"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"
If I were sitting across the table from an aspiring novelist who needed the first bit of guidance, I would tell him to learn his craft.
Some things about the path of a novelist can't be taught. Perseverance, for instance. An abundance of story and character ideas. A tale burning a hole in your heart. But the craft of fiction can be taught, and the novelist who does not commit himself to years in pursuit of its mastery might as well spend the time doing something else. Like playing video games.
I have worked with aspiring authors who have a wonderful story idea and heroic commitment to the hard work of writing a long story. They sacrifice time and energy, gladly paying the opportunity costs involved in writing a novel. And at the other end of the process they come out with a finished manuscript. But the problem is that they never learned how to do what they're attempting, and the result is a high-concept, diligently typed-up mess.
I liken it to a farmer who decides he will build a majestic Gothic cathedral. His goal is worthy and there is no questioning his heart. With endurance he labors long and alone to construct the object of his aspirations. But because he doesn't know what in the world he's doing, his cathedral ends up looking like a disaster.
Can you fault his heart or his desire? Never. But he should've read a book first. He should've gotten help. He should've learned his craft.
So it is with novelists. If you've got the story and the commitment to see the job through to the end, you've got more going for you than most people who say they're going to write a book one of these days. But it's not enough. You have to know what you're doing.
My Fiction Writing Tip of the Week column is written with the aspiring novelist in mind. If you read and heed what I say there, you will learn the essentials--show vs. tell, POV, good characters, good dialogue, etc.--and you will learn advanced techniques and everything in between. Someone who truly adheres to what I've written there will very soon find his fiction craftsmanship improving by leaps and bounds.
I would also recommend that this aspiring author get objective opinions about his fiction. Whether that's from his mom or wife, a critique group, or a book doctor (like me), if it helps him get a better grasp on how to improve as a novelist, it's a good thing.
The story ideas will still be there, and hopefully so will the determination to write it. But it won't be until these admirable qualities are combined with an elevated mastery of the craft of fiction that he will find himself publishable.
--Jeff Gerke, novelist, book doctor & publisher of Marcher Lord Press (Be sure to check out his informative website WhereTheMapEnds.)