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Finishing Your Novel: You Can Do It!

Updated on April 21, 2009

So you want to write a novel, but you are concerned you may not have what it takes to finish it. Maybe you have some abandoned novels in your past, eh, bucko? C'mon, 'fess up. Uh-huh. Okay. Well, pilgrim, things could be different. All it takes is a little bondage and discipline. I'm sorry, did I say bondage? I meant planning. Planning and discipline are the factors that will ensure that you finish your novel. Here's how.

Plot

Some writers say there are only seven plots and others say fifteen. Well, who the hell cares? The point is that it is best if you start out with a plot in mind from the beginning and that you STICK TO IT. Time for a colorful anecdote.

Some brilliant, I say, brilliant men in my home town wanted to move this house and they had the bright idea to wait until winter and haul it across the ice. Lake Superior freezes about six feet thick and folks drive logging trucks across it, so on the face of it you might see where it could have been a viable plan. So winter comes, the lake freezes, they get the house up on the trailer, and they plow a road across the ice to where they want to haul the house. So what do they do? For some reason they decide to leave the road they plowed. Well, of course the trailer broke through the untried ice and the house sank in fifty feet of water - FULLY FURNISHED.

So don't be like those guys. Your plot is a road map to the end of your book. If you stray too far from it, your novel may very well join the Einstein House down in Davy Jones's Locker.

Your Road Map

In the beginning, you want to sketch out the structure of your book, which action will lead to what reaction, where events will take place, the sequence of events that leads to the climax, and the warming down section afterwards that brings the story to satisfactory conclusion. This ending section should be short. Structure the story with a small peak toward the beginning of the book, then a lull, then a long section building to the climax, the climax itself, and then the satisfactory ending.

Things can change as you go along, but you need to stick with the original plan as much as you can to ensure that you will finish. Writing generates ideas, so you will have a lot of them as you write the novel, but if they don't fit in your original plot, save them for the next novel.

Characters

Good characters have strong personalities. A strong personality makes them an interesting character, but it can also make them wayward and willful. I have had knock down, drag out fights with some of my characters and sometimes they have won, but whatever the result, it is always better if the character is true to themselves and does nothing they would not normally do.

In extreme circumstances, you may find that your character's personality is incompatible with the plot. This is very bad news because in that case you have no choice really other than to start the novel over from the beginning. Luckily such instances are rare. Most of the time you can bend the plot without breaking it to accommodate your characters' idiosyncrasies. The accommodations we make for characters can be some of the most interesting parts of the story.

Common Obstacles

Writing a novel can take years. Keeping one's train of thought over that amount of time can be difficult. That is why the road map of the plot is so important. Also, over time, you might get sick of your story. You might start to think it sucks. You need to work through that and not put the story down. You will see that it will come around and you will fall back in love with your idea.

The best way to ensure that you finish is to be disciplined. Work a little on your book every day, preferably in the same place at the same time of day, every day. Humans are creatures of habit. You can use that to your advantage. Use all your willpower to keep doing it until you're done.

Happy writing!

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    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Write a novel? Finish a novel? I can't even finish a long short story... The bloody thing is over 25,000 words (Past Novelette and into Novella) but it's stubborn. I think I'll take up flower arranging.

    • diedraholley profile image

      diedraholley 7 years ago from Killeen, TX

      Thank you so much for some great insight. I am waiting on my first book to come out while I work on the second book. There have been bumps and bruises along the way, but I will make it through this, elegantly. Thanks for the pep talk.

    • atomicpaulsen profile image

      atomicpaulsen 8 years ago from Orem, UT

      dude, that's a crazy story about that house... anyone scuba-living in it these days?

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Start with an outline. Lay out the chapters. Make your road map. Then when you set out on your journey, the trip ahead won't seem so daunting.

    • kea profile image

      kea 8 years ago

      Thanks for the hub. I need to actually start my novel. I've been saying for years that I want to write a book. Sometimes just starting is the hard part!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Yes, this is like Writer City! So much fun.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Thanks for the info, Tom. I bet there are a lot of novels out there in the hub world and it's great to have the support.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Getting started is tough, Ashley, kind of like daily trips to the gym. But just like the gym, once you get started it starts to be like second nature.

      Deadlines can be a good idea, Mindfield.   Personally I can work either way, but I sometimes use a deadline to light a fire under my butt.  However, few writers can write a novel the way they might right an article on beekeeping, for example,  A novel is a much more creative endeavor, and although a deadline can be helpful, a writer shouldn't let a self-imposed deadline make them rush to wrap up their work prematurely.  To an extent, I think, one has to regard a novel as being done when its done. 

    • MindField profile image

      MindField 8 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Tom, it dawns on me that mapping the story out and being endlessly patient with the work are highly important tips. But they need to be yoked to a deadline. One of the reasons none of us has finished a novel is that we haven't had a good reason to do so.

      At least for me, I'm learning that psychological tricks are required to keep me on track. I just listened to a wonderful two-cassette audiobook called Getting Things Done. The author is Ed Bliss  and what he has to say is very powerful. (Talk about finding your 'bliss'!)

