So you want to write a novel… but how to start? Have you started writing? Do you at least have scenes for a story in your head?
Here are seven tips I learned along the way.
- Read, read, read as a writer i.e notice the technique the author uses to indicate time shifts, change point of view etc . Now sit down and write! The first draft (or two or three) won’t be great, but don’t stop to edit. Keep going.
2. Things to watch out for:
a. Minimize your use of adverbs especially after “said”… I said gravely.
b. Ditto for exclamation marks!!!! The excitement has to come primarily from the story sprinkled with lively verbs. Clichés are also frowned on.
c. Speaking of verbs – avoid passive verbs (like “to be” verbs). “Is, was, has, are, were, will be” put us to sleep if overused. Change “he is/was teaching” to “he teaches/ he taught.” Examples of verbs may be found on this list: http://www.oberlin.edu/career/students/documents/resume_action.pdf
3. Don’t go into great detail describing your characters, places and things. We want to know these things, but weave them skillfully into your prose. Instead of saying:
“Alicia had auburn-hair and her eyes were blue” … blah blah.
Drop a description of a protagonist into an introductory passage like this: “…he was just surprised to find an auburn-haired girl with blue eyes.”
Note this also minimizes the passive verbs (in italics) in the first description. (Try to leave out paragraphs readers tend to skip.)
4. Make a character list (this is not a requirement but my personal suggestion). Write down everything about each character: their personalities – especially their quirks, how they look, think, speak, where they are from etc. Even if you are not planning to tell us she was born in Toledo YOU need to know everything about your characters so they are real to you. (When I finished my novel I found myself wondering how my protagonists were doing – forgetting momentarily they were figments of my imagination.) As you write make them act accordingly. Refer to your list and keep the individuals “in character” – unless you purposely want to show a character evolve and change.
5. After you have at least a few chapters:
a. Consider a rough outline to give your plot structure. This helps you foreshadow; you might want to withhold some information to build suspense. I found myself rearranging chapters and cutting scenes that didn’t move the plot forward. Try to end each chapter with something that makes the reader want to read on to see what happens next.
b. Read with a critical eye. You may even want to wait until you have a completed first draft before you start editing.
6. Join a writing group. I think this is crucial. Search out good writers you are comfortable with.
a. You don’t want ruthless people who tear your “baby” apart, but someone who hands you back your chapters and just says “Very nice” doesn’t really help either – except for the ego boost. (I’ve experienced both types of groups.)
b. You don’t have to accept every suggestion, but listen carefully. If more than one person told me the same thing I would usually make the change unless I felt very strongly (and then ended up making the change down the road anyway!) I learned a lot from my group who were supportive and diplomatic in their critiques. (Thank you again Diablo Writers!)
7. Rewrite and write again – this may be your longest stage. I wrote my first chapter at least a dozen times. Then polish your manuscript until it is “perfect.” (I have “perfect” in quotes only for those who can’t stop polishing. I felt I could have edited my novel forever, but at some point you do need to say ‘enough’.) Write a good book. It may sound obvious, but that is the essential first step to getting published.
In another post I’ll address the importance of an editor, social media and whether to hold out for an agent and traditional publishing or go the multi-faceted indie route.
What do YOU think?
Do you edit as you write? Outline or go with the flow? Do you have a character/personality list?