Tag Archives | writing the novel

Link Round-up: Writing the Novel

While I'm teaching writing in Europe, I'm mining my eight years of articles on writing for you.  Once a week I'm posting a link round-up on a certain subject.  I'll also re-post an oldie but goodie in full on a different day. And I've got a couple of new posts scheduled for you as well. 

Today's topic is writing the novel.  Scroll down for tons of links!

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Not sure what exactly is going on in this photo besides the writing. Are you?

 

Starting & Prep

 

Finding the First Line of Your Novel

A Novel-Writing Vision Board

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part One: Tools

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Two–The Ideas and the Process

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Three: Character

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Four: Story

 

The Long-haul (or, Sticking With It)

 

Making the Magic Happen: Committing to a Writing Schedule

Fast-Drafting Fiction (Or Any Other Kind of Writing)

Never Underestimate the Power of a Writing Prompt

Willingness: The Mindset for Writing a Novel

Writing Every Morning

 

Character

 

Characters at Cross Purposes

7 Ways to Get to Know Your Characters

9 Ways to Create Characters Readers Will Identify With

Creating Characters: Compassion and Conflict

The Ordinary Day

 

Setting

 

Building Your Fictional World

The Power of Place

Location, location, location

 

Structure

 

Overcoming Flat Scenes: Rising and Falling Action

Story Structure 

The Value of (Groan) Structure

Saturday Writing Tip: Scenes

 

Okay, that ought to keep you busy for awhile.  And remember, I'm teaching my novel writing class this fall, starting in October, if this has whetted your whistle for the process. 

Next link round-up is a week from today, Tuesday, September 8, on journaling!

 

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Knowing What You’re Going to Write Before You Write

How many words do you put on the page in a typical writing session? Finger-blank-paper-25643-l

500?  1,000?

When I wrote my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, my deal with myself was to write 2,000 words a day.  Didn't matter when I wrote them, but if I hadn't written them before bedtime, I had to stay up until they were done.

I was delighted to produce 2,000 words a day, let me tell you.  But how about routinely writing 10,000 words in a writing session?

Apparently, it can be done.

Somebody (I forget who, forgive me) tweeted this article about author Rachel Aaron, who wrote about how she went from an output of 2,000 to 10,000 words.  Every day.  (If you're in the mood to challenge yourself to write this much in even one day, head on over to Milli's Fear of Writing blog and sign up for one of her regular 10K day challenges.)

Rachel says that she attributes her word count success to three things:

Knowledge–Knowing what you're going to write

Time–Tracking and evaluating productivity

Enthusiasm–Excitement about what you're writing

I'm not so keen on the tracking and evaluating part (which is probably why I ought to pay attention to it), and generally for me enthusiasm is a given.  What can hang me up is not knowing what I'm going to write.

Over and over again I've found that following this simple rule leads to writing success:

Have a place to go.

It'll save you from hours spent internet surfing as you try to figure out what's next in your writing.  It will allow  you writing sessions where you write 10K words.  Your house will be lusciously dirty because you won't be spending time cleaning it instead of writing.

But how do you create yourself a place to go?

When you're in the flow, several chapters in, it is usually pretty easy.  You just write the next chapter on the scene list.  (This is one reason I advocate for outlines.  Nothing fancy, just a structure that gives you someplace to go next. Or, if you get excited about a scene that's out of order, go write that.)

But what if you're just starting out?  Or what if you're just a few chapters in and you don't really know your characters yet?  It can be way too easy to end up staring off into space because you don't know where to go.  (I admit, I've found myself in this place a few times recently.)

This is when the value of prepping to write a novel (or any kind of book) becomes evident.  When you know things about your character, place, and the structure of your novel, it will be much easier to get in stellar word count writing sessions.  I've actually taken the time to go back and really get to know my characters recently and it has made an enormous difference in my writing, and my engagement with the work. While this kind of novel prep can seem like busy work, I highly recommend it for the insights it will give you.  And for the fact that it will give you a place to go.

By the way, I'm going to be presenting a class on prepping for the novel this summer, so if you're interested and you're not on my list, sign up with the form to the right.

Do you have any pet ways that you prep for writing sessions that improve your word count?

Photo by OmirOnia.

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Tips On Writing: Prepping for the Novel, Part Three–Character

 

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Your novel is on one of these shelves!

First off, I know, I know.  I like me some convoluted headlines, don't I?  You'd think a writer would be good at firing off snappy subject lines, but alas, such is not the case with this writer. I think it's the novelist in me who loves to write long headlines.  Apologies.

 

You've landed on the third part of my series on what you need to do before you write a novel.  You can read the introduction, with a bit about tools, on this post, and part two, about the idea and the process, on Wednesday's post.

