10 Tips to Write a Novel (part 1 of 3)

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Introduction

To celebrate the release in English of the first volume of my novel “Chroniques de Galadria” (under the name “Chronicles of Galadria I – The Other World”), I have decided to write a couple of articles talking about the adventure it is to write a novel, and sharing a couple of tips taken from my own experience as an author. I hope this will help those wishing to start writing, that other authors will use this opportunity to share their experience and opinion, and maybe that readers interested in knowing more about the “backstage” will find some answers as well.

What should you think about before starting? Traps to avoid? Methods and techniques to make things easier? If these questions caught your interest, read on…


Writing a book: an adventure in its own right

1. The relationship between the author and his book
The majority of authors are also readers, but only a minority of readers are authors. Let’s have a look at the relationship these two categories of people have with a book:

Reader: curiosity, discovery of the story and its characters, surprise, continuous rhythm (can read everything really fast or take his time but the whole story is available and you only need to dive in), can use reading to relax and/or choose to think and reflect a bit.

Author: knows the whole story from the start, no surprise or discovery, slow rhythm since the writing process is long and sometimes dull, needs to plan, organize, check (meaning no real space for relaxing).

In short the author creates and the reader consumes, and when introduced as above the interest of the work of an author may not be obvious…
And yet: let’s take the example of the connection between the author and his characters. If a reader is able to feel close to them after only a few hours reading, imagine the relationship of an author after several month or years!
Or let’s talk about the absence of surprise in the scenario: even if the author indeed knows its every ins and outs, each scene is experienced intensively during its writing, even more so because it’s a long process (reading an emotional scene will go much faster than writing it, and the emotional impact is I believe directly proportional to the time spent on the scene).
One last example? Immersion in the world created: the reader is limited to the book or series he’s reading. In terms of time it means diving in the adventure and leaving it behind when closing the book. An author will instead probably live his story and universe all the time, while trying not to loose contact with reality. In terms of size it means a fictional world limited to the story the reader is reading: an author on the other hand can imagine whatever he wants (which explains why fans are so eager to get sequels: the world grows bigger, we reunite with the characters we love, the journey continues…).

As far as I’m concerned I remember those evenings and their very particular atmosphere when, alone in my bedroom, seated in front of the computer with some light from a desk lamp, I was about to leave the Earth and go back to Galadria and its protagonists…

A book is then an adventure for its author, even if it is first and foremost the writing process that makes things exciting (and that same book is an adventure for its reader because of the story and journey it offers).


2. A first book that is personal

We often hear that the first book or series we write is a personal one. It makes sense doesn’t it? After all why do we get started in the first place? (you who are reading these lines and would like to write: do you know why?) In my opinion it’s often because we have something to share, something to tell. And it gives some kind of authenticity to the final result: an authenticity that we may loose a bit in the following books, when the process becomes more automatic, more structured and when habits start to build up (but which often lead to higher quality: the books are smoother, deeper and more enjoyable to read!).

And so the first book is often even more of an adventure for its writer than the following ones.


3. An adventure, yes, but not an ordeal!

Even if we try to keep the authenticity mentioned above, it’s important to have a couple of tools and best practices that will prevent problems from building up, which would eventually obscure all the fun part. They could even lead to a waste of energy (reworking whole parts, having to add or take away content…), to a final result that simply is unusable (unavoidable consequence for those who lack the courage to rework what needs to be reworked) or, in the worst case, to giving up on the whole thing altogether.


So here come 10 tips taken from my experience accumulated during the 7 years needed to complete the “Chronicles of Galadria”: some that I have applied right from the start, and others that I’ve learned the hard way, by making mistakes.
I hope they’ll help you turn the writing of your book into a great adventure!


10 tips to write a novel

I’ve decided not to talk about writing techniques (i.e. how to describe a place, people, how to write a dialogue that is engaging, etc.): first because I have no training in the field and so I don’t think I can give advice, and also because in my opinion that’s what defines an author’s style and so there is no good or bad.

