After sending yet another revised version of my first novel out to friends/family/colleagues, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. No matter how much work I put into the book, my readers would continue to complain of the same recurring issues.
As a first-time novelist with no professional training in writing, I was in desperate need of a guide that could clearly articulate:
a. What I'm doing wrong, &
b. How to fix it.
And I found 'The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing' (2nd edition) from the editors of Writer's Digest. And let me tell you, it is the BEST $20 I've ever spent.
In over 500 pages, it covers absolutely everything you need, from before starting, to after publishing.
Though I had to trim quite a bit of fat (the first 5 chapters were reduced by ~6000 words/24 pages), the novel is flowing so much faster. And although I have lived and breathed the scenes and characters, I find my own heart racing after applying only a few of the techniques!
This handbook is invaluable, and I recommend it even to experienced writers. It is a simple, fun read, but it deepens virtually every aspect of novel creation.
It provides advice on:
Inspiration and ideas
Plot and structure
How to avoid plot holes
Write Mystery, Romance, Thriller, etc.
Showing, instead of telling
Raising the stakes
Speeding the pace
And much more!
If you're in the process of writing,, absolutely give this book a read before publishing! I guarantee, if you stick to these simple guidelines, you will be maximizing on your narrative's potential.
Best of luck!
It is a common trap many novice writers fall victim to, and that is falling in love with the sound of your own words. I sure did. But then again I am a narcissist.
It is easy to get swept up in the emotions a scene can evoke, but trying to be too descriptive can be detrimental to your success. If as a writer you press too hard for people to envision exactly what you see in your own mind's eye, readers are going to actively fight against the direction you keep pushing them towards.
Here's an example which slapped me in the face like a cold fish:
I wrote of a character's suicide. Long, long, LOOOONG story short, he jumped off the roof of his building. Here's the kicker:
I was so descriptive about this unique building he jumped off of, that my readers subconsciously skimmed through the "evocative detail" I had poured my heart and soul into, or the "sizzle", and got right to the "steak". Which in this instant was: SPLAT!
I realized this when a friend of mine who (foolishly) agreed to read the first draft of my novel recommended the character not dying right away. To which i replied, "it's a 20 story fall onto asphalt."
And she said, "Oh. Didn't he jump off a bridge?"
The writer's job isn't to paint a picture; it is to help the readers paint it for themselves. And if you keep yanking at people's paint brush they're likely to either drop it and walk off, or jab you in the eye with it.
My eye's still burning.
Example two demonstrates how giving less description can assist the readers visualize things on their own terms:
In a scene I wrote, a young man under the influence backs his car out of his driveway, and in the process runs over a child.
Even without much context given, my readers wrote to me of their emotional reaction to the short passage I had sent them. How they envisioned the child's undone shoe laces peeking from beneath the car. How they imagined his lifeless body as the driver gently pulls him onto his lap.
The incredible discovery here is that my readers wound up visualizing exactly what I wanted them to, without my having to beat it over their heads.
You want to raise the stakes? Less sizzle and more steak.
Get to the point and voice it strongly. This way you can ensure the influence your words have on the reader will linger. Sort of like how strength training keeps burning calories even at rest.
I hate cardio.
Having sat with my novel for almost a year, spending hours on end working and reworking the narrative, I found myself completely immersed in a world I had created. This can be a good thing. When the world you create begins to organically develop it can lead to unexpected discoveries. And they can be far more exciting than what you initially envisioned your story's path to be.
But once the story begins to take on a life of its own, it can develop incompatibilities with the original structure the author set in place. A character, for example, can start off being described as meek, but end up mouthing off far too often to be perceived as so by the readers. This will either be taken as negligence in continuity, or the readers will be confused, thinking the author is hinting at something which will soon be explained. And if it isn't, it will piss them off. Royally.
This is why it is immensely important to bring in the perspective of others, preferably the opinions of those unfamiliar with your story. Those critics/editors will be able to swiftly detect incongruencies which the author cannot. The reason is that since the conception of these characters, they have likely changed considerably, but in the author's mind it has become difficult to filter out the attributes which are no longer relevant. An outsider will be able to quickly locate phrases the character would never say and the actions he/she would never take. This serves to not only add credibility to what the author divulges about the characters, but also makes them more real.
The more people review your work, the better. While it would be incredibly fruitful to recruit professional editors in the industry, it may not be s plausible option for many first-time novelists. But do not underestimate the power of subjective opinion. Pick a representative sample and ask them to review your work. Even if your novel is geared towards a female audience, asking the opinions of male readers can be invaluable. After all, beneath all of our superficial differences we are all human. We have hearts that beat, ache, and break.
Once you have compiled critique from various sources you will begin to notice patterns in their commentary. Too many descriptions of the surroundings? Not enough dialogue? Grammatical errors? First chapter is too boring/slow/confusing?
And finally, once you have taken said critique into consideration you will be able to assess the quality of your work more accurately, and hopefully make it even more compelling.
Having spent roughly a decade of my adult life in university I have always felt I've done my share of reading and writing. That is not to say I haven't sporadically enjoyed a great novel or trilogy, but it has always been in the form of passive consumption.
It wasn't until approximately a year ago that I was struck with an idea during an engaging conversation with my good friend. There I was at the verge of something potentially life-changing, and I had no idea what to do with it. My education (though in English) had revolved around Biology, Neuroscience and Architecture; how could those topics possibly be instrumental to writing a fiction Novel? All I had was a rough idea in dire need of development, no plot, and no characters.
So how is it possible that in less than a year I have managed to write a complete trilogy, and about to publish the first volume? (I also did the cover art myself, but I'll thoroughly brag- I mean BLOG about that later.)
If you have been mulling over the idea of writing a book then you must have something to say. And if you are compelled to tell this story of yours, I can guarantee you there will be an eager audience to welcome it with open arms (and wallets). It will be time consuming, and you will get stuck in multiple ruts. You will lose an odd (or even) number of hairs from your head and blame it on your shampoo. You will develop a coffee addiction, and your circadian rhythm will be massacred. You will doubt virtually every aspect of your writing on countless occasions, throw several tantrums, and cry at the foot of your bed with the lights off. But in the end it will be a worthwhile endeavor (I repeatedly tell myself).
First step? Start writing!
It's that simple. Do not worry about structure, theme or characters. Just write whatever comes to mind; whether a narcissistic rant about your current boss's incompetence, a vegan cookie recipe you should burn upon conception, a haiku about bunnies with floppy ears, or an action scene you keep envisioning every time you hear that dub-step remix you incessantly listen to on repeat.
This type of writing is often referred to as Free Fall Writing. It does not concern itself with grammar and editing. It doesn't even need to make sense to anyone else but you. What it is meant to do is extract the writer's inner thoughts and feelings, awakening their subconscious and bringing ideas worth discussing to the surface.
Once you have engaged in this sort of writing soon a pattern emerges. For some authors the theme might always somehow relate to the pursuit of success. For others the theme might be redemption. And some regardless of the topics they write about almost invariably yield humorous material. Free Fall Writing can do wonders in unleashing your inner talents.
And finally once you've found what it is you really want to write about your inherent passion for it will fuel you right to the sweet end. And I will (try to) be there every (sixth or seventh) step of the way to help you with what I've learned on my own through tackling something completely foreign. I am no expert. I'm just someone like you who has already done it.