Writing Journal 70: My 3 Best Novel-Writing Tips

Writing Journal 70: My 3 Best Novel-Writing Tips

My writing journal for Tuesday, October 21, 2014. You can find all the writing journal entries here.

Today will be a short writing day. I have three meetings this morning. I’ll get my fiction and nonfiction ghostwriting commitments out of the way, then I’ll need to prepare for my meetings.

The mystery novel flows. Again. I manage another 2,400 words. I have no idea what’s going on. It may seem odd to quibble when a book’s going so well. However, it’s so unusual, that I can’t trust it. What if I suddenly realize that my sleuth is an idiot, and that a child could pick the murderer in the first chapter? Maybe I’ve just got to stop looking a gift horse in the mouth. :-)

Onward with nonfiction: 1,400 words.

With those out of the way, it’s time for Honey’s breakfast. She’s a good eater, but she’s also fussy. She prefers her meat without vegetables, and she’d eat kibble all day long – but it has to be her favorite brand. I eat my own breakfast, while skimming through email.

Then a short timer session on the holiday copywriting projects for my client, before I prepare for my meetings.

Back again: mid-afternoon

I’m back. The meetings ran long again, as they always seem to do.

It takes me a couple of hours to write up my notes from the meetings, and add the projects and tasks which emerged from them to my schedule for the next three months. This is the busiest time of the year for some of my clients – this means it’s a busy time for me too.

I’ll be subcontracting some of the projects, so I spend an hour on the phone, discussing briefs and schedules with my subcontractors. I make some notes for the briefs, and send them off.

Then I return phone calls, check clients’ blogs to make sure that scheduled posts have been published, and the working day is over.

With NaNoWriMo coming up in just over a week, readers have asked for some tips.

OK… :-)

My 3 best novel-writing tips

1. Summarize the story as soon as possible

Over the years, I’ve learned how to outline fiction. However, I’m still a pantser by nature. (That is, a person who wings the story, discovering it with the reader.)

Ideally, you’ll outline the bare bones of the story in a paragraph before you start writing.

Something like this:

newly married Sarah witnesses a murder. Her new husband is one of the killers. He threatens to murder her parents and sister if she talks. Sarah knows that her husband wants her dead. Can she escape him and bring him to justice?

That’s not enough to start writing. You need to know the kind of person Sarah is. Over the course of the story, Sarah will grow as a character, from ____ (fill in the blank) to _______ (fill in the blank.)

Once you’ve got that, you can go deeper into developing the characters and plot.

If you’re a real pantser, and your brain freezes when you try to outline, just start writing. I talked about story-starters here.

Big tip: even if you’re a pantser, outline as soon as you can. I’ve found that if I hit 10,000 words, without an outline in sight, the book’s going nowhere. This happened to me a lot in my early years, and dead-end stories are one of the reasons that I force myself to outline, whether I want to or not.

2. Keep writing! Think, right in the project

Once you start your novel, keep going. Write every day. And by WRITE, I mean exactly that. Start tapping the keyboard as soon as you sit down. Keep going, until your writing time runs out.

Talk to yourself about the novel as you’re writing, if the words won’t flow.

Something like this:

OK, now Sarah realizes that one of the men in the group is her husband Ben. How does she react? What’s her first thought? Maybe it’s disbelief — maybe she has to stop herself from calling his name. Etc.

Keep writing.

3. Watch your characters’ arcs: novels are about change

Novels are about people. We read fiction to learn more about ourselves, and others. So, your people are more important than the plot, and in fiction, your characters change. Try to get a handle on your characters as soon as you can.

If I decided to write the novel about Sarah and her murderous husband, I’d think about Sarah. What kind of person is she when the story starts? How does she change over the course of the novel?


Maybe Sarah is the baby in her family. She’s always been protected by her parents and older siblings. She’s never had to think for herself. She’s naive, in a word. Over the course of the novel, Sarah learns to think for herself. She’s much tougher than she ever imagined. How will we show Sarah changing? We need one incident to show naive Sarah early on, and then a similar incident at the end of the book, to show that Sarah’s experiences changed her. She’s tougher, and less trusting, She no longer takes people and situations at face value.

Hmmm…. Sarah’s growing on me. Maybe she’s a widow, with a six-year-old son. Ben’s he second husband, the polar opposite of her first. The child could make the story much more dramatic…

Enough. If I don’t stop now, I’ll end up outlining the novel. :-)

You don’t need to know all the details of a character’s arc. As long as you have an idea of the kind of person a character is at the start of your novel, and how the character ends up, you’re good to go.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, good luck. :-)

, and on Twitter: @angee.

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Author: Angela Booth

Copywriter Angela Booth's clients tell her she performs "word magic." Whether she's writing advertising materials, Web content, or ghostwriting for her clients, she's committed to helping them to achieve results, fast. Author of one of the first books about online business, Making The Internet Work For Your Business, Angela's written many business books which have been published by major publishers. She's an enthusiastic self-publisher and writing teacher.