So You Want To Write A Novel?
By Lynette Rees
The idea of writing a novel can be quite daunting. Yet, many people feel they have a novel inside them. The percentage of people, who talk about it as opposed to do anything about it, is very high. So why is it then, people fail at the first hurdle?
1. Lack of time
2. Lack of ideas
3. They run out of steam
4. Lack of confidence
6. Overly sensitive to criticism
7. They don't want it enough
For someone who has written six novels to date, four of them published, I'll tell you that you can make the time. We all have the same twenty four hours in a day and it's what we do with them that count. I know an author who writes ten books a year for Harlequin and still has time to look after her young family.
On the other hand, I had an online friend who claimed it was her dream to write books for children. I helped her get enrolled on an online writing course I was taking at the time. Did she ever write that book? No. She didn't even complete a writing assignment for the course because she claimed she didn't have the time. Yet, the same woman spent hours chatting online, so she could easily have eked out the time. She just didn't want it enough.
So, how do you go about writing a novel?
I'm not pretending that it's going to be plain sailing for you. In fact, the whole process is hard work. Getting the first draft down, in my opinion, is the easiest part. It's the editing and revision I dread, both what I have to do before I submit it to a publisher, and then afterwards working on line edits and copy edits with editors prior to publication. This can take as long, if not longer, than getting the first draft down in the first place.
I can't tell you much about other authors' writing processes, only my own, which might help you should you decide to give novel writing a go.
I start off with an idea. This might come from a magazine or something I've seen on the television, or even a snippet of conversation. I'll use an example here of my new book, A Taste of Honey, to show you how I work:
I was reading the newspaper one day when I came across a feature article about honey trappers - women who set up men for their wives and girlfriends to see if they will remain faithful or cheat. This led me to the question, "What would happen if one of those honey trappers accidentally set up the wrong guy?" What would transpire then? This formed the basis for my book.
Many novels and movies can be summed up this way, in just a sentence or log line. In fact, editors often ask authors at writing conferences to pitch their novel to them in just one sentence.
For fun, can you work our which movies or novels these are from just their log lines alone?
1. "Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again."
2. "A young, independent woman keeps a daily journal of her thoughts and feelings whilst living in the big city."
3. "A nun leaves the convent to work for a rich man and his children."
4. "A married, family man, decides to kill himself on Christmas Eve, but is saved by an angel who shows him what his life would have been like had he not been born."
5. "A young orphan boy runs off to London where he encounters a gang of thieves."
** Now try writing your own log line for a novel you have in mind. **
**** Answers to loglines:
1. The Wizard of Oz
2. Bridget Jones's Diary
3. The Sound of Music
4. It's a Wonderful Life
5. Oliver Twist
From the general idea, I construct character charts for the main characters, answering such questions as "What do you keep in your fridge?", "What's your favourite saying/song/colour?" Etc. This is a great way to develop your characters and subconsciously find out more about them.
Then I construct a picture board. I cut out photographs from magazines of what I think my characters look like and also of the settings. This really helps me when I'm stuck for ideas. I pin the picture board up by the side of my computer and I look at it for inspiration. I imagine what the characters are saying and what they might do.
I'm a very character led writer. My characters are allowed to do whatever they wish and they drive the plot. Some authors are more plot driven. I write by the seat-of-my-pants in that I don't do a lot of outlining. I usually have a beginning in mind before I start to write and more often than not an ending as well. Then I work from A to B.
You might prefer to outline. This can take the form of plot points. Some authors write out around 20 plot points and work with those, others write pages of outline. I don't. I like to surprise myself. Sometimes even I don't know who the stalker is until towards the end of the book!
Something that new authors are prone to do is the info dump. Instead of hooking the reader into the story, they give away too much back story and consequently, tell rather than show the reader.
If you think you are liable to do this, you could write a chapter of back story and then put it to one side before starting your novel.
The important thing to remember is that the story needs to start when something life changing is about to happen to the main character.
Ways to hook the reader:
"Have you heard? He's trying to buy her a husband." Feminine laughter trilled mockingly.
[An extract from the first line of 'The Sicilian's Marriage Arrangement' - Lucy Monroe, Harlequin Mills & Boon]
The above example is a good way of hooking the reader into the story. Immediately they are drawn into the story. Which character is speaking? Who is she talking to? Who is the person trying to buy the woman a husband? And more importantly, who is the prospective bride? This is a very clever way to begin the book. Four questions immediately come to mind for the reader!
Setting the scene
Some authors are very good at setting the scene before the action begins. JoAnn Ross is very good at this:
It was dusk - too late for sunset, too early for stars. Ian MacKenzie had expected at least another hour of daylight, but night was coming fast to the Smoky Mountains. Making matters worse was the storm blowing in from the west. Slate-gray clouds rolled across the rounded mountaintops; thunder rumbled ominously in the distance.
[An extract from the first paragraph of 'Out of the Mist' - JoAnn Ross]
Not only has Ms. Ross been clever enough to set the scene, she has also introduced her hero in the first paragraph! Liz Fielding who writes for Mills and Boon [Harlequin], recommends introducing the hero and heroine on the first page if at all possible.
Inserting a prologue at the beginning of a novel is very much a personal choice. Some writers do this for almost every book they write, whereas, others would never dream of writing one in the first place. When all is said and done, the important thing to ask yourself is this: "Will the inclusion of a prologue enhance my book?" If the answer is no, then don't put it in!
Some points to remember at the beginning of your story/book:
• Start with something happening to hook the reader into the story.
• Introduce the main character as soon as possible.
• The defining moment of a story is a point of crisis.
• The beginning of a story/book is a moment of change.
In the Middle
The middle of a book or story is quite often where things start to go wrong.
Frequently this is because the writer hasn't thought things through properly. The reasons may be:
• Poor planning. The writer hasn't prepared well enough.
• The pacing is wrong. The writer runs out of steam.
• The middle sags. There is not enough suspense to keep it going.
How do I rectify this?
By thorough plotting [if you outline], planning and research. Get to know your characters beforehand. Know where you are going with the story. Any research should be done before you start the story if possible.
The ending needs to leave the reader with a feeling of satisfaction. It's no good leaving any loose ends, or forgetting about certain characters and their predicaments. The ending should draw together all the loose ends, answer any questions the reader might have, and have a satisfactory resolution for the happy couple.
Where do I end the story?
You need to end it at a point that brings the story to a natural conclusion. Some writers like to leave the reader wanting more, so that they think about things long after they have put the book or magazine down. Others write an epilogue, which like the prologue is a short chapter. The epilogue is sometimes set a year or so after the ending happens in the book and may in the case of a romance novel, include a scene where the happy couple are either getting married, or more commonly are nursing a new born baby, sometimes it involves a family reunion. It's all a question of taste whether you need to include an epilogue in your book or not. It's not unusual to see an epilogue in a Harlequin or Silhouette book.
So, what are you waiting for? Start that novel today!
Lynette Rees lives in Wales. Last year, 2007, she had two novels published at the Wild Rose Press: IT HAPPENED ONE SUMMER and RETURN TO WINTER. Her third novel, a romantic comedy, A TASTE OF HONEY, will be available from Borders bookstores at the end of February 2008. Visit Lynette's blog and website here: