The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” – Jane Austen
Writing a novel can give the author as much pleasure as reading one. Yet, like any other creative form, it takes an incredible amount of time and dedication to see an entire novel through. As an aspiring novelist, you’ll find that there’s an abundance of information and advice available – but sometimes this gets a little overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together some starting points and tips for writing novels:
The First Chapter
The importance of the first chapter cannot be stressed enough. When submitting your novel to publishers and editors, in all likelihood, you’ll only be submitting the first chapter or two. These must be enough to hook the editor, and impress them enough to want to read your entire manuscript. Readers pick up a book for different reasons. If at first they are attracted by the cover or interested in the blurb, some will open to the first page and see if they like what they read. Since the opening chapter is the one most likely to sell your novel to your readers and to an editor/publisher, it’s arguably the most important chapter in your novel.
That being said, don’t let the significance of the first chapter hinder your writing process – especially in the early stages. It is all too easy to get caught up in writing the perfect opening chapter, leaving the rest of your novel hanging. Accept that what you’re writing is a first draft – a very rough first draft. If you’re serious about your career as a novelist, your first chapter will be rewritten and edited before it sits before any publisher or editor. Recognising the importance of the first chapter is crucial, and so is spending the time to revise it as much as possible.
Make Your Novel Novel
There are no original ideas. There are only original people.” – Barbara Grizzuri Harrison
According to one school of thought, everything ever written has been or is based on seven basic plot types: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. This concept claims that there are no original stories – that everything fits into one or more of these ‘plot types’. Whether you believe your novel fits in with these conventions or not, make sure your manuscript offers an original spin on these ideas. Remember that you can be inventive with every element of a novel: style, plot, voice etc.
Writing advice is everywhere – the library, the internet, the bookshelf in your lounge room. But not all advice is good advice and not all advice will work for you. The most important thing is to make your novel novel. Editors are looking for something different, something special. They don’t want to read the same story over and over. They don’t want a manuscript that follows the trends. Make your writing your own and if it means breaking a few rules, it might make all the difference when your manuscript appears on an editor’s desk.
Beginning, Middle and End
As early as grade one, we learn to give a narrative a beginning, a middle and an end. The same rules apply when you start writing a novel. This doesn’t mean the plot has to be chronological, nor does it mean that your novel should be divided into three distinct sections. It simply means that your story must progress from a distinguishable opening point and build towards an exciting conclusion. This is the like the chassis of a vehicle, the skeleton of your plot. Of course, it is important to open strongly, but make sure your plot continues to grow, especially in the middle section. You mustn’t allow your story to sag – or you risk disappointing your readers.
A car might be teetering on the edge of a cliff. Your hero might be swept overboard, plummeting towards the ocean with a ball and chain strapped to their ankle. Your hero might be on their knee, waiting expectantly for an answer to their proposal of marriage.
What happens next? Will the car tilt too far? Will your hero escape in time? Will your hero’s partner say yes? Do not give your readers the answers straight away! Leave them hanging, suspended, seething impatiently. Make them turn to the next page to find out what they want to know. This is critical to the success of a novel. If your readers don’t care what happens next, they might throw your book onto the coffee table and forget about it. Make sure they are kept in suspense, especially at the end of a chapter. And then, when all is about to be revealed, make them wait again.
Don’t Give Up
You know the feeling – an incredible idea sparks in your mind and you’re just dying to get it down on paper. You might draw up a plan for the plot or write a character profile for your hero. You write a few paragraphs, maybe a few pages. This could be the beginning of something special! Then, suddenly, the spark just disappears.
Do not stop writing! Persistence and determination is the key. Novels can take years to write and the chances are you’ll want to give up a thousand times before you type ‘the end’. Find ways to keep writing. You might finish a chapter or a page each day. You might need to jump ahead and delve into a scene you just can’t wait to write. If you think something is not working, you’re probably right. Change it so that it does work, then keep going. Whatever your course of action may be, don’t give up – the final product is worth the effort.