Robert J. Emery's Blog
Walk, Trot, Run.
In 2007, following four decades of writing 12 screenplays (eight films produced) and over one
hundred and fifty hours of television documentaries, I retired and delved into writing fiction and
nonfiction books, which I had not attempted until then. This is how I learned to Walk, Trot, and eventually Run.
My first effort was a novel. When I completed the first draft, I gave it to my wife for her opinion.
About a third of the way through, she returned the manuscript to me and said it read more like
a screenplay than a novel.
Oops! Back to the drawing board.
The learning curve of writing long-form from what I was used to writing—screenplay and
documentaries—proved far more challenging than I had imagined. The plot and characters were
there, but I failed to provide the reader with the details that would engage them in the nuance
of the story and characters.
Slow but sure, I began fleshing out each scene so that what was in my head was now clearly on
the page and not in shorthand as I did with a screenplay. A screenplay is a road map left to the
Director and Actors to flesh out. In a novel, I learned very quickly that the story details and
characters had to be clearly defined, allowing readers to visualize images and character
personalities in their heads. Sounds simple, but it’s not simple if you have never tried writing a
novel. Once I was into it, I overwrote like crazy on that draft, only to cut most of it in the next
round. But that is what drafts are for.
Before I began writing a screenplay, the first item of business was to define each character’s
personality. I provided each with a trait that distinguished them from other characters, whether
it be a particular way they spoke, an offbeat sense of humor, or whatever. That, to me, was
critical, so I applied it to the characters in my books. I then detailed each character’s motivation
and paid close attention when writing their dialogue to ensure they stayed within character. The
easiest way to throw off a reader and mess up the plot is to have a character say or do
something entirely out of character unless it is part of the plot.
It is worth mentioning that when I begin a novel, I know my story and characters and how it will
open and end. I never outline beyond that. As I write, I want to be open to where a chapter
leads and fill in the details as I go. In that way, I have not tied myself to an in-depth outline of
each chapter. I want to surprise myself and remain open to all possibilities to enhance the story.
I find that a far more creative process.
In ending this blog, I would advise anyone with a burning desire to write, whether for the first
time or the ninth, to be passionate about the story you chose to write. And most of all, Write for
yourself first, not what you think readers want, but what you want. If not, you’re wasting your
time. Readers will decide if our work is a hit or a miss. And even if a book doesn’t sell as well as
we had hoped, there is always the next one. Let’s get working on it. And I learned not to wait
until the book is published before I begin the dreaded PR process. PR should start months
I hate to state the obvious, but if we are not prepared to do continuous marketing, our books
will not sell. There is plenty to be done, so research all possibilities for both paid outlets and
those that are free and, of course, lots of social media. There is no greater pleasure—at least
for me—than sitting in front of my computer early each morning and creating a story that, when
complete, will have to be carefully and continually promoted if I hope to sell many books.
I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of “How to Promote Your Book” by Dr. Jan Yaeger.
She is the author of over fifty award-winning books and knows her stuff. There are many books
on the subject—I’ve read a few—but trust me, this book is the best. It’s how the big publishing
houses do it.
I would like to add that I have received many book awards, so I must have learned to Walk, Trot,
and Run. Happy writing, and have fun creating. I do