Ok right, I acknowledge this blog post may or may not have bloomed from a guilty conscience. I quit my full-time job last year and exchanged it for a part-time job so I could have more time to focus on my writing and figure out what I want to do with my life. It has been a year since then and it has arguably been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I spend more time with everyone I love, and now I actually have a work-life balance (whereas before, I spent over 12 hours out of the house each day). BUT. I still haven’t finished my novel. When I realised this, I chastised myself – what on earth have I been doing this past year, because I clearly haven’t spent enough time writing. If I had, I would be finished by now, surely?
That may be partly true. These past two years, I have let weeks or even months slip by without so much as looking at my novel. I’ve been through the waves of self-doubt that every writer goes through and I just needed a break from it all, and that’s fine. But when I really think about it, although I haven’t been writing solidly this past year, I have still been working towards my goals indirectly, and that’s OK. Every little writing or reading-related thing you do will get you closer to the end goal of completing your novel. Chances are, if you’ve ‘wasted’ time on writing blogs or even watching Netflix (perhaps not excessively though…), you’ve picked up some form of useful advice or tip. Did you ever think that perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because it’s simply not ready to be? You COULD have cranked it out in several months and called it a day but you haven’t because you know it can be better. And that’s awesome!
To further clarify, perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because you’ve spent time:
Learning the craft of writing
Some people may be able to crank out their first book in a year, but chances are if you’re new to this whole writing thing, it’s unlikely. Let’s take a look at new artists. They won’t be creating Picasso-successful paintings in their first year of painting. In fact, they may throw away or abandon 99% of their work. That’s fine. They are still practicing, learning which brush-strokes to use to achieve certain effects, or what colours to mix together to get that perfect skin-shade. It’s the same for writers. I mean, you have the added bonus of knowing how to speak, hence you already have the foundations and building blocks, but until you research how to structure stories, build characters, write dialogue, and set scenes (and that’s just a small snippet), you won’t be able to write a complete, well-rounded and successful novel.
The longer you spend on honing your craft the better it will be.
Letting your work sit and getting distance from it
This is so important. When writing your first novel you may get sucked into the excitement of it all, chuck in every story idea you’ve ever had and thought it was the best thing ever. Who cares that there are no capital letters, the dialogue is stilted and you almost always tell not show? It’s finished right? Wrong. It is not finished, and chances are if you’ve let your WIP sit for a while you’ve realised this. You may feel somewhat deflated that your ‘completed’ novel is a half done mess, but that’s the first step in making it better. If you had just sent it out to agents you may have been inundated with rejection slips, which would have put you off writing altogether. By letting your work sit, you have gained enough distance from it to objectively understand what is wrong with it, thus are in a good position to improve it going forward. Yay, you!
Getting to know your characters
In the first draft, unless you’ve been ruminating over this character for several years, you won’t know the character as well as you should, which is fine as he/she may have changed in ways you didn’t expect as you wrote your novel. By spending time on your novel and not rushing it, you can really get inside your character’s head and get to know them properly.
Finding your writing weaknesses and remedying them
As you write more and learn the craft, you will be constantly identifying where you need to improve and hopefully remedying these areas by actively searching for the answers, be that in a writing craft book or on Google. As much as new writers may not want to hear it, you WILL get better with time (me included) and that first pass at a novel will be so much better in a couple of months or even years when you’ve understood where exactly you need to improve your writing skills.
Finding plot weaknesses and remedying them
As above. Not only will every writer have weaknesses in writing style but they will also have weaknesses in plotting. Spending time fixing these will only be of benefit.
Dabbling in other writing forms
Maybe you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been playing around with writing short stories or even poetry. Any writer will tell you that perfecting the art of the short story will give you invaluable insight into story form, structure, character development and theme among other things such as dialogue and foreshadowing. Getting short stories completed, edited and polished is good practice when it comes to your much longer novel.
Now hear me out. If you’ve spent 11 months of the past year arsing around, then that’s unlikely to help you in the long run. If however, you’ve spent the last year reading books, reading writing-related blogs or magazines, listening to podcasts on the craft, Googling answers to your questions, or reading debut novel success stories, then that will all help you on your road to publication. Even watching the occasional Netflix documentary or series may give you inspiration for your story, an idea as to how to fix that plot hole, or even just highlight what makes an intriguing story. I recently answered a POV tense question which had been bugging me for weeks by listening to the always fabulous Writing Excuses podcast.
