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How To Write A Novel

You will find advice here to help you on your writing journey. Use the search bar or browse through the categories to get a taste of the kind of insights and shortcuts we use to fast track our writers. 
Novel Writing Tips The Hero Overwriting: A Cure Three Wise Drafts Gatsby

The Big Picture

May 19, 2019
 

Wherever you are with your novel, here's something which could help you see the big picture of plot fast. 

I'm on my fourth draft, and so mired in the material, I needed a very simple oversight of the drama in play. It came to me that when I am working on a novel I envision several key scenes and work from one to the other hopping on one foot of my purple prose.

Usually, I begin a novel with a key 'visual' or vision, a scene that intrigues me, and work out how on earth it all came about, then I add other scenes. But of course, I forget about the simplicity of that and get bogged down in detail.

At any stage of your novel try seeing it like a moving picture. Think of it as a movie, and press fast forward x 30. You won't be paying attention to the talking heads but the space around them. The locations. The sets. The camera angles and then the key shot for each. Whose face? Whose feet? What object?

My God it helps. 

This week I've been using a method which frames my...

Read on...

Insight.

May 12, 2019
 

Immersive writing and Insight are intimately related and inextricably so.

This is what Tolstoy shows us. It's what makes Tolstoy a great writer.

Following on from the last blog on the ten-draft four-year development process for the writing of the book often described as the greatest novel, I want to show you what Tolstoy achieved with his writing, how he approached, and why.

“Therein is the whole business of one’s life; to seek out and save in the soul that which is perishing.”

The Gospel in Brief - Leo Tolstoy

(My second book This Human Season cites this quotation from Tolstoy at the frontispiece.)

The business of his life, his work, was to honour this passage from the Gospel, which he read and re-read as his favourite book.

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Matthew 7:5

Seen this way, you can understand the wholeness of his approach to his work,...

Read on...

Writing Anna.

May 05, 2019
 

In the 1870's Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828 - 1910) experienced a profound moral crisis. During the writing of Anna Karenina, he went through a personal metamorphosis from sensualist to ascetic. This had a dramatic effect on his literary output and the novels after Anna Karenina are of a different tone, and more didactic.

Writing Anna Karenina required many drafts over four years, and evolved from a rather superficial treatment of a 'fallen woman' to a more nuanced and sympathetic evocation of Anna, the literary heroine.

The novel accrued greater depth over those drafts. The constant in the concept was Anna herself, though her character changed in the early drafts. With Anna, Tolstoy was able to put his finger on his own flaw or failing; the sensualist. Writing Anna enabled him to see the flaw, name it and move past it.

There are one or two ways to write a novel.

1. A fast first draft and multiple successive drafts. (For this method ideally you need a sounding board - an agent...

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Treasures from our Authors' Collections.

Apr 28, 2019

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913

A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court. 

https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/

Murderpedia

Murderpedia is a free online encyclopedic dictionary of murderers and the largest 
database about serial killers and mass murderers around the world.

http://murderpedia.org

UK Missing Persons Unit

Says our thriller writer, author Helen Callaghan, "It's the little details about the victims that are most affecting and really make you think. So I often visit here too: UK Missing Persons.  The lists of possessions, tattoos, etc get me every time."

https://www.missingpersons.police.uk

Says Helen, "The other place I use is the Suzy Lamplugh Trust as they have great insights and advice into stalking and threat."

Suzy Lamplugh Charity

https://www.suzylamplugh.org

"The other thing for crime research...

Read on...

Taking Criticism.

Apr 21, 2019

A published book has seen many interventions post the author's first draft. Better to get these under your belt sooner rather than later and go out looking dandy when you show your work to the big guns - the agents, publishers and readers. For that reason, all insults, slurs and calumnies should be most gratefully received at any point between second draft and twenty-second.

Order of merit.

  1. You crit. (The Editing Course, after resting that first draft for a month to become a reader.)
  2. Peer crit.
  3. Prof crit.
  4. Publisher crit.
  5. Publish  - and don't look back!

Choose your moment. You should never show your work to any other living soul at first draft. It is horrible. You don't want funny looks at best or those you respect to foreswear ever reading your work again. Show it when the second draft is complete. (I only fully understood my story and nailed my title at the end of second draft this time, fifth novel.)

