How do you write a novel? Short answer: your way. There are as many ways to write novels as there are writers. Moreover, each novel you write is a fresh challenge.
Let’s look at a FAST way to write a novel. This is far from the only way, of course. 🙂
Tip: if you’re a pantser, and have no idea where you’re going with your story, avoid this method until you know the major turning points of your plot. Without having a map in place, you’re likely to get lost…
The “standard” way to write a novel: write a draft, and revise
The standard way to write a novel, and the best way if you’re a pantser, is to start at the beginning and keep writing until you get to the end. Write your first draft as quickly as you can. Your sole aim in your first draft is to get your story onto the page. You can fix everything that needs fixing in revisions.
For many novels, this method is the safest and best way. Once you’ve written a draft, no matter how much revision you need to do, you have a novel.
But what if you’re on deadline? The draft/ revision method encourages procrastination. You’ve abrogated much of the decision-making that goes into writing your novel until a draft is written.
Some writers zoom through this decision-making once they have a draft. They cut with abandon, because they know what they want to achieve. Other writers however (hello NaNoWriMo writers :-)) suddenly find themselves with a mass of material, and have no idea how to shape it into a novel readers will love.
The non-standard way to write a novel: edit while you’re writing
To repeat: avoid using this method until you know your novel’s major turning points: the midpoint, the twist, the climax… and the ending.
Editing while you’re writing basically means starting as if you were writing your draft straight through, and then going back and editing. You can edit each scene as you write it, or edit each chapter once written.
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Here’s my preferred, no-outline, method of writing:
- Write a blurb (the book description.) The blurb will change many times, as the novel takes shape.
- Decide on the major turning points of the novel.
- Write the first and second scene.
- Go back and edit.
- Write the third and fourth scene.
- Edit again, usually starting with the first scene.
When I get to this point, assuming that the novel will have around 60 scenes, I write any scene I want to write. For example, in a cozy mystery, I might write three scenes in which I drop major clues. In a romance, I may write the romantic scenes: the midpoint scene, in which the hero and heroine get together, the twist, and the ending.
Then I go back and write the scenes which lead up to the major scenes, editing as I go.
Process: after the setup, write a scene, then go back and revise
Writing scenes out of order starts after you’ve set up your novel (after the 25% point roughly.) You know your main characters, and their goals, as well as the story question. Now you can write scenes in any order that you like. You know that you will need to go back and edit, sometimes heavily.
For example, let’s say that you need the hero to break into a building at the midpoint of your thriller. Unfortunately, he’s not the kind of guy who would do that. So far in your novel he’s shown no signs that he could change a lightbulb without a book of instructions.
Oh the horror… How do you turn your ineffectual hero into MacGyver?
Exactly the way you imagine you would. You edit and revise. You need to write bits, and entire scenes, leading up to the “break into the building and get through all the alarms” scene.
Tip: if you haven’t started a book journal for the novel, do that now. You need a way to keep track of all the decisions you’re making, and why, otherwise you’ll get hopelessly confused.
By the time you get to “The End” most of your editing is DONE
I like this way of writing a novel, because it’s fast. By the time you finish, you’ve gone through every scene in your novel many times, and you’ve done the basic editing. You’ve also thought about your novel more, and have made all the decisions you need to make.
If you hate writing blurbs… your blurb is done. 🙂
Is the write-and-edit method for you?
Try it on your next novel.
Start a book journal.
Write your blurb, but don’t get too attached to it. It’s just a rough road map. Feel free to change it, as you develop your characters.
Next write the scenes which comprise the setup of the novel, and go back to edit every couple of scenes.
Then freestyle. Write any scenes which appeal to you.
While you’re writing your lead-up scenes to the ones you’ve written, go back and edit.
I’ve found this method very freeing, and fast. Your mileage may vary. If you find that you get confused, just keep writing forward, without editing as you go.
Let me know how this method works for you. 🙂
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