Writing your first novel!
When I was but a child I found myself, after every great novel that I read, promising myself that I would have a novel of my own. Since that time, I have written 25 shorts, over 60 fan-fictions, 4 “full length” soon-to-be-published novels, countless lyrics, and countless poems. I have written anything from science fiction to philosophical arguments – Psychosocial Rehabilitation Analysis, and speeches to Screen-writes, and Plays. Writing was always my favourite subject in school; I was, I suppose still am, a geek. I participated in many extracurricular activities such as the anime club where I wrote stories for our on-going manga, the drama club where I wrote plays we later performed (Yes, I am a proud thespian), I wrote lyrics for choir, and arguments for the debate team, speeches for FLA (Future Leaders of America) and many more.
At home it was no different; I was gaming, drawing, or singing, watching anime, reading, or writing. I wrote fanfics about virtually every anime I’ve ever seen. The one I wrote with InuYasha characters made my sister cry. Which really solidified my passion for it; anything that makes my sister cry – I love. I have participated in several critique groups, book clubs, writing discussion groups, and am currently a member of animeEDEN’s Writing FanClub.
Writing remains to this day one of my outlets for stress. It’s a great way for me personally; as I’m sure it is for many out there, to unwind after a demanding day or week. It helps keep me balanced. Some say, the arts IS the fountain of youth.
Maybe why I volunteered to write articles for AE? …meh, maybe I just wanted to be special. AM I SPECIAL!?
Anyway; this article is for those of you who have the same (or similar) feels for the art as I do. I believe I will make this the first of many “tips and tricks” tutorials on anything and everything I know how to do. [INSERT SMILEY FACE]
Here I will provide a basic rundown of what it takes to write the novel you have held inside, I will help you realise that dream you’ve had inside for years! My goal with this is to increase the percentage of people who actually finish their novels, and to help each and every one of you experience the mystical three tiers of writers high. But, first, I’d like to say: NO IDEA IS A BAD IDEA!
Depending on how you paint the pictures with your words will determine how “good” or “bad” your novel is. Then again, your novel may be “good” to one person, but “bad” to another. Don’t get discouraged, don’t hide it away from the world, and definitely don’t take works that don’t belong to you. Sometimes, you can get inspired by a story – I have a million times over – but becoming inspired and taking work and passing it off as your own, are not the same thing.
With all that said, let’s get to the good part shall we?
I. Short story or Novel?
Personally, it’s all up to you; but most people – in the beginning – start out with a short story. It’s less daunting and seemingly plausible for the first time writer. A novel could take years to complete depending on the amount of effort and time you put into it. Usually, a novel is defined by word count 70,000 to 140,000 words makes up the definition of a “full-length” novel. If you are one to “go hard or go home” and decide to begin with a novel, more power to you! The biggest challenge you will have to face is the amount of time it takes to complete. Statistically speaking, out of every 100 people who begin a novel, only three see their dream come to fruition. The first one is always the hardest, every one after that is… well… I don’t want to say a piece of cake; but for me the second, third, and fourth novel I wrote came out to be simpler than the first. It took me 3 years to complete my first novel; on a mixed full-time, part-time schedule.
II. When should I write?
A lot of people get up early before the house wakes and write in the wee hours of the morning; some prefer at night when the house sleeps. If you have an empty home, it’s best to write free from stress. Albeit writing is a stress reliever, you cannot begin a new journey stressed out. Say you just came home from work. The worst thing you can do is sit down at your writing desk and start a tale. You’ll hit the block and fast. Try unwinding a bit first. Take a nice steam bath, eat some delicious foods, watch an episode or two of your favourite anime, etc. Sometimes, people like to watch a movie before they write; to get the creative juices flowing and the feels to swell. I wrote a short once, based off of a poem I had entered on animeEDEN v.1 back in 2006 called, “Metal Boy and Rock Girl”. I finished it after watching Edward Scissorhands. The short made me cry when I read it. Some people travel for writing, I know a lot of professionals find secluded, beautiful areas and just spend their days writing. You have to look at your life, at your schedule, and pick the time (and place) where you will be free of interaction with others. If you’re busy during the week, spend several hours alone on the weekend writing in seclusion.
I have heard some people enjoy a glass of wine or instrumental music. Keyword here is instrumental music. The words in your story you want to come from inside your head, not the words of the songs which will happen even if you didn’t mean to. All in all, you’ve just got to be free from life’s distractions, where you can fall into your creative flow.
III. Where should I start?
Personally, I like to make a conceptual outline; something like this:
Where the boxes represent the ideas and the smaller circles show how they tie into each other. That isn’t specifically what I do but it’s the gist of it. I have outlined my novels before by filling the squares with beginning, middle, and end ideas and tying them together; and sometimes I have just written an idea in a circle, and supporting events etc.
What you’ve got to understand is this: most novels begin with an idea; maybe a special character, setting, conflict, or a challenge for the character. An idea is still an idea until it has conflict between characters, a change of events or relationships over time, and a resolution. In other words, it has to have a plot, not just a wonderful feeling like a daydream.
