How Not To Writte… A Novel

They say everyone has a book inside them (and we don’t mean in the ’embarrassing visit to A&E’ sense). We all have a story to tell, a journey to share or an idea that sounds like it could be worked into a passable novel.

But if you’ve just come up with the best idea ever for a chick lit flicker – featuring the forbidden love between a chocolate company owner and his down-at-heel cleaning lady – how do you get this blockbusting idea out of your head and into 100,000 words of tear-enducing literary prose?

Do:

  • Commit to writing, a LOT, and then some, and then some more, again… and wash, and repeat.
  • Learn the basics of editing skills. You don’t need swish software but you DO need patience and – in our opinion – rewards for getting your edits done. Chocolate works well (Ed: there’s a theme emerging here… ). Editing is not a necessary evil, it is just part of the whole process; you HAVE to do it – so make it as comfortable as possible.
  • Print your chapter or section out if you can when doing your editing. Plonk yourself down in a nice comfy chair, drink of choice in hand, sit back and relax. With whatever pen/pencil/quill you prefer, slowly go through the text, correcting the typos, grammar and things that make no sense. Does it scan, can you read it out loud, have you used ‘but’ far too many times?… But… when you get to the end of the section reward yourself with whatever you need in order to feel good about the editing process: biscuit(s), favourite TV programmes, Swedish massage from Lars…
  • Plan out the structure of the story, however roughly. With a few key ideas for story milestones you’ll give yourself a skeleton for the whole novel – you can add the flesh to these rough bones at a later point, giving birth to your very own literary zombie.
  • Make your characters feel like real people. Don’t just describe the colour of their dress/jacket. Give your reader a bold-brush-stroke idea of what this person is like and make them feel some engagement, empathy or emotion towards them. Human stories need rounded human characters – and when we say rounded we don’t mean Mr Blobby.
  • Start on the action – back story can come later. Engage with your reader and give us snippets of the back story and the ‘whys’ later on. In short, get our attention early or we’ll be tempted to turn on the telly and watch Googlebox/shout at Question Time.
  • Have a reason for everything that happens. Don’t introduce ‘colour’ to something if it doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s great that Auntie Flo’s beautiful russet red Manolo’s walked through the door, but if they don’t stamp on something, get thrown off at a disco, or describe that she’s kooky, it serves no purpose (take note, Dan Brown).
  • Write! Yes we know, prosaic, but you have to put in the time. And, yes, some of it will be bilge, but some of it will be brilliant too – write, write and write some more and soon the diamonds will start sparkling among the more work-a-day coal.
  • Get used to being ‘stuck’. It doesn’t matter – keep writing! Write anything. Write poetry, diaries, short stories, or a letter to your mum, but write something. Use writing prompts if need be, but if you’ve committed your time to write, then write, anything.

Don’t:

  • Miss huge bits of plot because you think your reader will know what’s going on. Nice as it would be, your reader isn’t psychic, so you need to give enough plot hints to make it clear what’s happening. Conversely don’t tell us everything – show not tell. No-one wants a novel to read like an Ikea instruction manual.
  • Be boring with your writing. Cardinal sins can include being too descriptive, going overboard with the adjectives (It was a dark and stormy night… ) or going into minute detail that adds nothing to the story, the character development or the excitement of the narrative – so choose wisely what to describe. Less is generally more.
  • Show all your wares up front (Ed: unless you’re drafting something for the ’50 Shades of Grey’ market). Like that unforgettable night at Foxy’s Exotic Dancing Emporium, the tease, the strip, is most of the fun… so take time to let us get at your goodies.
  • Attempt to hit your 3,000 words a day count whilst simultaneously having Twitter/Instagram/the news/CBeebies on a nearby screen. Get rid of all distractions. There is a time for inspiration (Ed: Late at night, after a few vinos, watching Michael Fassbender/Angelina Jolie), and there’s the occasions where you SAY you’re seeking inspiration but ACTUALLY you’re distracting yourself with YouTube videos of pandas on slides. Lock yourself away and (as we KEEP on saying) get writing, writing WRITING!!!