Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tips From a First-Time Novelist

Hello!  Back from my writing hiatus... I announced in January that I was embarking on a novel, my first attempt ever at a novel, and I have finally competed it.  I actually finished the novel in April and now I'm going through several rounds of edits.  I have definitely learned a lot about the fiction writing process during this first attempt at a novel.  I thought I might share a few insights I gathered along the way:

1.  For any books I write in the future, I think I should come up with the title first and then write the book.  I did not have a title for this current novel and now that I've finished, I am having an incredibly difficult time coming up with a title that encapsulates all that the book means.  It's nearly impossible!

2.  Character development, character development, character development.  I went into the novel with a clear idea of the character traits of only a couple characters.  I wish I would have done more "pre-writing/pre-work" on the other minor character so that I would have gone into the novel with a clearer idea of who they really are rather than learning for myself who they are as the novel progressed.  I have found several wonderful sites that offer suggestions of some good activities that help you get to know your own characters before you begin writing:

3.  Chapter outlines are not a bad thing.  I outlined a basic premise of how I would like the story to progress, but did not break this down chapter by chapter.  Only about halfway through the book did I begin doing this and it made things much easier.  Outline by chapter rather than by plot-- it makes the story easier to read!

4.  Do not become so overly-focused on the plot that you lose sight of prose and setting.  A good story can only take you so far.  If you don't establish a clear setting then the story lacks foundation.  Finding the proper mix between sections of prose, narrative, and description is as precise as blending the ingredients for a cake, and I can only say it seems to come from the instinct of each individual writer.  Trust your own magic.

5.  Don't insult your readers.  Sometimes as a writer, we are so in love with our own brilliant idea that we want to make sure the reader gets it, so we beat them over the head with it.  If your idea is really that brilliant, then trust your brilliant readers to get it.  They don't need to be told everything.  A good reader knows how to read a novel for all it's worth.  Good readers know how to read beyond the typed words on the page.  Show your theme through fluid and descriptive writing rather than through in-your-face telling. 

6.  Be patient.  Spinning a good yarn takes time and patience.  The urgency of my own story often mistakenly came through with rushed writing.  I am now having to go back and fill in the gaps, give more information, and sometimes literally change choice of words, etc. because the story was so rushed.  Take your time.

7.  Be fearless.  Tackle the hard stuff.  Say the difficult things.  Don't be afraid to show the ugly and lay it all out there.  As Natalie Goldberg puts it, Write down the bones.