All posts tagged Novel
Ignore your inner nagging thoughts. They are seldom accurate perceptions of what you are actually achieving. It is deeply unfair to criticize your navigation skills when taking a journey into unknown territory. Try not to demoralize yourself. I call my first draft “the Lewis and Clark.” Any freaking way to the coast – is the correct way! Do not criticize yourself for the odd wrong turn, the weather slowing you down, having to stop for supplies. There is no bad route when you are on a voyage of discovery. Just keep going!
originally posted at: http://www.advicetowriters.com/
The following is an essay that Sarah Pekkanen, author of Skipping a Beat and These Girls, wrote for Writer Unboxed, a writing website that I will be adding to my personal resources as I finalize my own novel. I thought her writing tips were very useful – particularly with regard to making sure scenes have lots of tension! You want to make your reader care about the people and the situations in your novel and tension-filled scenarios will certainly help accomplish that.
What I’ve Learned About Writing a Novel
There’s one type of person I always meet at my booksignings: Someone who approaches my table with a mixture of frustration and hope in their eyes. They pick up my novel, but they don’t seem to really see it, because it isn’t my book they want to talk about – the book they desperately want to discuss is the one they’re struggling to write.
They’ve got the best of intentions. They’re smart, accomplished people – but they can’t quite get started. Or they have an idea, and maybe they’ve even written a dozen or fifty or a hundred pages, but then they smash into a mental roadblock. Or they’ve finished a draft, and even they know it’s terrible, despite the fact that their mother loves it. The book they produced is nothing like the book they imagined.
I understand, I always tell them – maybe too well. I’ve been there myself.
For years, I worked as a newspaper reporter, and I penned free-lance magazine articles on the side, but even with all that training, I found writing a novel to be … ahem, challenging. In the same way that running a marathon in high heels, backwards, might pose a slight challenge.
It took me a long time, and a few terrible drafts of books, to pinpoint the source of my problem: I hadn’t studied my craft well enough. For that, I blame conventional wisdom. After all, doesn’t conventional wisdom tell us that writers are born, not made? That being able to create a book is a God-given talent, similar to coming out of the womb with perfect pitch? I didn’t know you could learn how to write a book. I figured either you had it, or you didn’t. And I was beginning to suspect I didn’t.
I credit my agent, a sassy New Yorker who doesn’t hesitate to dole out critiques or praise when necessary, with leading me to the light. I’d turned in another terrible draft of a book, and she slogged through it, then she called me.
“I guess I could try to send it out as a character-based novel,” she said. I think it’s accurate to report that enthusiasm was not ringing through her voice. In fact, she kind of sounded like she wanted to shoot herself.
“Let’s wait,” I said. I wanted to give it one more try, and suddenly, I thought I knew how to do it.
Here’s what I took away from that phone conversation: I had my characters down – they were in good shape. What was missing from my novel was plot.
I set out on a quest to learn how to infuse my books with plot. I began by searching for books about plotting, and I bought every single one I could find. The stack still stands on the top of my computer hutch, and if it ever comes crashing down, it might take a few days for them to find me in the rubble – I have that many books. I read every single one, scribbling notes in the margins and folding down the corners of pages when I came across particularly helpful points.
The most important thing I learned is that putting together a novel, for most of us, is difficult – but with certain creative tools, it can get easier. You may never achieve perfect pitch, but you can definitely be taught how to write a book.
The two finest guides I found were Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, andWriting the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read his terrific Writer Unboxed contributions). Here are some key points I learned that helped me write a novel my agent was able to sell:
- Real estate agents have a credo: Location, location, location. Here’s the writer’s credo: Tension, tension, tension. Fill your novels with it. Stack tension into your scenes until it’s as high as my wobbly tower of plotting books. You can never, ever have enough tension.
- Learn the rules for writing a successful commercial novel. Start with a likeable protagonist, give her a goal, throw obstacles in her way, throw bigger obstacles in her way, and then see her through to a bang-up finish. You need to start strong, and finish stronger.
