Right, let’s just start off by saying that this isn’t a ‘how to’ on how to write your novel. At the time of posting this I am not a published author, so I can’t give advice on how to be a successful writer. What I can do is give you tips on how to be prepared for your novel, and what to think about when writing it. These are things that I learnt the hard way. They added time on to the process and made me have to go through several rounds or rewrites before I was finally happy with what I had written. So, look at this as the helpful musings of a man that wants to prevent others from making similar mistakes as himself.
- Write because it is what you want to, not because it’s what you think will sell.
When I first started writing I did it because I had built up the beginning of a story, nurtured it for a few years, and had to get it down on paper. It was a passion for me. This was my story and I wanted it told my way. It has taken me years to write my first book, and I could not have endured that if it were not something I was truly passionate about. The field you write in should be the field you love reading. For me, it was fantasy. I have always had a love for it, so it was a natural progression that my mind started to conjure its own world when it was busy venturing away from real life. You want to wake up in the morning and be planning your story, not dreading it.
- Practice. Write some of your book. Read it. Then practice some more.
The ability to write is not something you develop overnight. If you write the first few chapters of your book, read it back and then get disheartened because it is not as good as you thought it would be, that is normal. It takes time to develop a style. I was close to tears the first time I read back my first few chapters. They were almost childlike in their style. But I refused to give up. I kept writing, and reading, and developing my own styles. At first, I thought I’d never be able to conjure vivid metaphors in a contextual way. Now, it comes as second nature. I said in my last point that it has taken me years to write this book. What I meant by that is that it took me years to develop my style. I wrote and re-wrote my book countless times – and when I say countless, I mean that literally. I don’t even know how many versions I deleted in fury at my perceived lack of progress. You have to trust me though, if you are passionate and committed, then you will get there. I am so self-critical that I never thought I would reach the point where I am happy with the finished product. I read my book back a few weeks ago, and yes, I genuinely am happy with it. All it takes is a mix of passion and perseverance.
- Build your main characters before you start writing.
This is one thing that I definitely learnt the hard way. I got rid of nearly a whole version of my novel because I wasn’t happy with the character development. I thought the characters would develop with the story. This is definitely not the case. Especially not for those characters who are prevalent in your novel. You need to make sure that you have developed their history, their motives, their personality, their likes, their dislikes. You need to think of them as real people, even draw from real life experiences to give them a fully rounded identity. If you don’t have this, your characters will become inconsistent, fickle, and weak. As soon as I noticed this crippling flaw in my novel, I went back and wrote profiles for each of my characters. Detailed profiles. Mannerisms, habits, tempers, intellectual fortitude. Every little thing that you think may make your character a little more real, include it. The more in depth you make your character before you start writing, the more natural their speech and actions will come to you. This is even more important when creating a complex antagonist (if your story needs one). Make sure there is purpose for what they are doing. And I mean real purpose. There is nothing worse than coming across a villain who wants to rule the world just because of their desire for power. That is a tired cliché. Give them real motive and an inviting backstory. Nothing can derail a story quite like an uninteresting villain.
- Have a clear idea of your story.
It is an age-old rule with writing – every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I was taught this in secondary school, long before I started writing, and it just stuck with me. For me, this wasn’t just for the benefit of the reader, but the writer as well. With those well-defined points, it is easier to plot out the course of your story. Whether they are obvious integrals in your story, or just subtle paving stones, it’s up to you. But believe me, it is better to have them than to not. But you don’t just have to stop at those three. Plot the whole path of your story. Make sure the narrative is defined before you start writing. In my case, I did a full plan of every chapter. It may have been a bit in-depth, and I didn’t stick to it religiously, but I found that it was an excellent back-up to have. When I had that in place, I was never lost as to where to go.
- Your first draft is not your last draft.
Again, this is where perseverance is key. You reach that milestone. You finish your novel. You sit back, relax, and think that you are finally done. Unfortunately not. Read it through. Make sure you are happy with every element of the story. That you are happy with how every character is portrayed. Even make sure that you have no grammatical errors in your book (you probably won’t catch them all though). Once you have done that, read through it a few more times, and when you are truly happy with the finished product, get some opinions. Friends can often be too biased in your favour, so try and get some samples out to strangers. Be brave. There is a whole community out there just waiting to see the next big thing be released and are happy to partake in a review for you. Trust me, the feedback you will get will be extremely helpful.
- Rejection is not the end.
You send your book to an agent. It gets rejected. You give up. This is not the attitude to have. What you do is keep on. In my case, I sent it out too early and I got rejected. That was two years ago. When it as rejected, I looked back through it and saw ways I could improve. If you have taken heed of point 5 then you will not have this problem. That was one of my mistakes. I was too eager, and I didn’t do this. If you are happy with it and you still get rejected, do not give up. Your work is going to get rejected. Any successful author will tell you that. I read “On Writing” by Stephen King, one of the bestselling authors of all time, and he said that “the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it”. Stories are a very subjective thing. Just because one agent or publisher does not like your vision, it does not mean that another won’t. Be persistent. If your work is good enough to be published, someone will see its worth!
- Do NOT rely on coincidence to drive your story forward.
This is more of a personal gripe that I see prevalent in more and more stories lately. Coincidence, or Deus Ex Machina, should not be used as a plot device. If you plan your story properly, this will not be a problem. Unfortunately, when you don’t, it is left to unexplained or unlikely circumstances to lead to a fitting conclusion. This irrational intervention will never be looked on in a positive light. It’s the same as exposition laid on in an unnecessary way. If you are writing and find that you can’t explain the events that have just happened in a believable way, then you have done something wrong. Have a reason for everything.
- Do what is right for you.
When I started writing it was as a hobby. As I continue writing, it is still a hobby. Whether I get published or not, I will continue writing. I have a story that I want to tell, and this is how I intend on doing it. I would love for other people to read it and will always try my best to make sure it gets out there. It may sound selfish, but my story was never meant to be for other people, it was because it was I wanted to do it. I sent it on to other people and they liked it. Really liked it. That is what made me think I could get it out to the wider audience. That there – that is my opinion. Yours may be very different. Your sole intention may be to get it out there. You may want no one else to read it. It doesn’t matter. Writing is meant to make you happy. For some, it is a release. For others, it is a hobby. For some, it may even be a living. Whatever it is to you, just make sure it makes you happy. That’s what it does for me, and that’s why I do it.
In the years I have written, I have learnt, and I have written some more. These tips are not meant to direct you, but to aid you. If you find them helpful, then that is great. I really hope you do. These may not be the words of a published author, but they are the words of someone who has made mistakes and would like to try and divert others from making those same mistakes when they are writing. To all of you, I wish you the best of luck. Fair ye well, fellow writers.