Blogging and getting yourself a platform
This is self-explanatory. Every writer is told that they need a ‘platform’ to reach out to their readers. By starting early, you will hopefully already have a readership so will be more likely to be signed up by an agent. Also, if you’re self-publishing, you may already have a couple of potential readers. Awesome!
Dedicating yourself to your book
Two years in and haven’t given up yet? You obviously think your novel is really good and enjoy writing it. A lot of people would have given up after two years but you haven’t and not only does that say something great about you as a person, it says something about your novel. You believe in it and if you believe in it enough to stick at it for several months, years or even decades then damn, it must be amazing.
Spending time away from your desk
As with any job, it’s important to leave work at work and home at home. Perhaps you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been too busy enjoying your life and spending time with the people you love. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I admit it’s ironic that this post was written as an escape from having to actually face my novel but this procrastination has served its purpose. I no longer feel guilty about not having my novel finished, and I really can see a massive improvement between my first (terrible) draft and my current one. I will now log off from blogging, put my butt in gear, and get writing!
Thanks so much for all your lovely comments RE part one of this blog post, it’s great to hear that my posts help not only me but others too, and I hope part two is as helpful and insightful as part one. Without further ado, let’s begin…
Overworked descriptions and cliche metaphors
I realise that overworked and cliche are two different things but keep an eye out for both, as they risk making your work look like the uninteresting ramblings of an amateur writer. To clarify:
“Hannah clumsily grabbed her red, ceramic, heavy mug and filled it to the brim with scalding, hot, brown coffee. It burnt her calloused, dry hands.”
Although this sentence is not horrendous, it’s a little too descriptive. One or two adjectives would have sufficed. See below.
“Hannah grabbed her mug and filled it to the brim with scalding coffee. It burnt her calloused hands.”
This one is self-explanatory but some examples of a cliche metaphor are:
– His eyes shone like diamonds
– Her rosy, red cheeks
– His deep, blue eyes
Accidental or thinly veiled racism/sexism/homophobia etc.
Sadly this is more common in novels than you may think. Of course, most of the time the author does not intend to offend, but it does happen. I have read a few reviews of a current popular novel where the readers felt that the only POC in the novel was represented badly (she was bitchy and homophobic with apparently no redeeming characteristics), so when creating characters, please be aware of the above.
Of course, only you, the writer, know your story world and its inhabitants, but it may be wise to consider whether or not your cast is representative of both ethnicity and gender, especially if it’s set in today’s modern world.
Watch out for outlandish developments
Every plot point and development needs to be a logical step up from what has happened before it. Even shocking plot twists or action scenes have a build up and have been ‘set up’ to some degree. Everything needs to be linked, or the result of something that precedes it, so try not to add in outlandish plot points just to ‘spice up’ your novel. I was recently reading (and enjoying) a novel where there was no mention of cannibals, until all of a sudden, just for a little bit of conflict, the protagonist was abducted and almost spit-roasted for dinner. It struck me as out of place, awfully random and to be honest, a bit stupid. All events in your novel are stitched together, so keep your eyes peeled for any random scenes or pointless developments.
Make sure your MC is actually participating in conversations
This may sound stupid but keep an eye out for this, especially if there are lots of characters. It’s all too easy to allow your protagonist to take a back seat and merely observe events and interactions. Make sure your MC is a driving force in the conversations – it’s easy (especially in first-person) to have the narrator pass thought or judgement on a situation in their head when it may be best if they were to make their judgment out loud to the other characters.
Is your main character somewhat likeable?
Don’t get me wrong, flawed protagonists are great, but your readers must want to root for them, so they have to have something going for them, even if that thing is pure grit or ruthlessness in gaining the story goal. They don’t need to be perfect or even nice, but at a basic level check that they aren’t (unless intentional), any of the following: racist, sexist, unnecessarily bitchy, unfairly jealous, whiny or homophobic).
Watch your use of nonsensical sentences
Of course, creatively writing is part of the fun, so go forth and use your imagination but read every sentence to make sure it does actually make sense. There’s no point trying too hard to be literary or whimsical if the meaning behind the sentence is lost to the reader.
