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Posts tagged ‘novel writing tips’

My Tips For Writing Novels, by Pauline Francis

I don’t really have to write this post, do I? You could do it for me by now if you’ve been reading the others. But I’ll sum it up:

1. Read, read, read.

2. Write, write, write.

3. Write every day.

4. Always write down your ideas when you have them.

5. Never throw any of your work away. A short story might become a chapter in a novel.

6. Read your work aloud regularly for rhythm and tension.

7. Enter competitions whenever you have time.

8. Re-read authors who are most like you and try to work out why they are good.

9. Don’t be afraid to show your writing to somebody else for feedback.

10. Remember that others forms of writing can feed into your work: school essays, blogs, Facebook entries, diaries, letters/postcards will all tell you a lot about your style and genre. Why not volunteer to edit the school/college magazine for a term? Why not write/design posters? Why not take part in a school play/musical and help with the script?

I am a self-taught writer. I didn’t go to any creative writing classes. But I still had to learn my craft. I did it in two ways. At first, I just wrote. They were short manuscripts, with little re-drafting, which were all rejected. When I realised this was going to be a lengthy process – I’d gave up my job to be a full-time writer and there were bills to pay – I proposed a big project called Fast Track Classics to a publisher: I would abridge the classics for younger readers. This brought in a good income for many years. But the greatest benefit was reading great classics and seeing what made them endure and seeing why they might not be so popular with today’s young readers. I learned more about writing than at any other time in my life and I have great affection for these forty or so books.

I’ve also written many Readers for students learning English as a second language. They are graded at different levels, so I was restricted in vocabulary. This taught me what is essential in a novel: fast plot, strong characters set against interesting locations.

Everybody is capable of writing. But if you want to be published, you have to learn the skills, like any other job. You have to be patient. Think how long it takes to be the best gymnast, the best cyclist or the best piano player.

Of course the golden rule of good writing is SHOW – DON’T TELL. I didn’t put it on the list because I want to show this rule to you – not tell!  This is the magic that turns ordinary writing into something special.

This example below is from Raven Queen. Question: How can I describe Jane’s home (Bradgate House)? This paragraph is taken from the first draft (Jane is the narrator):

I lived at Bradgate House, a house built by my father’s father, Thomas Grey, who died when I was two years old. He used to boast that the forest beyond – Charnwood Forest – was big and that he’d laid water pipes from the stream to the house. The town of Leicester was about five miles to the east.

This would have sent my manuscript to the slush pile.

The final manuscript reads:

Visitors usually gasp with pleasure when they first arrive. It is thought to be one of the finest houses in Leicestershire; but Ned gazed past its red brick towers, past its gardens soon to be brimming with fruit and blossom, past the stream which fed water pipes to the kitchen – to the darkening trees beyond.
‘I like the forest best at dusk when birds cloud the sky,’ he said.
I glanced down at him. And now that he was standing closer to me, I no longer saw his tangled hair and grimy skin – only the smile that lit up his face.
Who was he?

Can you see what I’ve done? We see the house through a visitor’s eyes and it’s linked with an emotion that has already linked Jane with the stranger and leaves a question to be answered.

***

Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

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Nurturing (And Protecting) Your Story Idea, by Diane Lee Wilson

I don’t talk to anyone – ANYONE – about the novel I’m working on: not family, not my editor, not my friends. This can go on for months. People will feel offended but the danger is too great: one little adverse comment (or, as sensitive as I am, even a sideways look) will take the air out of the idea as surely as if one had squeezed a baby chick around the neck. A developing story is simply too fragile to share.

Only when I have enough chapters done that I’m (fairly) confident I have a good story going do I write up a book proposal. I provide an overview of the story and supplement that with the novel’s opening chapters. If I happen to have already envisioned the climax of the story – especially if it’s really exciting – I definitely don’t share those details. I simply try to ‘sell it’ from a convincing premise and several chapters, maybe 50+ pages. (That’s a recent luxury. For my first five novels, I presented complete manuscripts. Only now do I submit – via my agent – a proposal and initial chapters, and I guess my publisher knows that I’ll come through with a successful project.)

