A little advice here for anyone lost. This comes from a published writer in nonfiction for over ten years of articles, marketing material and web copy.
In terms of writing fiction, it comes from over six years of experience with several draft manuscripts, one of which is going through a potential publishing opportunity.
This is not always a linear affair, and different writers work in different ways. Let me tell you about what I do and, if that helps, I am glad. If it does not help you, keep searching for whatever it is you need, and best of luck in your hunt for answers!
I will keep this short. Many writers could write a whole book or even a volume on how to write. In fact, people have. In an effort to be simple and helpful in some way, here is what I do.
PLANNING AND PLOTTING
I find that it helps to have the general plot of your novel penned out in numbered paragraphs. The numbers are not intended to correspond with the chapters, they are covering the general matters at hand - or each ‘scene’, if you will. I also find that it is helpful to label the start of each paragraph with a bold and underlined ‘title’ of sorts that is a few words of what is happening.
1. JILL MEETS HARRY: Jill and Harry meet at a mutual friend’s engagement party, where they each reach for a Kendal Mint Cake at the same time. Their hands cross, apologies are issued, and they engage in a short conversation about the delights of their favoured buffet selections.
5. JILL AND HARRY MEET AGAIN: after days of thinking about the moments they shared at the engagement party, Jill and Harry cross paths again - this time by design, as each had suggested to the other that they would also be attending the local fireworks display.
And so on…
You can then go over this until you have the plot laid out. I call this the ‘riffing’ stage (unapologetically, a term from my days as a musician). Of course, others do not even plan their novel and just write it out ‘as is’, and that is fine too. But, for me, this is the process I find that works best.
Just remember that the paragraphs are bites of the goings-on and not the actual novel itself. Keep the points short and sweet - maybe, say, 100 to 200 words per point.
THE OVERALL ELEMENTS
In many cases, you can mark out the key elements as follows: the ‘inciting incident’, the ‘rising action’, the ‘middle bit’ (yes, I know, that is far from a technical term), the second (or more, your choice) of ‘rising action’, the ‘climax’, the ‘resolution’, and the ending.
Inciting incident - this is the trigger of the plot and, whilst it may go without saying, it needs to be enticing enough to pull in the reader (and an agent). Then, you have your ‘rising action’ and the first ‘event’ or ‘setback’ to take place. I find that ensuring this is a part of the first three chapters is essential, which I will go into why below.
The next part is the one that many find quite difficult - myself included - those ‘middle’ kind of chapters. They can be hard to write, so plan them carefully and meticulously. It can be easy to get lost and distracted during the writing phase here, and you want to make sure that they are interesting and exciting enough to keep the reader (and an agent) hooked until you reach that juicy second round of ‘rising action’ and ‘events’ and/or ‘setbacks’. Whilst you can build and even repeat to heighten what is going on in this phase, the aim is to reach the ‘climax’ - i.e. the height of the problem or the issue at hand. Then, you want to simmer it down to reach the final resolution, and (as I often do) hit the reader with the final dramatic ending.
Again, each to their own - this is not the science of how to write a book, but it is what some writers do.
FIRST THREE CHAPTERS ARE CRUCIAL
One of the most important elements of starting your novel the right way is the first three chapters. In most cases, those are the chapters that you will likely be asked to submit should you decide to try and find an agent.
So, getting this right is absolutely essential.
When you are planning your novel, and when you have started writing it, work hard to maximise the impact of the first three chapters. For a novel of around 70,000 to 80,000 words, I try to aim for the first three chapters to cover the first 10,000 words or so.
It can be tempting to write short chapters to open with, but you may then find it hard to attract an agent. Remember that most readers, who will normally read in chapters at a time, may find themselves uninterested. Keep them turning the pages, which I do by making sure that those opening three chapters contain the first ‘rising action’ element. You could then leave it on somewhat of a cliff-hanger which may help to further engage the reader and, perhaps, even an agent.
Finally, remember that writing a book is damned hard. You will experience highs and lows. Some days, you may marvel at your own work. On others, you may loathe it entirely and question how anyone on God’s green earth could ever find it to be any good. Keep working - it is a process, and I try to never force it. It is too tempting to set yourself with unrealistic deadlines, and life can always get in the way.
Try to enjoy it. For many, it is a labour of love in an industry where very few will ever be properly published. And do not just take my way of working as the gospel, as this is the way I find that works best for me. In the words of Fleetwood Mac, “you can go your own way” as well if you like.
It was a scriptwriting friend that taught me some of the basics I have relied on above, and I have found it to be extremely helpful indeed. Some of the concepts I have outlined above are not of my creation either, and they are concepts and ways of working that are already recognised and utilised in the writing world - i.e. there is nothing creative and unique here, just a simple overview of suggestions that may help you. Some of it I have come up of my own volition, but I doubt that I am alone in formulating these ways of working.
(p.s. the image is of a snow angel; for no other reason than the fact that snow angels are fun, and they are a unique creation. Much like a novel should be...)
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