Good for you! There are many people who believe they can write a novel and I really like that. More writers means more books for me to enjoy. The only trouble is, a lot of people quit after writing a few pages and lose confidence. I think that’s a pity, because you don’t need to. I’m hoping that I can give you a few pointers so that you can pull through and deliver your book to me – er, I mean, to everyone out there. Because it’s a shame if a good story stays cooped up in your head without us knowing about it.
There is, however, a difference between people who can write and people who think they can write. The people who think they can write never manage to complete a novel; instead, they blame it on Writer’s Block that hampers their creativity. It’s a bit of an annoyance, so allow me to let me indulge myself by talking a bit about that.
A lot of people who have tried to write a book quit writing because they claim to have Writer’s Block. That’s a whole lot of crap, if I may say so; a starting writer without any experience whatsoever does not have Writer’s Block. A starting writer simply doesn’t know what the hell the story is about. We call that starting-up problems. And those can be overcome, with a little bit of effort.
Writer’s Block is usually mentioned by people who have no clue what Writer’s Block is and just use it as an excuse to not write the story. People with an ego, who claim that they have incredible talent to be the best author in the world, but never display it because they’re suffering from Writer’s Block.
That’s kind of saying you’re faster than Usain Bolt, but he never wants to compete against you, so you can’t show the world you’re faster. Yeah, as long as you don’t prove you’re fast, chances are that he will never acknowledge your skill. Nor will anyone else.
The same thing goes for writers; if you’re never writing anything, you can claim whatever you want, you’re still not a writer and nobody will see you as a writer. So write. Write a story, write a novel. And show us that you are a writer. There are no excuses to not write.
Finishing a novel
Two of the things you need to have as a writer – especially when writing novels – are determination and stamina. Determination because you’re determined to tell your story, from beginning to the very end; stamina because you need to actually finish that story.
Many people don’t have either of them, or at least not for writing. They will lose interest in the story or believe that writing just takes up too much time, or is simply too much effort.
Well, that’s correct. You’re not going to write a novel in two weeks. You’ll be writing it for two, three months to a year, perhaps even three years. Anyone without determination and stamina will not be completing that novel, that’s solely meant for true writers. But once you finish that story, there’s a sense of accomplishment and relief. Because it’s your story.
How not to lose interest
So, coming back to how people lose interest. How does that happen? They came up with the story themselves, right? That’s right, but a story is more than just having an idea and most people come up with an idea, not with a story. If you don’t know what kind of story is revolving around your idea, you probably produce a scene – perhaps two – and then you run out of things to say.
The solution for this is to write an outline. This is pretty much a short overview what you story is about.
To give an example: you’re planning to write a story about a knight slaying a dragon to rescue a princess. Classic story, been told millions of time, we all know that concept. But writing a story where a knight slays a dragon is pretty much a scene and the chance is pretty high nobody wants to read a scene. People want to read a story.
A story means we have a protagonist you can relate to – or at least feel like it’s a person, someone with a personality, with a life. A story is much more fun to read if you can relate with someone in that story. In order to do that, you need to ask yourself some questions in order to understand what kind of story you’re writing.
Who is your protagonist? No, I don’t mean what he’s called. A person isn’t solely defined by having a name. A person needs to have a personality, hobbies, ambitions. A knight may have become a knight, but who was he before that? There must be a reason why he became a knight. Did his father pull some strings to make him a knight? Or did he work his way up all by himself? Oh, did you notice? You’re now wondering about all of these things which allows you to imagine who your protagonist is. Your story just got 10 times more interesting – and you haven’t even written a single word! You only thought about it.
Another thing to consider is: why exactly does he need to slay the dragon? As far as I know dragons don’t regularly kidnap princesses on a regular basis, so there must be reason for it. Think about why this particular dragon would kidnap a princes. And once you know the reason, you can see the possibilities. You can see other situations, other scenes, everything unfolds in front of you just by simply asking yourself the question ‘Why?’. And your story suddenly has become again more interesting.
Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?
Pantsers vs Plotters
Yeah, yeah, I hear you guys. You’re already booing me upon reading the word ‘outline’. Okay, I’ll explain why they’re booing me.
There are people who are helped by writing an outline – the more expansive, the better – and they’re called Plotters. Those are people who write down everything that’s going to be in the story. They do research about how, when and most importantly, why. They don’t leave anything up to chance.