IV. Should I buy books to help me out?
Yes and no.
The two tools I like to have with me at all times are a Thesaurus and a Dictionary. They really are your best friends. I also have something called, “The Writer’s Little Brown Hand Book”. Clever little thing, it helps you with grammar and other formatting obstacles. Now, as I won’t argue that you can learn a lot by reading creative writing books, I find it best to travel this road with little to no structural knowledge. You can’t learn how to write fiction just by reading a ‘how to’ book. They help, yes, but to learn how to write you must WRITE.
There will come a time where you will need help, go ahead and search for some. But don’t overload yourself with buying creative writing books and trying to read all of them; you won’t get anywhere and I’m sure they will just collect dust on your shelves. I do, however, condone reading some books on the genre you are thinking of writing. This will give you a general sense of what the others did before you and what readers expect from a story within that specific genre.
Research is fine and dandy, a necessity for some novels, but don’t waste your money or too much time on ‘how to’ books.
V. Where do I find resources?
The same way you found this and anything else: the World Wide Web. You could also go to public libraries, but who does that anymore? *cough*me*cough*
VI. What about writing classes?
What about writing classes? Its common sense, if you want to jump-start your writing skills; attend some classes on creative writing! You could go online to www.coursera.org and sign up for their creative writing course. It’s free and good! Taking classes on anything really is a good idea, not only do you get valuable information from people who have been doing it longer than you, but you gain experience, quick feedback, and you meet people who could be an asset later on in life.
I’ve taken a few classes as well, just to help shape my own unique style.
VII. Once I have all that jambalaya, what’s next?
The first step: a character with conflict
Start with the main character, also known as your protagonist. Pick a gender, name, role in life, etc. Give him a problem, something he wants or is fighting. Create a reason why he will have great difficulty solving his problem. This could be due to circumstances beyond his control, or by characters surrounding them. I find it juicier if the protagonist has some kind of internal conflict. What is internal conflict? It’s something within him that fights his getting his cake and eating it too.
Keep in mind if you make your character GOD who is predestined to win, he will be one-dimensional and boring. He will be flatter than a cola left with the top off for days, heck that cola would have more character than an underdeveloped protagonist!
You should also keep in mind that you are going to need characters that will make your protagonists journey an interesting one; whether by direct or indirect opposition. You may want to start a note on each main character, to which you will add comments as you go along. Create a short description of how your protagonist will struggle against the others and/or against himself to reach the ending. This is the start of your plot.
VIII. How do I design a plot?
There are hundreds of ways for plot design. It all depends on how you want to tell your story. The two most common are the Three Act Play and the Narrative Structure. It is possible to start with one layout and switch to another. Each story is unique, as we are individually unique, so you don’t have to do what you don’t want to – you don’t have to follow a predetermined format.
Let’s look at the Narrative Structure format:
- – it begins with a period of Status Quo; the protagonist is introduced.
- – the inciting incident is some event that changes your protagonist’s life forever.
First Turning Point
- – the first turning point changes your protagonists thinking on how he/she/it will solve the problem(s) at hand.
Second Turning Point
- – similar to the first turning point, the second one evolves your protagonist’s way of thinking even further; another conflict in the protagonist even. This could be where they make the conscious effort to behave differently, and effectively change who they are.
- – this is where nature’s flight or fight response makes its debut; where the pro gets to make that other life changing decision.
- – the moment of truth, the holy grail of writing. This is where the excitement is. The battle scenes, boss fights, etc. go here. Think of the word climax… yar… exactly.
- – when everything is said and done, problem solved; whichever way you chose to solve it. A lot of writer’s like to add in a little cliff hanger here to tie in the next installment… this is of course if you’re going to write a series, epic, trilogy, etc.
I find it helpful to create a sort of timeline when I’m writing in the Narrative Structure Format. I use sticky notes to briefly describe the events. It makes it easy to rearrange the notes/events as your plot develops. One thing you will learn, in the world of story-telling things are always changing. You might be heading one way with an idea, then one day you wake up to find that’s not what you wanted at all. I change my mind so much, so, so, much. I start first with the hero and make notes to cover his story moving from left to right in time order. Then I add below his row of notes additional rows of notes, one for each main character.
KEEP ORGANISED. Make sure you put the characters’ names at the top of each note so you can keep track of who is who as you move them around with new inspirations. It helps if you line up the notes vertically to match the events in the life of the protagonist. I post my notes on my wall. I look like a madwoman when I’m coming up with a plot.
IX. How do I develop my characters?
For character development I use THIS
I find the more detail you have within your characters, the more believable their reactions and responses will be to situations you throw at them. Maybe for minor characters, you don’t have to go so in depth; but definitely for major ones it should be as you have written a bio on someone you actually know.
X. What about writing scenes?
When you are ready to write a new scene, look at your design notes. Pick a character and an event. Chose their attitude, give them a problem, and start writing what they do and say to themselves, and to others.