- Turn the books you love into writing courses. Take some novels you admire, a stack of index cards, and a pen. Re-read the books and chart out every scene – the character and the main action – on index cards. Lay the cards out in order and study them to figure out how the author constructed their brilliant works. You’ll demystify the process.
This is just the beginning; the books by Bell and Maass taught me so much more, and every time I re-read them, I come away with new tips. The best part of all? Now I have three novels of my own on bookstore shelves, and I’ve just turned in the fourth to my editor. But it never would’ve happened if I hadn’t learned to plot – and for that, I’ll always be grateful to the authors who took the time to show the rest of us how it’s done.
I thought this cartoon pretty much sums up my life right now. I am on maternity leave with my first baby, and spending time on my reading and writing. I’ve entered some writing contests through the CBC (haven’t won any yet), read some new books (some are 5 pages or less – see information about being a new mom) and I’ve been working on my novel. I had hoped to have it fully completed before the baby arrived, but that didn’t happen. I blame my crazy “nesting” instincts in the weeks leading up to her birth. Apparently organizing every cupboard, closet and wardrobe had a higher priority than writing. However I did finish a first draft and, after taking a bit of a break, I’ve been finalizing it in the last few weeks, and came upon an interesting problem. I am having a (REALLY) hard time finding readers to review/critique my novel. Apparently people are afraid they won’t be able to give me an honest review? I guess I am putting people in a tough spot by asking – “tell me what you think” (but don’t crush my tender “writer’s” soul). But how can I improve my writing if no one will even read it to begin with?
As part of my research for my novel, I’ve been doing some reading into a bit of a dark and somewhat misunderstood area – mental illness and young people. I’ve come across troubling material and also stories that are hopeful. All in all, I hope it will give me a more informed and balanced perspective as I am developing the last half of the book. There is definitely still some prejudice and misconceptions out there about mental illness in general but also in particular with young people. However, I am happy to see it is becoming more acceptable to talk openly about these things. Knowledge is power!
Some people are of the viewpoint that talking about darker subjects with young people, such as depression, suicide, even anxiety issues can actually have the negative effect of leading youths down those paths. What’s your opinion?
…At the novel.
At the end of April, I had completed half the story. However, I got to a point where I realized it would be prudent to do more research on the main topic I am writing about in order to ensure accuracy in the details of the story.
I also got a surprise email recently from Hedy Czu! I had tried to contact her through her book club friends to ask her some questions and she responded. I was thrilled. Still waiting to hear from her regarding her answers to my questions, but it’s a great start!
I’ve also been working away at my first story for Adventure Alley. To be posted this week.
Finally, I’ve posted several short poems in the last few weeks. Hope you all get a chance to provide feedback 🙂
Have a great week~!
“The key to success is coming up with a good strong “what if”. I learned three years ago from my editor and my agent that if a book can’t be reduced to a single “what if” sentence it is probably not worth wasting your time on. If the idea takes three paragraphs to explain it is too complex and no one is going to get it.”
I’m stretched out in a hammock on a tropical beach!
Not quite. But I have still planned a great and relaxing vacation for myself. I’ve booked two weeks off from work and I am going – NOWHERE. That doesn’t sound very exciting you say? Well, I will be avoiding having to pack a suitcase, sit around for hours at airports, and/or have my neighbour fall asleep on my shoulder on a cramped 8 hour flight – so it will definitely be more relaxing for me than a traditional vacation 🙂
I have a few events planned for my Staycation. One of my best friends is flying in from Edmonton for Easter, so we’ll be having a Baby Shower for her, I have a birthday dinner planned with family (My sister-in-law has tricked the men into cooking for us ;)) and of course, there will be the Lululemon giveaway on April 22nd for a lucky reader here @I Tell Stories. Oh, and lets not forget watching the Royal Wedding with friends on April 29th!
But there will also be a special primary goal for myself during my Staycation – working on my novel in uninterrupted peace and quiet. I will finally (for two weeks anyway) be a full-time writer! I am looking forward to having some time to myself, and hope the time doesn’t fly by too quickly!
What do you think of my vacation plans? What would be a dream vacation for you ?