Pro Writer Wannabe: Start Writing

6 / 7 / 8

from the List of 13 Bits of Advice to Start Writing Your Book

You can’t have a wonderful protagonist unless you have a twisty wicked antagonist. This is the key to the Start Writing 3 blog.

Dystopia that offers the dream of Utopia

When a former student recently asked for advice on how to start writing his first novel, he shared the cranial bone of his idea which gave a strong hint about his central antagonist. I’ll share the bit of bone here, since many stories, including the recent Hunger Games series and the 1970’s Logan’s Run, are built on the same brain bone.


BTW, that’s the reason ideas cannot be copyrighted, only the form that your idea takes through the words you put on the page. When someone steals your words, word after word after word, page by page, scene by scene, then that’s breaking copyright . . . and you can go get them!

So, in the bits of advice for him that I’m sharing with you in Start Writing 3, the conflict characters come after the primary characters.

6] Your antagonist sounds like the institution running the supposedly Utopian society, which means you have a masked dystopia—always fun to write the dawning realization by the protagonist who then must convince the allies of the dystopia and rally them and others to fight!

Side Excursion to Logan’s Run

a. Logan’s Run does this exceptionally well. As flawed as the film of the novel is, the film did an excellent job of shocking the audience with the switch from Utopia to Dystopia.

Typical Patriarchy: Man fully clothed, Woman in skimpy clothing

b. Along with the protagonist, the reader has a double -surprise following that realization followed by a second double-surprise with the protagonist’s allies. Then comes the quadruple-obstacle of escaping the dystopia—problem, problem, problem, problem—and still the writer is not finished with surprises. Escape only starts up a whole new set of shocks.

c. If you want to understand surprising the audience, you need to study Logan’s Run.

      • The film is highly dated and chauvinistic and therefore offensive to modern sensibilities.
      • If you want to see how much society has changed in less than 50 years, the film is the exemplar as a product of its time and the patriarchal mindset, to be much derided now–but fun to watch and point out the changed way of thinking while throwing popcorn at the screen.
      • However, it’s also a well-written story with constant movement that gets the necessary surprises right.

7] Besides this major antagonist, you will need minor antagonists more “local” than the mastermind. Make each antagonist more difficult to defeat as the story progresses.

8] Defeating the institution will seem impossible—defeating each antagonist should give a key to unlock the walls guarding the institution.

Be careful as you consider this blog’s three bits of advice. They may seem simple; they’re not. Many great writers have whole novels fall apart when they haven’t created strong antagonists. And the weaker the antagonist, the weaker your protagonist.

Surprises keep stories moving and readers reading. When you can tie multiple surprises to your antagonists, you have great story telling.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Understanding Protagonists and Antagonists and developing great characters is the focus of my writing craft book, Discovering Your Characters, second in the Discovering set and all part of the Think Like a Pro Writer series.

Discovering Your Novel goes far beyond characters and the initial start to your writing. From World Building and Character Motifs, to the Big Push of the Draft, and on to the Proof-Plus before publication, this will guide you through your first year of writing AND completing your first novel.

Completing the Novel is HUGE, BTW.

Pro Writer How-To: Start Writing?

Pro Writer Advice

A former student recently contacted me for some advice. After the shock, I read his text. He wants to start writing a novel. He’s got a great idea and wanted a little guidance about how to start writing.

I spent my teaching years telling my students much more than they ever wanted to know in our daily lessons. I did the same thing with him. Couldn’t help myself. A List of 13, in no particular order.

I thought I would share them with you here in late August and September. Why not? If you wanted my advice about writing and how to start, I would tell you exactly the same as I did for him.

I’ve added a little to my basic text back to him. Well, I’ll be honest. I added a Lot.

First, how to get the words on the page? Second, how to control the story you’re writing? Here we go.

  1. Format the manuscript just like you did for your essays. That means 1-inch margins, double-spaced, no additional space between paragraphs, use automatic wrap, set tabs at .25, center your title and all headings, use page
    Hand Typing Retro Typewriter Machine Work Writer

    numbers. A change to formatting that I would make would be to use STYLES on the HOME ribbon: pick normal for body text, Heading 1 for Book Title, Heading 2 for Chapter Titles. When you finish the manuscript, create a table of contents using the automatic generator then head over to Amazon’s KDP page and read through their templates to make any additional changes.

  2. Use the Archetypal Story Structure. I advised my former student to check out Christopher Vogler’s Writers’ Journey, easily researched on the internet. That’s an excellent resource for any beginning writer.
    1. Most of the new “stuff” about writing that has come out since Vogler’s seminal book just builds on the same source that Vogler did—Joseph Campbell, who built on Carl Jung. You can’t go wrong with Jung.
      • It’s like the Master Teacher stuff, four versions that I endured during three decades of teaching: the same information just re-packaged to look new and shiny with lots of new jargon to make you think you’re getting new until you look closely and see all the similarities with a few minuscule differences. When I think of all those hours in meetings about the re-packaged new-old that was pushed! Let’s just say I could have taken several long vacations every five years or so.

Want Books about Writing and the Writer’s Life?

I could have advised my former student to check out my recent Discovering Your Novel, which has all sorts of helps to get a newbie writer from idea to finished manuscript in the year. Week to week guidance, with charts! A one-stop reference on world building, character development, plot structure, revision, and proofreading. Beginner writers don’t really need anything else . . . .

Unless they need to change their mindset from hobbyist to Pro Writer. In that case, you also need my Think like a Pro, seven lessons that will help you change your mindset and move you from dabbler to—well, thinking like a professional writer.