Sometimes I'm asked if I have any good tips for writing a novel.
know of no magic formula for writing novels, just thousands of hours of
hard work, but I have written several creative writing help articles
that can make the process less daunting.
A few specific habits,
practiced regularly, will make success more likely.
This entire site is filled with specific advice—several hundred
articles and responses to questions, so if you want more specifics, you
might work your way through the articles in the
Sitemap and the Q & A page.
Top Ten Tips for Writing a Novel 1-5:
Read a lot—both novels and nonfiction. Fiction will stimulate your desire to write, and will teach you about the art of writing. Novel plots and characters will populate your mind, inspiring creativity. You will be drawn to certain types of writing more than others, and this will help you determine the sort of story you want to write. Non-fiction will fill your mind with useful information that you can use when you're writing.
Know your premise. Every good novel is "about" something. Of Mice and Men is about a man who makes a promise to a dying woman to look after her son, and the terrible act he must commit to save him. Lord of the Flies is about a group of boys shipwrecked on an island, who have to learn to survive on their own. Anna Karenina is about a married woman who falls in love and has an affair. These stories are also about much more, of course. Of Mice and Men is about loyalty and love. Lord of the Flies is about the breakdown of society. Anna Karenina is about marital infidelity and destructive passions. To interest an agent, a publisher, and readers, you must have the ability to say what has happened to whom, at this basic level of the premise.
Stay focused on your premise. You need to write about both the external conflict and the inner, but it is the first, the external conflict/problem of a particular character that creates your storyline. This problem must be big enough to sustain interest throughout the entire novel. If the situation is easily resolved, you'll have no story to write.
Focus on the action the character must take to remedy the situation he or she has been thrown into. Learning how to plot a novel will come easier if your focus on scenes that take your character from one logical attempt to overcome a dilemma to another logical attempt. First and foremost, your characters must take purposeful action in an attempt to satisfy an urgent need caused by the disruptive dilemma they find themselves facing.
Your characters' actions must force them into problematic situations. Without conflict — internal and external — you will have no tension and will have a difficult time holding a reader's interest. Your character must have a need so great that he or she will go through hell for it. When you're writing a novel, the "going through hell" part is what makes the story interesting to others.
Top Ten Tips for Writing a Novel 6-10:
Develop your plot through cause and effect. Every action the character takes will have some effect. The purpose of each cause and its corresponding effect is to either take the main character closer to his or her goal, or to create a difficulty that sets the character back in some way.
Be clear about your characters' values, as it is their values that cause them to act as they do. Give characters opposing values so that nothing comes too easily for anyone.
Write every day, or five days a week, even if it is only for thirty minutes a day. Writing a novel requires discipline, and having the discipline to write regularly keeps the story percolating in your mind. You may dream about it. And as you sleep, your mind will create the solutions to problematic situations you have put your characters into, just as in your sleep you work your way through your own real life problems.
Write original scenes. Surprise readers and make your story unpredictable, while still believable. If you write a scene and it sounds familiar, as if you've read it or heard it before, find a different way for your characters to act. Thwart reader expectations as often as possible.
Focus on one scene at a time, one page at a time. Before you begin writing, know what the character's goal is for that scene, and know how he or she will achieve the goal or be prevented from achieving it. Then let your imagination figure out the details as you write. Provide a solid framework to work within, and then allow yourself every freedom within those boundaries. If the best you can do one day is to sketch the scene out, do only that. Then go read, or go for a walk. When you've slept on it and have read the sketch over, you will add the necessary detail.
So there you have it - my top ten tips for writing a novel. If you still
have doubts, check out the articles below, but at some point, your best
option is to sit down and write!