      I've got to listen again and this time take notes but I urge people who, like me, can't produce the finished product to give these tapes a try. I borrowed them from the library so the info is free and you have nothing to lose. (It's obvious, by the way, that Covey's work builds on Bliss's but Bliss, to me, says things I'd never heard anywhere else that were electric in their impact on me.)

      I believe we start new novels because we haven't learned how to finish what we started, not because we have so many ideas we don't know what to do with them all. Yes, creative people are brimming with story ideas. We should write them down to save for later. We're not, however, often brimming with discipline. The big leap that we all must make is to pick only one story to tell and stick with it through thick and thin towards an appointed deadline.

      This hub really helps budding novelists see possibilities and know that we're not alone in the struggle. Many thanks for it, Tom.

    • Ashley Joy profile image

      Ashley Joy 8 years ago

      I would love to write a novel, I have many ideas for one. My problem though is not finishing but flat out getting started.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      You can definitely do it. The important thing is to try to be endlessly patient with the work and with yourself. It can be difficult to maintain focus over a process that often takes years. That's why I feel it is so important to map the story out.

    • K.D. Clement profile image

      K.D. Clement 8 years ago from USA

      They sound great! I am impressed with how prolific you are. I suffer from the malady of not being able to finish so your hub is helpful. I am a bit intimidated by the novel but I want to finish one eventually-hopefully by the time my last kid is out of diapers.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Excellent, Dimera!  I wish you all the best. 

      I have written maybe four or five novels? It's difficult to remember. No, none of them are published, though I shopped them around. Here is a list of what I can remember:

      Spirit Hill, about happenings on and around a Chippewa Indian Reservation in Upper Michigan; then there was a sequel to that, I forget the title, two of the characters, a boy and a girl, are lovers and through hardship mature and get married; Glitch, a science fiction story about Apple computers taking over the world with the aid of a robot the size of a softball; that's all I can remember now. I'm pretty sure there is one other one, but it escapes me just now.

    • K.D. Clement profile image

      K.D. Clement 8 years ago from USA

      So what kind of novels have you written?

    • dimera190 profile image

      dimera190 8 years ago

      Great advice man! I have such a hard time trying to write because I have so many ideas, and I just forget them all, or I get bored because I get pissed off. But I'm going to trying some of these steps! Thanks!

    • tdarby profile image

      tdarby 8 years ago

      This is great. Thanks!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      You can do it!!!

    • Benson Yeung profile image

      Benson Yeung 8 years ago from Hong Kong

      Great tips. Now I just have to get started.

      Dr Benson Yeung, http://doctorshealthtips.com

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 8 years ago from Cape Town

      Deltachord, but always be prepared to change your ending if your characters develop differently

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Hi Deltachord, I remember people said different numbers of possible plots. After the third estimate I read I gave up. I agree with your sumation of the process. Sometimes writing the ending first is a very useful technique.

      It is my pleasure to promote your book Cindy!

      Pie? Did somebody say, "pie"?

      http://www.rubecom.us/poems/Pie.htm

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 8 years ago from Cape Town

      Thanks for promoting my book Tom! I owe you! Can I bake you an apple pie?

    • profile image

      Deltachord  8 years ago

      Hi,

      I've heard somewhere that there are only 32 plots...so it seems the number people quote varies. Some novelists can write without an outline, but strurure helps. Knowing your characters, plot, and having a structure for about when in the novalkey events take place will keep you moving ahead.

      Writing the ending first is useful. You know your destination that way. You have to discipline yourself to write towards your ending.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Thanks for stepping in divine Cindyvine who is marketing her own finished book right now!

      See it on Amazon:

      http://www.amazon.com/Stop-world-need-pee-Fenella/...

    • bill yon profile image

      bill yon 8 years ago from sourcewall

      thanks TOM.

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 8 years ago from Cape Town

      Tom the hammer man, you hit the nail on the head.  Pgrundy, you have to come up with a problem first and then the plot will be how that problem is solved or not solved as the case may be.  What is the crisis, the conflict?  Without that problem, your plot means nothing.  It can be A loves B but C loves A, or A is poor and wants to become a ruler of a great banking empire.  Whatever, but you need that problem first.  That is definitely the starting point.  Identify the problem, and then chart yourself a course that introduces little sub-plots until you build up to a big climax, then come down gently.

    • MissJamieD profile image

      MissJamieD 8 years ago from Minnes-O-ta

      Thanks Tom:)

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      I love that feeling. I'm happy for you. Best of luck pursuing your dream!

    • MissJamieD profile image

      MissJamieD 8 years ago from Minnes-O-ta

      Another helpful hub, thanks so much for sharing these tips. I haven't even begun the book that I've been dreaming about writing for years. I have that little devil on my shoulder telling me that I'm not nearly a good enough writer to write a book, but the little angel on my other shoulder tells the devil to "piss off, she can do anything she puts her mind to."