Watch out for deep yet pointless conversations
A deep conversation is all well and good but if it randomly appears in your novel and doesn’t contribute to the overall goal or theme then cut it – it’s just fluff.
Don’t make your antagonist flat
No one is 100% evil, not even your villain. Evil for the sake of evil is something that comes up in a lot of negative book reviews, so make sure your book isn’t one of them. As well as this, don’t make your protagonist 100% good. No one likes a Mary Sue.
Another obvious point that is all too easy to overlook. Ensure consistency throughout. Some examples of things to look out for:
- The weather – if it’s snowing one minute, chances are it’s not going to be boiling hot the next.
- Character hair, eye colour, clothing or jewellery.
- Where your characters are in relation to one another as well as if they are sitting or standing. Also, which characters are actually in the scene.
- Time of day
- Spelling of names, places, and made up things.
The above is just the start. There are so many things (most of which will be unique to your novel) which you will need to keep a check on. For example, in a scene in my novel, my characters are wearing masks that cover their mouths. It would, therefore, be a bit stupid if I forgot this and described a character’s smile (because how the heck would you know if he was smiling or not?!). FYI this totally happened. Oops.
Do your research
If you’re representing a culture or a movement (think BDSM in 50 Shades) do your research so as not to offend those who are part of it. 50 Shades often has those involved in the BDSM movement complaining that it’s not accurate and is sexist etc. This also applies to different cultures – you don’t want to cause offense.
Your protagonist is hot-wiring a car? Check that the methods used are viable and correct (but don’t put your new-found knowledge to use!).
Do you have too much inner monologue?
This boils down to the whole show-don’t-tell thing (see part 1). If the protagonist is talking to himself and summarising what’s happening, would it be better and more engrossing to the reader if it was changed to action or dialogue? The answer may be no but it’s worth checking just to be sure.
Have you started in the correct place?
If your novel only picks up pace in the last 75% (like several books I’ve read recently) then consider starting the novel later. You don’t want your readers to give up before the good bit, so why not move the good bit forward.
Are your characters cardboard cut out or cliche?
Is your novel populated with dumb blondes, geeky redheads who look gorgeous when they take off their glasses, handsome square-jawed football players or brooding dark-haired Byronic heroes? If yes, consider changing it up a bit. As well as this, make sure your characters are multi-faceted. Why not give your star football player an interest in sewing, or make the seemingly dumb blonde an owner of a multi-million dollar company? Use your imagination and inject some uniqueness and life into your world.
And that’s it for now! Let me know what you think of the above in the comments!
This week I thought I’d write a blog post detailing some of the things to look out for when re-drafting and editing your novel. I’m currently at this stage in my own novel writing journey and it’s arguably the hardest stage so far – perhaps even worse than the dreaded first draft. I will be referring to this list continuously myself as I draft, re-draft and hone my novel and I hope it will be just as useful to you. I have split this post into two parts as it would have been a little bit too long to be one. Part two is now live and can be found here.
When writing dialogue, keep fancy dialogue tags to a minimum. There is nothing wrong with plain old ‘said’. Changing it up every now and then to add variation and drama is fine, but if your novel reads like:
Fix it, because it does get annoying. I recently stopped reading a novel 3 pages in because I just couldn’t get past the annoying use of tags.
Show don’t tell
Sorry to bring up the obvious – and you will have heard this numerous times – but it’s important, hence why it keeps cropping up. Show the reader your protagonist is distraught through body language, don’t tell them straight up that your protagonist is ‘sad’. Telling instead of showing distances the reader and this is the last thing you want to do.
Even worse than telling is over telling. If you’ve dedicated a whole paragraph to describing how your MC’s (main charactrer’s) love interest is sad, think about it – could this have been portrayed by describing her drooping shoulders or a flicker in her eyes?
Another obvious yet important point. Even the most well-crafted sentence or most beautifully-designed story world can be completely undermined by a single typo. It’s a sure-fire way to ensure both readers and agents stop reading immediately.
