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How to write a horse book

 

Is no topic dearer to you than the world of horses? Do you devour whatever equestrian literature you can get your hands on? Has it been your dream to write a book yourself, to tell others about the magical relationship between humans and equines? But how? Where will I find the time, you ask. And what about finding a publisher that will take on my project? How should I go about this? Where would I even start? And yet, between all the self-doubt, there remains the desire to share your experiences with others in a meaningful and lasting way. I have summarized a few tips for you to get you started. Everything newly created begins with a vision, a dream, desire. After desire come an iron will and discipline to push through to the end. Do you have it – desire, will, and discipline? Then read on…

 

 

Pick a specific topic within the equestrian field

The equestrian world is a vast sea from which to fish out some inspiration. Which riding discipline do you spend most of your time in: dressage, carting, show jumping, reigning, or going for leisurely hacks? It’s not important which you choose, but it is important that you do choose one. Niching is better than a broad approach. This has to do with your target market, but more about that later. You can use any topic as a base from which to develop a good story. Think about your last riding lesson for instance. Was it bad? Was it good? If yes, who or what made it good or bad? Your horse? What is special about your horse? Take his characteristics and dramatize them. Your horse becomes a unicorn; you turn into a princess. Let your fantasies loose about your riding instructor, an eventer you saw tumble over logs and get back up, or about the nasty stable hand at your last yard. If you had a lousy lesson, that is technically even better because potentially richer in conflict. And conflict, as you will see later, is the key to creating a story.

It is easy to find a topic. Publishers often prefer every day events, as the reader can identify more easily with ‘ordinary’ folk. There are a few simple rules to observe to keep you from wandering off course, but hey, if you dislike following rules, that’s okay, too. As we know exceptions confirm the rule and there is no reason, why your own unique approach could not blaze the trail for a new literary direction. Statistically speaking though it may be smarter to apply a few proven writing techniques. Read on.

 

It is a good idea to use a universal writing formula

Movie blockbusters and fiction bestsellers - almost without exception - have one common characteristic: their story line, their protagonists’ struggles follow a certain ‘recipe’ for writing. Often but not always writers lean on Aristotle’s ‘Hero’s Journey’. Do the same: follow a formula. When you start out you are competing with millions and millions of writers who have one advantage over you: they have already published something. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you first start out. Reserve that for later. Until then, learn the ABCs and the 123s. Do some research and choose a writing pattern which appeals to you.

 

Thorough research

Nowadays this is of paramount importance. Today’s reader checks and tests everything you put on paper. This one thing you can be as sure of as hearing ‘amen’ in the church service. This applies also to pure fiction and even fantasy and sci-fi. Especially your captivated reader (ie your biggest ally in promoting the book) will examine the accuracy of your localities and statements. Not everything your character says may necessarily be correct (he could be lying or be wrong) but your narrative statements must be solid and sound. If you claim that at the corner of Main and Sixth Street in your book’s town (if you have named a town that really exists) there is a bus stop for bus-line 57 and in reality, there isn’t a bus stop for line 57 but only for 56, don’t be surprised if you get a virtual slap in a subsequent reader review. Too many of those and it will affect your sales figures negatively. Readers today have the internet at their disposal at the click of a mouse. They expect you to use yours.

 

Show, don’t tell!

A few points on technique:

  1. Let your characters live out the book instead of narrating their actions and thoughts. You can do this most easily through the use of dialogue. Modern fiction readers demand that 60 to 80 % of the text should be conversational. Another way of showing not telling is to describe the body language of the character as she speaks and let the reader deduce the emotions from that.
  2. This will also automatically reduce the amount of adjectives you use in your text. If you master the art of show not tell adjectives will become unnecessary. Publishers hate adjectives, they bloat the pages and keep their editors busy. Lose them all if you can. Your text will be crisper; the pace will be faster; your book will be better.
  3. Show not tell may also help to force you into a more active writing style. Avoid passive voice wherever possible. The second sentence of this paragraph was written in active voice. The third I wrote in passive voice. Got it?

