On Writing a Novel, Pt. 2


Hi, I’m Jamie Shank and I’m going to talk a little about some of the broader techniques I used to write my first full-length novel, Just ‘Cause.

For starters, setup is essential, especially in an anthology based series where you’ll be using and working with a particular setup for a fairly long time. Past, present, and future, it’s good for an author to know the big events that take place in a story’s timeline, as well as what events tie into other events and how they play into the future. Foreshadowing is a powerful technique for any writer. Tying past events into present events helps a reader understand the progression of events. Though most of the characters from the “Making Fun of History” prologue to Just ‘Cause – Overtures don’t appear in the story other than at the beginning, they will apply to future books and will continue to help shape the events of the Crossovers Anthology’s timeline.

Always bring the reader into the story’s reality. It is not enough to see a story’s reality in one’s head. It is essential that the words to the story are expressing every necessary detail, shaping each individual vision, or scene, to the story in the proper order, or succession. Next is character identification, for the reader needs to be able to identify with the story’s characters, especially the main character(s). Character description or story details, which should come first? I feel that bringing the reader into the story’s reality should come first and foremost. As a reader, I want to feel a sense of where I am and what I’m dealing with before I get deeply involved with a any characters. But maybe that’s just me. Still, that’s why I introduced the main character’s family history and the World’s history in the prologue to Just ‘Cause – Overtures before I went into any real intense detail about John. He’s mentioned, his family history is there as a buildup, but the World is introduced before John Anderson, Jr. really becomes a factor in “Ch. 1 The Letters Are Out.”

Make sure to hit ’em with everything that you’ve got. A good hook, some spin, a little foreshadowing, a strong punch with a heavy impact, a little humor and style, or anything else that you can do to breathe a little life into the story, making it fun, clever, witty, and interesting. A little technique goes a long way. Hit hard with first sentences and first paragraphs and never let up. Make cuts if something’s not up to par. Remember, review is an essential part of the process. Let it flow. You’ll know when ya got it.

I like to know my stories before I write them. I’ve got this anthology traced all the way to the World’s end, which doesn’t come during this saga’s timeline. The MSB is what I’m dreaming up and currently taking notes on. I see it, but I’m not near ready to write it. Patience. All things in time. The more ya see, the more ya can tie together. I start out by taking notes in a journal, profiling the characters and building their personalities, planning events, visualizing and mapping out the different locations and places. I then write out some of the sequences and try to form an order of events. A ties into B ties into C and so forth. The better the planning, the better it should turn out and the more foreshadowing can be used as a tool. I find that the better I plan and the more arranged my notes are the easier the story flows while I’m writing it. I also keep a page open on my computer while I’m working for additional notes, errors, and cuts. I like to track my mistakes and missteps as well as what I choose to keep. Remember, ’cause this is important; The better the planning and preparation, the better it should turn out in the long run.

I’ve fount the cure for writer’s block… or at least I believe I have. Planning! Planning is the cure for writer’s block. Who’d have thought it would have been that simple? When writer’s block becomes an issue, play with what you’re working on in your notes. If that doesn’t work, have something else on stand-by to move on to. Moving on to the next scene will often help to tie the two scenes together, giving the writer a point A and a point B, point A being the block and point B being the place where the next scene picks up, essentially giving a writer a point to work forward to. I find this helps to cut down on the possibilities of where I’m going with a scene, or section. Taking a break to think is never a bad thing when writer’s block gets in the way, but don’t make excuses. Remember, it’s always better to get something – anything! – done than sit around and be stagnant. Sometimes moving forward is for the best, but the segue and moving on to something else for the time being really is, in my opinion, the best tool for defeating writer’s block.

If a writer doesn’t know about a subject and doesn’t want to write about a subject, it has a tendency to show in the work. The reader has to want to read about the subjects a writer writes about, but the writer must also want to write the material, therefore the writer must pick subjects which drive them while being considerate of what the reader will enjoy as well. Know your audience when you write a book. Have an idea as to who might enjoy your stories. Marketing one’s material is going to be one of the most essential final steps for any writer. The more one knows about the process, the better off one will be.

