How to start a novel.

Photo Credit

Jodi Dee

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How do you get started on a new project?

Me personally, I like to plot things out. Yeah, I’m a plotter. I have researched all manners of ways of plotting out a novel and kind of mashed them together and made my own.

So here is my process.

  1. Get Idea – Light Bulb Moment – Flash of Inspiration – Or, maybe, just a question you had.
  2. Write it down. I’m not kidding. I can’t tell you how many times I would get an idea that I was so sure I would remember. Yeah, no. Write it down.
  3. Put it away. I mean it. Don’t look at it. Leave it alone.
  4. In about a week, look at it again. Is it still as good as you thought it was when you first got it? Can you expand on it? Will it carry a full story? Yeah, sweet, let’s get started.

Ok, so we have the idea, you wrote it down (I hope), you let it sit for a while, and now you have decided that it’s still as great as when you first thought of it and you’re dying to get started. If you’re a pantster, you’re likely to sit down and just start writing, and if that works for you, great.

But, if you’re a plotter, you need a little more before you get started. Where do I start? My Main Character.

I start asking him/her (usually her) questions. Where is she? What does she like? What does she hate? What scares her? What is she good at?

Yes, I have full blown conversations with my protagonist. No, you’re not crazy, and yes, they do talk back. Once I have a good feel for her, her answers have usually already told me what time period we’re in by the way she speaks, I can hear her voice, and I can tell her age. That’s a good place to start.

Now, if you know your protagonists fears and what scares them, there’s your conflict. How will they over come them?

Are they scared of the dark? Why? Is there a monster hiding just behind the shadows that they can’t see? Use these. And then you will get your overall plot.

For example:

As I was writing this I have a FMC that’s sitting in the back of my head driving me crazy. She wants out. She is afraid of not passing her chem final. If she doesn’t, her grade will drop and she will lose her scholarship. If she loses her scholarship, she will be kicked out of the private school she attends. If she is kicked out of the private school she attends she will have to move back to her aunts house. And Sandra will have won, finally getting her out of school making her valedictorian.

I have my protagonist, I have my conflict, and I have a very rough idea for the antagonist.

Now, this wasn’t a great example, but you can see where I’m going with this. Write it all down. And keep expanding on it. Your plotting and outline can be as short or as long as you want it to be. Some writers like to do a minimal outline, only a brief synopsis of what each chapter needs to move the story forward towards the ending. Some writers like to outline their chapters and each scene so they always know where the story is going.

There is no one way to do it. There is no right and wrong way. It’s what works for you. What gets your fingers moving to get that story down. My outlines tend to be a few pages long with a lot of details, but that works for me. It may not work for you, and that’s ok!

If you have never tried to plot our your story and you find yourself getting stuck or writing yourself into a corner, try plotting and see if it helps. If you’re a plotter but find yourself uninspired, try pantsing it for a while and see what comes out.

 

On Critiquing

Ok, it’s something we all need as writers. We need to give, as well as get critiques on our writing. And when I say critiques, I’m not talking about your spouse/partner/family reading it and telling you how much they love it. Sure, that can be a good boost, but that’s not what you need.

You need another writer. Someone who knows about structure, plotting, voice. Someone who is focused on the elements of a story that really make it sing. Someone who can call you to the mat and tell you something sucks isn’t working. But with telling you something isn’t working, they offer helpful advise and suggestions.

While your critique partner should never be mean to just be mean, and if they are stop swapping with them; Your critique partner should also not be afraid they will hurt your feelings. As writers we must always strive for better. A better scene, a better description, a better dialog exchange. An honest critique will help you get there.

Here is an example of a very good critique I got:

I like your use of descriptive words here, but I think changing them around a bit will help the flow of the sentence structure. Also, try an avoid cliches, you have a few in this paragraph. Cut them, and see what happens. Does it stop the scene in it’s tracks, or does the scene keep moving forward. Never be afraid to cut something if it’s not working. And right now, I don’t think it is.

Here is an example of a critique that’s nice, but not very helpful:

You did a good job here. I would change a few things, maybe move some things around.

And finally, here is an example of a completely unhelpful critique:

Nice. I liked it.

Now, which one do you think will help me grow as a writer and craft a better story? The first one right? Right. The second was good, it did let me know that there was obviously something wrong and that I needed to look closer at it, and the third, well while it’s nice to get compliments, if that’s all you have to say in a critique it’s not very helpful.

I haven’t gotten any like the third, but I have seen them before. So, when you are giving critiques, while you should be mindful of your word choices, you should never worry about hurting the writers feelings. If you are giving an honest critique with helpful advice, trust me, the writer is not going to string you up. We really do want those kinds of critiques. Not our egos stroked.