 

Writing is a craft

Some people seem to absorb their writing talent with their mothers’ milk. The rest of us must and can learn the art of writing. As is the case with every trade, we need theoretical training and practical experience to become masterful at it. Find out what publishers expect from their writers. There are many courses available and you can find some excellent literature about the art of writing on the market. A writing coach will even walk with you from conceptual stage to publication and beyond.

 

Conflict, conflict, conflict

Have you noticed how the detective in your favorite crime series on TV often has trouble with his boss or a colleague? It is the scriptwriter’s job to build as much conflict into a story as possible. And it is you, the novelist’s job to do likewise. The more conflict, the faster the story appears to move along. Media flooding has decreased our attention spans. A fast pace is especially important if you want to write a gripping drama or thriller. Your chosen genre will influence how fast paced your book has to be.

 

Don’t mix your genres

A horse book can be a fantasy, a young adults’ or children’s story, or it could be a non-fiction advisor, a motivational self-help book, or an adventure novel. Publishers expect you to choose a genre and stick to it. For instance if you write a thriller, the reader must accompany the victim throughout his ordeal and experience his fear and emotional turmoil. If you write a horse mystery on the other hand, the reader will follow the narrative from the perspective of the detective who is solving the crime. Here the reader will engage with the detective’s struggles and pain. It can be quite tricky for a novice to change perspectives in such a way that the reader can easily follow. It’s easier to pick a simple perspective and stick to it throughout.

 

Careful with flashbacks and foreshadowing

When first starting out, don’t hesitate to use a simple chronological narrative style. Technically, it is easiest to write in past tense in the third person. The present tense reads faster and can be very exciting, but can be hard to maintain over a 400-page novel. Writing in the first person will make show not tell even more important as you are narrating from one perspective only. However, if this is your preferred personal style, use it! Use whatever you are comfortable with. As long as you stay in show not tell and active voice, and as long as you remember to limit the use of adjectives, there is no reason why it should not work.

 

Grammar

Did you notice my grammatical error in the penultimate sentence of the previous paragraph? I broke a grammatical rule there: never split your infinitives. Your book must be correctly written, of course, but as you write: if it feels terrible, it probably is, so use some license. As Winston Churchill said on the topic: ‘This is nonsense up with which I will not put!’

For basic fiction writing, use short sentences, avoid elaborate phrases, and let your characters speak simple, everyday language.

Author programs are helpful, but you don’t need to invest much when you start out. Free grammar and style checks have improved hugely over the years and will give you enough feedback to keep you busy for a while.

 

Where does your story take place?

This is important and often overlooked. If you are writing about the rodeo circuit, it makes more sense to plant your story into the soil of Texas than in that of the Scottish Highlands. Sure, this is an exaggerated example to drive home a point, but it’s not as obvious as you may think. Publishers think first in commercial terms, second (if at all) in terms of your creative genius. They will plot out a marketing strategy for the target group based on the content of your story. So if you are writing a crime thriller in the world of horse racing, it will be just fine for your protagonists to stay in Kentucky. It is not necessary to move the plot to Dubai. Unless you know a lot about Dubai of course and do so for a reason. From many a publisher’s commercial perspective: the less exotic the better. Having said that… if your story cannot work unless it is set in the deep jungles of a south pacific island, then be bold and follow your heart…

 

How long should your book be?

The trend is toward shorter rather than longer. Currently a desirable size is between 200 and 400 pages. (One book page consists of approximately 1200 characters.) There are many reasons for this. One is printing is expensive. If a book is longer than 400 pages, binding becomes an additional concern as it makes the project more costly. Should your book be less than 200 pages, the reader may feel cheated. More and more readers are starting to resent the trend of putting out e-books of around 100 pages and ending them virtually in the middle of the action in order to compel the reader to buy the sequel. There are many more honest ways of completing a story AND arousing the reader’s desire for a sequel.

Have you found this article helpful or would you like to connect with me on further topics? I would love to engage with you personally. Please contact me via my writing coaching page www.irie.co.za or +27-11-958-5081 or inspiration at irie.co.za. And please follow me!

 

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