In my case I had chosen for example to keep my descriptions to a minimum: just enough to give a general picture to the reader. For a character: hair color and length, eyes color and one or two details about the anatomy such as corpulence or shape of the face. For a location, its type only (forest, field…) and one or two points of interest. If some elements were necessary for the story they were of course included (lots of space between the trees meaning few places to hide, scar on a character’s face who will tell how he got it…).
However I’ve often spent time describing colors, especially at dusk.
Another example: in the case of dialogues I have almost always mentioned who talked and how (for example: “exclaimed X” or “whispered Y”). And during long conversations I tried to interrupt the flow by adding small descriptions aiming at letting the reader breath (for example : “X thought for a while before answering” or “Y ran his hand through his hairs and then said”).

The following 10 tips thus cover (in order):
– The attitude you should have before starting toward the book you’re about to write
– The project’s set-up, so you don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of content you will create
– The tools that will help during the writing process
– How to reach the end of the story despite the amount of time needed

1/ Write the story you want to tell rather than the story “the readers want”

This first piece of advice will certainly be controversial and it will be interesting to see other authors’ opinion and arguments, but here are mine.

The ground rule when you intend to sell something is to study customer needs: what do they want? What do they like? You then “only” have to supply it. In the field of literature we analyze what works (novel style, language level, structure of the story, personality of the main characters…), we change the background and that’s it! (More or less: this method cannot guarantee commercial success every time, but it prove its worth)
The cost of such method? On the individual scale there’s a risk that the writer lacks interest for the book (and do we truly want to spend hours of our life on something we’re not passionate about?), and on a global scale we witness the standardization of the whole industry: the scenarios are utterly predictable, the characters are archetypal and each creation lacks personality. In short it will seldom leave the reader with a lasting memory, on top of flooding the market and thus making it more difficult to discover truly original work. This comment is valid for any creative field by the way: cinema, video-games, Japanese anime, music…

But how could it be otherwise from the moment we create something based on customer needs and studying what exists?

The alternative? Creating what we want to create (and reuniting with the artistic aspect). We then take a risk because commercial success is much less certain, especially since the audience will probably be a niche. And in terms of communication, standardized creations usually also have the biggest budgets (reach more people = higher revenues = huge budgets = decrease risk and so standardize) and tend to hide the rest.
On the other hand we get involved in something that “grabs us by the guts” and will help keeping the motivation up throughout the process, on top of providing an experience full of teachings. Moreover we propose a work that will durably impact the targeted audience (even if it is a limited one) via its personality, and potentially the whole industry and cultural landscape if we’re lucky enough to reach commercial success (Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings…).

No need then to add that the “Chronicles of Galadria” are the story I wanted to write, without any attention given to the market’s expectations.

So, for your own well-being (especially for a first novel) as well as the artistic field’s, write the story you want to tell, regardless of the market! (And try to sell it afterwards)

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2 comments

  • I thought it was interesting that you say writing a novel is an adventure not and ordeal. I can see how writing can be a fun process. Writing down your own thoughts and displaying them on paper can make you feel somewhat naked and exposed to the reader. This for me has made my writing more of an ordeal than an adventure. The stress of feeling like my story needs to make complete sense right from the beginning makes the writing process so much slower. As I read through your article, I liked your first tip the best. Write the story you want to tell rather than the story the readers want. I feel obligated to my readers sometimes and that gets me in a tough spot. I really appreciate your tips. I am already improving my writing. Thank you.

    • And thank you for having taken the time to read all this and leave a comment!
      I actually haven’t experience the “feeling naked” you mention since I didn’t think of publishing until two and a half year after having completed the story! Which means I mostly wrote it for myself, so no stress there.
      As for having a story that makes sense right from the start: it’s only my opinion, and my story actually didn’t follow this tip when I started (I built up and tried to find explanations as I went), but with hindsight I believe it actually saves a lot of time and headaches. And so I think you get back the time invested in planning and thinking forward a bit when, at the end, everything falls nicely into place.

      In any case I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavor!

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