Articles about how to write a novel
Character Voice is as difficult to pin down as it is critical.
Plenty of writing advice resources talk about the importance of your main characters each having a unique voice, but how do you achieve that?
The main problem is that all of those characters are essentially coming from the same mind – yours – so you need to find ways to ensure your personal characteristics, speech patterns and nuances don’t all bleed into your characters.Read More »
What is it you fear most as you sit in front of a blank screen? Perhaps the fear of rejection holds you back from putting words on paper. You know your work is likely to get rejected by publishers and agents because the experience of others told you to expect it.
Maybe you fear humiliation. Putting yourself out there on paper opens you up to all kinds of criticism and ridicule. It's really hard to be vulnerable in your writing because the critics' sting hurts that much more.Read More »
What is it about a great story that keeps you turning the pages? Think of the last book you devoured in one sitting. What kept you so engrossed you had to stay up until 4am to finish it?
For those of us who sit bleary-eyed in front of a computer because we couldn't put a good book down last night, we stumbled across an author who knows how to raise the stakes.
And the higher the stakes, the better—am I right?Read More »
Do you always check your work for repeated or overused words or phrases? I know I don't. Sometimes I can be so close to my writing that I don't notice when I've used a certain word too many times in the space of 3 or so paragraphs. In my mind, it sounds natural.Read More »
Bored by your own writing? You could be suffering from the toll of ignoring your best ideas. ‘But why on earth would I ignore an idea if it’s good?’, you’re wondering. The answer is that you probably don’t even know you’re doing it.Read More »
Your antagonist can make the difference between a ho-hum novel and a break-out one.
A fully realized villain is someone who shows us parts of ourselves in his or her makeup. If you can connect in some human way with the antagonist, it's going to bring up all kinds of tension for readers.Read More »
When a student wrote to Roald Dahl in 1980 asking for help on his thesis, he received this rather curt letter in reply. We think it's wonderful.Read More »
I recently came across a book by James Scott Bell that lays out an interesting premise about something he calls the 'mirror moment'.
Bell's theory is that there is a single moment in the middle of the story where the main character takes a "long, hard look at himself (as in a mirror). He asks, Who am I? What have I become? Who am I supposed to be?"
Bell says if you can nail that moment, everything that comes before and after it will have more depth and resonance.Read More »
Sometimes as I sit at my desk in a remote corner of the house, writing my soul out on the page, I need the company of other writers. Someone who understands how I can both crave and loathe this quiet aloneness. When it's 2am, and I'm working feverishly to meet a deadline or trying to make sense out of the jumble of ideas in my brain, I need community.Read More »
Margaret Atwood recently wrote an essay titled "Margaret Atwood on What The Handmaid's Tale Means in the Age of Trump" that caught my eye. There has been a swarm of interest around the book thanks to the upcoming series on Hulu, but I have to admit that I was curious to see if her political views matched mine.
What I found most compelling in the article, however, is how she talked about stretching herself outside her genre when she wrote The Handmaid's Tale:
- "It seemed to me a risky venture. I’d read extensively in science fiction, speculative fiction, utopias and dystopias ever since my high school years in the 1950s, but I’d never written such a book. Was I up to it? The form was strewn with pitfalls, among them a tendency to sermonize, a veering into allegory and a lack of plausibility. If I was to create an imaginary garden I wanted the toads in it to be real."
It was during a Guardian webchat last year that one of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, offered no-nonsense words of advice to an aspiring writer that rather stopped me in my tracks. The commenter had asked how he, a middle-aged white man, should go about writing the story of a young Bengali girl, who belonged to a culture that he readily admitted was alien to his own. Chimamanda invited him to re-examine his motivation to write about something so unfamiliar and seemed to endorse the age-old adage that you should write what you know.Read More »
When you’re starting a new story, determining POV is a very important choice. Writing from multiple POVs can be frustrating and confusing for readers if it’s not handled well, so you need to have a very good reason for using multiple POVs in your story.
That said, here are a few tips on how to craft a story using multiple POVs:Read More »
Researching can be fun. No, seriously. If you're writing about a new topic for a blog post or an interesting subject for a work of fiction, it's the details that help your writing ring true.
Some experts say you can't do too much research if you want your prose to be believable. There is a point, however, that research becomes a way to procrastinate the actual writing itself.Read More »
Have you ever been so engrossed in a book that if the ending isn't strong and doesn't resolve all the plot threads, you're disappointed in the whole book? I once read a novel with a deeply engaging main character I really connected with. She struggled and overcame and struggled and overcame. And at the very end of the book, the author killed her. WHAT? It's the only time I've ever thrown a book. And I refused to read anything more by that author.
You know how important it is to hook your reader from the very beginning. It's why you start in the middle of the action, plunging your reader right in so they get caught up in the excitement.
Your ending is as important…if not more.Read More »
Authors often discuss how reading improves your writing. However, there’s a big difference between passive and active reading, and if you’re serious about using published novels to improve your writing you must learn how to do the later.
When you read passively, you consuming a novel as entertainment – you’re trawling through without paying attention to detail. This lets you form a broad judgement (“this is great!”).
By contrast, active reading involves specific focus on an author’s craft. It is to passive reading what fly-fishing is to trawling. Active reading encourages your judgement to be precise (“this is great because the chapter endings created lots of suspense!”).Read More »
Theme is not your character arc, nor is it the plot or what happens to your character. It's actually the essence that ties those two together. If someone asks you "what is your book about?" you don't respond with scene-by-scene detail, or the changes your character goes through.
You think of your character and what essential thing she or he comes to understand through the course of the book.
If you can't do that, you don't have a firm grasp on your story's theme.Read More »
Kurt Vonnegut, author of such classics as Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions, stands today as one of the 20th century’s most important American writers. I can’t think of anyone better placed to give literary advice, and, thankfully, he agreed with me.
These eight tips were originally written by Vonnegut to apply exclusively to writers of short stories, but I reckon they’re just as useful for writers of longer fiction.Read More »
The founders of Writers Helping Writers have created an innovative platform for writers to boost their creativity and enhance their skill set: One Stop For Writers. The creators call it the "library," and it's complete with an "Information Desk," "Thesaurus," "The Stacks," and more.
Whether this is your first rodeo and you need some entry level writing help, or you're an old hand and just want a fun way to plan your novel, One Stop For Writers has scads of resources, templates, online tools, and lessons to help you write the best novel yet.
We're going to cover just the highlights because it can take you days of roaming around the "library" to see and experience everything.Read More »
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