How Do I Write a Novel?

I get asked two main questions being an author: “Why do you write,” and “how do you write?”

First answer is easy: if I don’t write, I feel empty, anxious, and lost. Writing is my escape, my passion, and my ultimate love (even more so than chocolate).

The second answer, however, takes a bit more time to answer. So I figured I would jot down exactly how I write, and give you tips along the way as well. Writing may be scary at first as is anything you first try, but once you get practice, then things will get better.

How do I get started on writing?

This one may be the toughest and the most tedious, but patience is key. Writing all starts at the core: school. Essays present you with structure and a challenge. Although creative writing is different, it also needs structure and research as well. I suggest starting with a short story, or even flash fiction (that’s a story in 150 words or less). My favorite thing to do for short stories is to base the story off of songs. I’ve written short stores on the songs “How to Save a Life,” which led to a story about suicide,  “A Twist in my Story,” which led to a romance, “Monster,” which led to a horror story, and “Falling in love at a Coffee Shop,” which was about a tragic love story that all started at a coffee shop.

But if you want to talk about novels, which is my strong suit, then it all starts with inspiration. What’s the overall plot you want to do? What’s the main character? Start with basics and jot down small bullet points to get you going.

My novel was inspired by a previous novel series, but THAT original series was inspired by a song. Crazy where you can get ideas from. From there I made a list of main characters, which oddly started with just colors. Observe:

-Gold, silver, green, dark blue, purple, and red.

These were all colors of dragon wings, and from there I added the sex and name.

-Gold: female. Hayden.

-Silver: male. Aryc.

-Green: male. Trevor.

-Dark blue: female. Evelyn.

-Purple: male. Mykel.

-Red: female. Amber.

Of course yours will probably be different, as they should be, but starting with characters is vital. They make your story more than you can create your own plot; in other words: characters travel their own paths, and you have no control of it. So once they’re created, then the plot will be created.

How do I start the book? 

There are some pretty good hooks to start with: action scene, dialogue, or a drastic starting statement. It’s typical to actually write your starting scene when you’re halfway or almost done with your book because by then you know your characters and plot really well. But to always be safe, focus on details in setting to start. Let the reader have a feeling of place because you don’t want them confused right off the bat. This is especially if it’s in a different world or year.

You can also get creative and write a note to the reader from a main character, like I do. Make it edgy, dark, comedic, or whatever tone you wish your reader to be in. James Patterson does this with his first Maximum Ride book, if you want to see a printed example.

What about writer’s block?

Curse writer’s block. Everyone gets it, and you’ll get it too. Best option: walk away. Different authors will give you different advice, but mine is to not force it unless it’s really needed. Walking away gives you the needed break; I walked away from my first novel for four months one time! However, there is a point where you have to force yourself to keep on going, and that’s when you’re in the middle of a scene or conversation. I usually read the last few paragraphs to get back into the mindset of the scene or chapter to continue onward.

-Pacing?

Pacing is very important when it comes to writing so the story doesn’t go too fast or too slow. My own writing style may be a bit odd because I enjoy texting people while I write, so I have a very brief interruption, which allows me to stay in the moment of that scene longer. You can also write out a whole scene and go back to it to add the details, which I tend to do a lot with action scenes. Just remember that the first time you write your story it’s just to get it out of your head, but the second time you go back to add or delete is when the imperative things come in.

-How long should it be?

There’s never a good answer for this one. I suggest writing short stories first before you dive into novels. Even try a novella first (50-100 pages) to get the creative juices flowing. My first “novel” was only 130 pages long double-spaced. I actually wrote six books before I really got into the novel I’m publishing this year, so it’s all in the practice. Please be patient with yourself!

Don’t force it to be a long story, otherwise things will feel dragged out. On the other side of the spectrum, don’t make it too short because it’ll go too fast to connect to any characters. Don’t set a page number in your head because it’ll mess up your storytelling; just let the natural story take course.

Dialogue?

This one is the funnest for me! Takes a while to perfect dialogue, and what I advise is to eavesdrop on other conversations. You’ll notice we tend to drift into conversations that don’t even matter, which stories don’t contain. I, however, like adding some of these random bits of conversation to interrupt the flow of a compelling one just so it seems more realistic. For example: perhaps your characters are speaking of how to get to point A to point B, and someone just randomly makes the point of, “food sounds good right now,” or “see that sweater that lady was wearing?” It makes it more realistic. Also take into account their age and where they’re from. “Hey, man, what’s up?” compared to “Hello, nice to see you again,” are completely different vibes. I work with young adults in my series, and I use words such as “gonna,” “got’cha,” “wanna,” and “doin’.” Also think of inflections: “do we really have to go to the store right now?” Maybe this person inflicts too much in their conversations, “I don’t really like to eat watermelons.” Also playing with words is fun, such as stretching them out: “Hurry up! I’m soooo bored.”