To sum it all up, I advice fellow writers to plan ahead, utilize your notes, get to the point and don’t drag events out. Use back stories, flashback sequences, reflections, and dream sequences when you’re able in order to give your characters depth. Utilize how the subject material makes you feel so you can portray those feelings to the reader. Make sure that all of the relevant information in your head for each scene in the story is properly expressed and laid out for the reader in your story. See it in your head and have it expressed properly in your notes/draft before you try to write the finished product, and remember that even finished products need reviewed to push towards perfection. It’s not the quantity of books you kick out but the quality of each individual story that I feel makes the greatest of authors. Give every story you ever write all you’ve got!

This next part contains brief notes on some of the broader spectrum techniques used in Just ‘Cause – Overture‘s first chapter, “The Letters Are Out…”

  • Our main character, John Anderson Jr.’s mother, Peggy, receives the draft letter summoning John to serve to start the chapter.
  • The story then cuts to John, building up his character, his current predicament, and his current struggles and adversities with the war and the draft for the reader. A good portion of this section deals with John’s frustration due to the war and the draft.
  • Mary Jane O’Riley’s character is introduced in a flashback sequence to John and Mary Jane’s classic meeting back in high school. A book called Beach Music plays a big role in this sequence. The beginning of this Pat Conroy book parodies almost in reverse with the second to last outro in Just ‘Cause.
  • The reader knows John is about to be drafted, however John does not. John returns home from work that day to find that the letter drafting him has arrived. The section details his reaction to receiving the letter.
  • After receiving the letter summoning him to serve his nation, John decides he must head over to Mary Jane’s family’s home and tell her the bad news. Another flashback sequence with John and Mary Jane which makes reference to John’s best friend and coworker, Tim Spellings, and attending a party that they’re still expected to show up at.
  • Mary Jane’s father answers the door and talks to John about the war while Mary Jane gets ready. John tells Mary Jane that he’s been drafted once they get out to John’s truck.

There’s more to come, but let me talk about the story up to this point and some of the techniques that stand out to me. Flashback and dream sequences are an important part of this first chapter. Through the flashback sequences and illustrating John before he receives the letter summoning him to serve, I am able to illustrate how John is handling things both before he is drafted and after, and at several different points in the timeline.

Mary Jane’s character’s introduction kicks off the love story, and this also is John’s reason for wanting to dodge the draft, which is one of the main issues, or points of conflict, that he must struggle with in this chapter. The love story and the point of conflict are almost synonymous in this part of the tale, making for a good deal of interesting. Give up everything and go to war… It’s a heck of a burden to have to bare.

  • Tim’s party is soon to come. The Field and John’s secret crop come into play. Festivities for the party. John is set on dodging the draft. Tim talks to him at the party. A girl named Jodi talks to Mary Jane. They have essentially been talked out of John dodging the draft, but emotions are still strong. More drama plays out, but when it comes time to go, John goes.

Let me not give it all away. That’s the gist of the rest of it, but I want to talk about the dream sequences for a moment. In the later parts of this chapter, towards John and Mary Jane’s last night together, I tell of a couple of John’s dream sequences, one of which reflects upon another novel’s character’s transformation and another of which reflects upon one of the sequences from this novels third chapter, entitled “Yeha! The War…” Dream sequences give a writer an opportunity to foreshadow big events in ways that don’t quite give the big event away but prepare the reader for it. It also gives a writer a chance to be clever with some of their best ideas and material.

The supporting cast for the beginning will be utilized again throughout this novel, but the second chapter will introduce a whole new cast of characters, including a replacement for Tim Spellings with John’s bunk mate, Brad Thompson. These will be the other recruits John will be training with and fighting alongside of.

But that’s for the next edition. For now, Jamie Shank’s Just ‘Cause – Overtures and other novels are available at Amazon.com.

To preview excerpts from Just ‘Cause – Overtures and other novels by Jamie Shank visit: 


To purchase Jamie Shank’s novels, Just ‘Cause – Overtures and Just ‘Cause – Further Explorations (a two book, four chapter, 160,000 word war story, published 01/07/2017), Conner (an 88,888 word prison story about two unfortunate fathers, a mysterious visitor, an unruly bunch of death row inmates, and the prison staff, published 02/14/2017), and Kapooka; A Crossover’s Pet (a 95,000 word story about a real-life kitty cat told through one of this saga’s main character’s point of view, published 03/21/2017), visit: Amazon.com

Jamie Shank’s Yahe (113,000 words), the story of Damien, a young man who gets mixed up in the world of organized crime and later becomes a hit-man for a crime syndicate, leading to one of the biggest assassinations of all time and then a return to the Land of the Ancients.


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