Keep an eye out for repetitive dialogue, imagery or word use. Also, check that you aren’t repeating something in dialogue that’s already been said via inner monologue and vice versa. As well as this, watch out that you don’t mention something unimportant more than once, as you risk bringing too much attention to it. The dad character is too busy on his mobile phone to pay attention to your protagonist? Great, mention the phone once and then leave it, don’t keep referring to it after every mention of the father.
Dialogue should be interesting and believable. Are your characters saying hello every time they meet? Cut it. Are they discussing something in unnecessary detail, purely for the sake of the reader? Cut it.
Example: If your MC and his mother are talking about that time when MC’s sister tried to kill herself, they wouldn’t discuss it like this, as they both already know the details of what happened.
“Mother, I don’t want to leave her because she tried to kill herself seven months ago by taking 20 packets of pain-killers.”
This exchange is being used purely to relay backstory to the reader and it shows. There’s no subtlety or intrigue and it’s just plain amateur. There has to be a better way to get the information across.
Also, make sure there is a point to every piece of dialogue included. Don’t include a rambling conversation between your protagonist and their next-door neighbour purely to set the scene, unless of course, the neighbour is an important element of the storyline.
The mirror scene
Ah, the good old ‘using a mirror to describe the appearance of the first-person protagonist’ trick. There is nothing inherently wrong with a mirror scene, but think carefully about having one and if you do, make sure it is interesting. I have one in my novel at the moment and I’m debating getting rid of it entirely. It’s a good device to use to describe your protagonist, but it’s done so often that it’s becoming a ‘trope’.
Cut lectures and long, preachy paragraphs
A well-written novel will have substance and morals, but these will be weaved subtly throughout and won’t be force-fed down the reader’s throat. Avoid sounding preachy by cutting down (or even cutting out completely) long paragraphs used purely to relay your opinions on certain divisive topics.
Cut the exclamation marks unless absolutely necessary
Pretentious, annoying names
Keep an eye out for these. Unique names are great, ridiculous ones are off-putting.
Do all your novel elements make sense together?
At risk of sounding mean and crass, if you’ve just dumped every interesting thought you’ve ever had into your novel, then chances are, it’s not structured or well thought out, and will only be interesting to you, and you alone. If you’ve got a load of cool but vaguely (if at all) stitched-together ideas, then perhaps you need to seriously think about your story structure. If you’re serious about publishing your novel once it’s done, perhaps take one of the interesting elements and play with that and cut anything that doesn’t fit with it.
Insta love – it’s a word that appears on Goodreads a lot. Some readers love it but most hate it. People don’t just fall in love in seconds or even days. Lust perhaps, but love, no. Build up the relationship believably before you plunge in with the L word.
Do you have too much backstory or exposition in one paragraph or even in one chapter? If so, consider drip feeding it instead. Also while you’re at it, think – do you really need a whole paragraph to describe something when in fact a single sentence would do just fine?
Are you giving things away too quickly?
I read a novel that did this quite recently. Basically, the novel was about a present-day female protagonist who was brought back in time to marry a lord in medieval Scotland. Sounds great, right? Wrong! Instead of joining the protagonist as she wakes up in medieval Scotland with no idea what had just happened to her, the readers are told within the first chapter what is about to happen to her via several paragraphs of clunky backstory. What could have been an intriguing, drip-fed premise had been laid bare in a single paragraph and explained in painful detail. Why should I read on when I already know what is going to happen?!
Characters referring to each other by name all the time
That’s not how we talk. Period.
Too much lengthy description about unimportant things
Yes, scene-setting is great but please don’t discuss your MC’s handbag through three paragraphs of detailed description if it’s not relevant to the plot.
If your twist comes out of nowhere, then you may need to go back and add in little hints as to what’s to come. Yes, it needs to be a surprise (it’s a twist after all) but it needs to also be believable. If all of a sudden your MC turns into a frog because of a curse you need to at some point discuss said curse beforehand, even if it’s just briefly.
And that’s it for part one. Now on to part two.
This blog post is a little bit different to usual and aims to inspire those of you who are on the lookout for new and interesting ideas for storylines. As we all know, it can be hard and frustrating to find inspiration especially if you are actively searching for it, so I’ve come up with a list of internet articles I’ve read recently that I believe would make fabulous starting points for those of you who are stuck.