Even without telling your friends about your story, there are many threats to your idea: you’ll open a newspaper or magazine one day and read about a newly published book that is EXACTLY your story. (What? How did that thief get hold of my story?). Relax and take a deep breath. There are any number of stories with similar themes or plots or characters that, unfortunately, get introduced at similar times. The thing to remember is that YOU and only YOU can tell your story your way. Thirty people, having witnessed the same event, would relate it in thirty different ways. So take another deep breath, exhale, and get back to writing.

Still another threat to your story idea resides in your very own head, home to the Caustic Critic. The Educated Editor. The Literary Snob. It is SO easy to let those voices inside your head talk you out of your story. Pretty soon you’ve stopped writing. It’s really no good, you tell yourself. What was I thinking? No one’s going to read this.

STOP. Think. What made you want to write your story in the first place? Is the fire still there? Then stir up the embers, muzzle those voices in your head and get back to writing.

But teens won’t like my story. They’ll think it’s boring or lame or (fill in your favorite aspersion). Again, STOP. You’re the author of your story and your job is to make your reader WANT to read it. Surely you’ve encountered authors or storytellers in your life that possess the magic to make you hang on every word – no matter the subject. So borrow some of that magic and do the same! Get back to writing!

The easiest thing in the world is to abandon your story. That’s why so very many people say, “I’m going to write a story one of these days” and then never do. Conceiving the story idea is always more fun than raising it to maturation. Ultimately this is YOUR story and you alone must be champion of it: you must create it, nurture it, protect it and sell it. Trust your instinct. (And get back to writing.)

***

Diane Lee Wilson’s author website: www.dianeleewilson.com

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Developing Good Writing Habits, by Kashmira Sheth

Unless we are fortunate enough to write full time, finding time to do can be as elusive as catching a dream with a butterfly net. I remember talking about writing for many years before I actually sat down and did it. Something or another was always more important to do than my writing. There was taking care of my children, cooking, cleaning and gardening, so everyday I told myself, I will write tomorrow. For a long time that tomorrow never came.

My writing is important to me. I knew that even before I wrote my first story, because I kept thinking about it. One morning I decided that unless I wrote 500 words I wasn’t going to do anything else that day. I wasn’t even going to shower. Writing had to be a sacred duty that had to be performed before I could do anything else. That idea really helped me get started.

Here are some suggestions for finding writing time that have worked well for me.

Start with a word count

Decide how many words you can write per day and stick to it. For me, the 500-word rule has worked well. 500 words fill up 2 pages and no matter how busy I am I can find time to write those pages. If starting to write was difficult, keeping up with 500 words has been easier. The word-count rule is better than committing to write for two hours. In those two hours you may answer your email, surf the internet, talk on the phone, and still feel like you have fulfilled your two hours.  In contrast, the word count is results-oriented.

Stop in the middle

One trick that I have heard other writers use, and have used myself, is to end the day’s writing in the middle of a scene. That way it is easy to pick up and finish the scene the next day, and then start a new scene. If the scene is long, it can even take a few days to complete.

Try to write at the same time each day

If you keep some kind of writing schedule it makes it easy to get to your writing. When you are making other appointments, commitments or social plans, you know that between 10 and 12:00 it won’t work.  This rule makes it easy to keep writing time special, and to remember to write every day.

Disconnect from everything else

Turn off your internet, phones, and other devices: This is easier said than done, but if you don’t check your email and answer your phone during your writing time you can reach your goal of 500 or even a 1,000 words much faster.

Get up to walk or stretch

This may seem like it’s working against writing but it is good to get up and move about a bit. Sometimes, just throwing a load of laundry in the washer or vacuuming a room can help move the blood in your body. In the spring I like to take a walk in my yard for a few minutes to see what is coming up in the garden.

