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Novel Writing Strategies

Updated on May 26, 2010

I have written four novels and am working on my fifth. Although I have published poetry and short articles, I have never published a novel, but I have finished them, and I understand what it takes to follow through on this long and difficult process. If you are having difficulty writing your novel, I have some advice for you.

Start With A Story

It is possible to write a novel and let it go where it will, but it will go easier for you if you have a story to tell in advance. You story will need a beginning, a middle, a climactic event, and an end. If you don't have these things, you can borrow them. Many authors borrow ideas from other sources and it is perfectly fine to do so. Recently I read Brazil by John Updike, a novel based on the idea of the ancient Tristan and Iseulde story. (A very entertaining book, by the way, either in spite of or because of the fact that the book has something sexual going on almost every single minute.)

Outlines and Story Boards

You may find it helpful to block out the progression of events you intend to write about so that you don't forget. Since you are not writing an article or essay, a formal outline may not be the best idea. Instead, you might draw a numbered set of pictures, like a story board, or a series of balloons containing a brief description of what you want to accomplish in each chapter. Whatever, if anything, you use should be flexible enough to flow with the inevitable and sometimes fundamental changes you may make to your story during the process of writing it.

Listen to Your Characters

If you construct your characters well, you may find that they have strong opinions about the direction and detail of the story. If you find, however, that the action you've planned seems incongruous in relation to the character you've created, that could indicate that some changes are necessary either to the character or the story.

In general I find that if a character is pulling me in a certain direction, I find that it can be a very productive exercise to follow them and see where they go. You can learn a lot about a character that way.

Bondage and Discipline

In order to complete your novel, you must remain dedicated to it. It is okay to take a break from it for a few days, but you must always return to your task if you ever expect to finish. Your best bet is to consign a certain part of your day every day to writing your novel. Every single day, for as many years as it takes to get the thing written to your satisfaction.

Excessive time off can be very damaging to the process. Time away tends to make one lose one's train of thought, and you might find yourself having to start again from the beginning in order to regain control of your story.

Multiple Inputs

A little criticism can be valuable, but too much can really spoil your process. You are writing this novel, not them. I find that I am much better off if I wait to share my work until the completed second draft. I go back to get rid of the most embarrassing mistakes before I show it to anyone. Then I show it to someone whom I know will have valuable things to say. Neither "I like it" nor "I don't like it" are valuable criticisms. "When the character said that it didn't sound right to me," is valuable criticism. But when you get good criticism, take it with a pound or two of salt. Act on it only if you agree with the criticism after careful analysis.

In general, I suggest that you do not share your writing with anyone until you have at least a semi-finished product, and even then be very selective with whom you share it.

Climax and After-Glow

After your story reaches its climax it should wind down very quickly. Avoid lengthy epilogues and happliy ever afters, they are boring. Your story can end conclusively, or it can end with a character resonating with unresolved angst in preparation for the sequel. The ending is like finding your hostess at a crowded party to say goodbye. You don't want to waste her time, you just want to say goodbye in such a way that she remembers you favorably, with an impression that your life will indeed go on after you leave.

I hope you find this advice helpful and wish you every success in your literary endeavors. It was a lovely party. Thanks for having me.


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    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 4 years ago from United States

      Wise advice. Thanks, Dr. Bill!

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Many good ideas. Each of us needs to pick and choose, find what works best for us. For me, once the novel in "finished" I want to see it in print, and move on. It worked great, with my first. I "went to print" too early on the second. Three and four went pretty well. Now, taking a different approach on five. Times change. You just never know. Thanks, again, for some great pointers! ;-)

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 4 years ago from United States

      That's wonderful, Lesley. I wish you good fortune on your journey as a writer.

    • profile image

      Lesleysherwood 4 years ago

      I really did find this helpful. Thank you for the tips.

    • Run Down Battery profile image

      Run Down Battery 8 years ago from UK


    • Bbudoyono profile image

      Bbudoyono 8 years ago

      Thanks for the tips. I bookmarked this great hub.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      I wish you the best of luck.

    • profile image

      Ryan 8 years ago

      Thanxs alot i am new at doing novels i speak spanish batter the inglish but u gave the perfic idea u inspare me alot thanxs.