People who write an outline inventorize everything what’s going to happen, that way they won’t get stuck while writing because they know what’s going to happen and why it’s happening. They only need to write the story based on that outline, because their outline will tell them what comes next. It’s a very structured way of writing and it helps them to understand how their story will be unfolding.
You often see these kind of people writing fantasy series and detectives, but that doesn’t mean they’re all like that. There’s an abundance of types and an abundance of ways to write a novel. But when you’re writing a fantasy series you already know what comes after your first book and you’ll be hinting at things and making sure that people understand that there is more to come. Otherwise you have a story, not a series.
For detective novels it’s all about solving a mystery. In order to do that, you generally need to know which hints the detective will find and where, otherwise you’ll end up not solving your mystery, or doing it in such a way that it will feel silly.
On the other hand you have people who don’t do anything in terms of planning. We call those people Pantsers or Discovery Writers. Those are the people who don’t have a clue what they’re going to write. They just have an idea and by means of writing they get to understand what the story’s going to be about. People sometimes say that by writing the characters will tell who they are and why they’re doing things. Based on that the story evolves and even the writer himself ends up being surprised what’s happening.
Because they have no clue how the story’s going to look like, they have nothing to gain by planning it. The story will deviate from their plan anyway.
A lot of people think that’s how things generally work and that they therefore should be a Pantser, but that’s not always true. It’s usually the Plotters who get stuck because they need to have a plan to follow; Pantsers don’t get stuck so easily because once they’ve written a scene the story unfolds for them and then they know where to go.
So if you’re getting stuck, chances are you’re not a full-blown Pantser. You’re either a Plotter or a Plantser – a hybrid which requires a basic outline to know what your story’s about and how it’s going to get to the end, but after that you can just go at it freehand.
When you’re willing to share you story – or parts of it – you’d like to hear positive things about it. But hearing ‘Nice story’ or ‘Well done’ doesn’t get you any further. You still don’t know what is good about it. People who tell you this are either people who will tell you whatever you want to hear (parents, usually, or friends) or people who actually like your story, but have no clue whether it’s also a good story. Those are generally people who don’t read that much, or have never understood what makes a good novel work.
Feedback, good feedback, consists of criticism. That means both positive and negative criticism. Criticism isn’t meant to discourage you or to trash you; criticism is meant to improve your story. There is no need to cry when you receive negative criticism, honestly. Negative criticism is because they see you’ve done a good job, but not a great job. If it wasn’t good in the first place, you’d get a response like ‘WTF?!’ or ‘Jesus, why are you wasting my time!’. In that case you should seriously reconsider writing, or at least figure out what the basics are. But if you get negative feedback, your story is good. It just can be so much better and that’s what negative criticism is all about.
If anyone actually takes the time to read your story or chapter, it means they’re seeing it has potential, but usually you haven’t made the best of it yet. The criticism – especially the negative criticism – are things that they see that you can improve. That sometimes means that you have to scrap a section you thought was brilliantly done, other times that means you have to rewrite half your novel because it just isn’t right. That is – and always will be – frustrating, but if you want to have a really good story, you’ll have to listen to them. If they tell you it sucks, there’s probably some truth in there. Because, if they tell you that, chances are your other readers – or at least a couple of them – will probably tell you that as well. The only thing is, if your other readers are buying your novel, they will not recommend it and that will hurt your reputation. So you better fix that before you get that out there.
That doesn’t mean that feedback is always right; some people give you feedback because they experience it like that. That may be because they’re used to reading a different genre where that is important, but you’re not writing that genre; you’re writing in a genre where that isn’t important. It could also happen that they give you feedback on something that they believe isn’t relevant, but especially if they only read a chapter, they’re not going to know that you’re using that plot device later on to become important. In such cases, you as a writer should override the feedback.
As I said, if they point it out, there is some sense of truth in it, but that doesn’t have to be your truth. But as long as people point it out, it’s your duty as a writer to look at it and figure out why they believe it is wrong. You might still be right, but that the build-up towards it wasn’t good enough to convey that. That also means you have to subdue your ego and look at it as a reader, not as a writer.
Well, I hope this helped you a bit in understanding how to start writing a novel and what kind of pitfalls there are. And I hope that you also see which kind of things there are to help you – even if they at first sight seem to be destructive. As a writer, you’re never done learning. You will keep learning new things and sometimes other books will tell you that, sometimes you will figure it out yourself and sometimes feedback exposes it to you. It’s all up to you to improve and make your story become even better.
I hope to share some more things about writing in the future, but at least I have my first post 🙂 In the meantime …