No rules against writing more

If you find that you are on a roll, keep on writing. There is no rule against writing more than your daily word quota.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

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On ‘Killing Your Darlings’ When Revising A Novel Manuscript, by Monika Schroder

“In writing you must kill your darlings.” Many heard this quote, attributed to William Faulkner, relating to the need to delete words and phrases we are particularly proud of. We love the characters we invent and the thought of eliminating them, after we have poured so much work into their creation, is heartbreaking. But sometimes it must be done.

The first character I removed was Uncle Wilhelm, in an early draft of what later became my first novel, The Dog in the Wood. He had arrived at Fritz’s grandma’s farm in December 1945, after the Russian military police had taken Fritz’s mother and left him and his sister to live with the hated grandma. Uncle Wilhelm, a World War One veteran, who had lost his left arm fighting the French, was a jolly old fellow. I had placed him in the story at the moment of greatest pain for Fritz. He was supposed to give solace and help my protagonist get through his hardship. When I re-read my manuscript I realized that it was not yet time for Fritz to be consoled. He had to face the pain and then ultimately find the strength within himself to do something about his situation. Instead of finding comfort in the presence of an old, friendly relative, he had to turn his fear and rage into action. I learned that the main character always has to carry the book’s action.

Deleting all scenes with Mummo, the Finnish grandmother of Wren in my work-in-progress, For The Birds, taught me not to be too preachy. Mummo was full of good advice. I had so much fun putting clever words into her mouth and inventing Finnish proverbs she would use to share her wisdom. But I realized my readers would find her preaching tiresome.

Removing Mummo also taught me another lesson. An eccentric personality can enrich a story but it is hard for a larger-than-life-character to stay in a supporting role. Mummo was overshadowing my protagonist, Wren, another reason she had to go. Instead, I had to give Wren more of the now departed grandmother’s courage and wit. The lesson here: Be careful not to let secondary characters take over your story. Make sure you keep in mind whose story you are telling.

In early drafts of Saraswati’s Way, 12-year-old Akash, who runs away from home and becomes a street child in New Delhi, had more friends. Through my revisions I realized that I didn’t need so many different people to show Akash’s traits and reactions to events. I focused on only one main friend and strengthened the scenes and the interactions between these two characters. The old adage, less is more, is also true for the number of supporting cast in your book.

The ability to remove characters from a manuscript during the revision process is a very important skill for any writer. Open yourself to the possibility. It can be liberating and improve your writing.

***

Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

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Writing Dialogue In Teen Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

I love writing dialogue and spend a great deal of time trying to get it right to make my characters sound like real teens.  I watch TV shows targeted to teens, eavesdrop on their conversations, read teen books and magazines, listen to the audio version of teen books, etc. – all in an effort to perfect the art of teen-speak.  While teen-speech (or any speech, for that matter) can be sloppy – people leave out words, compress phases into single words, use contractions and habitual phrases, make mistakes, etc., etc. – dialogue is highly planned.  Every line must have purpose and reason.  Just like a film gives the illusion of motion, dialogue gives the illusion of conversation, but it isn’t real.  It appears spontaneous, but it’s planned.  It appears chaotic and unexpected, but it’s reasoned and highly controlled.  Characters must have a reason for talking.  We may have to put up with real people who talk about nothing, but we don’t have to put up with characters who do the same.  I used to teach an online workshop with fellow author Lara Zeises.  Here are some of the dialogue rules that we created.

Dialogue should fulfill the following roles in the manuscript:

1) advance the plot

2) reveal character

3) reveal motivation

4) substitute narrative and

5) establish tone or mood.

If the dialogue doesn’t fill one of these criteria, then it probably can be removed without adversely affecting the story.

Some common mistakes

1. Overusing synonyms for the word “said” (cried, howled, bellowed, whispered, stated, replied, voiced, expressed, vented, responded, uttered, shouted, vocalized, asserted, declared…) – most readers don’t register the word “said”, so when you do use a special tag like “whispered” it really stands out.

2. Being too true to the way people speak (adding “um”, “like”, etc.) – unless adding an occasion or two of “like” really fits the character’s voice in a particular situation.

