Wednesday, September 23, 2009

7 Easy Steps to Writing a Novel

I lay awake last night thinking about doing a blog on how to write a book. Sounds more like a non-fiction book than a blog, eh? But really, there are some simple steps people can take to fulfill their dream of writing a book. And since I've written 6 books, (okay--#6 is half-finished) who better to encourage others to do that than moi?

To begin, here is my list of 7 easy steps to writing your first novel:

#1. My recommended reading list, books that I promise will motive you and answer some of those essential questions. Unfortunately, I can't remember the author in each case and because I've given the books away, I can't go look. But if you do a search for the title online, I'm sure you can locate any one of these books. They're all best sellers.

- Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein. (An absolutely great book to inspire and make a believer out of you)
- Characters and Viewpoint. (Essentially in helping you learn about POV and voice)
- Breathing Life.
- Self-editing
- Eats, Shoots and Leaves (a grammar book extraordinaire)
- Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas
- The Writer's Guide to Characters
- The Writer's Journey
- Between the Lines
- On Writing, by Stephen King. (I loved this little book; it's very inspiring. And funny)

- Bird by Bird
- Words Fail Me.

If you're really interested in writing, begin with the book on the top of the list. When you think you're ready, try some of the rest. The thing is, if you're serious, learning the mechanics of writing will set you free from whatever it is that's been stopping you so far.

#2. Study 3 Act movies. I wrote a blog on the Three Act Plays that should help you to understand what they are and how they work; unless, of course, you still remember your studies from back in school. Every story has a structure consist of the 3 Acts. Some even have 4. Number one introduces your main character and his goal, number two generally shows all the stuff that's stopping him from obtaining his goal, and number three reaches the final climax usually in break-neck speed. By keeping track of the clock on your VCR or DVD and noting the important turning points in the movie, I promise you'll learn the basic components in structuring your own story.

#3 Write. Begin your story. Write the 3 Acts. Each act has one/third of the total amount of chapters. The first chapter sets up the conflict. Each chapter after that moves the story forward. If you understand chapter structures, then you know that each chapter must have a goal, conflict and disaster. I know there's more to it than what I've got here, but it's not going to make sense for me to explain unless you write. By writing, you'll learn. And learn. And learn. And please, don't expect the first draft to be perfect. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY writes a perfect first draft. So, write. And whatever you do, DON'T show your first draft to anyone. Believe me, this is vital ADVICE. There's a reason it's called a first draft. It's rough. And the last thing you need is for some well-intentioned friend or family member to say something ... well, I refuse to go into that now, because you're not going to show it to anyone. Okay!

#4. Finish your three-act manuscript, then set it aside. Nobody ever listens to this part of my 7 easy steps, but honestly, you need to distance yourself. Wait at least 2 days before picking it. Longer if you can. I've been known to set it aside 2 weeks. It gets easier. Especially, after you realize that time did what it's suppose to do: gave you enough space to think objectively and treat the draft as it truly is: rough.

#5. Read those edit books again from the list above. Familiarize yourself with the techniques of editing. Cutting unnecessary words. Changing a lot of telling into showing. Tightening. Smoothing out those rough spots. Filling in those blank spots. Honestly, editing is the best part.

#6. When you've finished your second draft, go somewhere quiet and read it aloud. You're hear the rhythm of your prose and what doesn't sound smooth, or jolts you out of your reverie. Your ears are amazingly good at hearing what doesn't work. Fix the mistakes.

#7. Join a writer's group in town or online and submit your third draft. Meet like-minded people. Fellowship! Learn how to critique and I promise you'll learn more than you could ever imagine about writing. And I also promise, once you get the bug, you'll never be the same again.

Of course, there's a lot to writing a novel. But in the end, the secret is to write.


  1. Great post! I'm going to look for some of those books. I wish I could remember the title of Damon Knight's book on writing.

  2. Hi David. Mr. Knight wrote a lot of books. S/F mostly. I'm sure I never read anything from him on writing, but he was an interesting character, so I imagine his self-help books were too.

  3. A good back-to-the-basics post, Joylene, especially that last line. Wishing that never moves into action keeps a lot of potentially good books unwritten.

    David... you're likely thinking of his "Creating Short Fiction" (1981)


  4. I been only reeding a few bookz on righting (2 that you done listed hear) & desided long time agonot to botther. I dont need no hepl with editting because that is were I am strongest.

  5. I would recommend 'The First Five Pages' by Noah Lukeman. He has another book on his website that's a free PDF file. I read it & saved it but don't recall the title. He's very good. I'll check out your suggestions, especially Sol Stein's.

    The critique group - dunno about that. The local writing group seems to be made up of mostly romance writers. I write for kids so it would be tough for me to critique, just as it would be tough for them to suffer through my stuff.

    Very good ideas. Nice job.

  6. Jack M. Bickham has written some great writing books too. His book Writing and Selling your Novel was my first. There's also Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. Plot... is another one. Yes, I could go on and on, but I think what's on my list is my first choices. They all still resonate with me.

    Careann, it was only after I posted this particular blog that I realized that what I'd written would make little sense to a newbie unless they started writing. I never experienced the fear of writing a novel because I didn't stop to think about it. One day I decided to write a book, and that's what I did. I had no idea how daunting it was until I started editing.

    But that first book took 7 years. I'm hoping I can cut that time down for others.

  7. Dave, something free? Kewl. I'll check it out. I love FREE, especially if it's good too.

  8. I think we've read the same books! I'd add "Story" by Robert McKee and "Worlds of Wonder" by David Gerrold. Though one is for scriptwriters and one is for science fiction writers, they did more to help me understand story elements more than any other book I ever read.

  9. Hi Pat. I'd forgotten about STORY. The other one I don't believe I've read. Yet. BTW, I didn't answer your blog questions today because I didn't think it would be appropriate to write a book in the post window. LOL. I had that much to say, but mostly it only pertains to me.

    I dream about more hours in a day and someone to take care of my house so I don't have to.

  10. "I dream about more hours in a day and someone to take care of my house so I don't have to."

    Yikes! Deb said she wanted to hire someone to take care of the house just a couple weeks ago. I, being the neanderthal that I am, came back with the perfect male response - "Huh?"

    (Deb) "Well - We pay for the lawn service so you don't have to do it."

    (Dave clears throat) "uhmm..."

    Ya see - I am the master of dialogue.


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