How do you write your first novel
When reading a book, how often have you thought you could do better? Perhaps you've always wanted to write a novel, but “never had the time”?
81% of all people would like to write a book. Only 10% actually do it - that's an achievement in itself. But if you're planning to become the next J. K. Rowling or the next John Grisham, 98% of manuscripts sent to publishers and agents will be rejected. If you dream of seeing your novel in print, there are simple steps that will give you the best chance of your text being among the 2% that will ultimately get published.
You can find inspiration everywhere. The idea for a novel can come from a newspaper article, a conversation you happened to overhear in a coffee shop, or some age-old family secret. You're looking for an idea, a conflict that lingers - something to write about. If you want to brainstorm an idea, try mind maps (e.g. on the English website www.tonybuzan.com). Once you've roughly sketched out a few ideas, it's time to summarize your story.
PERFECTYOUR 'LIFT PRESENTATION'
Before you start writing, summarize your idea in less than fifteen words. Imagine cornering the publisher of your dreams in an elevator and only seconds to sell them your idea. For “The Dancer's House”, for example, this could be: “Perfumer inherits house in Spain and comes across shocking family secrets about the civil war.”
Make a paragraph out of this sentence, then a page. Decorate the details, the main characters, the conflict. At this early stage, your novel can go anywhere - you want an engaging plot, strong characters, and a clear sense of the place and time the book is set in. Let's look at each one in turn:
... is the organization of a story. The plot plays with causal connections and secrets, it needs tension on every side. It is never wrong to let the novel begin in the middle of the action when your main character (the protagonist) is about to do something. Make the opening chapter so gripping that the reader will definitely want to buy the book. You can always go back in time and add the history later.
A novel means crisis from beginning to end - you capture the protagonist at a key moment in his life. But you have to vary the pace and tension of the story so as not to bore the reader. The narrative arc should be designed like a roller coaster ride.
If you're writing your first novel, you can't go wrong with this simple formula for constructing the "acts" of history:
- First act: contains 25% of the action, ends in a surprise / shock
- Act Two: contains 50% of the action - there is another surprise in the middle of the book and an additional change or confrontation that builds the tension by the end of this act at 75%.
- Third act: contains the last 25% of the story - the final challenges, the confrontation and the dissolution.
Once you have an idea of your story and the plot, you should get to know your characters better than your family and friends as soon as possible. Before I start, I'll write a profile for each figure. Your protagonist is the character who has experienced the most changes through history. Think of an antagonist (the protagonist's archenemy) who is his equal, but who is his opponent.
A good story needs a protagonist who has emotional depth and who reacts coherently. Unlike people in real life, who are infinitely complex, characters in a novel have only a few driving characteristics and flaws. Give your protagonist a clear goal. Goals fuel the action: Action = Drama = Emotion. In order for your reader to get involved with the protagonist, he has to sit next to him on the roller coaster - and understand his goals.
PLACE AND TIME OF THE ACTION
Your perception makes a story unique. Have two writers describe the same scene and they will record different things. Whenever you have to research places and times, you should always ask yourself: What would your senses tell you? What do you see, hear, smell, taste, feel? Get to know your imaginary world as well as the world you live in now. As a beginner, you might be more on the safe side writing about "what you know", but in time I would advise you to write about "what you would like to know". One of the great joys is to keep learning, keep exploring, keep traveling.
A commercial novel is at least 80,000 words long. So if you write a thousand words a day for three months, you have a first draft. This is not the time to send the manuscript to a publisher or agent. Wait a few weeks for it to set and then go back to it with a little bit of space. Someone once said: "To write means to write over and over again". At this point, you take the rough manuscript and cut out anything that doesn't add anything to the story. Proofread yourself - double-check the facts, spelling, grammar. Be your own actor - read the text aloud to see if the dialogue sounds natural.
Write what you love and love what you write, this is the best advice I have ever been given. Discover the story you need to write. Then edit the text until it can't get any better. This last step gives you the best chance of being among the 2% accepted by the publisher. It is also important that you send the manuscript to an agent or publisher who makes books like yours. Don't offer a crime thriller to a romance book publisher or science fiction to an agent who specializes in non-fiction. At the end of a novel you liked, check the author's note to see which agency he was with, or look for publishers in the authors' yearbook.
One last secret - the biggest difference between the people who dream of writing a novel and those who get published is not just talent. Much depends on discipline and determination. Don't have time to write? Think again - get up an hour earlier before you go to work, or write when your kids are taking a nap (I did both, it works). The idea of writing an entire novel is a challenge, but if you write just a little each day it adds up. If you really want to write a book, you can do it.
THE FIVE BEST WRITING TIPS
- Write every day. Always carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas before they evaporate.
- Read every day - books that inspire you, genres you like. Learn what works.
- Join a writing group - at home or on the web.
- Make a playlist for your story - music conveys ideas and feelings.
- Write from the heart - not what you think the market is asking for.
THREE OF THE BEST BOOKS ABOUT WRITING
- Stephen King's Life and Writing
- 'Bird by Bird - word for word. Instructions for writing and living as a writer ’by Anne Lamott
- 'Writing in Cafés' by Natalie Goldberg
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