3. Using too much dialect.

4. Sounding too stilted or formal.

5. Using people’s names too often in conversations.

6. Losing track of who said what (that’s what speech tags are for!).

7. Unclear pronoun references (If there are three men in a room and you say “he,” which “he” are you referring to?).

8. Conversations where characters tell each other what they already know.

9. Having a character talk about things they wouldn’t normally discuss.

10. Long, boring speeches to provide information to the reader.  Show versus tell applies to dialogue as well as narrative.  Having a character tell something is still telling.

11. Busywork (when a character answers the phone, don’t have them say, “Hello”, “How are you?” etc – jump into the meat of the conversation.

12. Making all characters sound alike (or worse, making all of the characters sound just like YOU).

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

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Plot Structure In Novels, by Kate Forsyth

Whenever I teach writing, I always spend quite a lot of time talking about plot structure.

This is because I think that it is nearly always the reason why a novel fails. A book can have engaging characters; a fast-paced, action-packed plot; and a fascinating setting, but still not quite work. This is nearly always because it has a weak structure.

Think of the structure as the framework of your novel, the internal architecture. It is like a human skeleton – invisible to the eye, yet the thing that stops it collapsing into jelly. Like the skeleton, it is made up of small parts, each linked one to the other, each doing their job to keep your novel working at full strength. The structure of a novel should fall into logical divisions, usually called scenes, chapters and sections.

A scene is an incident or event in a novel in which the action takes place continuously in a single place or time. Each scene should follow on logically from each other in a cause-and-effect chain.

A chapter is a division of the novel into regular parts, usually comprising one major scene, but sometimes combining several scenes.

A section is a collection of chapters, bound together by the point of view of the primary protagonist, by the place or time in which the action is set, or thematically.

In children’s and young adult fiction, the structure is usually more simple and linear than in an adult book, but this is a rule that can be broken. For example, The Puzzle Ring begins long after the adventure has ended, foreshadowing what will come.

Chapters aren’t just arbitrary rest breaks in a book. They should be carefully planned to control pace, to advance the plot and to work with the reader’s natural reading rhythms.

I usually aim for a chapter length between 1,500-2,000 for a children’s book (aged 8+), 2,500-3,000 words for young adults (aged 12+), and 3,500-4,000 words for an adult’s book (aged 16+). However, there is no rule – a chapter can be can a single word as in Frank McCourt’s final chapter of Angela’s Ashes: ‘’Tis”

I usually maintain a single point of view in a chapter. Sometimes I will move from head to head, particularly in the final climactic scenes when numerous characters may all be working toward the final denouement.

I will usually finish a chapter either at a point of high tension, i.e. some kind of cliffhanger, or at a moment of resolution. I call the first a ‘peak’ scene and the second a ‘trough’ scene. Having peaks and troughs varies the pace and rhythm of the book, and allows moments of rest before cranking up the intensity again.

I try to make sure each point of resolution occurs after half an hour’s reading for a child, and an hour’s reading for a young adult or adult.  This is so the reader can get off their bus and go to school or work, or turn off their light and go to bed. Most people read in this way. I know I do.

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

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Writing About Violence And Physical Harm In Novels, by April Henry

If you’re going to write mysteries, thrillers or even horror novels, you’ll need to decide how to approach writing about violence and physical harm.

There are at least three ways to approach it:

1. Slow it down. Each step makes it clear just how bad it is.

2. Make the readers fill in the blank. Their solutions are usually far more affecting than yours, because they will think of the things that frighten them the most.

3. Underplay it. Use short, simple declarative sentences. Think Hemingway.

A couple of years ago, I was running in Portland when I fell, cracking the bridge of my nose, and scraping my face, hands and knees. I knew it was bad when I saw the expression of two guys I waved down to ask for help.

Here are three ways to describe what happened.

Slow it down

“Running up 45th, April’s toe caught a crack in the sidewalk. The next thing she knew, she was in the air. Time slowed down, the way it did when you reached for a glass and knocked it over instead. She got her hands up in front of her as the sidewalk tilted at a crazy angle. Her palms skidded along the dirty concrete, but her momentum wasn’t slowed.

