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Tips for Writing a Novel

Updated on January 22, 2019
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Debra Chapoton is the author of eleven novels including EDGE OF ESCAPE, THE GIRL IN THE TIME MACHINE, EXODIA, SHELTERED and THE TIME BENDER.

10 Top Tips

Tips for Writing Your First Novel

1 – Dig deeper for synonyms: “Carmen glared (stared angrily, glowered, looked fiercely, frowned, looked defiantly) at her nemesis (opponent, arch rival, enemy, challenger, antagonist, adversary, foe) as she glided (slid, sashayed, flew, slithered, slinked, slipped, moved smoothly) across the dance floor.” Who doesn’t love the synonym button? It leads to the thesaurus. I told a writer friend of mine how nice it was to have help from the computer when trying to find just the right word and he didn’t even know about right clicking the words. This quick click feature puts creativity at your fingertips, literally. And to boost your imagination, check the synonyms of synonyms. For example “creativity” will give you originality, imagination, inspiration, ingenuity, inventiveness, resourcefulness, creativeness and vision, but not innovation, novelty, uniqueness or inventiveness, one of which might be the word that you want. I had to click on “originality,” one of creativity’s synonyms to find them. Stories could change based on the right click.

2 – Use all your senses When someone reads your work you hope to pull him into a world you have created with just words, words he only sees on the page. Will he also hear sounds? Will he hear the spoon tapping the sides of a cereal bowl before the unshaven tourist slurps the milk? Will your reader smell the faint pine scent of the old logs in the abandoned cabin? Will he feel the wisp of soft silk threads across bare legs as a young girl feels her way along the dark cave walls? Don't tell your reader what your characters see, smell, hear, feel, or taste ... show them.

3 – If you’re stuck Writer’s block happens to all of us. Use the time-out to edit. Print up your pages and check for sentence fragments by reading from the bottom up – last sentence, 2nd to last sentence, 3rd to last and so on. This is the best way to catch those pesky fragments and you may also spot misused homonyms as well. If your mind is still a blank, make a list of general directions your story could take: Joy, Set back, Pain, Humiliation, Happiness, Dream, Embarrassment, Honor, Humor, Tenderness, Fear, Abandonment, Hope, Tenaciousness, Anxiety, Trust, Wish, Tragedy, Triumph, Love, Hate. Your turn, can you think of more? Start another writing project and let this one ferment for a while. Come back to it in a week or a month or a year. For a quick unblocking, write a sentence from a book you're reading. Don't worry, you're not going to plagiarize anything, but sometimes someone else's clever statement may spur you on. Once you get in the writing zone again, go back and delete that inspiration sentence.

4 – Learn grammar Buy a grammar book and read it often. You should be more motivated to learn what you (maybe, possibly, probably) ignored in school. Good writing needs good grammar.

5 – Research writing There are tons of resources for writers. Learning about screenwriting may prompt the flow of your creative juices. Reading about third person limited vs. third person omniscient may change the direction of your plot. Studying the styles of different bloggers may sharpen your own style. Exploring the wisdom of best-selling authors may encourage you to be persistent.

6 – Have others read your work And then listen to the negatives! Don’t get defensive. If someone doesn’t like what you’ve written, listen to what they say is wrong. (Don’t always listen to their advice on how to fix it, you usually have to figure that out for yourself.)

7 – Read outside your genre If you’re a romance writer, read mysteries. If you like historical novels, find out what the top selling sci-fi book is and read it. Not into vampires? Maybe the best vampire author has written something about aliens and you’ll be impressed. By reading outside your favorite genre you will expand your creativity.

8 – Begin at the End You already know about plot, character development, conflict, tension, point of view and so on (if you don't, then find out). Start your next novel or short story at the penultimate moment where, if he read just those few paragraphs, a reader would want to know where the characters are, how they got in this predicament, who the bad guy is and how things can possibly get resolved. Now, if even you don’t know the answer at this point, then you can start writing and you have a destination to head for. (I wrote Edge of Escape starting with the abducted girl in the hospital with a man keeping vigil at her side. I didn’t know if he was her boyfriend or the emotionally disturbed stalker or someone else. I still didn't know as I developed the plot and interspersed flashbacks and flash forwards. If I wasn’t sure, then I knew I would keep the reader guessing, too.)

9 – Don’t pull your reader out of your story Avoid clichés and anachronisms. I’m stopped cold when an author chooses an overused simile, uses an adjective when he should have used an adverb or has a 12th century character say “okay.” When I’m yanked out of the story to ponder why a big name publishing company didn’t catch a simple spelling error, I might pause long enough to set the book down. You want your readers to stay focused on your story, don’t you? Don't accidentally pull your reader out. There’s lots of advice from the experts about staying away from the passive voice, shunning adverbs and being concise. Read what the experts say, then go to the forums and read what actual people have to say about what annoys them.

10 – Leave out the extra stuff What’s the extra stuff? Have you read a novel and found yourself skipping sections? That’s the extra stuff. If it’s not necessary to your story, why is it there? Do you have your main character expound on a subject dear to you? Cut it out. Edit, edit, edit. Edit what you wrote yesterday before you begin today. Edit today’s writing today. It’s not unusual for an author to do dozens of rewrites.

Debra Chapoton is the author of over twenty novels including books for kids such as The Secret in the Hidden Cave, Mystery's Grave, Bullies and Bears, A Tick in Time, and Bigfoot Day Ninja Night.


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