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Tips For Writing A Great Novel -- How To Write A Novel

Updated on November 4, 2012

So You Want To Write A Novel

Being a journalist and writer, I can't tell you how many times people have said to me, "I'd love to write a novel. I have such great stories to tell about my life." Most people do, in fact, have a story or two or three to share, but actually sitting down and putting your thoughts on a page can be difficult, lonely work.

In my opinion, writing a novel is one of the most difficult things you can do (though not as difficult as say, enduring childbirth or running a marathon!). It takes discipline, research, concentration and a devotion to your project. You need to not only put words on enough pages to actually make up a book, but your words have to be grammatically correct, interesting and engaging. Your characters need to be well-rounded and relatable. Your plot needs to be exciting. Your book needs to have a common thread from start to finish and needs to make sense.

This a lot to juggle, especially if you've never written an entire manuscript before -- and this is why it's hard for many to actually complete the task at hand. Then there are those who do manage to finish a draft, but haven't really put the time into making it a good one.

We're all very busy. Most of us have jobs, school, relationships and other obligations that prevent us from taking the time to sit and write. And many people, like me, can only work for so long before their minds begin to wander.

Still, with work, it is possible to write a good work of fiction. Here are my tips for how I got through the process and published my Young Adult novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Here's the cover for my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD. Graphics by Damonza.
Here's the cover for my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD. Graphics by Damonza. | Source

Starting A Novel: The importance of genre and plot

When writing a novel, the first thing you need to do is determine just what the story is going to be. Some writers like to free associate and simply let their thoughts flow on the page until an idea jumps out at them. However, I like to take a more practical approach. I like to have a basic idea and plot in my head before I put anything on the page. I then make a little outline so that I have at least some plan for getting from Point A to B to C in my book. This outline, by the way, is subject to change. I often find that a plot or character will end up going in another direction, which is the beauty of writing something creative!

Once you have a basic plot, try to determine which genre your ms fits into. It can be more than one genre, but if you're looking to write a particular type of novel, make sure that your work fits the bill. For instance, you wouldn't want to write a mystery novel where the suspect is revealed in the very first chapter or a historical romance that has no romance in it. For me, at least, it helps to have as many things narrowed down as possible. The more focused your story is, the easier it will be to write it. There are so many great ideas available, it's easy to become overwhelmed. But if you zoom in on something a bit more specific, your novel with be tighter and make more sense.

That said, do plenty of research beforehand. Since I write YA literature, I constantly read YA books. I like to see what types of books are trendy and what types of stories work. I am NOT saying to copy anyone's work! This is a big, big no-no! But the more you read in your selected genre, the more you'll have an idea of what makes a good story. I find that it's helpful for writers to read a lot in general, and not just in one genre. The more you know about the world, the more things you'll have to write about.

Of course, before you can actually sit down and write anything, you NEED TO KNOW HOW TO WRITE. Be honest -- do you REALLY have what it takes to sit down and tell a story in words? Have you studied writing, taken any classes? There are some people out there who are naturally talented writers and need no help at all. I am not one of them. Chances are, neither are you. I highly recommend that you take a writing class, join a group or at the very least, read a book on the rudiments of writing well. One of my favorites is Stephen King's On Writing -- and believe me, he knows what he's talking about!

How To Write A Novel: Video

Making An Outline For Your Novel

The Process Of Writing

Writing Your Novel: Plots, Characters, Title, Etc.

Once you have a basic plot and characters in mind, it's time to get going. I don't have any suggestions for how much you should write in one setting. There are some days where I write a mere sentence and others where I write entire chapters. It all depends on my mood. But when writing BAND GEEK, I did try to set aside at least an hour a day to write. Some days were easy, others were not, but sticking to some sort of routine helped. Even if you can only afford to write for 15 minutes, take it. 15 minutes is great! No one's judging!

Some important things to think about while writing:
1. CHARACTERS: Just WHO are these people who make up your story? What do they look like? What are their hobbies, hopes and dreams, quirks, likes and dislikes? I like to build an entire personality for each other my characters before I include them in my story. With BAND GEEK, I can tell you exactly why my main characters, Melinda and Josh, do every single thing that they do in the book. I can even tell you things about them that aren't mentioned in my story, like what the last thing they did before they went to bed was. I like to build a "psychological study" of my characters so that I know them as well as I know any real person. This helps me make my characters come to life. I even like to do this with side characters so that they, too, have depth and complexity.

2. A Stories, B Stories, C Stories, etc.: Real life doesn't happen in a straight line. Your life is full of complications and interwoven relationships. How you react to your significant other or parents or children, or boss, affects everything else that you do. Also, you probably have more than one thing going at a time. You may be working on a huge project at your job, but also coach your kid's soccer team and are then planning a big party for the weekend. This balancing act makes up your life and keeps it interesting.

