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How to Write a Novel


How to Write a Novel

Making it through the plagues that plague writers.

Ideas strike like meteors upon an unsuspecting moon. In the fallout of debris, an idea occurs to you: hey, what if... You hurl yourself towards your instrument of writing and in the aftermath of the explosion, words trickle from your brain and into your fingertips. A novel is crafted. Triumphantly, you write the words "The End" and post your work of magnificence.

At least, ideally, that's the way it would go. But let's be honest. There's one hundred and fifty different ways that writer's block can and will plague the aspiring writer and as soon as you snare that idea and drag it kicking and screaming back to your computer, they'll start whispering to you from the shadows.

You're not good enough.

Bullshit, you say, and sit down.

Now that your ass is planted in the seat, let's get started with the Plagues that Doom Writers. (Why yes, they probably do ride pale horses.)

1: Getting Started: the idea.

Welcome to no-man's land. You don't even have a blank page to carry you forward here, you only have the almighty power of your imagination. Fortunately, if you're here, you've probably been gifted at the very least the power to appreciate other people's sheer power of imagination and that's all you need.

Say it with me: there is no such thing as an original story.

It's all been done. So just relax and get over it; who cares if someone else wrote a story about a lesbian in outer space? It's the conception that needs to be original. If you can't make it past step one, you don't deserve to panic in the oncoming steps of novelling glory. Fuck your worries about not being original in their tight and sensual anus and just roll with something that you are genuinely interested in writing.

Remember, you're going to have to edit the damn thing to hell and back again later. Go read some novels if you don't have any ideas, or look at some pictures, or watch a movie, or go for a walk. Look at things through new eyes. Come back when you have something you're interested in. Finding an idea should be the easiest part of this task. You need some things to be easy.

1.5: The intermission.

Now that you have an idea, you have to do something with it. Is it all in your head, or do you write fifty-seven pages of outline? One cryptic note, or an entire computer program dedicated to the worldbuilding?

If you don't know which is the best option to pursue, think about it in terms of this:

No outlining will mean you are entirely fueled by the energy of the initial implosion and any energy you can generate along the way. This can lead to very exciting crashes and burns in the middle of the story.

Outlining means you have to wait to start, but when you're about to crash, you have something you can look at that'll remind you of that initial thrill. Also, it will hold you on target, making for less editing at the end.

It may seem like outlining is the way to go, but just allowing your imagination to go wild can bring out plot twists and characterization you hadn't considered in the first place. Freeing your twisted brain to work on a story can make for far more interesting twists. But it can also lead to crashes. Do you want to write a novel fueled entirely by caffeine and your wild, coffee-addled mind? Or do you want to write a controlled novel fueled by an outline crafted by a genius?

If you still can't decide, just write the damn thing already.

2: So, now you have an idea. Or maybe a panic attack.

Welcome back to your computer chair. Start writing. Effortlessly carry on until you have story. If you have no problems getting started, skip to step three. It has some trauma for you.

Still here? Not so easy, was it? OHGODWHYISTHEPAGESOBLANK. Yeah, I hear you. It's like flying through a cloud. All of the white...why is it so white...sob...

You know there are wonderful ideas to be unearthed, but underneath that blank white page, you can't find them. You can't do this. What if you fuck up the page? The first sentence needs to be brilliant. The first paragraph needs to grip your readers intently to the page. The first page, now, that's an even bigger doozy. You can't guarantee that an editor will even look past the first couple of pages. The first chapter has to be perfect. PERFECT.

The empty air holds you hostage. What are you going to do? How do you start it? You write sentences, you erase them before you even reach the period.

Stop panicking.

The first page doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be a building block. You can come back and edit it. Breathe. While the first page still has to be perfect... it has to be perfect for your story, and remember, you haven't written it yet.

2.5: Onwards!

This is where your decision for whether or not to outline is going to really shine, or crash and burn in a haze of glorious smoke. Once you've made it past that hurdle of the outline, you're in brand new territory, and it is beautiful, a landscape of hills glistening with the sun and valleys where shadows lurk and whisper and natter and sing off-key.

Writing is a very psychotic dance, where on one day you're the king of the hill and the next you're stumbling into the valley of goblins gnawing on your flesh. You're high, you're low, you're hallucinating dreams of characters and can't understand why your main character's mother had to show up on the moon...

Do you trust your instincts? Do you trust your outline?

You've made it past page one, but you haven't made it past...

3: The Dreaded Late Middle

If you wrote an outline, this is surely where your outline devolved into "and they go to the space station and stop the bad guys". Or you didn't outline and you have no idea how to get to the bad guys. Or you outlined a vast bible of your novel and your characters are flat and you don't know why you outlined twelve pages of this shit. On the far distant side you can see your thrilling climax, but you've still got to drive through Winnipeg in the winter with your mother-in-law to get there.

Everything's come undone. Your glorious plot is falling to pieces. You can't find the threads. Your characters are strangers doing strange things and the bad guys seem more interesting now and the climax seems to be on the far side of a really, really dark valley full of boring things to write.

Once you make it down, through the archway and into the darkness, it's even worse. On the sides you can hear the whispers of more exciting plots calling to you from the chasm. The valley of death isn't a valley of death, it's a valley of new and exciting novels.

Write me, they whisper. Write me instead. And they present illusions to you of interesting lead characters with fascinating problems and curious friends. Of strange worlds just waiting to be uncovered. Of a grand conspiracy. Of an ancient tomb.

Don't listen to them. They're just trying to keep you from writing the grand climax where your characters finally defeat the overlord of space! Would you cheat yourself of that glorious, glorious scene?

Here's a secret: you don't have to write it all. If it's boring you to write, it's probably boring people to read. It's easier to add in words later than to take away your babies, so go ahead, surge rapidly forward into your exciting climax. If you want to write it, it will show, and the longer you stay in these droll scenes, the more likely the thrill of that climax is going to slip away. Go ahead and write "they arrived at the space port after a long drive through traffic, the mother-in-law finally fast asleep in the back seat."

The ending is coming.

4: It's done!

5: ...It's not done.

Don't let the overwhelming dread eat your soul. Yes, you have to write it again. And again. And again.

Go ahead and exile your first draft to the drawer. You earned it. Crack open the rum. The coffee. We'll be back with "how to write a second* draft" once you make it out of your drunken celebration and into the sobered realization that the worst is yet to come.

*And third, and fourth, and fifth, and sixth. And people keep asking me why I'm not really published yet.

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