14 TIPS on WRITING a NOVEL
Got a great story in you? Have a need to write it? Can't stop obsessing over the compulsion to learn how to type with two hands? Then ... you just might want to give these 14 tips a read.
1. Stop the Wishing
The most difficult part of any writing project is the first sentence. It is that first great or non-great sentence that is the end of procrastination. You will never wish yourself to a completed manuscript even if you have an intriguing story bubbling around in your head.
2. Read. Read a Lot
The biggest thing I had going for me when I started writing was that I was already an avid reader. If you've got it in you to start writing a story of your own, you've probably got reading in your blood, as well. If not, start. One of the top pieces of advice of any well-known author is to read and read and read some more. Especially read within the genre and the time period in which you wish to write. Read from a list of well-established writers, so that you can avoid grammatical and structural pitfalls that come with reading the less well-edited.
3. Don't Worry (yet) About Your Prose
When I started writing my first book, I had a pretty decent grip on the English language, but not much skill at connecting English sentences together to draw people into a story. This is something that will develop over time if you are willing to humble yourself and get people's opinions on what you're writing (people who aren't afraid to tell it to you straight). The most important thing to do is just start telling your story. Let the mental pictures that you have in your mind start to fall onto the white space on your computer screen.
4. The Things You Already Know
Having a great storyline with the ability to turn words into well-constructed sentences is just the very tiptop of the iceberg in the authoring process. You should also work to have your own life history enhance the reading experience for those who pick up your book. This is especially vital in the first book you write but will be a lasting trait (I imagine) through to the end of the last page of the last book you and I will ever write. Pulling from experiences, both good and bad, you will better convey emotion and create a more believable adventure for your readers. Your life history is contained in your beliefs, hobbies, personal interests (things you like to study or read about or work on), success & failures, feelings (negative & positive), family & friends, and even encounters with animals and pets.
5. The Left & Right Sides of the Cursor
To the left of your cursor is what you've completed (obviously). Don't let what's on the left side keep you from what should be happening on the right side. If you keep trying to perfect those things that you've already written, you are delaying getting your story completed. The key is to let your story flow, then make corrections. That's NOT to say that you don't re-read what you've written so that you can remind yourself of where you've already been in the story. Inevitably, you are going to make corrections when you do that. However, the writing stage of your story is not the time to go and start revamping everything you've done, believing, "Everything up to this point is awful! I need to scrap it!" In my opinion, if what you've already written is getting you to the conclusion of your story, continue to let the story unfold. If you have something that needs to be inserted into previous chapters that will add to the storyline as you move forward, by all means, get that done.
6. Road Map or Travel Adventurously?
While writing Deliver Us from Darkness, the only part of the story that I already knew going into it was Brent's struggles to find an answer to what was killing him inside. I didn't have a complete idea of what would happen after that. That got me stuck. You don't have to have every twist and turn laid out before you, but I do think that it's important to know the end destination. So, two things: Know the turmoil/situation that you're leading your character into and through, and also know the outcome that you want to have for his or her life. If you know how you want the story to end, you've won most of the battle. If I, living in Ohio, want to drive to Seattle, all I've really got to know in order to get there is where Seattle is, not all of the highways and byways that lead there. Heck, I can start in Ohio and dive down into Oklahoma before starting back Northwest again. And that "detour" may end up being a thrill for me (and for the reader as a story unfolds). Just know the end that you want. Your yet unknown story will get you there as long as you know the destination.
This is kind of an add-on to number 6. I am NOT saying that you don't take time to map out—plot—your plot. Sometimes you know exactly what twists and turns you want. It is never a bad thing to outline your story. In fact, for many, it is key to making sure that certain things are not missed or that they end up in the best order for the story. Many authors are able to lay out their whole stories on paper before they pen sentence number one. But for those who just know where they want to start and know where they want to end up, don't let this be a hang-up for you. Just write.
8. Finish the Journey
Nothing is more discouraging than getting lost and giving up. WAY too many people start writing great stories and then give up. Stephen King's first novel almost never got published. His wife found it in the trash can after he got frustrated. She read it and told him that the book needed to be completed. He listened. He finished. You know the rest. Push through! Don't be someone who starts a dozen stories and never finishes a single one.
9. Story Ideas
Inevitably, you are going to come up with other great story ideas while writing your book. Jot down the idea on paper or save it on your computer in a Future Stories folder, but do not get sidetracked from the story you're working on because you've got a better one. Your current story was good enough to get you writing, so honor that story to the end. Your first book is a journey of self-discovery about who you are, what you can do, whom you can create, and how you can finish. Maybe it won't be the story that gets published. But it will be the story that GETS you published!
10. Clock? What Clock?
Let your writing envelop you. Grab that bottle of water or cup of coffee, those sunflower seeds (Jalapeno Salsa is the best!), and let your time in front of the keyboard take you away. Many times you're going to end up looking at the clock wondering how it could possibly have gone from PM to AM. Those times are when you know you've got something. Your story has kept you tapping out more and more life into your characters.
11. Fall In Love!
If you don't have characters in your story that you love or love to hate, you're not going to engage your audience. Bring your characters to life in a way that they will cause YOU, as their creator, to be happy with them, overjoyed, sad, angry, frustrated, and disgusted. It is YOUR emotion that the readers are going to feel. So, fall in love with ALL of your main characters, both protagonists and antagonists. In Book 2 of the Otherealm Saga, When Darkness Comes, my antagonist, Stephanie, is someone that I grew to love more and more as I developed her story. Not a nice woman, that Stephanie!
12. Fear Not
Let people know about your story. Don't keep it all to yourself, either as you're writing it or afterward. You have got to take the risk of being hurt. But, fear not, that injury will only cause you to grow as a writer if the critiques are worthy of causing a positive change. Obviously, not everybody's opinion holds the same weight. Know who is reading your story. Know if that person is one of those who will say just about anything to make you happy or if that person is pretty balanced in his and/or her opinions/critiques. The big thing is that you've got to allow people to point out flaws in the connecting of your dots in the story. If you know in your mind what you INTENDED for people to understand, but it causes confusion instead, you've got to know.
13. The Editor
Yep. You're going to need one of these. This person is INVALUABLE! And this person is FRUSTRATING! And this person is your BEST FRIEND! You will NEVER find all of your own mistakes, be they grammar, spelling, or punctuation. On your own, you will never find all of the BETTER WAYS to say the same thing. You will sometimes be frustrated by your editor because you know that you want that section of your story to read the way it does.
But your editor says, "This may better explain X, Y, & Z."
"Yeah right," you're going to think. "What do you know?! You're just an editor!"
Take a calming breath and reread what he/she said. It's okay. You don't have to accept that edit, but you need to be honest enough to consider it. It could make a world of difference in how your READERS perceive what you're trying to communicate. Now you know a bit better why you need that incredibly important, frustrating, caring, wording-maker-betterer person in your life!
14. Don't Forget the Real World
Don't let your writing be your only pursuit. There's a world out there beyond the computer screen that needs to be explored. People watch. Look harder at surrounding scenery. Notice expressions on people's faces and how they interact with their environments. Notice how a leaf moves in the wind. In your mind begin to describe sounds, smells, etc. Engage your senses and make yourself think of ways to write those experiences. The world has a LOT to offer your writing. Don't miss it!