      Thanks to you I think I will start my book. I think I have a great plot idea that nobody has even touched (that I know of). I'm super de-duper excited! hugs

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      You know your capacity best. Take on what you think you can make progress on. The comics can be a break from the novel, the short story a break from the comics, the art work a break from the short story - then just be patient. One of these things will eventually get done.

    • bill yon profile image

      bill yon 8 years ago from sourcewall

      so what you're saying is narrow it down to a few and put the rest on the shelf?

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Glad you brought that up. Certain personalities - mine included - are born to multi-task. Yet I know I need to stay within capacity. I am happiest doing several things at once. If things get too hectic, a abandon some but keep doing others. In this way I satisfy my desire to be overly busy and manage to complete some things.

    • bill yon profile image

      bill yon 8 years ago from sourcewall

      I have years worth of unfinshed novels,comic book and movie scripts,plots,characters with complete history and back grounds,story boards unfinished, so my question is:how do you focus on one when you are over flowing with ideas?

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Feline, you say that in the past tense, yet your future lies ahead!

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 8 years ago

      They say everyone has at least one book in them...why did I get left out?!!!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Yeah, me too. I think it was the laundry or the dishes or cleaning the bathroom...

    • John Z profile image

      John Z 8 years ago from Midwest

      Hmmm, this puts me in mind of something I forgot to finish. Now what was it.......

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Sounds like fun. I'll have to resurrect that old Mac hard drive where most of my old stuff resides. It's been a long time since I saw any of my old stuff.

    • Ivorwen profile image

      Ivorwen 8 years ago from Hither and Yonder

      Thank you. I'll read them over again and see what can be done.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Ivorven, I have two ideas. Stretch them to novella length, combine three of them, and there you are with a book of three novellas, something you see fairly often; or edit them savagely into short stories.

      Thank you, Lacy. People are generally happy with having the loose ends neatly and believably tied, or with one character left on base, resonating with angst in preparation for the sequel. If you think, however, about vignettes within your own life, you will definitely see beginnings and endings to draw ideas from. Best of luck. Hope to see you on Amazon.

    • lacey marie profile image

      lacey marie 8 years ago from United States

      nice hub! neat ideas :) I've been working on my first novel (yikes!) for about 9 months (the little bun in my oven I guess), and just can't make myself write the ending... I'm just having trouble stringing my ideas together. (Maybe its all the pressure of wanting an amazing ending, and thinking of all of the bad endings I have encountered as a reader) But I will persevere! Thanks for the advice!

    • Ivorwen profile image

      Ivorwen 8 years ago from Hither and Yonder

      With the number of unfinished stories I have around, I think this will be some very useful information.  Thank you. 

      BTW  What if the story sprang to mind, has strong characters and enough story for a chapter or two, but you have no idea what the plot should be or where the story is heading?  Any advice for turning those into something?

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Probably no worse than John Irving, Hawkesdream. Oooh, ouch, did I say that?

    • Hawkesdream profile image

      Hawkesdream 8 years ago from Cornwall

      Hey this is great Tom, they say everyone has a novel in them. I think mine would be more of a soap opera, haha

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      I love writing, Constant Walker. Thank you. Steve and I are having an unbalanced contest, but he's wiinning. I'll just have to try harder!

      Here's a candle to light under yourself, MindField. YOU CAN DO IT. Remember, your number one audience is YOU. Write for you, first.

      Orson Scott Card it was I think in his how to write book (forget the title) talked about 15 plots, Pgrundy. The 7 originated in Greece with the myths. I can't name them, though. I just write a goddam story. That said, given the finite number of plots, you can choose any novel that loosely matches where you want to go and use it as a template. You can also combine them to make twisted subplots, etc.

    • profile image

      pgrundy 8 years ago

      Tom this is so helpful, thank you! Not to be overly lame (but I will be anyway, so here I go)--um, where can I find those 7 (or 15) plots? I'm dead serious. You know, now that I think of it, I can do a web search right now, and I shall!!!

      BTW yes, three unfinished unflushed novels. Now I have another idea, and dammit, this time I WILL push myself to the end, no matter how turdish, no matter how hackneyed.

      If I can get through one I can write twenty of them. I'm sure of this. But that one...yikes!

    • MindField profile image

      MindField 8 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      As one of those folks with three or four barely-begun or half-finished novels in my head, closet, hard drive and elsewhere loitering around the place, I found this helpful and motivating, Tom.

      I hope you'll add to it, though, if that isn't an indecent proposal.

      A strong psychological push from someone in the know is needed by writers like me who shrink from completing things for fear the truth will out and proclaim us failures at the very endeavor in which we most want to succeed. (Yes, I do understand the schizophrenic nature of that kind of thinking.)

      Thanks for this - I feel the gentle yet persuasive kick to my posterior - but don't leave me out here on the ice with a suddenly sinking feeling.

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 8 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Dude, you are a writing, hubbing, publishing fool! I've never seen anyone turn out as much stuff as you - except for Stephen King, but he's unbalanced!

      That's all.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image
      Author

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Thank you. Be sure to let me know when your book is finished!

    • wittywriter profile image

      wittywriter 8 years ago from Concord New Hampshire

      wonderful....