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16 Tips To Writing Your First Novel

November 4, 2016

November is National Novel Writing Month in much of the world and while that might not seem like something that pertains to you, this might be the perfect opportunity to rethink that outlook.

It’s almost a bit of a cliché that retirees or older professionals seeking to escape the 9-to-5 make an attempt at writing their own novel. And why not? It’s a great exercise to undertake, seeing what words you have to offer the world and what stories you have to tell. There’s no pressure to churn out a bestseller or even something to be published, but as with any work of art, money and fame is not the reason to attempt it.

They say everyone has one great novel in them, see what yours will look like. Here are a few tips to get your first novel underway.

Get a notebook: Inspiration can strike at any moment, whether you’re near you typewriter at the time or not. Keep a small notepad handy so you’re always ready to jot down any bit of genius that floats into your head. A great line of dialogue, a story development—these can be easily lost in moments so be ready to capture it.

Write what you like: What’s your favourite novel of all time? What kinds of books do you like? For me, George V. Higgins’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle stands as the greatest, while I’m also very partial to the works of Elmore Leonard. So when it came time to try my hand at writing my own work, it followed a similar path and wrote a crime novel. Writing about something you find interesting is a great method for your first novel. You can switch things up with your second attempt.

Get inspiration: Before putting pen to paper, try getting a little bit of inspiration from some of the greats. Read your favourite books, read books from authors you like, read the big books in the genre you hope to tackle. Try to identify what makes those novels work and see if you can’t use those lessons in your own work.

Come up with a topic: This can be a pretty difficult process, trying to figure out what you want to dedicate so much time to writing about. Hone in on a particular topic you think you’d like to explore. It can be vague for now, like a haunted house, bank robbers, the Crusades. Once you have a notion of what it will be, then you can begin to narrow it down.

Understand why you want to write it: Why have you chosen this topic? What new do you have to offer on the subject? This isn’t meant to deter you from the topic you chose, but knowing why you want to write about this will help to build your novel.

Develop a one-sentence synopsis: Regardless of how dense or complex a work might be, it can be shaped down into a one sentence summary. “To catch a serial killer, a young FBI cadet must consult a cannibalistic madman” (Silence of the Lambs). “A Danish prince seeks revenge on his uncle who murdered his father and usurped his throne” (Hamlet). “A brilliant scientist is haunted by the monstrous creation he gave life to” (Frankenstein). Breaking your novel down to its bare essence is a great starting point.

Expand on that: Continue to build off that one sentence. Try writing a paragraph, then a page, then two pages. Add more and more detail each time and flesh out the story as much as possible.

Come up with your main character: Who is the protagonist of the tale? The main character is very important and you need to develop a strong sense of who they are before moving too far. First come up with a name and some biographical details, then ask yourself what role they paly in the story, what are their goals and motivations and what lessons do they learn.

Create character descriptions: Use the same method to develop the stories supporting characters. While they might not have as big of a role, making them well-rounded depictions is equally important.

Expand on that: Just like with the plot, once you have the barebones of the characters down, work off of that and expand on their details to make them feel real. Add birthdates, family history, interests and so on.

Outline your plot: From beginning to end, lay out your plot and how your story unfolds over the course of the book. Not a chapter by chapter account of everything but a detailed summary of the entire work.

Develop your own style: This is your novel and there is no right or wrong way to write it. While you can get inspiration from other works, don’t feel beholden to a certain style of writing just because that is what’s the norm. Write the novel the way you feel it should be written.

Identify key scenes: You’re getting close to actually getting this thing on paper but you want to make sure you have a good grasp on the material before you dive in. pick out some of the key moments in your novel and focus on them. identify what they contribute to the overall story and why they are so important. What do you want these moments to accomplish?

Try writing the first 4 chapters: Okay, let’s give this a try. Take a stab at the novels beginning. Write the first four chapters of your novel just to get your feet off the ground. It’s also a good way of identifying any glaring issues you’re having before delving into the whole thing.

Get writing: Once you start writing, keep writing. There’s no reason to rush things but you should keep yourself on a schedule to ensure it doesn’t get added to the list of unfinished projects. There’s a great resource for National Novel Writing Month that can keep you on track.

Pump out a first draft: A first draft is a first draft for a reason. It doesn’t need to be perfect, what’s important is that you get it done. Don’t edit as you write. Make notes of any changes you want to make on your second go around but for now just focus on reaching the final page.

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