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.
- 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.
- Attach emotion to your story. Use the things you love to 'ornament' your book whether those are the things people do and say, the objects, colours and patterns and music you love. Create your own sentimental fool's paradise, and you'll be back daily. Did I mention you should indulge yourself? This book is for you (in the beginning.)
- Say what you see. Don't try too hard. Simply tell us what you see, and see into the corners, look for the things in the wrong places. We will track the story via dissonance, the colours that stand out, things out of place. Don't strive for poetic metaphors, they've been done. (Phew.)
- Don't make the main character yourself. The book will die at 30,000 words. I see this too many times. We work hard at The Novelry to show you how to reassign aspects of the author's personality to the characters in the book. Put yourself in 'whole' and you'll end up hating the damn thing. It will die - do you see why? 'Fictions' live forever.
- Stop the self-loathing. Writers writing are horrible to themselves. You will come to see the purpose of this; it's your judgement and ambition and taste, and that's all good stuff eventually in the edit. But in the first draft, recognise the cruelty, and stop it. Counter it with affirmative action. Treat yourself to some proper old-fashioned love. (Our community functions to intercept and torpedo self-abuse where we see it!)
- Work against type. Never write to 'type'. Write old people young, young people old, make men womanly and make women manly. Politics divides people into types, art says 'we are one'. A good place to start a literary novel is to show how this 'type' has a life wrought with the same problems and affections we all share.
- Every novel is new. Don't think of yourself as 'a writer', think about the story. You're never a great writer, but you can write a good book. When you start to think your fingers type gold, you're in trouble. It's a relief to unshackle yourself from the burden of being 'a writer' of this or that. Every novel asks a question and teaches the writer something new if it's any good, so you need to retrain with each and every one. Just tell a good tale the way it should be told - straight as you can.
- If you're in a rush, go slow. I put my writers on word diets to stop them from over-reaching themselves. That way you keep the best bits back and always look forward to writing the next day when you've had time to reflect. The 'brilliant' next bit may end up being quite different. This is a way of layering up the work and helps reduce the number of drafts you'll do.
- It's 9 months, baby. Some writers write slow, some fast. It all ends up the same, about nine months from start to finish if you stick with it. Whether three or more drafts or the one. Work your way. We set up a habit in ninety days, knock out a first draft of the story in ninety days with our Ninety Day Novel course, but I tell my writers don't sweat the word count. When you've got a good habit you can write a novel a year including 3 months to think through the next one. (See below.) My ideal scheme is 3 months thinking, 3 months first draft, 3 months second, 3 months working on the third draft of the ms with agents and publishers.
- Keep it simple. Use your experience and your location. Where you live is exotic to the majority of people who don't live there and it makes it easier to write with spare, poignant, illustrative detail. Don't complicate matters when you're writing a novel.
The answer to almost any question when you're writing is - story. Story, story, story. The alpha and omega. From once upon a time to the end.
Enjoy your writing, it shows in the prose.
Make it your secret joy and never show your first draft to anyone.
Happy writing x
Daily Word Counts of Some Authors:
Graham Greene wrote 24 novels as well as travel books, children’s books, plays, screenplays, and short stories. His daily writing goal was only 500 words.
"Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene. Every now and then during the morning’s work I count what I have done and mark off the hundreds on my manuscript." Graham Greene.
- Barbara Kingsolver - 1000
- Ernest Hemingway - 500
- Graham Greene - 500
- Ian McEwan - 600
- Sarah Waters -1000
- Sebastian Faulks - 1000
- Mark Twain - 1400 (in 4-5 hours)
- Nicholas Sparks - 2000 (3-8 hours)
- Patricia Highsmith - 2000 (4-5 hours)
- Stephen King - 2000
In an hour you can crack 500 words, like Graham, if you're using the other 23 hours to consider the coming scene. That's the method we teach at The Novelry. Write daily, with joy - that's the habit you'll learn from taking our famous course - and you'll write a novel a year.
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