A novel should take the same approach. Great novel don't have just one plot. They'll have a MAIN plot, but it's the other stories -- the B, C, D stories -- that round out the tale and make it even more exciting. For instance, in BAND GEEK, my main plot, the A story, is that Melinda and Josh try to take down mean girl Kathy after Kathy steals Mel's seat (first chair flute) in band. The B story is Josh and Melinda's romance. But there are other stories being told, as well: Mel's relationship with her mom; Mel's relationship with her best friend, Lana; Lana's problems with her ex-boyfriend; Mel dealing with her grandfather's illness. All of these side plots relate to the main one and pull the story together.

3. SETTING THE SCENE: Showing Vs. Telling: When writing a novel, you want to pull readers right into your story. That's why it's so important to set the scene. Give a sense of what something looks like, sounds like, tastes like, how it makes the characters feel. But when doing so, don't rely on overusing adjectives and telling people. SHOW it. For instance, you could simply say, "She was angry. She was so, so mad." But just how angry was she? What did it do to her? A more revealing description would be something like, "Her eyes narrowed to little slits and her mouth tightened in a thin, white line. Her hands balled into fists. Meanwhile, her face turned so red that I expected to see steam shoot out from her ears." Notice that I never once said that she was angry? But you KNEW that she was because I SHOWED you her anger.

4. DIALOGUE: Creating realistic speech patterns: I personally like dialogue that sounds realistic. Not everyone is witty and wise. While it's OK to have some characters shoot off memorable one-liners, an entire book of that gets boring. Keep dialogue conversational, but not cliche. A great trick is to read it out loud. Does it sound like something that a real person would say? Another great idea is to listen to people speaking in real life. You can do this anywhere; in the mall, movies, at the bank. Pay attention to speech rthyms and how people respond to one another.

5. CHOOSING A TITLE: Some people choose the title first and then write their book. I tend to do this more toward the middle, when I have a better idea of what the story is going to be. I usually have a working title for my draft and then pick the actual title toward the end. BAND GEEK was originally called WHO'S ON FIRST? because it dealt with the characters fighting for first chair. I changed it because "Who's On First?" has, of course, been used already and I wanted something much more provocative and memorable.

Finishing Your Novel: Edit, Edit And Edit Some More!

I often joke that a writer's work is never done. Yes, my novel is now published, but I literally spent YEARS working on it. I made several huge edits to it and still wonder if I should've changed some things. You don't have to drive yourself crazy, but there are some things to consider before sending your work out into the world:

1. Do A Careful Edit: Once your work is complete, read through it as thoroughly as possible. Look for typos, grammar mistakes, missing words, double words, etc. Read more than once, if you can.

2. Have someone else read your work: I highly recommend this. Have a writer friend or even a professional look over your work. Or else, join a writers' group and have someone from the group read it over. They may catch something that you didn't see or give you a better idea for a certain plot point. Be open to constructive criticism. I had about ten people read BAND GEEK, most of whom gave me great ideas.

3. Pay attention to continuity. Make sure your characters have the same last name, hair color, profession, name of dog, etc. throughout the story. If your story takes place in a certain time period, make sure it's historically accurate. If you're writing about the 1970s, the characters won't have cell phones. If you're writing a current tale, the characters probably won't use typewriters.

4. Don't leave any plot points dangling. If you introduce a certain situation in the beginning of the book, make sure you wrap it up (unless you're writing a cliffhanger and the story will continue). Otherwise, don't leave loose ends.

Publishing Your Novel

I have another Hub that explains how to get a literary agent (see sidebar). These days, though, many authors are opting to go the indie publishing route and are selling their novels on sites like Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords. However, keep these tips in mind:

1. Before uploading your novel or sending it to an agent, MAKE SURE IT'S FINISHED! No one wants to read a half-finished work. Many writers I've encountered are so worried about the publshing process that they're not putting the time into writing the actual book. Don't worry about publishing until you're absolutely, positively sure that your work is complete.

2. If you're working with a publishing house, chances are they'll hire an in-house artist to design your cover. But if you're self publishing, make sure that your cover is attractive and attention-grabbing -- and reflects your book! I hired a graphic designer to do my cover. There are plenty of designers who can be found online. Most post their work on their sites so you can see what their style looks like. Do some comparison shopping before you spend any money.

3. Don't expect to get rich. Writing is hard work, but honestly, most authors don't make it big. Stephen King and J. K. Rowling are the exception, not the rule. If you make it big, great! It's wonderful to chase a dream. I'd love to become a millionaire off of my writing. However, I'm trying to stay realistic. If I can make a living from it, I'll be very happy.

4. Publicize your work. Readers won't automatically flock to your work. Make them come to you. Put up a Facebook page, start a Twitter account, blog about your book, do a virtual book tour... marketing your work will take as much time and effort as it did to write it. But if you're planning to become a millionaire, you need to get your name out there, right?

5. Be ready for criticism. Not everyone will love your book. Some will hate it. Some will not only hate it, but will post a scathing review of it on Amazon. It sucks ... but people have different opinions and tastes, and as they say, you can't please everybody. Who knows? Their criticism may even be valid and constructive.

6. Get to work on your next book! The best way to make it as an author is to keep writing. Build momentum. If people like your first novel, they'll be anxious to read a second. Don't rush the process, but keep on going!


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