Oh no, she thought, not her face! – then there was the solid surprise of her nose meeting the unmoving sidewalk.

Still April fell. Her front teeth hit the concrete, wavered, decided to stay put.

Finally she was still, face down, unmoving on the cool Sunday morning.

Make the reader fill in the blank

One minute April was running, mentally writing her next blog entry. The next thing she knew she was flat on the sidewalk. Something was terribly wrong. Her face felt wet.

***

The woman standing by the side of the road was frantically waving her arms. At least Josh thought it was a woman. Her face. Jesus Christ, what had happened to her face?

Underplay the prose

She ran up the hill. It was a Sunday morning. Her thoughts were elsewhere.

The sidewalk had lifted at an expansion joint. Her toe caught the crack. She fell very hard. She lay on the cement. Maybe she was okay. It was just a fall. She started to move but something grated inside. Her mouth tasted like blood.

Next to her was a bush with white flowers. She stared at it. Her vision was growing dark at the edges. The bush would look good in her garden.

She closed her eyes and was still.

More examples of fill-in-the-blank

I think the fill-in-the-blank idea can be the most powerful of the three. Here are two examples, one short and one long:

Five miles up the road, he opened the window and threw out the first of Karen Reid’s teeth.

- The Intruders, Michael Marshall

She swam against the grain of the ocean, using a short and sharp stroke and a smooth kick.

She did not see the murky shape drifting toward her. It was more than half-submerged, and it had eyes. When she barged into it, the silent mass reared up.

Her scream was muted, most of it locked in her throat.

On the beach, her sons threw sand at each other and the man with the device unearthed a nickel. The lifeguard rearranged his legs in a way that the girls below could see the filled harness under his neon swim trunks. A stray cloud blotted some of the sun.

One of the boys pointed with his shovel. “Look at Mommy.”

- Widow’s Walk, Andrew Coburn

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

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Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels, by April Henry

Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the years about writing page-turners:

Act first, explain later

Many writers mistakenly think the reader needs to know all the backstory at the beginning of the novel. The problem with this approach is that it makes the real “now” of the story feel less important. Or writers think the reader will like the characters only if they spend a lot of time showing their normal, everyday lives. The problem with this is that the reader feels no urgency to continue. It’s much better if a novel starts on the day that everything changes.

Create a ticking clock

In a mystery or thriller this can be a literal bomb that the reader can’t stop worrying about. It could also be an ultimatum. Other ticking clocks could be the scheduled execution of an innocent man, the day the ship is supposed to land on Mars, the approaching prom, summer ending and the girl going off to college, the hurricane forecast to land in three days, or the lead actress for the big show coming down with mono leaving no one to play the part.

Play on common fears of readers

Common fears include: darkness, wild storms, something crawling on the skin, objects that cover other objects, a small sound when there should be silence, being alone, being helpless or unable to act, something under the bed, closed or partially open doors, hallways or tunnels that lead to the unknown, cramped spaces, basements, attics, heights, crowds, disease, death.

Give characters specific phobias

Give your characters phobias or fears – and then make them face those fears. Afraid of heights? The final confrontation should take place on a rooftop. Afraid of repeating the same terrible mistake? Give them the opportunity to get it right.

End each chapter with an unresolved issue

Have a character open a door, answer the phone, be confronted by someone with a gun, receive a mysterious letter, or make a decision not revealed immediately to the reader.

Cut filler

Look for passages that describe the weather, the landscape, the aftermath, travel, characters eating meals or drinking coffee, a character just sitting and thinking. Then cut them – or at least cut them back.

Hurt a main character

Hurt a main character early so the reader knows no one is off limits. Even better, kill the character – preferably a likable character. Readers will be on the edge of their seats, knowing that anything at all – even something very bad – could happen.

Make choices painful

Force the character to make a choice between two things she wants or to choose the lesser of two evils. Two loves. Two people to save (when only one can be). Addict/temptation. In a relationship/temptation. Maybe the main character knows brother will keep killing, but if she turns him in, he’ll go to death row.

