Joe Hart: Five Things I Learned Writing The Last Girl

A mysterious worldwide epidemic reduces the birthrate of female infants from 50 percent to less than 1 percent. Medical science and governments around the world scramble in an effort to solve the problem, but twenty-five years later there is no cure, and an entire generation grows up with a population of fewer than a thousand women.

Zoey and some of the surviving young women are housed in a scientific research compound dedicated to determining the cause. For two decades, she’s been isolated from her family, treated as a test subject, and locked away—told only that the virus has wiped out the rest of the world’s population.

Captivity is the only life Zoey has ever known, and escaping her heavily armed captors is no easy task, but she’s determined to leave before she is subjected to the next round of tests…a program that no other woman has ever returned from. Even if she’s successful, Zoey has no idea what she’ll encounter in the strange new world beyond the facility’s walls. Winning her freedom will take brutality she never imagined she possessed, as well as all her strength and cunning—but Zoey is ready for war.

Don’t be afraid to tell a big story.

Ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Some start as a small niggling thought or a single character that continues to whisper in your ear no matter the time of day or night, while others suddenly block out the sun with their enormity, and that can be absolutely terrifying. Mostly because the larger the story the more risks a writer has to take. Many times there are more characters, more plot twists, global implications/fallout, and countless other factors that match the scale of the idea as it grows. I know when I first had the idea for The Last Girl it was thrilling but extremely daunting. Was I ready to tell this large of a tale? Could I execute it properly? Insecurity is the jacket a writer dons when they take up the craft, and I don’t think any of us ever removes it until we’ve typed the last sentence we’ll ever write, but the thing to remember is no matter how large the scope of the idea, you create it just like any other story; with one word after the next. Treat an enormous story as you would any narrative, keep a finger on the pulse of the big picture, but when you’re writing, narrow your gaze to the scene and make it the very best you can. In the end it will all come together.

Writing a novel is like cooking.

I know this analogy’s been made before but it’s definitely true, and it’s never been so apparent to me as while writing the first book in a trilogy. Balancing characters and overarching storylines that stretch all the way from the first book to the third is like creating just the right amount of spice in a meal. Too much and it’s overwhelming, too little, it’s bland. Heat up the plot too fast and it burns on the outsides while it’s soggy in the middle. Your subplots are your sides, complementing the main dish while adding their own texture and flavor to the overall experience. And just like any good meal there is always a recipe for a story, but I’ve found adding your own flare and special ingredient can make all the difference in the world. In other words, don’t be afraid to experiment here and there, you might be surprised with the end result.

Sometimes telling your story is a great way to discover new details.

My wife is amazing. Number one she agreed to marry me. Number two she’s willing to listen to me go on and on about the story I’m writing, giving little suggestions and input along the way as I ramble. It’s become a habit in our household that after my day of writing my wife reads the chapter/chapters completed, then we discuss where the story’s headed. This has been crucial for me. Not that I don’t know where the novel is going, but for the fact that by discussing the characters and their actions and what will eventually transpire, new light is shone upon the narrative. Little details snap into place like lock tumblers. Time and time again I’ve been energized and elated after talking about what’s next in the book and have made notes for nuances that I may not have thought of without telling the story aloud. I think this might go all the way back to where storytelling came from, because it truly originated as a spoken art before it was ever translated onto a cave wall, paper, and eventually computer screens.

The human species as a whole is quite delicate.

Genetics is a mind-blowing subject. The subtle and precise process on the genetic level that occurs for life to flourish in a healthy way astounds me. I did a lot of research for The Last Girl, and even though I didn’t delve into the real hard science in the first book, it was still a necessity for more answers to be revealed in the second and so forth. As a species our survival not only depends on food, water, clothing, shelter, and love, it also hinges on whether or not everything goes according to plan at the very first days of our lives or even before that. The delicacy of biological pathways, gene expression, and chromosomes in general was frightening to learn about in the sense of scale. At that level a misplaced gene could be absolutely catastrophic for the individual. One only has to look at the reports coming in about the Zika virus to see the implications of genetics being affected in the early stages of life. On the scientific front, leaps and bounds that have been made in the last few decades are unprecedented and have benefited millions, but at the same point the fact that editing a genome would change the human germline through inheritance is a potentially frightening scenario to say the least.

