So you want to write a book?
That’s fantastic! Now get ready for a long journey of determination, rejection, persistence, patience and self belief, because you will need all of these attributes to succeed in getting your book published. Unless you are extremely lucky (or unless your first name begins with ‘J’ and your last name is Rowling, you are likely to get it wrong a hundred times before you get it right. It is like anything in life worth doing – it takes time.
When a person says they know everything there is to know about writing, it is not true. A writer can NEVER know enough about writing, because we learn new things every single day, every time we read a book or pick up a pen. So although I do not intend to ‘teach’ you how to write a novel, I will offer you a few tips that may help you along your way. I hope to add to this section from time to time, as I continue to learn more about the process, but for now here are some tips to get you started.
If you have any questions, please feel free to write me an email via my contacts page and I will try to answer them for you.
Have I still got your attention? Good. Now let’s get started…
Conflict… and lot’s of it!
For any kind of writing, from non-fiction to novels to blogging, conflict is necessary. It creates tension and urgency and forces your reader to keep turning the pages. Conflict is the engine that drives a novel. We all experience some sort of conflict in our everyday life but conflict in a novel should be immediate, meaningful and surprising enough to keep your audience reading. Problems that are remote, trivial or easily overcome are boring… and nobody wants to read a story that is boring. Constantly ask yourself this: what could I do to make my characters life really difficult?! Then do it!
Conflict can come in any form, as long as it really matters to the character in question. Ask yourself what your character wants overall in the story, and then throw in lots of hurdles to prevent them from achieving their goal. A book that has your characters running through hoops and facing their worst fears will make the resolution at the end of the novel seem all the more satisfying.
It should also happen to characters your readers can relate to. Problems that happen to characters the reader cares little about will not have them turning the pages in order to find out what happens next. (See Creating believable characters below.)
Creating believable characters
It is important to make each character distinct and different. If you don’t, your reader will not remember them. A writer can do this by using character tags to make them interesting and unique. Consider some of the most memorable characters from all time and their character tags:
Harry Potter: green eyes, lightening-shaped scar, glasses, messy hair
Ms Trunchbull: Hair scraped back into a bun, carries a cane, strict old fashioned clothing.
Severus Snape: long greasy black hair, hooked nose, pale skin and black clothing.
When creating a character, I first start with something visual. I either find a picture on google images that I think my character might look like, or I draw one. (It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw as it’s only for your own use.) Tags can include physical traits, clothing preferences, hairstyles, mannerisms, speech habits, smells… whatever you can think of that will help make your character unique and interesting. This is your chance to be really creative!
Next, I create a character profile which looks something like this:
Family: Parents, brothers, sisters etc?
What does my character care about most?
When is my character at their happiest?
What would upset my character most?
I do this until I have built up a really clear picture of what my character is like and what makes them tick. The more you know about your character, the more believable and real they will seem on the page.
Start your story with a bang
Remember to start your story at the right point. Agents and editors have so many manuscripts passing across their desks that you usually only have twenty or thirty seconds to impress them. You have even less time to hook a potential reader in a bookstore. If you feel that your audience needs a huge information dump (such as a character’s back story) then you are not starting at the right part. This sort of information is important, but it can also take your reader out of the story. It needs to be fed into the plot carefully, through dialogue and through your character’s thoughts and actions, so that the reader does not even realise it’s there. Load your beginning with tension and conflict and fill it with questions that your reader will be dying to know the answers to. It is also a good idea to end every chapter with a mini cliff-hanger. This way, your reader will never have the urge to put the book down.
Keep your audience in mind
When writing a story, have fun with it and write about something that you find interesting, but don’t forget who your audience is. Think about who you are aiming your books towards. If it’s a child, it wouldn’t be right to include love scenes or bad language. Also, remember not to ‘talk down’ to your reader. It is annoying to read slang which has been written by an adult TRYING to write like a kid. You want your dialogue to sound as natural as possible. Always keep an ear out for how different people talk. This will help you when writing your stories. Don’t treat your reader like an idiot either. Just because you are writing for a younger audience, does not mean that you can be lazy with your writing. They will notice!
It may sound like an obvious thing to say but you will be surprised at how many people have a go at writing a novel that have never picked up a book in their life. All writers draw inspiration from the literature they read. Think about the books that you have read in the past and ask yourself what it was you liked about them. Was it the world the author created? Was it the characters? What did you like about them?
Before you sit down to pen a novel, read as many books in your chosen genre as possible and ask yourself, as a reader, what it was you liked and disliked about the plot/writing/characters and keep this in mind when you write your own story.
Don’t make excuses! There will always be more pressing things to do if you think about it, but you have to be disciplined with yourself and find time to write every day. It is easy to get stuck in the notion that you need to be ‘in the mood to write’. This is partly true but there is no easier way to get in the mood than to sit down at your desk and force yourself to write. You may write a few
paragraphs of rubbish at first, but its all practice and practice makes perfect! I guarantee that before long you will find your flow. If all else fails, pick up your favourite book or go for a walk. This always gives me the inspiration I need to get writing.
Don’t write what is popular now
If books about fairies are all the rage, don’t assume that this is your sure-fire ticket to write a bestseller. Remember, what is popular now, may not be popular in six months time and the process of publication takes a lot longer than that – usually between one and two years from first acceptance. Agents and editors are all looking for the next big thing. Don’t follow the trend; instead, aim to set your own.
And finally… stick with it!
Contrary to popular belief, writing is not an easy profession. It takes time to home in the skills that it takes to become a well established, successful author. Also, a writer’s life can be very lonely. We spend hours upon hours in our own heads thinking up new ideas or sitting at our computers writing them. Join a writing group and meet people that enjoy writing stories too. It is also not the most lucrative profession in the world and most authors, unless you are constantly hitting the bestseller lists, have to hold down a second job.
Having said that, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Too many writers throw in the towel because they discover how hard it is to get published. Most begin writing a novel believing they will be the exception to the rule and will rise to fame and success within a few years. Some do, but most don’t. If you really have your heart set on publishing a novel, it will happen eventually, but you have to keep plugging away at it and develop your skill. The important thing is to have faith and never give up.