Make sure to keep the characters moving during dialogue as well, since people don’t just stare at each other while they talk. Make them walk, look around, or even take a note of how they’re breathing to a certain response. Perhaps their fingers are twitching or they have to shift their legs every two minutes.

Should I set a specific time to write?

This differs with every person. I personally write when I’m inspired or I have some extra time to the side. However, being inspired gets in the way of school and work…

Setting a specific time isn’t bad either, I just don’t prefer making it feel like work. I enjoy it as my spare time, but this one is up in the air. It’s really up to you and your lifestyle.

How do I make a compelling character?

I’ll make a separate post for this one because I need more room than just a paragraph or two, and I’ll link it once I get around to it. However, I’ll say the generals.

Give them a back story, either tragic or not, this will help the audience better understand what this person grew up with.

Give them something they’re bonded to. A lot of people are bonded to inanimate objects, such as me with a specific necklace. This tiny object can say a lot about their character.

Give them a distinct way to talk. Every person talks in a certain tone with a certain amount of language, so give them a unique way to speak. Maybe make their tone higher or deeper than others, or put inflections in words. Perhaps they have a sense of humor or see the world negatively, so express it.

Don’t make them perfect. Every person isn’t! I always give my characters at least a scar, crooked tooth, a specific set of freckles on their face, etc. Don’t let them blend into the crowd.

While I’m on character description, please don’t describe the person in one sitting. People don’t like reading about someone, they like learning about them. Spread the facts out throughout the story instead of all at once. Simple descriptions are fine, such as height, hair color, and eye color, but don’t give the whole back story and personality at once; especially not the personality. Don’t ever write about their personality! Let it show through the writing.

I’m scared to start writing my novel. Tips?

Of course it’s scary! But, “what wonderful thing doesn’t start out scary?” Thank “Warm Bodies” for that quote. My best tips I should give…

  • jot down your characters. These are more important than the plot itself b/c if your characters are drab then no one will care if they’re trying to save the world.
  • have a plot in mind. You don’t have to jot down every single event that transpires, but have a general idea of a beginning, middle, and possibly end. I personally don’t know the end of my novels until I’m halfway through, so don’t stress too much about it.
  • make it a short story first. Get a feel for the character(s) and what kind of pov you’d like.
  • brainstorm with someone else. Perhaps they can give you ideas as to how to start the story that you never would have thought of. I usually go to outsiders when I’m in writer’s block, and they can be tremendous help!
  • don’t worry about if other people will read it. If you have the desire to write it, then you should. Get it out of your system! Write it for you first, and then worry about others if you decide to let it out to the world.
  • listen to music. It’s incredibly inspiring, and lyrics can bring ideas that you never would have thought of yourself. Personally, lyrics have all helped title all of my books!
  • no distractions! When you first sit down to begin, make sure it’s quiet and no one can bother you. This helps you really think of what you want to write.
  • have fun with it. Don’t stress, okay? You’re not being graded for it!

What do I need to edit when I’m done?

Grammar, spelling, and all the other cliché things you can think of that you did in college and high school. However, you also need to look back at dialogue, pacing, and scenes as a whole. Get an outside person to read your novel if you’d like so they can suggest things to add or delete. Don’t be surprised if you edit your book three or four times, or even more than that, because it’s difficult to get yourself satisfied with your story. I still go back and edit my first one! Editing shouldn’t be too stressful, rather a polishing step.

-Some last words of advice?

Take some writing workshops in school, such as “Introduction to Creative Writing” or “Craft of Writing Fiction” where you get to workshop other stories and have yours critiqued as well.

Novels shouldn’t stress you out, okay? It should be fun! Writing is a release of imagination, and the only time you should really stress is when your characters are too. Naturally you’re going to feel aggravated in writer’s block or antsy because you can’t get a sentence correct, but it’s all part of the process. No author is happily typing along on their computer with a smile at their gorgeous little diamond on the screen. We all get anxious with it, so you’re not alone.

Last but not least: love and hate your characters. Create good ones, and create ones you want to stab in the face (okay, a little reach there). Characters you love will make you want to come back to them, and characters you hate will also make you want to come back so you can smack them on the side of the head already. Love your characters as much (or more) as you love yourself. But, also, don’t be afraid to kill off someone you love in the story, makes for a good plot.

Any more burning questions or advice you want to add? Comment below!

Keep on reading, and keep on writing!

-S. K. Robitaille

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