I’ll keep it brief as it’s relatively easy to find said inspiration when you know where to look, and what to look for! The majority of these articles have come from the ‘BBC Futures’ website which I cannot recommend highly enough – its articles are full of thought-provoking ideas and questions which could form the basis of extremely unique storylines. I find the below links so interesting, that it took me a while to decide whether or not to share them on here, or keep them to myself (selfish, I know…).
Have fun exploring, and let me know any other articles you find in the comment box below…
1. An article about a tribe in Thailand, where the children can see underwater almost perfectly.
“When the tide came in, these kids started swimming. But not like I had seen before. They were more underwater than above water, they had their eyes wide open – they were like little dolphins.” – Quote from article
2. An article discussing the pros and cons of ‘designer babies’.
“The colloquial term “designer baby” refers to a baby whose genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics.” – wikipedia
3. An article exploring the notion of death, how we define it, and the fate of people whose brains have died but whose bodies continue to live
“Their hearts are still beating. They urinate. Their bodies don’t decompose and they are warm to the touch; their stomachs rumble, their wounds heal and their guts can digest food. They can have heart attacks, catch a fever and suffer from bedsores. They can blush and sweat – they can even have babies.
And yet, according to most legal definitions and the vast majority of doctors these patients are thoroughly, indisputably deceased.” – Quote from article
4. A theoretical discussion about what might happen if everyone in the world starting eating as a vegetarian
“Eliminating meat from our diets would bring a bounty of benefits to both our own health and the planet’s – but it could also harm millions of people.” – Quote from article
5. An article about a woman who is allergic to water
“Rachel’s rare condition means that a bath is agony; even her own tears will scorch her face. How can the human body reject life’s most basic necessity?” – Quote from Article
“It’s on your passport. It’s how criminals are identified in a line-up. It’s how you’re recognised by old friends on the street, even after years apart. Your face: it’s so tangled up with your identity, soon it may be all you need to unlock your smartphone, access your office or buy a house.” – Quote from article
7. An article about a man whose brain create false memories
“Due to an unusual illness, Matthew creates false memories that seem as vivid as the real thing. He’s had to learn to live with a past that is as uncertain as the future.” – Quote from article
8. An article exploring how people ‘live on’ after death through social media
“At some point, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones – and for those left behind, it is transforming how we experience the death of those around us.” – Quote from article
9. And finally, an article discussing “individualism” and “collectivism” in society
“Psychologists are uncovering the surprising influence of geography on our reasoning, behaviour, and sense of self.” – Quote from article
And that’s all for now! Let me know if you come across anything of interest!
As we all know, introducing varying levels of conflict throughout your novel is important, and to help you all out, I’ve written a quick list post detailing ways to add it into your novel. Although not all of the below will be relevant to your own writing, hopefully the list will help to highlight the many ways you can ramp up the tension in your novel, and will help you to come up with your own.
As you can see, conflict doesn’t have to come from a catastrophic event, and can be as seemingly insignificant as a stomach virus – perhaps your protagonist passed the virus onto her crush, who in turn, missed the prom.
A secret kiss
A lost object
A natural disaster
A specific rule or regulation
Rallying against those in charge
Head vs Heart
A bad omen
A breakdown (physical or mental)
A breakdown in communication
An animal attack
A revenge attack
A trip or a fall
A car accident
A parent enforcing the rules
Morality vs desire
A power cut
A broken down vehicle
A broken object
A missed train or bus
Feel free to add your own ideas into the comments!
1. Pinterest/writing prompt websites
2. Lines from songs
3. News stories
4. Moral dilemmas and ethical questions
5. Your personal opinions
6. From your dreams
This is how I came up with the idea for my novel. I woke up one day from a dream, with a vivid (and awesome!) image in my head. Of course, it wasn’t a fully formed novel (and I’m still not quite at that stage yet), but it provided a great starting point. This, combined with a sketch I doodled half-heartedly one day (see point 14), resulted in the creation of my story world.
7. From your daydreams
8. Netflix/films/TV shows/books
9. People watching
10. Interesting photos
11. Fairy tales
12. Driving/walking around
13. From personal experiences
And that’s all for today! I hope you find the above tips helpful, and let me know any of your favourite ways to get inspiration in the comments!