REMEMBER: you are not an objective viewer. Get inside their head, they are you and you are them. You must live through their minds for that scene and every one thereafter. For all your characters! Eventually you’ll experience the writer’s high, you’ll be multiple people at once. It’s brilliant.
And don’t forget to show lots of emotion in your scenes.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
- Robert Frost
Each writer must find his own style. You get to know your characters better as you write their scenes and eventually you’ll just fall into the flow. For me personally, my characters speak to me: they will let me know what they like and don’t like. Along the way, you will get inspired and change the character’s plot, design, etc. That’s perfectly fine; this is your creative masterpiece! You can do whatever you like.
XI. WHAT ABOUT WRITER’S BLOCK?!
There is no use in worrying about this now, but it will come; multiple times in one night even. Every single person, writer or not, has experienced writer’s block. From children writing an essay for English class, to adults writing a dissertation for their Doctorates degree… it doesn’t pick or choose; it plagues us all! This can be easily dealt with if you don’t let it get the best of you.
“Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler
Some people might say that it affects beginners more than experienced writers. This may be true the same way fatigue hits a normal person quicker than it would a marathon runner. When the block hits, it’s time to turn off the editor in your head and just bang some words around. Flip open the dictionary, close your eyes, blindly place your finger on one of the pages, read the word and its definition. This has helped me many a-time get something going, which in turn, gets my flow back.
“The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write.” – Unknown
This is also a time where the outline of the aforementioned timeline comes in handy. You can look at where you left off and see where you can go from there. Something will come to you, dive into the character, become him, feel his emotion – write his mini-story for the scene. The first draft is never the final. Maybe try that glass of wine to loosen your inhibitions. The flow will come.
XII. Should I join a writer’s group?
First you have to realise, writing fiction is a solitary activity; writing anything for that matter is a solitary activity. It can’t be any other way. Naturally, there will come a time when you would want to discuss your writing and maybe get some feedback; you will find that those around you who are not writers are of little to no help, save for the fact they can read what you’ve got and give some sort of general opinion. But, for deeper, more analytical results, it can only be one. This is the time to seek out other writers. You can learn from them, but be aware that creative people have creative opinions. A plethora of them; always remember: just because someone has years of experience on them, doesn’t mean they are qualified to help you write YOUR book. It’s YOUR BOOK.
Don’t spend too much time visiting writing groups. You are not writing then. You are writing when you are WRITING.
Participating in a critique group can be rewarding. They get together to read parts of their stories and get feedback from peers. I find one great benefit of critiquing the words of others is that it makes you more aware of the weaknesses in your own writing. No one is perfect, there are times you will believe your writing flawless; don’t take a critique in offense or let it scare you away. They are meant to help you get better and because of that writer’s high, often times you won’t see the error in your work. I like to save critique groups until after I’ve finished my novel/story.
XIII. I FINISHED! What now?
Finishing a novel that’s taken years to complete is a feeling everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing at least once in their lifetime. You are one of the three percent who actually made it to the finish line. This brings about the second tier of writer’s high: satisfaction. The satisfaction of finishing the grueling work you’ve been doing, the countless sleepless nights, countless hours locked up in your room, the countless instrumental songs you’ve been listening to – it’s all over. Never before have two little words like “The End” had such a feeling in your life.
What do you do next? Enjoy it. You’ve earned it.
Now, you may be done with the writing but you’re far from 100% finished. It’s time to re-read and re-write. Do you have to re-write? Yes, all good writers’ do. You think it’s over just because you finished your first draft? Ha. Think again.
“First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about.” – Bernard Malamud
You will believe it is the best novel ever written; every first-time novel writer does. Sorry buddy, but the real work lies ahead of you.
“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” – Justice Brandeis
“Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own; it is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” – Michael Crichton
This is where attending the critique groups, and writing groups, comes in handy as well. They will help you see something you didn’t; it’s time to get the darn thing edited. Once, twice, three times. After all is said and done, and you find your novel to be exactly what you had hoped. You are done. You have finally come to the third level of writing high.
XIV. This is the end?
I’m warning you now. When you finish a novel or story that’s drained you; you’re walking on air. There is nothing out there that can harm you or bring you down. You walk around with a swelled head for weeks. Eventually, the high will die down, the rush will end… what not?
Make like a crack addict and get more crack!
In other words, it’s time to start another! Keep that high going, long and strong. This time around, it’ll be simpler – you’re no longer a beginner; you’re not a veteran obviously, but you’re not a noob either.
As far as seeing your book in print, that’s another article for another time; but I will go over it briefly. Personally, I enjoy self-publishing, look into it.
- For printed work try CreateSpace or LuLu.
- For ebook’s I suggest BookBaby.
If you don’t care about publishing on Amazon, try Smashwords.
Again, this article is the basics, there are many roads less traveled you will find your calling in. I hope this helps to some degree. One day, you will find yourself as many writers do, standing in front of a window – staring. Others may ask, “What are you doing?” and you will simply reply, “Writing.”
See you in the forums~
Dedicated to: Exar