that float (he calls them bobbers). I skinned a tree branch for a pole, and we went fishing.

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

I sat on the grass, watching him lean the pole into the water. I can feel chiggers slowly burrowing into my skin. Squadrons of mosquitoes from the air, ready to target me. Luke, forgetting his vow of silence while his hook is in the water, calls to me, “Dad, how about you being in the one who cuts off the heads, okay?” I nod, “Sure,” though I am suddenly nauseous. I don’t want to touch those greasy looking slabs that gape at you with one eye.

I stare at his slender body, the gracefully slouched stance, how he licks his lips, the way of he grips the pole, and I am the total sensation of love. There he is, my son. Experiencing the right now of his life. He doesn’t want to become the president or crave to own a Porsche. There are no famines, no earthquakes, no world beyond the pond. He and his pole and the water are one. He just wants to catch fish.

What does he think about as he waits for a fish to take his bait. He is not thinking about ideas. He is inventing legends and imagining heroics. Hidden in the pond is a monstrous fish that has already swallowed 11 little boys. But the fearsome creature has never done battle with Luke Bishop–majestic in dream, magnificent in deed. He would hook the pond’s monster and hundreds of people would rush to witness the monumental struggle. Using every muscle in his small body, he would grapple the gilled villain into exhaustion, then beach the beast.

Newspaper people from as far as Marian and Hope would photograph him standing on the scaly titanic. Then he would suddenly stomp the gargantuan fish’s belly. The canyon huge mouth would open and 11 scared boys and a cute red-headed girl people had forgotten about, would rush out, charging to their joyous mothers. Cheers would rock the skies. And for his conquest of the Cyclopsian pond fish, he would be presented with an official boy scout knife initialed L. E. B.

Daydreams of splendorous adventure and grand heroics is what a nine-year-old boy thinks about when he’s fishing. Believing he might become discouraged if the fish are not biting I called to him, “How you doing, Kid?” He quickly puts his finger to his lips, shushing me, then shouts, “Don’t talk so loud, you’ll scare them away.” I whispered back, “Sure, Luke, okay–you betcha.”

Not all of fishing is delight and satin. He crimps his mouth and squirms with horror when I say, “Here’s a worm. Chop it in half and put it onto the hook.” He draws away and says, “you do the worming, Dad. I’ll do the fishing.” The long slippery thing slithers and oozes and the barb stabs my fingers.  But I play macho and finally hand him his line. He rushes back, using his pole like a baseball bat, and casts.

I don’t want to enjoy fishing. It is a blatant waste of time. So many stories could be written in that time. I would rather balance my checkbook or have an old tooth drilled. But this is a pastoral interlude, a loving time between Luke and me. It is man and boy time. It is friendshipping and being just guys. It is maleness time. But sometimes, while I watch him fish, I feel dry with sorrow.

I see him growing up and his voice roughening, and he is intensely into sports and having fantasies about girls, and he has no time for a bumbling man who wants to sit and reminisce, “Hey, Luke, remember those summers we went fishing?” The days will change him, tyrannized in him, filling him. He is all pulse beats and electricity. I am twilight. I need eyeglasses to clearly see his face, and my thoughts fade.

Age softly talcum’s the mind and there is no great length of years ahead, so you ease into the dwellings of yestertimes. In the shadowy corridors of memory you call to your son, “Yo–hey, Luke, don’t forget your dad.” and your voice echoes and roles and slowly hushes while you watch yourself and your boy as you were then–and he’s in some other time in another place, becoming his manhood.

So you’ve got to love him now–every second. And while you are letting him go you must hold on to him. As long as you can–even if you have to join with him in fishing.

©2013 The Estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published July 14, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)

 

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You Can’t Take Back Yesterday

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

There is no comfort in carrying around long-held regrets for expectations and goals that were never fulfilled. Regrets are like all-season mosquitoes that sting you into the recall of what you once might have done. Most of us experience more emotional stress learning how to fog-over those regrets, than we would have used accomplishing the expectations and goals we regret having neglected.

