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How to write a novel

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A former student contacted me on LinkedIn to tell me she thoroughly enjoyed my Writing Your Novel class I taught at a local adult education center. I had already begun a post on writing your ending first, so I decided to give you a flash class on how to write your novel. This is only my opinion and process, so take it or leave it. You have to figure out what works for you. So…

TIP #1: Begin at the end

You just begin or in my case, I just begin at the end. You have to know the ending to the story before you begin writing. If you know the ending, you can write toward that goal, add foreshadowing where appropriate and generally prevent yourself from losing you mind trying to figure out what you want your characters to do. They will tell you what they want to do.

This all means that you have to flesh out your idea as completely as possible before you begin writing. Brainstorm about your character, your setting – whatever started your creative idea in the first place. Sometimes I see a person’s face which carries me off to the Land of Daydreams about who she is, what she does, why her face is like that, etc. It could be that a place begins your story idea or the pattern on a shirt someone is wearing. It could be anything that starts that imagination moving into the direction of a new story idea. Capture it on paper or via a voice recording and start fleshing it out in its entirety and make sure you have a strong plot and sub-plots. It can all change as you go through the process, but make sure you decide how your book is going to end before you start the actual writing. Your nerves will thank me.

TIP #2: Outline

Outline your story. Again, put down the ending first, then roughly draft your outline. If you have some major event you want to highlight, write it somewhere so you can figure out where it will be placed in your story. Write your plot and sub-plots somewhere along the top of your outline so you can refer to them as you go, making sure you don’t stray too far unless that makes sense in the story. If it does, alter the plot to fit. Remember, this is all in your head, so you can do anything you want with your story.

I try to segregate each major thought into chapters to I have a place to start. At some point, you may find your chapter is too long, so you can always split it into two chapters. Just keep going forward and you will discover you are at THE END at some point in the not too distant future!

TIP #3 – Ready, Set, Write!

Now that you have the outline, get going. Write each chapter or section as fully as possible. You can always cut out sections, characters even bits of your plot later. It’s your story. Make sure you show the reader your setting, even if you make it up. Some writers spend tons of time with character development, but forget to write where their character is when they are developing them. Setting is very important, but with that said, don’t make the book all about setting. It will turn into a travelogue rather than a novel.

TIP #4 – Slash and Burn

Now the real work begins. A good writer is one who is not afraid to re-write. Rarely does the first draft turn out perfectly, and I am not talking about cleaning up the typos and the grammar. Re-writing is where the story takes shape and becomes what it was meant to be. Cut out the fat which could be a character that is too similar to another character and can easily become one person, an extra scene that really doesn’t tell us anything, or even the beginning. I once cut about sixty pages from the beginning of my book because I discovered the story was best told if it began later in time and flashed back a bit to some of the cut material, rewritten, of course. You don’t want your reader to be bored, so don’t spend tons of time explaining. Show don’t tell.

This is, I admit, a very rudimentary explanation of how to write a novel, but it will give you a start. Keep reading how others do it and you will find your own method, your own voice. Take what you can use and discard the rest and you, too, may get that book out of your head and onto paper…or ebook…or audio book. Well, you know what I mean. Happy noveling!

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