And, if you are getting critiques, don’t ever take them personally. They are not critiquing you as a person. They are critiquing the story and the way it is being told, and they honestly are trying to help.

 

Top 3 issues you might face when returning to Writing

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So starting a blog is the easy part. But figuring out what to write about, yeah, not so much on the easy scale.

I have been racking my brain on what in the world I could share after my first post, and then it hit me. I could talk about what it’s like and the feelings of jumping back in after not writing for a while.

So here we go, my experience thus far:

  1. Fear: Yep, fear. Afraid I couldn’t write anymore. Afraid the imagination I once had and all ideas would be gone. Afraid that anything that I managed to get out would be chock for of garbage.

Well guess what, it’s not that bad. Honestly. I think I was in my head too much which kept me from starting sooner. If your currently afraid to start working on that story you’ve had in your head, just sit down and do it. Push that negative voice aside and just start typing, or writing, or lyrical dance it out, just get it out. The fear will go away as you continue.

Yeah, sure, my first draft may be complete sh**, but that’s what revisions are for. The first draft is for me, and you too. Just get it out and on paper.

Even if your first sentence is: I have no idea what I’m doing everything sucks I have no ideas this idea isn’t good enough maybe I should just stop now but if I stop now I will never finish this thing and I really want to finish this I really want to write this and I will write this I can do this and here we go.

And so on.

Once you start writing, and you get into a rhythm, you will find that fear slowly goes away. At least it did for me. Now, what happens after the fear?

  1. Excitement: Excitement over writing. Excitement for the story and the characters you’re working on. Excitement for the idea that THIS. MAY. BE. THE. ONE. And excitement to see what others think. But slow down, are you even done with it yet? How many chapters do you have? It’s not ready for other peoples eyes yet.

After excitement comes…. Bum bum buuuum….

  1. Procrastination: Yep, you’ve reached the middle. And you’re bored. You’re sick of your story and you’re wondering why you even started it when that new shiny story over there is begging to be written. So what do you do? Well, I’ve found myself stumbling here more and more often. I wind up at places like Pinterest and Facebook, and now here. But you have to push through this. You have to keep going. Finish that story. As you get closer to the end, the excitement comes back.

You’ve Finished! YAY! Now what? You revise. And Revise, and revise some more. Oh what, you thought you were done? Nope, revise again. Polish that story until it shines like a silver dollar.

Now you’re ready for others to see it. Now you’re ready to start querying. If that’s the route you’re going. Now you have a fully completed, polished story and you have successfully finished writing a book. Congratulations!

Seriously, that’s hard work. That’s awesome. Go have a drink. Reward yourself.

Welcome!

Hi, and Welcome! To what is my very first blog post. Thank you for stopping by. My plan when I first decided to start this was to just document my journey through writing and (hopefully) getting published. But then I thought, maybe I could help other young writers along their journey as well. So here we are.

I plan on sharing my ups, my downs, my bumps in the road, and a few pieces of writing advice I’ve picked up along the way. If I can help anyone, like I’ve been helped, I want to do it.

I want to first say, I am no expert on writing, by any stretch of the imagination. No where near it. But I’m learning every day. I know that I have been writing short stories, novels, and poems since probably 3rd grade. So I know a little something.

I am also, not currently published or agented. Though one day I certainly hope to be. Though throughout the years my writing was always just that, for me, it’s something I have never been able to shake.

I once thought along the way I wanted to be a journalist, because, writing. But the facts and not writing what I wanted really got me down. Boo. So I shifted, and thought maybe I could just be satisfied with writing and no one ever seeing it. But…. That was not what I wanted.

I’m going to be honest here, I know a lot of people, and other writers will say, write for you first and never expect to be published or anyone to ever see it. And that’s fine and good if they believe that to be true for themselves. But that’s not me. I have always, always, always wanted to be able to walk into a bookstore and find a book with my name as the Author.

Will that be easy? No, no way, no bueno.

I know it will be hard, and I know it may or may not happen. I know that there are writers out there who have been writing for years and have never gotten an agent or a publishing contract. But I’m not going to let that discourage me, and you shouldn’t either.

While writing for just yourself is noble and could help you keep your sanity, at least be honest with yourself. Me, I am writing to be published.

(Please hold off on the name calling and tomato throwing, seriously)

I’m writing to be published, and ideally, I would like it to be traditionally. I do not care if it takes me 1, 10, or 50 years. That is my goal. I will write, every day, and revise, and critique, and get critiques, and beta readers, and polish, and query. Until all avenues of traditional publishing are shut to me. (Really hoping that doesn’t happen.)

So if you’re like me, and you have that end goal in mind, welcome to the club! We can take this road together.