One depressing regret in my past is that I used my career as a writer as the only outlet for expressing myself. I did not ever sustain a serious effort to develop another talent. It was only when I had about seven books published and was permanently fixed into my writing career, that I let myself realize I had avoided other artistic forms that might have enlarged my capacity for gaining happiness. I had settled for one talent at the possible sacrifice of other talents.

I never became an artist-painter because my first tries were dreadful. Smears, blurs, drools of clashing colors. More went onto the floor and walls than went onto the canvas. There was no perspective, no form. One morning I studied the four paintings I had created, and shook my head, “They are about as unique as a runny nose.” I put them into a closet and forgot about them. Eventually they were lost. I was about 40 years old and not very wise. I would always be, only a writer.

I had judged my talent for becoming an artist-painter by the beginnings of my effort. I appraised the crudity, the shallowness, the visual slobber, and concluded that I was without talent for painting.

While it was an accurate estimation for that time, it was also ignorant. Like a frightened cockroach, I scurried back to the safety in my unquestioned talent for writing.

When I began instructing in universities and read the amateurish stories of the students, I realized I had been foolishly impulsive about my painting. There was a possibility of talent in those poorly written student stories. With some concentrated work and patience, the talent to write would appear and they would find careers or personal fulfillment. I did not see my paintings in the same vision. I wanted my talent for painting to burst upon the canvas in a geyser of brilliance and talent.

I was pathetic. I was seriously dumb. I might even have been tragic.

Rarely does the talent for an art form burst into existence like an Olympic sprinter. All–without exception–beginning work is crude in comparison to what it will become after some time of working in that art form. The beginning in any art form is a procedure of scraping away the suffocating veneers of timidity, ignorance, and conceit–so your talent can begin to breathe. When you consider all the years it took for you to keep your talents hidden, you must sensibly realize how long it will take to scratch away the cement covers, to release that talent.

There are superb gains in the development of a secondary talent. You do not charge into the arena of competition to do battle with artists who use all their lives mastering only one talent in one art form. This eliminates the assault of emotional shocks which cause awful fears, tensions, and even physical illness. And there are no demands upon you to excel. The only ability you need achieve is enough skill to give you a unique and deeply personal outlet of expression, and happiness.

I always wanted to play the guitar and sing folk songs. I believed I might become another Burl Ives or Josh white. I bought a guitar and self-instruction manual and began teaching myself chords. I plunked and plunked and sang, “I Gave My Love a Cherry” and “The Girl with the Delicate Air.” The range of my voice was as wide as a hair. The musical resonance of my ear was as responsive as petrified drum.

But while I plunked and plunked and sang, I was exultant with joy.

I made some tapes to hear what I sounded like, so I could improve. Other people heard the tapes and they jeered. “You sound like a cow giving birth to a rhino.” And “Why don’t you take up ballet?” They were right. I strummed the strings as though with arthritic toes. My voice sounded like tearing rags. I sold the guitar and shrugged away the desire. Today, when I hear guitar playing folk singers I become rigid with envy. I damn my own character weakness. I not only appraised my talent to play an instrument and to sing, too early. I had viewed myself from the superficial judgment of others. All they were listening to was my performance, not my pleasure. All I felt was their disrespect as I ignored my deep satisfaction. To me, personal satisfaction is more precious than publis approval.

There is always one more talent in our characters. If your livelihood is founded on the career of one strong talent, concentrate on creating that talent into the pay-off plateaus of professionalism. But don’t allow that one form to become your full and only outlet of expression. It will become joyless. It will, in time, become a chore.

All talented people are complex and cannot be fully expressed through one art form. And no matter how poorly the secondary talent begins, or how many people ridicule you, continue in using that talent. Just for the ecstasy that being talented and more self expressed gives you.

One afternoon while I was practicing my guitar playing and singing, “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” someone knocked on my studio door. I grinned, and whispered, “I knew it, I just knew it. A theatrical agent was told about me. And he wants to sign me up for playing and singing as backup for a television show.” I walked to the door thinking of how much money I would ask for my talents. I opened the door. A grimy old lady with a few teeth cackled at me, “Why don’t you shut up that racket? You’re waking up all the dead rats!” And slammed the door on my face.

