How to Write a Novel

Although most of my work is still confined to my hard drive, I’ve been writing non-stop since I was 17 and have reason to believe I will some day succeed as a published author. Sometimes I’m even solicited for advice and tips. And so here’s how I do it, and how you could too:

  • Start with a germ of an idea and see if it lasts the distance. I tend to sit on my ideas for anywhere between one and five years before giving them a chance. If you’re not committed to the concept, you might get bored.
  •  Buy a blank book to do some initial brainstorming (might be a big artist pad, or a small moleskin, or a regular school exercise book) and make sure you’ve got somewhere to use it. You need your own desk, or time at the dinner table where you won’t get shy.
  • Sketch out some details. I usually start with structure though that’s not necessarily a good idea. So far all my plots have been linear, but they’ve been restricted by something: all chapters on match days, or everything within four weeks. My plot then has to fit into that, whereas you’ll probably want to flesh out the plot first. Either way, get a series of ideas down.
  • Think about time. Is it contemporary, in the past, or future? Are there several distinct time points (which may be chronological, or leap about with flashbacks), or will everything occur around one crucial period?
  • Consider the setting. Is it urban or rural? On the ascent or decline? If it’s a real place, you’ll need to do a lot of fact checking. If it’s imaginary, you’ll need to make it plausible. I’ve done both and they each had their pros and cons.
  • Devise some distinct characters. Who are they? Think about their appearance, interests, upbringing, and lingo. Then start keeping track of these features so you can maintain consistency. Even if some of the detail never makes it in, you’ll be better informed when you start putting your people into action.
  • Read at least one book about writing, or attend some kind of class. You will learn not to overuse adjectives and adverbs, and you might learn that it’s fine to say “he said” “she said” over and over. We don’t need “she sighed” “he muttered” “they squealed”. You can convey this info in other ways.
  • Find out, if you can, whether you have any talent. The best idea in the world will be rubbish if you’ve got no command over your language. You need excellent grammar and spelling at the very least, or you’ll be serving some professional a dog’s breakfast one day and they may not deign to even nibble at it.
  • Start! I usually handwrite my first chunk (for no particular reason other than habit, and it means I have some concrete proof of it being my own work) and then I type it up on my laptop and continue from there.
  • I find it’s easy and exciting to write a brand new first draft. It’s the revising and editing that can be tedious. But get something down – you can worry about perfection later.

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