Do you have more imaginary friends than real friends? Have a “better” ending for The Great Gatsby? Read Twilight with a red pen? Then writing a novel might be for you! Here are some tips to get you started, and some things I’ve learned along the way.
Books About Writing
There’s nothing more irritating than buying a book about writing a novel and having the whole thing be about getting inspired. You’re already inspired or you wouldn’t have picked up a book about writing a novel! I want something about the nuts and bolts. Aside from grammar books like those of Arlene Miller, my favorite writing books are by Sol Stein and John Gardner. They tell you what kinds of mistakes make you look like an amateur, and how to fix them.
Join a Critique Group
Unless you’re a genius, join a critique group. And listen to what they say. I have gone from spending two hours after our meeting each week deciding which of my group’s changes to implement to fifteen minutes where I just make the darn changes. They are almost always right. I am lucky, though, that everyone in my group is more experienced than me. Find a GOOD group. Here in California, California Writers Club has branches all over the state. I don’t have money for all sorts of conferences, but the fifty bucks a year to join my branch has really paid off. I found my critique group and won a hundred dollars in a contest!
Know What’s Going To Happen At The End
I have 25,000 gripping words about a settlement of humans on another planet. My problem? I can’t think of a way out of their predicament. So there they sit. They have just made a major discovery and I’m on the edge of my seat. The edge of my seat has gotten a little uncomfortable over the last couple years. I have completed another novel and started three more, but part of my brain is still on the edge of its seat. Ouch.
Know How Long Your Book Should Be
Publishers expect certain word counts for certain genres and age groups. At least know what you’re aiming for. It’s easy to find publishers online and find out what they expect. My first attempt was way too short, and therefore unmarketable. The next novel I finished is at least in the ballpark, and an agent is actually interested in reading it again when I’ve made the changes she suggested. While we are on the subject of what publishers want, they make all sorts of suggestions about storylines, but I say write what you want to write. I thought my first book (the too short one) might be a fit for Christian publishers, but 1) some scenes take place in a bar, and 2) no one “gets saved.” Seriously! Those are specified on a major Christian publishing website. No bar scenes, someone must accept Jesus. My story seems too Christian for the mainstream market, so it’s stuck, helpless, somewhere in the middle, but I still wouldn’t change it for anything. Maybe I’ll be rich enough to self publish some day.
This is not so much instruction as it is a warning. You are going to change. In deciding how your characters will react to various situations, you will come to understand people’s motives. And in real life, you will find yourself thinking, “He’s lying,” or “She is hoping that woman will befriend her,” when the old you wouldn’t have noticed anything. You will sometimes have to say, “Sorry, say that again?” to your friends because your brain automatically started working on a plot problem while they were talking. You will read classics and marvel at them more than ever before, because how do they do it?! You will wonder if it sounds pretentious to tell everyone you’re writing a novel, and if you’re like me, you’ll tell them anyway.