I shrugged. Everyone’s a music critic.

©2013  the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published May 24, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)

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A Pair of Persistent Threats

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

There are two persistent threats that intimidate all inexperienced writers who want to write novels. And unless they avoid those threats, they will never write their novels. When I was instructing at the University of California, in Berkeley, I repeated, to the point of nagging, “A novel is not thought out, all at once. The writer does not know all he must write, when he begins.” The student-writers who attended that insight eventually published novels.

I learned that insight many years ago through an experience that was not related to the writing of novels.

I was living in San Francisco with my first family. We had a three room apartment on the fringe of the Chinese section. I had a novel ‘soon-to-be published’ at Random House, but the advance money had already been spent. We were cramped and uncomfortable. Then I sold a television script to “Naked City” and another to “Rawhide” and decided to use the money to buy a house. It would be the first house I ever owned.

Real estate prices were irrationally high. I finally located one in the outer mission area. It looked like it was dropped from a mashed Cracker-Jack’s box. The floor sagged, the walls were cracked, the concrete foundation was just clots of talcum powder. The window frames were warped, you could see the sky through the ceiling. I called it “Blight Manor.”

Because my high school background was in “the trades” and not general academics, I was not frightened by this ramshackle residence. I isolated the jumble of defects and viewed them individually. I could shingle a roof. Change siding. Re-do the plumbing. Replace the faulty wiring. I knew that with patience, skill, and persistence, I could restore the house into becoming solid and livable. I did not panic myself by realizing, all at once, all that I had to do.

The same vision is necessary when deciding to write a novel.

After the fullness of the novel is realized by the writer, it should be viewed from a vision that is deliberately short-sighted to prevent the writer from becoming over whelmed by all that he must do. When considered, all at once, what a novel contains, and what the writer must know, it is impossible to write a novel.

Though a novel is written in an accumulative manner, it is not always written with progressing regularity. Often the writer creates scenes out of sequence. Sometimes because he is stuck and cannot continue the sequence he is on. Or because he knows exactly how a later scene should be written and he doesn’t want to lose it. Sometimes he writes out of sequence because that is how he feels. A novelist does not allow himself to realize, all at once, all that he must not yet know about the novel he is writing. If he admits to this dreadful recognition, he will not begin the novel. He understands that more of the novel is hidden within him, than has been revealed to him when first conceiving it. Past experience encourages him to know he will be able to dredge up from himself all that he will have to know.

Novelists are always dabbling with miniature outlines. They write for a while and then the material begins suggesting content they were not aware of before. Extensions of character, complications of plot, background scenes, etc. When that happens, the writer stops the novel and works up a short outline. It is a “learning” outline used for clearer direction.

Nor does the writer allow himself to realize all the defects in his writing, all at once. Such an awareness, while he is writing, would paralyze him. While he is writing he is aware of when he is writing poorly. He plods on. He rushes slowly. He will repair the defects when rewriting.

He is not searching for the refinements of prose, the refinements of craft, the refinements of meaning. He is reaching for the astonishment of drama. If what he writes is truly dramatic, he will inherently have incorporated the refinements of prose, craft, and meaning in the drama.

The scene you planned to do in nine pages becomes overwritten if you use three. You believe you would need 4 sub-plots to create suspense and complication. But no one in the profession of writing has ever satisfactorily defined what a sub-plot is–or how it is consciously accomplished. You intended to kill the hero at the end. But three quarters into the novel you learn that if the hero dies, the conclusion is pointless. Etc.

Experienced novelists always anticipate change and long intervals of ignorance when they begin a novel. They do not distress themselves by thinking of the entire novel, in detail. Nor do they frighten themselves with the admission of all they do not know and all they must learn before completing the novel. No experienced novelist ever knows what he is doing, all the time, all at once.