Choose your first readers wisely. After the second draft is done, show...

Read on...

Novel Writing Tips.

Apr 14, 2019
 

In celebration of our two-year anniversary at The Novelry, I thought to compile a list of our novel writing tips, since you're unlikely to find them elsewhere.

'Contrary' is how we roll, 'counterintuitive' are our methods.

Creativity has a lot to do with wit - outflanking expectations with bold leaps - based on more than a hunch. The Novelry helps busy people write novels. We give you tools, not rules; a bumper kit of 'the tools of wit for you to plunder'.

Here are a few.

  1. You're the author, you get to play God. This is the only part of your life you control. Sure, you can claim the characters speak to you and guide you. But my bet is you'll whip them pretty hard before they do. Whip them harder, make them behave badly, and against their interests or instincts. Throw some mystery into the story. In great novels, there's often something that doesn't make sense. Indulge yourself. Don't go by the book.
  2. Attach emotion to your story. Use the things you love to...
Read on...

Contrast.

Apr 07, 2019
 

It is with modest boldness, I say to you that creativity is about putting two things together which should not go together.

Such as modesty and boldness.

The greater the opposition between the two things, the more attention the new construction merits.

You start with the idea for your novel itself and you take this through your practice in prose.

This creative method is practical and simple.

'Convenience Store Woman'.

This week I have been reading Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018). It was described in The Guardian review as 'sublimely weird.' 

'This deadpan Japanese tale of an oddball shop assistant possesses a strange beauty.' Julie Myerson.

A literary prize-winner that's also a page-turner, it sold 660,000 copies in Japan alone and won  Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, the Akutagawa Prize. Convenience Store Woman is a  portrayal of contemporary Japan through the eyes of a single woman who fits into the rigidity of its...

Read on...

Rumours of a Hero.

Mar 31, 2019
 

Looking for an idea for your novel?

This is one of my favourite forms; the mystique of the elusive hero-figure.

It's a first person 'bystander' narrative concerning a mysterious acquaintance, replete with puzzled admiration, with rumours as clues on the trail of charisma. By charisma - I mean the sound of a life better lived in another room.

The allure of 'personality'.

It's a youthful form, an age-defying treatment. After all, it's a youthful idea that personality can succeed. 

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity of the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away." (Scott Fitzgerald on Jay Gatsby.)

As one ages, one comes to see that if there is such a thing as personality, it fails. We let it drop, and accept the rump of commonality with humility. Apart from...

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Overwriting. A Cure.

Mar 24, 2019
 

The ailment of overwriting afflicts most first drafts. It is the writer's common cold. If you have been multiply rejected by literary agents, I can almost guarantee you suffer from this illness. Your writing obscured the story. You have probably sent out your work too soon. If you're writing the first draft, as I explained in last week's blog, you will catch most of it in the second draft.

You must treat your manuscript for this sickness before you share the novel with anyone. The advice which follows is to be taken lightly by those writing a first draft. You've got to get the material down by any means necessary and forgive it on first draft. But those on second draft and beyond should seize this advice firmly.

What do I mean by overwriting?

If you're writing a rollicking good yarn, a plot-driven story, then you won't want overwriting to detract from 'what next'. A chapter advances the character's problem inexorably.

Overwriting is a handbrake turn, or...

Read on...

Three Wise Drafts

Mar 17, 2019
 

In the Beginning.

Once upon a time, you told yourself you couldn't write a novel. "I’m too old, too young, too stupid, too clever, too reclusive, too sociable, too lazy, too busy... I’m nervous.”

That's the first thing a writer says to me when they take the plunge and commit to writing a novel. But a whole raft of other unkind self-doubts above lurk right behind that word 'nervous'.

When you open the door and come into The Novelry, it's all rather jolly, warm, unpretentious and friendly and so very do-able. The work you have to do is bite-sized daily. 

 Welcome home.

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." (Emma Lazarus.)

The recipe for confidence at The Novelry is fast-acting. We salute you from the moment you arrive. You are welcomed with warmth by our members, because they know full well it's a big step, and that you're nervous on arrival, but we all know you've come home too. 

Once you...

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