Wednesday, November 21, 2012

5 steps to writing the novel of your dreams

I've talked a bit about my writing on this blog, but I don't think I've really ever talked about my books.
Long story short, I've written 3 (including one for NaNoWriMo 2012). I could dedicate post after post to each of my writing journies and what I love and don't love about my babies books, but that might get boring after a while. Instead, I present you with my
5 steps to writing the novel of your dreams
Before I took the One Year Adventure Novel course, I'd never even thought of outlining. I would have this brilliant idea, and I'd just sit down and write. Some of the ideas lasted longer than others, but they all  ended up slowing down and eventually being forgotten. I didn't have enough steam to scrawl my way past more than 20 pages, because I hadn't made any long-term plans for the story. OYAN taught me how to outline, and I've never looked back. Planning out each chapter helps me to understand where the story is going, and it makes it much easier for me to stay on track when I'm writing.
(for those of you who aren't sure exactly how to outline, fear not! it's very easy. What I usually do is get a fresh piece of lined paper [or a Word doc.] and ask myself a few questions about my chapter. Usually I write down
-What is going to happen in this chapter
-Why the event is important
-How the characters react
-How it connects to the chapters before and after.
This usually helps me to weed out unimportant or unneeded events, thus keeping the story alive and interesting. Or at least that's the idea.)

--Develop your characters--
This one is huge, because the characters (in my opinion) are the most important part of a story. If you have a drop-dead-perfect-and-amazing-plot-with-all-the-accessories, but your characters fall flat, no one's going to care. And getting readers to care is the number 1 job of a writer. I don't have a set time during the writing process where I develop my characters (but I always do it BEFORE I write), because I'm kind of always thinking about them.
Some of my favourite ways to develop my characters are below:
-flesh out their backstory. Who are their parents? Do they have siblings? How did they interact with their family? What important past incidents helped shape them into the people they are today?
-write lists. I'm a list person, so I usually draw up a chart for my character, including their name, age, height, hair colour, personality, and as many quirky and stupid things I care to add. If you know how your characters will react to things like the name "Ernie" or the colour orange (and why they react the way they do), you've got a pretty good handle on who they are already. ;-) Who says the little details aren't important?
-write short stories or dialouge where they interact with each other
-grab a buddy and get a role-play (using your characters) going. They're so much fun and it's a fantastic way to get your characters growing.

--Quality, not quantity--
This is something my mom has always reminded me. Ever since I wrote my first book (which finished at around 100 pages, I think) she's been reminding me that it's not the length of a book that counts, it's how good the writing in that length is. If I write a 360 page novel with 80,000 words but the writing is terrible, no one's going to stick around long enough to finish the book. On the other hand, if I write a spectacular 95-page story that everyone loves and re-reads over and over again, isn't that better?
Don't get caught up with trying to be the next JK Rowling (or whoever strikes your fancy)  -- just be the best writer you can be. Don't force your story into a 200-page format if it's really only a 80-page plotline. Just outline and write, and see what comes out.
(my rough drafts usually add pages after editing, anyways. Not that I'm counting or anything...:-P)

--Let your rough draft be rough--
This is a biggie. You have to be okay with making mistakes. Your first draft is going to be rough. (hence the name "rough draft.") It might even be bad, and that's okay. You have to stick with it until the end, though - don't go back and edit earlier chapters as you write. If you get too caught up in fixing your past mistakes, you won't have the energy (or the desire) to finish the book. It's too easy to get discouraged during the writing process, especially if you look back at all the mistakes you've made already. Just know that your first draft isn't going to look pretty -- no one's does, I promise.
(another important reason not to edit before you're done writing: editing even one scene of a book is like dropping a tiny pebble into a big lake. No matter how small the pebble, it still always ripples. Even seemingly-small changes can have a huge impact on the book - often when I make one simple change, I have to hunt through the entire book with a fine-tooth comb and make tons more not-so-simple edits so everything lines up. Obviously you're going to want to save such complicated work until AFTER you've written the whole book. It's hard enough getting one story from brain to paper, let alone trying to handle editing plot lines, too.)
But, to sum it up, don't edit until you've finished the rough draft. Trust me on this one, it'll make your life MUCH easier.

--Don't give up--
No matter how tough it gets, no matter how bad you think your book is, don't give up. When I wrote my NaNoWriMo novel, I was convinced it was horrible. I liked the idea, but I thought I'd have to re-write the whole thing. I kept slogging through and finished it, though...and when I came back to it I realized that it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought.
In fact, I actually liked most of it!
Writing clouds your judgement - you're too close to your work, and you can't tell how good or bad it is. Don't give up on your book! Stick to it no matter how hard it gets, and you'll be so glad you did.
(bonus hint: after you've finished the rough draft [YAY!] set the book aside for a few weeks. Don't open the doc., or the binder, or whatever. Try not to even think about it. Then, when you feel ready to tackle the book again, open it up and get ready to edit your behind off. ;-) That extra space of a few weeks is often enough to distance you from your story so you can read it more objectively. You'll be able to see some of your own mistakes more clearly once you've achieved some distance.)
And there you have it! I use these five rules (and the bonus hint, as well) every time I sit down to write, and they have changed my writing so much. I don't even have words for how big the difference is. Hopefully these steps will help some of you, too...if you have any questions (or if I really messed it up and nothing made sense) feel free to comment below. :-) I always love hearing your thoughts.


  1. This post is probably the most imformative and helpful post about writing I've ever read.

    Okay, I'm going to confess something that I hate myself for! I quit NaNo. For the reasons you said. I started to dislike my story. I was discouraged. The worst part was that I've loved my story and the characters for months, but writing it out (this is the first time I've wrote one of my stories down for real) made me begin to not like it anymore. I'm planning on writing a blog post about it soon about why I quit in more detail.

    Again - amazing post, Olivia!

    1. *splutters* Seriously? Hannah, you just made my day. Thank you so much for your kind words.

      Aw, don't hate yourself over it! Maybe take a little break, review your outline, fall in love with your characters again, and give it another go? You might not make NaNo, but at least the book will be written. If you do decide to keep going (or re-write) and you need help, just drop me a note and I'll do what I can to help.

      Looking forward to that blog post!

  2. i will keep those ideas for my books too!!



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