Most new writers will find constructing a novel a daunting task – and if you’re not daunted, then you probably don’t have a realistic idea of what’s involved. Here’s our quick guide to the key issues and plenty of links to further writing resources. For more advice on how to write a novel, click here.
1. Get the structure right
That means plotting. You need to have a protagonist (the hero or heroine). You need to give that character a clear objective. You need to make sure that their objective starts to make itself felt as early as possible – and that almost certainly means chapter 1. You also need to make sure that every chapter creates movement. In other words, if you look at the position of your hero in relation to their key objective at the start of the chapter, that relationship MUST have changed by the end of the chapter. For more resources & info, go here and here.
2. Know your characters
The key issue with characterisation is knowing your characters well enough to tell their story. Most writers start out knowing something about who they’re writing about – but not nearly enough. You can get a brilliant character building resource here. You MUST carry out that exercise – or something very similar – before you start writing.
3. Give your characters some inner life
Far too many writers talk about their characters as though they’re seeing them on film … which is fine in a way (because you’ll get some lovely external descriptions) but fiction is about finding inner life. So make sure that you remember to talk about your characters thoughts, feelings, sensations and memories. That’s true even if you’re writing action / adventure: after all, the thrill of reading James Bond books is feeling what it’s like to BE James Bond. That’s something no film can offer. You can get more info on inner worlds here.
4. Take care with your writing style
Yes, yes, we know. You’ve got some amazing characters and a brilliant story to tell … and you haven’t worried so much about your writing. But you have to care! If you write a wonderful story in clumsy, badly phrased sentences, readers will quickly give up. So make sure to use the minimum number of words necessary. Say what you have to say in a precise way. Avoid cliche. Try to search for the telling detail. And consult this writing style advice sheet. Oh, and if you’re worried about dialogue, then consult this one too.
5. Show don’t tell
If you know what that means – then do it. If you don’t, well – it’s high time you did. Telling the reader something is an efficient way to convey facts, but it’s also bland and offputting. So don’t say, ‘John was an angry, violent man’. Make sure that you have a scene where we feel the volcano building, then exploding in anger and violence. That’ll be so much more powerful for the reader. The essence of the issue is that you need to keep your book involved in the drama of the present moment. If you need to understand more about this (and let’s face it, you probably do), then we’ve got more help for you here.
6. Place your camera in the right spot
Who’s your narrator? Do you want to let tell the story in the first person (‘I did this, I said that’) or the third person (‘She did this, he said that.’)? How many narrators are you going to have? And can you switch the narrative viewpoint in the middle of a scene or chapter? Big issues, huh? Just as well we’ve got a load more advice on that.
7. Get help!
You can’t cover everything in a single blog post, so …
- Do look at all our writing advice (including videos) here.
- Write a few chapters to get you started, then get expert advice and feedback on your work.
- Better still, take a fiction writing course with a top published author and get 1-to-1 information, advice and feedback on your work. It can be an amazing way to learn.
And if in doubt, get in touch with us – we’re here to help.