©2013 the Estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published January 26, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)

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We Grow Through Time

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

I enjoy remembering, but I do not believe in photograph albums. They are bulky, and troublesome to maintain. There are always stacks of pictures in the drawer, waiting to be placed on the pages.

Years ago I decided “No more albums,” and began searching the thrift stores for used frames. Whenever I settle and build myself a studio, I hang the photographs on the walls. I am surrounded by my history, by the people I love, by memories. Wherever I look, there I am, where I used to be.

There I am in 1944, a few weeks before D-Day. I’m wearing a broad brimmed fedora, my jacket was wide, padded shoulders, and I’m sneering. If it had not been for that photograph me and three other kids would’ve robbed and mugged the greatest symphony conductor of the time Arturo Toscanini.

We had it carefully cased and planned. He conducted a weekly radio program from Rockefeller Center in New York City. He had a large rented home in Riverdale outside of the city proper. He was driven to the 49th Street entrance in a luxurious Chevrolet. He was a punctual man. Short with flaring white hair. Skinny, rat-eyed, natty. We were told he carried a wad of bills in his pocket to pay for the nightclubbing he did after performances. We were dressed neatly in borrowed zoot-suits to blend with the crowds of respectable people and soldiers.

Then a street photographer working the area snapped our pictures and poked the receipt into our pockets. If we mailed him a dollar– it could be in postage stamps– he would send us the photographs. We wanted to kill him.  If we had mugged the “Great Toscanini” the cops would have learned of our presence on the street and could’ve gotten our pictures. We walked away. A few months later I sent for my picture.

There I am in 1939 lifting weights in an institution for ‘the social correction of delinquents.’ It was about 6 miles from Eastport, in Maine. Big chest, bulging shoulders, trim waist, stallion legs.

Eleven years later, in 1950, I was in New York City, just starting to become a writer, and I was forced into hiding. There was a catch-a-communist frenzy on. A senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, was on a rampage for personal publicity. He used the Communists as his lever.

In 1937 I joined the Young Communist League. It was the only place where you could get free donuts and coffee, and be taught how to lift weights. Ironically, the Young Communist League was one of the few organizations that was not considered subversive. I had signed their membership, Hymie Cockamamie.

There I am in 1959 holding my youngest son, Matthew, about a year old. Behind us is a bulky television set with a screen the size of a book page. It was a day when my first wife thought I was a stupid envious man.

Around 1958, we had gone to a party and met a tall, soft-faced blonde guy named Charles Van Doren. His family were noted scholars and literary critics and I immediately disliked him. He believed my novels were too raw. I said he was a superficial punk living off his family’s reputation.

And there he was, a television star, answering questions that could earn him $64,000 on the television quiz-show. I said,” I don’t believe he knows that much. You heard me talking to him. I had to give the creep the definition of eclecticism. He’s a know-nothing.” She claimed I was just an uneducated lout who didn’t know the sex of the Statue of Liberty.

On November 16, of that year, Charles Van Doren walked into the House Caucus Room and testified that he had been fed the answers to the quiz. I pitied the poor child, but I Did envy the money he made.

There I am, in 1939, standing in front of the high school with two satin streamers across my chest.” Second Best Dancer” and ” Second Best Looking.” The only reason I came in second in those two categories was because the guy who came in first had gotten to the voting committee before me. With strong-armed intimidation. You could win any high school poll. I was wearing my older brother’s suit.

I have seen the studios of other writers. They have paintings and books, fan letters and book jackets, accolading reviews and some photographs of their families framed on their walls. Few ever used their walls as a gallery portraying their past.

I enjoy looking at and remembering all those yesterdays. I feel continuous, moved along with time. I did not become what I am right now, right now. I have been grown like a gardenia or weed, through time. I am connected to a social and personal history. In those times when I was photographed, I am fixed and unchanging. I will always be the same even while I am becoming more, and older.

©2013 The Estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published October 27, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)

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The Writer’s Life: A Social Vacuum

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Don’t quit your present employer to become a professional writer until you have learned how to be alone. It is not the lack of talent or skill that stops someone from succeeding as a professional writer. Talent can be faked and skill is an acquired ability. A dominant preventative is the inability of the writer to be alone for long stretches of time.

