This series is the most relatable you can find on interesting topics written by a six footer. They’re how to essays for beginners written by a beginner. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, doctors start out in kindergarten, and long hair starts out short. Some expert how-to writers write like their readers are fellow experts because it’s been ages since they were beginners. I’m a beginner now, like you, so this is between us - beginner to beginner.
Today I’ll teach you how to write an unpublished first novel. It takes a few novels for you to become publishable, unless you’re one of the gifted few. I read a dozen novel writing related books and wrote two unpublished novels. I’ll focus on my first novel experience, which I researched well and wrote morning after morning, before the sun rose. I revised it several times, which you may wonder, “If it was researched so well, why did you revise it so many times?”
First novels tend to be autobiographical, and I wanted to have an original story, not similar to my own experiences. All your friends, relatives, hobbies, favorite subjects, businesses, and locations you’ve been to, pour into your novel and you think everyone will be interested in it, because you are. If you can tie all that in, then good for you. What I did was get all those passions out of my system knowing that the work I was doing was making me a better writer for next time. So, my next one was a pure fictional delight for me, a complete journey through my imagination.
Let’s check something right now, do you have an idea? If you do that’s great, go for that one. It’s nice to be a good writer, but if you don’t have an idea, that’s like reserving a fine dining restaurant for Valentines day, without having a date. If you need a topic, the usual sources are newspapers and internet, which is also good for research. They say write what you know, because you have a wealth of things to say. And there’s always someone who disagrees with everything and will say, “Write something new to you so you can learn new things.” What matters is you write every day, for the simple reason most how to write novels writers say, “You want to be a writer now - now write.”
Every activity worth doing well requires you do it every day. Your talent needs it and your brain adapts to it. When you’re a toddler, daily practice is how you learned to speak, and you repeated the alphabet as a little kid. Story telling requires practice too. It’s natural to want to get so good at a hobby that you’ll be a professional and famous at it. It’s that level that requires daily practice. So write everyday at the same time, to get it done – don’t procrastinate. A little every day will eventually get it finished, not by writing it in a couple of marathon sessions.
So those are some things you need to do and habits to have to know you can finish a novel. But how do you learn to write one from this essay in one reading? Let’s attempt that. Write it in parts: beginning, middle, and end. Start with developing your main and supporting characters by showing what they’re like by describing how they look, speak, and what they do. Show these gradually, pace them. Mention what others say about them. Show their personality through dialogue Your character descriptions show how they react to situations, what they say and do, which is consistent to their personalities you give them.
By the way, whatever names you choose, there are over seven billion people in the world you can search for to check for originality and chances are those character names exist. I had to rename some of my made up characters because I found them in books, that is . . . the phone, and Face. And a few months after naming a major fictional character in my first novel I saw his name plastered on a billboard at Edsa!
Have your characters react to problems and conflicts. Dump conflict on them as if problems were trash landfills. It’s how they overcome problems that keep readers turning pages. So list down conflicts like your grocery list for the year, because like that list, your conflict list will be your novel’s source of survival. Organize the conflicts into ascending problems, small to big, as another page turning technique. And take some time to describe the places and scenes that the events happen as you go along.
As you shift into the middle, a momentum is building. Now pack in what happens in the rest of the story. The reader knows the main character and supporting characters, and the seemingly impossible task he has to achieve or problem to solve, and the place he solves it in. Connect all the incidents in a way that the readers think, “Wow! This really ties together!”
What happened to that conflict list you’ve made since the beginning? Refer to it again and again, writing as you go along instead of staring at the half page a long time and wondering what conflict to write next. This is the draft, and the point is to finish it, not yet to finish it well, which comes with the revisions. I highly recommend writing from a list of ideas, or even one in outline form. Lots of writers say that, but some say you can write free style from day to day, to see what happens that day. I write from a list, so I recommend it:
1. The character’s names are ... their occupations are ... their dreams are ...
2. Sights to see at the setting are . . .
3. The conflicts the main character has are . . . the biggest problem is . . . The climax is. . .
Which brings us to the ending, how you tie up the events, and this is the best way to focus on all parts of the rest of your story, when you secretly know what will happen at the end, yes, even when you start your story. That way the beginning and middle is unfolded in a page turning “What happens next?” way and the events are still actually connected, on purpose, to the ending. Otherwise you may be going off in different random directions and have to work harder to connect them back to your ending. And that’s more rewriting.
Here are some dos to keep in mind:
A. Do have a catchy title. Imagine yourself in a large bookstore, browsing the spines of the books and they’re all blank. How would you pick one that you’ll spend a lot of money on? Catchy titles are what makes books stand out. Plus, it gives you an idea of what it’s like when it’s complete, and completing your novel is the goal.
B. Personalize you scenes. Chances are there’s a scene in a novel or movie that impressed you so much you remember it well and it may slip into your writing. Remember, that‘s someone else’s idea. If you copy it word for word, as you may have unconsciously memorized it, and if that author reads it, he may want to take action. Ideas are free, anyone, and often many people get the same idea, it is your original expression that counts.
C. Be wise and revise. Keep in mind that anyone’s first draft is not perfect. Inconsistent plot ideas may pop up in various parts of your story. Dialogues might not be consistent with the characters. And the setting descriptions can stretch on and on, so cut them short. And there is the coolest technique you would do well to learn, suspense. Instead of saying, “He robbed the bank.” You would describe it step by step, stretching it, making the reader wonder if he can do it and how he can, and then show it, but for description purposes - just don’t actually try it out. Suspense writing makes good reading.
But finish your draft first before revising, the goal is to finish, which is efficient. Think of it as a 10k race. Revising your novel before you’re done is like running the 10k and stopping every few minutes to stretch or stopping at each water station to strategize your next kilometer. Just finish it first, get the experience, and do it again better next time.
So that should guide you along to finish your unpublished novel. Craft your characters, settings, and plot, write everyday and revise, so now . . . begin!