Want to write a novel? I know that many writers do, because I receive emails and messages about writing fiction each week. Indeed, I receive so many that I can’t respond to them all — I write blog posts (and books) in response.
The biggest challenge that both new and experienced authors face is that a novel has many, many elements. How are you supposed to keep it all straight?
The short answer is that you can’t. No author can. Writing a novel takes time, and it’s messy. Your writing sets your inner editor screeching — you can’t write that, you forgot that, no one will read this junk, that character’s an idiot…
When you write a novel, it’s easy to get confused
Here’s the most common question I receive, reproduced in many different ways: how do I write a novel that works?
Often the author has started writing many times, but:
- Lost interest
- Got confused
- Found a “better” idea
- Doesn’t know how to ___________ (fill in the blank :-))
A novel has many moving parts (elements) which work together, seamlessly
It may be helpful to realize that everyone has challenges with a novel. No one “learns how to write novels” forever, so that every novel from that magic moment is a matter of sitting down and typing. Every novel is different. You’re different when you write it.Writing a novel is a messy businessClick To Tweet
BIG TIP: Writing a novel is a messy business.
Not only do you need to keep the story (plot) in mind, you also need to keep these elements in mind:
- Setting: your novel takes place somewhere, but don’t overdo the description, otherwise readers lose patience. You’re not writing a travelogue, or a Victorian novel;
- Your characters — they need to grow;
- You need real conflict — more than a bunch of arguments and silly misunderstandings;
- Structure: rising action, turning points, story questions, and on, and on.
There’s a lot to keep in mind, and it’s why you write more than one draft.
In your first draft: write to discover your characters and plot
In your first draft, you’re discovering the story you want to tell. Just keep writing — don’t go back to edit.
You will want to go back and edit — that’s a given. Everyone wants to go back and “fix” stuff. Here’s an example. I’m at the halfway point in the initial draft of my current novel. It’s going well… That’s to say, I’m writing. As long as you’re writing, it’s “going well.”
Here’s my challenge: I’ve made a huge change in the main character, which means that not only will I need to toss out Chapter One, I’ll also need to add scenes, delete scenes, and rewrite scenes all the way to the midpoint.
Luckily, I know enough NOT to do that in the first draft. If I do it, I’ll end up rewriting everything up to the midpoint, and in the process, I’ll lose control of the story. I’ll spend three times longer writing than I need to do, and I’ll drive myself demented in the process.
When I say I know that, my inner editor doesn’t. According to my inner editor, I need to go back NOW. 🙂
Your inner editor never shuts up. Just ignore his siren song, and write forward.
In later drafts, handle one element at a time (which means a lot of revision, but c’est la vie)
In later drafts, fix and fiddle as much as you like. We talked about editing here.
Once you’ve written your one-sentence summary:
Your one-sentence summary is essential. Please create it before you do anything else — you can’t edit without this sentence.
After you’ve completed the cut, cut, cut stage, you’ll need to write new stuff.
Once that’s done: take one element of your novel at at time, and focus on it. I love Scrivener because you can create Collections, so you can see how you’ve handled an element like setting, or whatever, in all your scenes.
Handling a single element at a time: conflict, or a specific character’s arc, or dialogue, avoids overwhelm, and author confusion. You will keep your sanity. 🙂
How to write a novel in a month, and not lose your mind
I’ve just published Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days — it’s for you if you’re struggling with your first or fifteenth novel.
In essence, it’s a plan to help you to write a novel in 31 days. Theoretically of course. You can take as long as you like.
Each day, you’ll focus on one element. If you get nothing else from anything I write, accept this: a novel is built, like a house. You build it out of elements, and you can fix those elements, one at at time, to create an excellent novel.
In short, my intention in writing Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days was to give you the tools to write many novels, not just one. Enjoy. 🙂
Updated: April 25, 2017
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