You want to write a novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at some essentials. I hope these articles will help you, whether you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo or not. The milestones are essential in revision, as well as when you’re writing.
Back in the day, when I wrote novels for traditional publishers, I had questions. Basic ones. I use the same questions today, when I’m starting a new novel. I commend them to you. They help.
Write a novel: your basic questions
Here they are:
- Takeaway (feeling)?
You can’t get more basic than these questions. 🙂
Today, a novel’s length doesn’t matter as much as it used to… because chances are that you’re publishing the novel yourself as an ebook, in the first instance. Be aware that you can call a short story a “book” and publish it.
Generally speaking, a novel is a piece of fiction over 30,000 words.
Knowing your genre is vital. If you don’t know your genre, you won’t know which milestones you need to hit.
Your novel’s milestones made simple: setup, middle twists, and climax
In this article on writing short stories, I talked about the scene secret. This is very useful when you’re writing short stories, and for writing novels too. Here are the milestones for a short story:
• Scene 1: the setup.
• Scenes 2 and 3: complications and conflict.
• Scene 4: dark moment, climax… the end.
That article’s worth reading, if you haven’t read it.
In a novel, the milestones are:
- The setup (at the 25 per cent point of the novel);
- The midpoint, where everything changes, at 50 per cent;
- The OOPS milestone: the kick in the pants. Think of it as a sharp jolt, or the dark moment. It occurs at the 80 per cent point.
- The climax: the BIG scene, in which the hero does battle for what he wants. Alternatively (in mysteries for example), the big reveal — the sleuth unmasks the killer. You should hit this at the 90 per cent point.
- The end — just a few pages, winding up the novel.
Authors tend to use different expressions for the milestones; some authors call them “beats”, for example. I like the term milestones, because I think of a novel as a journey. You can call the milestones anything you wish.
Once you know your word count, you’ll know where the milestones will be. For example, if you get to the midpoint, and nothing much changes, you know you’d better look lively, otherwise your novel will meander over a cliff.
The takeaway is feelings: what do you want your reader to feel?
Although the takeaway isn’t a milestone, in a sense it’s more important. When you write a novel, you’re writing entertainment. You want your readers to FEEL.
Your genre gives you a clue about the emotions:
- A thriller — excitement;
- Horror novels — terror;
- Romance novels — romance, duh :-))
- And so on. Whatever your genre, ask yourself WHY readers read this genre. What kind of emotions do they want to experience?
Every day, while you’re writing, remember the takeaway. The more emotion you can arouse in readers, the better.
This emotional takeaway is essential, but new authors tend to be unaware of it, because it’s not as obvious as the plot — it’s more important than the plot.
Hit your milestones: it makes writing a novel much easier
Failure to hit milestones is the reason that authors get stuck, and can’t finish a novel. They know that something has gone badly wrong, but they have no idea what it is or how to fix it.
Once you know the length, and the genre, your milestones help you to plot. You’ll know which scenes are essential at what point.
This benefits you enormously, especially if you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo. Otherwise the danger is that you’ll write a lot of words, and will struggle to turn those words into a real story after NaNoWriMo is over.
Remember to have fun. 🙂
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