Everyone who wants to become a professional writer believes they can achieve this career if only they had enough time for their writing. If they could only get out from under the pressure of their employment, they could make it. It isn’t only the 40 hours of work they have to do, it is also the after-effects of their job. The winding down, the fatigue, the additional responsibilities that stop them. The need for a family and social life. This is a complaint, but it is not the reality.

The moment you consciously decide upon the career of being a writer you immediately fix yourself into a condition of futility. There are already enough writers in the world. One more is not an important addition. Anything you want to write has already been written and too much of it is better than anything you will ever write. The writer is not encouraged, not supported, not accredited with a sense of responsibility while he is unpublished. He’s just another loser diving into the vast ocean of failure.

And when, after years of learning his craft, he does get published, what happens? It takes the general public about three days to read a novel some writer has taken two or three years to write. There may be accolades and money for the writer whose novel becomes popular. But in a few months that popular novel is forgotten. And for the writer whose novel does not become popular, there are no accolades or money. Few people have heard of what he has written. But popular or anonymous, the writer has to write another novel because that is his profession.

Most of the writer’s day is lived in a social vacuum. He cannot have other people around when he is writing. People–a beloved spouse, an adored child, a worshiped God–are distractions. Their presence in his writing time become restraints on his freedom to plunge into depth or rush into height. They rattle the stability of his concentration. They cloud his search for the dramatic instant of character and conflict.

The writer must always be alone, if he is to write. And in that condition of ” aloneness” he struggles against an unconquerable enemy–his hidden Self. It is a Self he can avoid only by partaking in the entertainments and diversions of society. As non-writer people do. But when he is alone and writing for long stretches of time, that Enemy-Self is always there, waiting to defeat him. To stop him from writing.

Within those hours of aloneness. There is a rampant fantasy and fear. All the doubts he feels about himself are thrust into his consciousness, with impact. He returns to his past–as he writes to fulfill his future. His present is the idea. But his past is the content. And there is always more greed than generosity, more shame than self-appreciation. He has lied, abused, deceived, betrayed, cheated many more people than have been that corrupt to him. He is without his glittering disguises. He is alone.

He moans in pain about the success of other writers he knows are inferior to himself. He sweats with an inner-humiliation for believing that so many other writers are more competent and luckier than he is. Even as he writes to enrich his life–he knows he is wasting his life. Where are all of the bestsellers he knew he was to write? Where are the illustrious prizes he believed he would win? Where are the world shaking profundities he aspired to create? Where is the universal recognition?

Only the professional writer who has been writing for years is able to withstand the maddening pressure that comes from the enemy within his Self. The professional writer cannot ever defeat that enemy. He can merely develop protective insulations. So the Enemy-Self cannot stop his writing. These insulations are comprised of cashmere illusions and angora hypes. ” This novel is the big one, the megabuck getter, the barn burner!” This hype is an enemy-proof wrapping cocooned about his ego. The source of these hypes of are often unreasonable hopes and irrational faith. He creates them to occupy his aloneness.

But it takes years of apprenticeship-writing to live alone with yourself before you can devise these insulations. You become a professional writer, gradually. By learning how to be alone, one part of the day at a time. By sneaking some writing in on your lunch hour. By writing after your employment day is over. By controlling your after-work time and writing one, two hours an evening. Or before going to work. Day after day becoming more and more familiar with the Enemy-Self–so you can learn all the tactics, ploys and stratagems it uses against you.

And while you are learning to live in aloneness, you are also writing. Giving yourself evidence of talent, skill, and achievement. Until you can handle despair, depression, dilemma, and the threatening defeats you feel when you are alone–for long periods of time. Then when you can create an invulnerable inner-life and not ruin or disrupt the lives of others by your being a professional writer– then quit your job and take your chances. There is still room in the world for your great size.

© 2013 The Estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published January 19, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)

 

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Write a Novel? Invent Life

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Let’s get to the plot-line. A plot-line is the razzle-dazzle and suspense of the story. Here are some exaggerated examples to use as a guide.