Raise the stakes

Our main character was already nervous about singing in class, but now he has been asked to sing at the stadium. Or for a more mystery-related example, not only will someone die if our main character doesn’t catch the serial killer, but the next victim could be his girlfriend. Or it’s not just a child who will die – it’s a whole kindergarten! Ask yourself, “What could make it worse?” And then make it happen – even if you don’t know how your character will get out of it.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

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Writing Suspenseful Novels, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I endeavor to write page-turners.  I love a book that has me so absorbed I will stay up late to finish it, knowing I’ll be tired the next day. I love the tension, the high stakes, the furious pace that makes me deliciously dizzy and frantic all at once. I am forever in awe of writers who can write them, because even if the page-turner is often considered a “commercial” book rather than a “literary” one, there is a world of skill involved in creating one.

Not everybody can be Stephen King, but everybody can learn a few tricks writers use to make their books hard to put down. Here are a few I’ve accumulated along the way.

Judicious use of cliffhangers. If you examine a page-turner, you might find that every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. If the endings of your chapters are too “pat,” you give your reader a natural place to stop reading, and they might not be so eager to pick the book back up again. If you end a chapter with your protagonist in a death embrace with a giant squid, your reader will have no choice but to keep going.

Be succinct. In the history of the universe, there has never been a verbose page-turner. Use details, use setting, use dialogue, write beautifully, but waste no time on words you don’t need.

Let the reader know more than the characters know. If you have a sweet little waif walking up a hillside, and your reader has no idea there is a lecherous troll waiting for her behind a boulder, there isn’t much suspense there. If the reader knows that she’s walking into a trap, you’ve made the reading experience much more harrowing and a lot more fun.

Have consequences. You know how you kind of fall in love with your characters, and you think they’re really great people, and you’d buy them a cup of coffee and have a nice chat if they were real? And you know how you don’t want anything bad to happen to them? Betray them. Torture. Maim. Destroy. Page-turners don’t tend to be sweet little flouncing stories, unless you’re Jane Austen. If you can’t torture your beloveds, forget the page-turner and write a romance, which has its own attractions. Whatever you do, have your character solve his or her own problems. Nothing kills tension faster than a clunky Deus Ex Machina.

Don’t outline. Plenty of people will disagree, but I find when drafting I do better if I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen. Many times I have gotten to the end of the novel with no idea I was going to kill off a particular character. If you know everything that’s going to happen before you write it, you’ll miss the little breadcrumbs your subconscious is leaving for you about the surprises lurking in the forest. Follow the breadcrumbs. Be willing to stumble off your path, because if you surprise yourself, your reader will be surprised too.

Use the dramatic three act structure. This structure is a bit more involved than the simple ‘Exposition, Climax, Denouement’ we all learned in middle school. I’m leaving a more thorough discussion for my next post, but if you can’t wait, it’s available all over the web in myriad forms.

Perhaps some of you will have noticed other traits of the page-turner. Feel free to leave your ideas about it in the comments. And have fun with your writing!

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

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Beginning A Story: 10 Things To Consider, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

1. What does your character need or want?  Why does he or she need or want it?

2. What is the conflict?  What prevents your character from getting what they need or want?

3. What about your character’s personality is going to make it difficult to get what he they need or want?

4. How will your character grow?  What will they learn as a result of this journey?  Once your character learns this, will they be able to get what they want?

5. What point of view will best serve the story and why?

6. What tense makes the most sense for your story?

7. Don’t take the word “beginning” too literally.  Begin in the middle of things.

8. Avoid lengthy explanations as to how your character got to this point in their life.  Yes, your characters have a past, but that past will become evident through dialogue, action and the choices the characters make, not necessarily through lengthy explanation.

9. You need to hook the reader’s attention from the very beginning.

10. Have fun!  It’s okay not to know everything about your novel before you begin it.  Chances are you’ll discover plenty along the way.  Remember the old adage: “the art of writing is rewriting”.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little LiesDeadly Little GamesDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)     GenesisHappyface

Writing Teen Novels
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