Are you new to writing fiction? If you are, you need to avoid the two most common “new author” pitfalls.
Here they are:
- Nothing much happens;
- Too much happens: you got three (or more) stories you’re trying to tell.
The big new author secret: your story question (who wants what? And why?)
Your story question is the point of your novel; it’s why readers will read it. In Gone Girl, readers want to know what happened to the missing wife. Think about the novel you’re reading now: what’s the point of the novel?
You’ll arrive at the story question via your characters. Each of your characters wants something desperately. (If they aren’t willing to fight for something, toss them out of your book; they don’t belong in it.)
Readers read romances to discover how two mismatched souls will get together. They read mysteries to solve the mystery, whatever it is. When they’re in the mood for a thriller, readers want lots of excitement.
Please don’t start plotting until you’ve created some characters who will FIGHT for what they want. Forget “character bios” and other rubbish: for each character, write down what he’s determined to get, and who or what stands in his way.
Stripped down to its basics: your plot consists of your characters battling for what they want.
Now let’s look at some tips to help.
1. Be there: write scene by scene
You may be a new author, but you’ve heard of “show, don’t tell.”
“Show” means writing in scenes. You’re in the mind and body of the main character in the scene: the one who has most to gain or lose in the scene. You feel, see, touch, hear and taste what the character does.
As a new author, you’ll need practice at inhabiting your characters. It’s an imaginative trick. Think of yourself as an actor, playing a part.
2. Your characters need motivation: love, money, revenge…
We’ve covered “who wants what” with the story question.
Now we come to motivation: WHY do your characters want what they want? As the author, you must know why characters do what they do, even if you’re unaware of your own motivations for your actions half the time. 🙂
I like looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when I’m considering motivation. Stick with the bottom of the pyramid; those needs are primal. TV Tropes’ Motivation Index is fun to play with too, for unusual motivations.
Character motivation is essential. You can have a wonderful plot: your characters save the world from disaster, battling evil on every page, but if readers don’t care about and understand your characters, they won’t identify with them enough to keep reading.
3. Never mind the plot: make your characters fight
Your plot is what your characters do. Let’s say that you’ve created a “save the world” scenario for your novel, as above. If your characters stand around chatting about it, readers stop reading.
Make your characters take ACTION in every scene. Make them FIGHT for what they want.
4. You won’t get stuck if you remember to set everything up
Decide on a final word count BEFORE you start writing.
Here’s why deciding on a word count is vital: you need to know how long the setup phase of your novel will be.
We discussed a novel’s milestones here:
- 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.
The setup phase is the most important part of your novel; it’s a quarter of your words. When authors get stuck on a novel, it’s always because they ran out of energy. Their setup phase wasn’t strong enough to give them liftoff.
5. Write towards the big bang: the climax makes your novel
The climax of your novel is the novel’s payoff for readers. For a new author, this can be scary, so fudging the climax is a common pitfall.
You’ll avoid this pitfall if you write towards the climax. Once you’ve written past the setup, keep the climax in mind.
Ask yourself questions, like:
- What scares my main characters (you’ll make them face their fears at the climax);
- How can I shock readers at the climax — how can I mislead them?
When you keep your climax in mind, you’ll be surprise yourself. By the time you reach the 70% point, you’ll have a wonderful climax planned.
Most importantly of course, have fun with your novel while you’re writing it.
All authors do; no one sets out to write a boring novel.
Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.More info →
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily.More info →
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