Writing novels when you have experience is daunting. Writing a first novel, then, can seem like an impossible task, especially when you have nothing going for you except desire and a head full of ideas.
I recently commented on a book by someone who asked for a review through my Review Exchange offer. I could tell after reading only a few sentences that this person was new to writing. At that point, I had to make a decision. I could have said, “No way, come back with a revised draft.”
I decided not to. I know how hard it is to write, and how terrifying it can be to have my work reviewed by ‘”someone who knows what they are doing. Also, new authors are told all the time to “get experience” or to “go back to the drawing board”, but don’t they need guidance and support in order to do that?
I decided to read the book, and rather than write a review, I wrote feedback in the manner of a beta read, which I hope the author will see as constructive and motivating. It was while I was writing the feedback, that I thought it might be helpful for other authors starting out to read the notes.
Now, I am not an authority on novel writing. I’ve been lucky that people who read my stories and novels enjoy them. But like the author above, when I started out I had no support network; I just wanted to write. People reading my early drafts must have rolled their eyes and gone, “Oh great. Another wannabe.”
I started writing short stories, poems, and plays when I was a kid, but only got serious about writing about five years ago. Essentially, I learned by reading and reviewing. Before I wrote my first book, I joined online writing sites and, by reading and reviewing short stories and novels, learned how to break them down, to find out what worked and what didn’t. Along the way, I met and learned from many helpful writers, editors, and beta readers. Often they tore apart my books – and it hurt a lot-– but I learned a ton.
Below are some points I think that any new author should keep in mind when crafting a book:
- 1) Edit/proofreading: Solid editing/proofreading can make or break a book. If the novel’s readability is compromised of punctuation problems, misspelled words, weird quote marks—anything that messes with a sentence’s clarity—it must be resolved. If a reader has to work too hard to understand what is being communicated, they risk becoming confused, even frustrated, and quit reading the book. Not good.
- 2) Content editing: 1) Nice settings and world building go a long way, but what is the central theme or story being told? Is it clearly told, or is there too much fluff (over-writing, too many tangents or sub-plots, etc.) getting in the way? Are the characters well-rendered so that we care about X or Y? Is the genre clearly defined so that we know if it’s a mystery, a love story, or a thriller? Here’s a hint: if a reader can’t tell what the story is about from the first chapters—some say as early as the first chapter–then you might want to rewrite. 2) People’s motivations are important. Why do they do what they do? And do their motivations match their actions in the story? Nothing is worse than when a character does something that doesn’t make sense for him or her. When that happens, the storyline can feel forced. 3) Lastly, a quick point on characters: carefully consider the struggles/risks they face, as these are critical for building necessary tension.
- 3) Structure: Novels needs structure. A beginning, a middle, a climax and a resolution. The story arc. Not every book must have a nail-biting buildup and climax, but the reader should be transported from one place to another via the narrative. Timing the climax exactly is key: too soon and the book feels finished before it even begins, too late and the ending might feel rushed.
- 4) Dialogue: This can make or break a story. Dialogue should be believable. It should sound the way normal people speak. Consider the times/era and physical setting so that the speech patterns are consistent. Listen to how real people speak. Read your dialogue out loud. If it sounds corny or unrealistic, it probably is.
- 5) Decide what kind of book you want to write: Knowing your genre and setting the right context for your reader is important. For example, I hate when I pick up what is billed as, say, a “sci-fi romance” and discover it is a “romance with sci-fi in it.” For me, that is cause for teeth gnashing
- 6) Practice writing your pitch/book blurb: Ugh, this is notoriously hard to do well, as it’s important to give enough information so that readers can, in a few short words, grasp the genre, basic story without giving away too much (or not enough), as well as include a hook to motivate them to buy your book. My advice is to find people who know what they are doing and ask them for help.
- What about you? Do you have tried and true tips or suggestions for new authors? What was your experience like, learning how to complete your first book?