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Top 10 Tips on How to Write a Novel
Beginning a massive project, such as writing a book, can seem very intimidating.
Either you don't know how to get get going, or you begin to write and then quickly lose your way and become disillusioned.
Don't worry, you're not alone.
The important thing is to think it through a little before you take the leap.
You will need to consider a few of the basic elements first, such as planning an outline of the plot and sketching out your main characters.
Plus you will need to think through whatever else needs to be in place in order to make your book work.
There is a lot to think about when it comes to how to write a novel and there many books on the subject, but there are a number of main challenges that it is worthwhile considering.
Here are my top 10 tips for things to consider before and during your creative journey.
1. Writing a novel is hard work and time-consuming
You're are probably going to need a bare minimum of 12 - 15 hours a week over a period of around two years to write a novel.
You need to clear yourself some time, decide on your work regime and then stick to it. You might have to rewrite your novel several times before it begins to take shape.
Writing a book takes time and effort, unless you're prepared to put in the necessary hard graft, it might not be worth starting.
The turning point was when I hit my 30th birthday. I thought, if really want to write, it's time to start. I picked up the book How to Write a Novel in 90 Days. The author said to just write three pages a day, and I figured, I can do this. I never got past Page 3 of that book.— James Rollins
2. Plan your novel before you start
The vast majority, though not all, professional writers have a plan before they start writing a book.
They sketch out the key events of the novel and chronology, as well as basic biographies of the key characters.
James N. Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel, swears by the idea of using a “premise” to underpin the novel and keep it on track, by which he means a formulating a single sentence that expresses what happens to the main characters as a result of the struggles that they endure.
As well as ensuring that the core plot line has clarity, it also helps to make sure that the main characters develop as the story progresses.
3. Have a strong beginning.
You need to get the readers’ attention straight away, especially if you’re a first time novelist. Imagine somebody picking up your book and browsing the first page – would they feel compelled to read on? If not, there’s a good chance they won’t buy your book.
There are many techniques to consider, but one common method of getting the readers’ attention is to set up some sort of question or mystery at the start of the book that will drive the reader to read on in an effort to find an answer or resolution.
You might also consider trying to drum up some early sympathy for your main character, if you want your reader to root for them.
4. Create conflict
Fictional drama is all about creating conflict. This supplies the energy of novel and keeps the reader interested.
You might put your main character in a struggle against other characters, him or herself, or against a force of nature, but there must be some sort of battle going on.
Another way of generating conflict is through the use of contrast. Often you will find that characters in novels are pitted against others who have opposite traits to their own.
Contrast is also a very good technique generally for creating drama. If you want to write a novel that keeps a reader interested, make sure that conflict(s) is at the heart of it.
Well, you know, in any novel you would hope that the hero has someone to push back against, and villains - I find the most interesting villains those who do the right things for the wrong reasons, or the wrong things for the right reasons. Either one is interesting. I love the gray area between right and wrong.— Dan Brown
5. Your characters must have spark, drive and originality
Ideally they should also be memorable.
Fictional characters are larger than life, they don’t live dull, ambivalent lives like us mortals, they have exceptional traits and skills, they have major flaws, and they often want something really badly - maybe it’s revenge for a murdered loved one, or to win over a love interest, or a desperate desire to be U.S. president.
Whatever it is they want, they must be prepared to fight for it in a struggle.
Write a biography of each of your main characters, fleshing out who they are and how they got that way then set them up against a worthy opponent before you begin writing your book.
6. Give your dialogue some punch.
Dialogue is a great opportunity for creating drama. Make sure that you don’t squander the opportunity by allowing your dialogue to be limp or flat!
No matter how good at speaking we may think we are in real life, we all stumble, repeat things, make off-topic remarks. Fictional dialogue is always tight and meaningful, with regard to the characters and story drama.
Dialogue can also give the reader an insight into the characters. Think about all the clues that you pick up in every day life about a person just from hearing them speak.
You can often guess things such as their state of mind, where they’re from, how intelligent or educated they are, whether they’re being honest, or operating with a hidden agenda, the list is almost endless.
The key thing is that, as mentioned before, there should always some sort of conflict going on. Even if it is under the surface, it should still be going on.
7. Don’t give up!
Okay, so you’ve been slaving away at your computer for six months and apart from that document on your hard drive showing a word count of 40,000, you’ve got very little to show for it.
You were going okay for a while, but now your confidence has dipped, you’ve reached a problem and you've begun to doubt that you've got what it takes to write a novel.
The temptation is to let the whole thing slide, take a few days off, relax, and worry about writing your book later.
Don’t do it!
If you’re stuck with one section of the story, jump ahead a few pages, you can always come back to the difficult part later.
The important thing is to stick to working regularly and not lose momentum. Remember that perseverance is more important than raw talent when it comes to writing a book.
A great novel is concerned primarily with the interior lives of its characters as they respond to the inconvenient narratives that fate imposes on them. Movie adaptations of these monumental fictions often fail because they become mere exercises in interior decoration.— Richard Schickel
8. Build up to a climax
Keep your core conflict going right through to the very end. It should gradually intensify with maybe a few twists and turns on the way.
Don’t ever be tempted to let your main conflict be resolved, or even worse, fizzle out, before you reach the finish line.
Once you’re sure that you’ve reached the end and you’re certain that you’ve tied up all the loose ends, then you can spend the final pages after the resolution with some sort of “new beginning”.
For example, the main character marries his love interest after rescuing her from the terrorists, or maybe your protagonist is sworn in as the new U.S. president after he has defeated all his rivals.
9. Get unbiased feedback
Family and friends can be great for providing support, but they are often the last people that you should go to for feedback on your novel.
Why? Because they care about you and they want to encourage you and they would rather bite their tongue than risk upsetting you by telling you that they lost interest in chapter 4, or that your ending really doesn’t work.
If you’re serious about your writing, what you need is constructive and specific criticism.
The best place to find this is often at your local writers’ circle or college, where your work can be critiqued by fellow writers.
Not only will you hopefully get an honest opinion, but the criticism will be specific, useful, and pertinent.
When you're writing a novel, you spend four years sitting in your basement and a year waiting for the book to come out and then you get the feedback. When you do work online, the moment you're finished making it, people start responding to it which is really fun and allows for a kind of community development you just can't have in novels.— John Green
10. Be prepared to rewrite
Okay, I know how it feels, you’ve just spent six months creating your perfect baby, then you went to the writers’ workshop and people were suggesting all sorts of revisions that you could make to improve it.
More hard graft, just when you thought you could breathe a sigh of relief. My advice would be to listen to the feedback carefully and if you get areas of criticism that crop up over and over, then take it on board and go back to your novel.
Rewrite the whole thing, if necessary. Professional authors will redraft their work multiple times to get it how they want it (or to satisfy and agent or publisher!) It’s a major reason why novels take so long to write!
Have you attempted to write a novel?
© 2014 Paul Goodman