Today's post is about character.  It is one of my favorite topics when it comes to novel writing, because I'm one of those writers who believe that all story comes from character.  Years ago my dearly departed mother told me to always make sure there were people in my snapshots, because photographs without people in them are boring.  And you know what?  Unless you're looking at a shot by Ansel Adams or someone of his ilk, she's right.

Novels are about characters in action.  They are about characters in opposition.  Novels are about characters in conflict.  And so on.  Given that novels are about character, it stands to reason that when setting out to write a novel, you should know a lot about your character.  So, here goes.

Wants/Needs/Fears

A good place to start is by figuring out what your character wants.  The novelist Kurt Vonnegut once said, "always have your character want something, even if its just a glass of water."  Desire drives the world.  It will drive your character, too.  (My husband tells the story of the time we were in Paris and I found a jacket I wanted to buy.  Suddenly, my French got really good as I found words to ask for the location of the check-out stand.  My desire for the jacket overcame my fear of speaking the language.)

If you can't figure out what your character wants, maybe it is a need or fear that drives her.  If you can't figure those out, proceed with the rest of the character exercises and then start writing.  It will come to you.

Get a Visual

It can be incredibly helpful to have an image of your character in mind.  Often people begin with a photo of an actress or public figure.  This can be a great starting point, as it can help to write a description to have something to work off.  Do a search on Google Image for multiple views to put on your vision board.  Or use models from catalogs, which also afford you many photos.  Or sketch your character. 

Do a Dossier

You really need to know the nuts and bolts of your character and a bit about her background.  Consider writing the following:

Name, nickname

Age, birthdate and place

Height, weight, build, description of appearance

Marriage and family history (siblings? parents alive?)

Physical scars

Emotional scars

Educational background

Traits

Likes/dislikes

Religion

There's more you can do here, too–this is just a starting point.  As you write this, allow questions about your character to form and jot them down.  Then answer them.

Ordinary Day

What is your character's ordinary day like?  Write it out, from the time she gets up in the morning until the time she goes to sleep at night.  Where does she go?  What does she do?  Who does she see?  I learned this from a screenwriter (whose name I've forgotten) years ago.  It is amazing how useful this little writing exercise is; try it.  You'll learn a lot about your character.

These exercises ought to give you enough material to get going.  In truth, often a character pops into my head and I write a scene or two with her to see if she's got legs.  (Metaphorically, people, metaphorically.)  Once I ascertain that she does, then I return to these writing exercises to learn more about her.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Find images to represent your character and add them to your vision board.  Then fill out a character dossier and write her ordinary day. 

Please comment.  I'd love to hear how you get to know the characters in your novels and stories.  Do you write up character dossiers?  Take them out on a date?  Interview them?  Do tell.

 PS.  Typepad's spellcheck has been wonky lately.  Forgive errors.  I've gone back over it a couple times, but something may have eluded my eagle eyes.

Photo by Alvimann. 

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Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Two–The Idea and the Process

 

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On Monday, I began this series on prepping to write a novel.  In the first post, I talked about the tools you'll need to get going, and if you head on over to that post you can get caught up.  In today's post, I'm going to talk about the idea and the process–what to expect and how to schedule it.

It is important, when writing a novel, to consider that you're going to be with this baby for quite a long while.  Not quite as long as it takes to read a human child from birth to maturity, though it may seem like that.  But still, you're going to be working with this material for a long time  So make sure you like it.  I wrote a whole long post on this very topic last week, and its probably a good idea if you take a minute and go read it.

 

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So now that you've committed to an idea that you love (or even just like), what next?  Well, that's the topic of this series, what you do to get ready to write a novel (or a book).  But before we get to character, setting, plot and writing the rough draft, I want to talk briefly about process and scheduling.

 

The Writing Process

It's really very simple.  Your first draft is for you to figure out the story, okay?  It is not for you to make things perfect.  It is for you to get a rough semblance of the plot and characters down on paper.  Don't worry yet about how best to present it to the reader, or how to dramatize it  How can you do that when you're still figuring out the story?

Whether or not you want to write up an outline is your choice.  I recommend it because it keeps you on track.  Doesn't have to be a fancy outline, even a rough list will do.  This way you save room for serendipity and the stray walk-on character.  You may also want to write a synopsis, which is like a fleshed-out, grown-up outline.  I don't.  But some people do.  Once you've got your outline written and done all the prep work it takes to get going on a novel, that's exactly what you do.  Get going on it.

I've written about the writing process here before, and even recently.  Here's some of those posts:

The Writing Process According to Novelist Gabrielle Kraft

The Writing Process: Letting Go

The Writing Process

The Writing Process Redux

The Writing Process Again

The Writing Process: The Three P's of Glumping

That ought to keep you going for awhile.  And so now we turn to scheduling. Or, what to expect when you're trying to write a novel and life gets it the way.

