5 Things I Learned While Writing My First Novel

14 Dec

So today I’ve decided to talk about writing instead of doing a tutorial (don’t worry, there will be plenty of tutorials in the future). I’m not, by any means, a professional writer, and my novel hasn’t been published yet as it’s still in the editing process. On that note, it’s totally up to you whether you want to take any of what I have to say into account. This is just my experience, and chances are I’ll post about my novels fairly regularly, anyway.

Timelines are Key

Okay, so the first thing I learned while writing my debut novel was that you have to keep a timeline of events for the story. I primarily write fiction, so the dates or time period were obviously up to me, but when I started writing scenes I didn’t really have a clear idea of how long the story would be. I had some ideas in my head and just began writing from the beginning without a plan for how it would all end. This is not a good idea unless you’re writing a really short story. My novel was never supposed to become a published book, so I wrote it the way I used to write all of my stories – I’d write the parts that were in my head and needed to be on the paper, and I’d move on to something else.

I found that after writing 100 pages, I was lost in the story, and when it came time to talk about the season (as it plays a big role in setting the scene for certain parts of the story), I couldn’t remember what time of year it was. That’s when I pulled out one of my trusty notebooks and read what I had written, start to finish, taking lots of notes. Trust me, this is not something you want to do. I highly recommend keeping even just a loose timeline of events on hand at all times while working on your own stories so you can keep track of when everything is happening.

What are you writing about?

And while we’re on the topic of planning: before you start writing, know what you’re going to write about. If you have several stories inside of you waiting to burst out, take a separate piece of paper for each and start brainstorming. Write down whatever comes to mind, and I’m sure you will decide which one to continue writing. When you do decide, take some time to work out your plot. This will help you to no end, and yet a lot of people begin writing without a clear sense of where they’re going. The most important things to know before writing: beginning and end. And middle, but the middle tends to change a lot as you’re writing and you think of better scenarios. It’s even better if you have some scenes in your head already. Because I never actually planned on finishing my novel, it began as a jumbled mess of random scenes on lined paper and in random notebooks.

Bonus tip: If you have a million things you’d like to write, maybe it’s best to split those things between stories instead of trying to write all of your awesome ideas in one epic novel. Keep it simple whenever possible so you don’t fry the reader’s brain with dozens of concepts all at once.

Who are they?

My third piece of advice for you is this: Know your characters. I cannot stress this enough! You don’t need a full biography of every single person who makes an appearance in your story, but you should have a good sense of who your main and supporting characters are. There’s nothing worse than writing a scene and not knowing what a certain person would be doing or how that person would react to a certain situation. I always sit down and write a full page (or more) about each of the characters who will be key to the story’s plot. I write full descriptions of how they look, where they are from, how old they are, what type of personality they have, etc. Usually I’ll even draw a full character sketch so I can look at the drawing and see who I’m writing about or for, but this is probably a little overkill for some people. I just like to see a physical representation of the people so I don’t have to constantly imagine them in my head (I know, I know, that’s what descriptions are for, but it’s easier to look at a picture than to re-read your notes).

Just to give you an example of how I work, below is a character sketch of someone who appears in that first book. It’s recent and was done to finally get a decent look at him in a form other than my usual anime.

Julian from Guardians

The main thing is that you know your character well enough to make the narrative convincing. The whole point of story-telling is to make the reader feel like they are a part of it, and if you don’t know who your protagonists are as people, neither will your audience, which will make it harder for them to become immersed in the drama.

Why are you writing about them, anyway?

Okay, this one ties in with the second tip, but I think it deserves more than a quick sentence. You have to know why you are writing your story. Are you just trying to get something published? Does it have some deeper meaning, or is it just a superficial spewing of words? This is something I didn’t have planned from the beginning. Not at all, actually. Again, this is because I never planned on publishing this book. The deeper meaning of my story came to me when I was half way through the first draft, and knowing what that meaning was, I could finally include some details to help make the narrative more interesting.

You don’t have to know the moral behind it before starting your story, but it’s a good idea to figure it out as soon as possible. It will help you from floundering about when you’re trying to add the finer details. (I deleted countless pages of nonsense when I finally realized why I was writing. Hours and hours of wasted work because I couldn’t decide what I was doing.)

Write the way that’s best for you

Okay, so this may not be everyone’s style. In fact, I don’t know anyone else who does this, but maybe that’s just me. I have always written my stories out of sequence. Sometimes I’ll start at the beginning when I know how I want the book to start, but generally I just start writing scenes. I could be in the middle of doing dishes, a shift at one of my jobs, making a dress for a customer, or whatever, and when the scene for a new story pops into my head, I pretty much drop everything and just write it down in short form to get it on paper. (This is mostly for my own sanity so I can get back to what I was distracted from in the first place.) When I get some time to sit and write it out properly, I could end up typing thousands of words in one sitting, and it’s almost never in order.

For my first full novel, I wrote scenes on random pieces of paper and in notebooks scattered all over my house, and this went on for about two years before I decided to put them all together in one story. Many of the scenes never made it into the book because they didn’t work, but for the most part, it worked out perfectly, and all I needed was some filler and to tie it all together into one grand scheme. Not to say that it didn’t need a lot of editing, but this was the easiest way for me to write the story. And so far, it’s working really well for the second installment for the series as well.

It may not work for you, and that’s fine. The moral of this story being that you have to do what’s best for you. If you would rather start at the beginning and end at the end, then do that. If you want to know the details of your ending before starting the rest of the story, then do that. Writing everything out of sequence in small chunks just works best for me.

Alright, so these are just a few things I learned in the process of writing Guardians, but there was plenty more. Maybe I’ll write another post about the rest of what I learned in the future, but I think for now, 1500 words is long enough. I’d love to hear how you do things and if any of the above tips helped at all, so leave a comment if you feel obliged to do so and let me know!

*PS, if you’re curious, I’m planning on releasing my first novel (Guardians) in summer 2013. Don’t expect anything perfect, I’m far from a professional writer, but I’ll do my best to impress.


3 Responses to “5 Things I Learned While Writing My First Novel”

  1. Gwen December 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Gorgeous sketch!


  1. I’m Back! « Creating a Mess - January 30, 2013

    […] is also from the book series I’m working on. I shared his character sketch (portrait) in my 5 Things I Learned While Writing My First Novel […]

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