If you are writing a first-person novel (telling the story of what happened from a personal viewpoint,) an excellent structure can be found in the old-time silent movie serials. Pearl White, a two-gun heroine of the West, is chased by dastardly bank robbers. Furiously, she rides her horse to a cliff’s edge, and plunges over. The camera shows her tumbling down to the rocky canyon below. The scene ends.

Next week’s installment, (the next chapter) opens with Pearl hurtling down. But, she catches onto a branch jutting from the cliff-side and is saved. She climbs up and gets away. The series continues into another adventure.

If you have a dual plot-line (conducted through a third-person) using the viewpoints of several people, bring in the silent film serial of the Lone Ranger. He and Pearl are lovers but events are always interrupting their affairs; separating them. Alternate between what happens to Pearl and the Lone Ranger. If you want a triple plot-line, turn Tonto into a villain. Go from one plot-line to another plot-line in any sequence that is interesting and suspenseful.

A plot-line is merely a series of events which are connected through the lives of the characters. Each scene should be a complete unit that pushes the plot further, and deepens the characters. Scenes should have a conclusion, but not a final ending. Open-ended scenes will allow your entry into other scenes. Events should be happening all the time.

There are only two other writing techniques–foreshadowing and linking–that you need as basics for writing your novel. Foreshadowing is like a barely audible whisper concealed in the scene, telling the reader about another scene that will appear later on. When Red riding Hood’s mother warns her about the wolf, and the girl answers, ” I’ll be careful. The wolf won’t catch me,” you are telling the reader that later on, the wolf will probably find her.

Linkage is a device used for connecting the several characters through the several plot-lines. When Red Riding Hood is warned of the wolf, you can now shift to a scene of what the wolf is thinking and doing. When the wolf determines that she is going to her grandmother’s, you can shift to a scene about what the grandmother is thinking and doing. You have linked their lives and plot-lines through a common interest.

Restrain yourself from politicizing, sermonizing, or philosophizing. It is all been said before. Your philosophy will be revealed by what happens to your characters. The character of your characters, and how they relate to each other, will be your sermon. How your characters deal with society, and what society does to them, expresses your political views.

Don’t dwaddled or meander when you begin your novel. Put your major character, (your self) and other characters into critical situations that force them to take action. Immediately. Don’t landscape the countryside, described the city, document the historical background. You can do that after something happens to your people. Plunge right into the novel.

Avoid lengthy dialogues where people stand around telling each other what they already know. Example:” Well, Martin, now that we’ve been married 18 years, and have three children, and two boys and a girl, and you’re an engineer earning $7,965 a month, and we still have $150,000 left on our mortgage, how do you feel about our president’s economic policies?” Let your characters say what they must say and get on with the action.

Use sex scenes only when they contribute to the plot and change relationships. Do not be excessively graphic about describing anatomical endowments and where the odd-shaped parts fit. Control your exuberance for portraying erotic spectaculars and fleshly panoramas. Readers want emotional revelations when characters couple–not for fornicative instruction.

Growing up in a small community, and remaining there, is not a deterrent for writing a novel. Writers are people who have perceptions and insights into the human experience, wherever they live. A writer travels without leaving home. Living in a small community does not retard your mind or paralyze your sensitivities. Only evaluating your life as banal and undramatic can gradually render you into a lethargic slug.

Writing a novel about yourself is not a total answer for over-coming boredom, television, the idol-worshipers of sports, and other anesthetizing activities used for avoiding reality. But it is a positive, bold move into the discovery of yourself. Find out who you are. You might be hiding from someone you can love. You might find others worth loving. And remember, the Great American Novel is still waiting to be written–again.

I have offered up only the beginnings of what should be known about writing a novel. You’ll learn the rest through your writing. Begin today, and in one year, I will expect letters from people telling me I am inept, superficial, and dumb–and then instructing me on how to write a novel. Good. I would appreciate that instruction. I am old, but not that old. Ha.

Leonard Bishop

©2013 The Estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published December 1, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)

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