Happy days — it’s an exciting time of the year if you want to write a novel. Perhaps this has been your dream for years, and finally you’re committing yourself to NaNoWriMo.
On November 1, you WILL start writing your novel — and you’ll complete it. These tips will help you to do that.
And so will this gentle warning: relax. Allow your creativity a loose rein.
Allow yourself to “write a novel” — relax, and accept your words
I hate pessimism. Nevertheless, it’s important to temper your enthusiasm with a little caution.
Words like “write a novel” will awaken your inner editor, and this can be disastrous when you’re writing first draft material. Tell yourself (and your inner editor), that you’re NOT writing a novel. You’re writing words, which one day may become a novel.
In that spirit, avoid placing demands on your creativity. Allow yourself to write. Accept whatever words come. After more years spent writing than I care to remember, I know that this one vital tip will ensure that you complete your first draft.
Onward to the tips.
1. Schedule your writing: give yourself at least an hour a day
To complete 50,000 words in 30 days, you’ll write around 1700 words a day. You need at least an hour of uninterrupted time. Over the years, I’ve written in meetings, at dinner parties and on trains and planes.
Schedule your hour. It’s essential.
2. Prewrite, please, even if you hate outlines
Prewriting can be:
- Noodling on characters. You don’t need to create “character bios.” For many writers (including me) these are busy-work and a waste of time. However, you do need: lists of characters’ names, ages, occupations, as well as one internal obstacle, and two external obstacles, for each character. These obstacles stand in the way of your characters achieving their goals.
- Plotting your scenes. I like to use index cards. I keep a stack of cards in almost every room in my house, as well as in my car and bag. Write one idea per card, the crazier the better.
- Creating mind maps. I transfer the info from my index cards to mind maps every day or two when I prepare a novel. (Usually I’m prepping a couple of novels ahead of my current WIP (work in progress.)
- Free writing. Dig into your subconscious mind by doing a free write or three. You know much more than you think you do.
3. Focus on your characters: readers read for your characters
Think about what you recall from reading a favorite novel. Is it the plot? Or the people?
Readers read for the people. Currently I’m reading The Lion, by Nelson DeMille. It’s been years since I read a DeMille novel, but friends said that they love the main character of his series, John Corey, and now I do too.
Create a character readers love, like Harry Potter, and you too may become a billionaire. 🙂
Writing fiction is always about the people, so don’t get sidetracked by an ingenious plot, or your amazing story world. No one will care if they don’t love your characters.
4. Ensure that everyone fights with everyone else: conflict on every page
Life is conflict.
Think about your relationships — do you have any which are conflict-free? If you do, chances are you don’t care about those people very much. You have lots of conflict with your nearest and dearest, so ensure that your story people have constant battles too.
5. Write towards your climax (know what your climactic scene will be before you start writing)
Here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.
New authors start off great. They plough through 10K words, then 30K words… Unfortunately what usually happens is that they have their foot on the accelerator but no one’s steering the car.
At the end of 50K words, they have many words, but not a novel.
A novel is a story. It builds to a climax, the ultimate scene of the novel, where the proverbial crap hits the fan. Everything in a commercial novel is heading towards this one BIG scene. After the climax, your novel winds up in around 500 words or so.
Genre will often tell you what your climax must be:
- In a mystery, the killer is unmasked by the sleuth;
- Romance readers expect the hero and heroine to face and overcome their biggest obstacle before they stroll off into the sunset, hand in hand…
- Thriller readers expect that in the climax, the hero is two seconds from death and global catastrophe before he saves himself and everyone he loves.
Your climax is the entire point of your novel.
Ideally, you’ll know vaguely what should happen at the climax before you start writing your novel. You don’t need details, but you do need to know the dark point (all is lost) and who takes part in the final big battle.
Have fun: it’s vital that you do
A final tip: have FUN. Telling stories is having fun, or it’s nothing, so enjoy it. By the way, “have fun” sounds like a platitude. It isn’t. If you’re not having fun while you’re writing, readers won’t enjoy your novel. Fun is serious. 🙂
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