Scheduling/What to Expect

My best advice for scheduling a long writing project is to be as regular as you can, and stay flexible.  In a perfect world, which none of us live in, it is best to write every day.  If you can't, at least glance at your work, read it, or take some notes on it.  If you can't do that, think about it.  Direct your mind to it while you're walking or cleaning the house.  (Or in a boring meeting, but don't blame it on me if you get caught.)  You will be interuppted just when you're getting to the apex of a scene.  This will happen more times than you can count.  You will have to skip a writing session when your child or spouse gets sick.  This will also happen more times than you can count. 

Here's what else you can expect:

Joy

Frustration

Anger

Despair

Hope

Obsession

And probably a few more I've not thought of.  Notice, however, I did not mention the word boredom.  Because when you're writing a novel, you'll never be bored.  I think that's true of being a writer, period, as well.

You can also expect to be damn proud of yourself when you're finished with this project.  And to have a healthy respect for even the crappiest of books you might see in the bookstore or library.  Because now you know what it takes to write a book.

But that moment is still far in the future.  We've still got some prepping to do.  And I shall move onto that in the next post.

Please comment on all this.  What do you do to prepare? What have you learned from writing a novel or book-length process?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Make certain you've got an idea that intrigues and delights you and write a loose outline.  Okay, okay you can do a synopsis, too. 

I'm putting together either a one-on-one coaching package or a group program around this novel prep, so stay tuned!

Photos by Mai05 and Creactions, both from Everystockphoto.

PS.  Sorry for the weird type font changes.  No matter what I do, I can't get them back to normal.  Typepad is a bit wonky these days.


 

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Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part One–Tools

So, I've written three novels now.  The first was a crappy mystery that never went anywhere (though

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recently when I found a copy of it, I realized it was better than I remembered.) The second was my MFA novel and its not half bad, it's just got a plot that doesn't quite work.  I promised my daughter and daughter-in-law that I'd publish copies for them, so stay tuned, it may just appear here soon.  And the third novel is the first one I've finished that not only hangs together, I think its pretty damn good.  It is currently making the rounds in New York.

In all that novel writing, I've learned a thing or two.  And that is this: a bit of prepping goes a long way.  So that's what this post is about.  But first, a thing or two about the novel I'm currently writing.  I've been in a bit of a dry spell when it comes to fiction.  I kept coming up with ideas and working on them for a few chapters and then realizing they weren't going to pan out, for whatever reason.  Finally, this new novel, which I'm temporarily calling Jemima B, popped into my head (actually, when I was doing some free writing, proof that it works).

Good Enough?

But, here's the deal–with all my wandering through novels that didn't work, I had lost my ability to discern.  And I wasn't sure if this new novel was "good" enough to keep going with.  So I just wrote, didn't do any prepping or anything.  Finally, last week I mustered up my courage and took the three chapters into my writing group.  And, while I got specific comments about things that need to change, I also got that people liked it a lot.  So now, finally, I feel well and truly started on a project.  And I can go back and do the prep work for it. 

The Commitment

This is a statement of sorts.  It is saying, yes I commit to this novel.  Yes, I'm going to do what it takes to carry through to the end.  Yes, I'm ready to do it.

Are you?  This post is the first in a series.  I'm also thinking about putting this together as either a program or a one-on-one coaching product.  (If you're interested, email me and I'll put you on a list for the announcement.)  But you can easily follow along with the action ideas listed at the end of each post and get yourself ready to write a novel.  So, today, let's start with tools.

Tools

Here's what I consider essential, beyond a computer and pens:

1. A small spiral notebook, in which to collect all your notes.  Even if you originally note them on a scrap of paper, try to transfer them to this journal so they will all stay together. 

2.  A bigger spiral notebook, like 8 1/2 by 11 size, in which to do free writes, which are a great way to learn more about your characters and story.

3.  A binder in which to keep research and images related to the story.  This may also hold a completed draft if you so desire.

4.  A vision board.  You can make this so that it hangs on the wall near your desk, or you can put it into your binder.  But either way, do work with images for your book, it is amazing how helpful it is.  (You can download my free Ebook on how to create a vision board for your book by signing up to the right.)

5.  A stack of 3 by 5 cards.  These come in handy for all kinds of things, like to note scenes or character traits on, to name two.

Okay, that's it for now.  We're starting slow and easy.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Gather your tools.  Make it fun.  Go to the office supply store and prowl the alley.  Buy spirals and binders that you love, or take them home and decorate them. 

And, please comment: what do you consider the essential tools for writing a novel (or a book)?

Photograph by Hey Paul.

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