You’re not going to please everyone.

This is a universal truth, and attempting to do so will cause you an endless amount of grief. We are entertainers, artisans of words. We build worlds and destroy them on a daily basis. We create love, hate, joy, and sorrow with the tips of our fingers. If you love writing and are willing to put in the long hours laboring over your novel, willing to endlessly rewrite a chapter until it flows perfectly, willing to put your work out in front of the entire world to be judged, then you have to accept that there will be people who won’t like what you’ve created. It might be timing, or perhaps they don’t enjoy your style of storytelling, or maybe they want the story to be something different than it is. This is okay. It’s okay because if you love your work enough to make it the very best it can be, someone else will love it too, and they won’t be the only ones.

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Joe Hart was born and raised in northern Minnesota. Having dedicated himself to writing horror and thriller fiction since the age of nine, he is now the author of eight novels that include The River Is DarkLineage, and EverFallThe Last Girl is the first installment in the highly anticipated Dominion Trilogy and once again showcases Hart’s knack for creating breathtaking futuristic thrillers. When not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, exploring the great outdoors, and watching movies with his family.

Joe Hart: Blog | Twitter

The Last Girl: Amazon | Goodreads

18 comments

  • Can you please fix your link for the story in five sentences please? I have a story (so rare for me) and would love to post it if only I could find your comments page. Thank you

  • Oh – and yeah – thank you so much for this post. Currently writing a romance with such a deeply flawed hero (and not the normal alpha male “acceptable flaws) that I am very sure not everyone (or even anyone) is going to like him. Good to be reminded that it doesn’t matter how great I am at writing his story – not everyone is going to like it.

  • Thanks for this, Joe. Good advice to heed as I pound away at my own WIP. And there have been times that I thought the story was too big and I was scared of it. The Last Girl sounds like something up my alley, so I will definitely check it out.

  • Joe great stuff on writing and perspective which is why I come to Chuck’s blog daily. I am also from your nape of the woods… er… neck of the way (sorry channeling my inner Fletch). I enjoy reading books by authors from where I grew up looking for little nods at the culture we have in the snow and ice. That coat of insecurity all writers don is a little warmer knowing that someone from my backyard did it. I must say it is really awesome how Chuck shares his space with so many varied authors. What an exceptional community you have built here at terribleminds.

  • March 11, 2016 at 8:12 AM // Reply

    Congratulations on the launch of your new series, Joe! Excellent cooking metaphor. My novels often have casts of dozens (which is unusual in my genre), each of which I will now start thinking of as kimchee: small but essential for full flavor. So I thank you.

  • Had to buy your first book after reading this. Thank you for insight. I wish my hubby was a supportive as your wife.

  • Thank you so, so much for writing this, Joe – and thanks to, to Chuck for posting it. I’m going through a stage with my current w-i-p where I’m sitting down to it and thinking “I’m nowhere near a good enough writer to write this story.” The only thing that kept me going so far was the knowledge that I had as many goes at getting it right as I need, so I might as well keep going – but now I have this post too. I will bookmark it, and probably print it out and pin it somewhere too.

  • Your wife sounds like a Jem! it must be wonderful to have some to share your work with like that. I can woffel on to my husband about my writing but he doesn’t have an interest in fiction so he’ll never get it.

  • I’ve just started The Last Girl and it’s the first of your novels that I’ve read. I already know I’ve found a new author to love. I’ll be checking out your other books. I’ve also found a new writer to learn from. I’m really enjoying your writing style.

    Excited to see what happens to Zoey, and since I’m already deeply attached to the character, I’m delighted this is just book one of a series.

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