How To Write A Novel-Part 4: Just Write

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. _ Louis L'Amour

Yes, folks.

Just write.

That’s how a novel gets written.

It’s as simple as that.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it. For most people, myself included, writing is the hardest part of the whole process. I’ve only written short stories. Writing a novel is overwhelming, and that’s one reason why I’ve never come close to completing a novel. Self-doubt is the other reason my goal has yet to be reached.

What if I suck? What if my novel is the biggest piece of crap ever written?

In all likelihood, I will suck and, I hate to say it, you probably will, too. The first draft of anything almost always sucks. Accepting this fact is the key to pushing forward on those days where the words aren’t flowing or every sentence that you’ve written sounds like garbage.

What if it takes years to finish my novel?

If you really want to write a novel, it shouldn’t matter how long it takes. If you have a story in you, get it down on paper. No matter how bad your writing sounds, it’s only a draft and it can be fixed later. Stop reading about writing. Stop thinking about writing. Stop talking about writing and just sit down and write.  Set aside time every day, even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes. No matter how you do it, get that story out of your system and keep going until you reach the end.

As for me, I think it’s time I take my own advice and just write.

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How To Write A Novel-Part 3: The Outline

PlannersgonnaPlan

I’m a planner. My house is littered with five million notebooks filled with lists and snippets of ideas – weekly menus, shopping lists, to do lists, story ideas. I jot things down as a way to organize my thoughts, as well as to help guide me in a particular direction.

When it comes to writing stories, I’m a person who prefers to know where the story is going before I begin writing.

There are plenty of ways to go about outlining a novel. If you’re a minimalist, a simple one-page bullet list of key scenes might be enough to get you started. There are some writers who create complex, detail-oriented outlines that are fifty or more pages long. Personally, I’m looking for an outlining method somewhere in between. It’s very easy for me to linger far too long in the planning stages of a story. I think it’s just my way of avoiding the inevitable – writing the draft.

Here are a few articles I’ve found explaining different ways you can outline your next novel:

For me, the outlining process is a way of fleshing out the original idea and figuring out if I can form that idea into a full-fledged story. I think it’s where I’m the most creative in the whole writing process because the ideas just seem to continually flow.

Knowing ahead of time where the story is going gives me a much needed boost of confidence that moves me from the plotting phase to writing that first draft.

 

How To Write a Novel-Part 2: Character

pensive by _Zhang

image by _Zhang via Flickr

After spending the past week brainstorming ideas for my estranged sister story, I’ve hit a wall. I’ve come up with some possible ideas for this novel but nothing concrete. I need to know more about the characters. Who are they? What do they look like? What’s their backstory?

Knowing more about the characters will help me figure out the point of this story.

Character development is probably my favorite part of the story writing process. I usually start with figuring out the basics: General appearance, how old they are at the time of the story, occupation, marital status, do they have children, and who are the other family members.

After I have the basic character information, I’ll then write a biography starting from childhood and covering any major events that have happened up until the starting point of the story. These are usually three to five pages long, sometimes longer depending on the complexity of the character, where I let my mind wander and let the character tell their life story. The biography is where I learn the following details about my character:

  • What their life was like growing up – chaotic, idyllic, impoverished, etc.
  • Events that have influenced their choices in life.
  • Their relationships with others.
  • Their fears.
  • Their flaws.
  • Their secrets.
  • Their dreams.
  • Their disappointments in life.

It’s important to know what makes your characters tick. The biographical details you discover help to create believable and relatable characters. They also help with the plotting process. As you develop your story people, you’ll uncover what their goals are, both external and internal. This in turn helps you figure out what motivates them and what possible obstacles you can throw at them during the course of your story.

True-to-life characters have emotional baggage, and creating a character biography helps pinpoint what those issues are. That baggage will be a source of conflict, and conflict is what makes the story interesting. It keeps readers turning the page and coming back for more. And, as with most writers, keeping the reader engaged is my ultimate goal.

What methods do you use to develop your characters? Are you like me and try to figure them out during the planning process, or do you learn about them as you’re writing the story?