10 Tips to Write a Novel (part 2 of 3)

logo blog post about how to write a novel

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10 Tips to Write a Novel (continued)

2/ Live what you write

In order to be able to hold on for several months or years, one must be passionate about the adventure (one more reason to write the story you want to tell rather than the one the readers want) and live it not only during the writing process, but also outside.

It’s not about being constantly daydreaming but rather keeping in mind the protagonists and the adventure even during “real life”. Sometimes we find inspiration in a discussion or an event from the day-to-day life, we can use the behavior from real people to give more credibility to the characters, use a landscape as a model… It may even happen, arguably more seldom, that we learn things during the writing process that we can then apply in our life.

I personally observed quite a bit the mechanics behind comical situations (both as an observer and a participant): interactions between people, timing, attitudes… Thanks to this I was able to create group dynamics towards the end of the story, when there are more characters. I could also mention the last sentences from the last chapter, which came to me right after watching Ang Lee’s beautiful “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”; just as the final credits rolled, the emotions I felt inspired me the last paragraph of my book.

So try to blur as much as possible the border between real life and story told, without losing touch with either side. Take the best from each world, constantly; you will enrich both your life and your tale.

3/ Organize yourself: think about the future!

The writing process will seldom be a single text file on the computer (I would even go as far as saying that it shouldn’t be so).

Each situation is unique so it is difficult to give universal instructions, but consider the following: prepare a physical folder that will contain everything you will write by hand or draw, pictures, printed documents, etc. Then on the computer prepare a dedicated folder for your writing activity. Inside, create a folder per book series and inside each a folder per volume. Don’t forget a folder for illustrations (especially the cover).
At last, remember to establish a code for your documents’ title. There’s no rule but you must be able to identify at first glance the content of the file and its version if needed.

I started myself with a simple text file on the computer entitled “CHRONICLES OF GALADRIA”, which then evolved into “CHRONICLES OF GALADRIA (volume X)” as new volumes appeared. Finally it became “Chronicles of Galadria I ~ The Other World ~” once the volume had reached its final version (I of course adapt the number and subtitle to each volume).
I have also stored in a physical folder in my desk all my hand-drawn sketches along with a notebook full of key sentences and themes I thought about (I mentioned earlier “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” as a source of inspiration, but I could have talked about music too). On my computer I ended up with documents for parts that were already written but that I couldn’t implement yet, a whole bunch of folders for illustrations (including the various versions of the covers), derivative works and old versions of the story… And things got worse with publishing: paper and e-book versions, translated versions, publisher or distribution platform with its own instructions… As of today each one of the 6 volumes of the “Chronicles of Galadria” exists in at least 4 versions (on top of the translated ones)!

So even if you can’t foresee all the content that will come up during the writing process, do prepare a physical folder and a bunch of digital ones on the computer for everything you expect, and be logical in how you organize all this so you don’t get overwhelmed by the unexpected and always find what you’re looking for!

4/ Write in order but remain flexible

I recommend to write following the reading order: 1st page of the 1st volume, 2nd page and so on until it’s complete, then 1st page of the 2nd volume, etc.

This method has several advantages: for example you move on with the reader and thus know what he knows. As the author you already know most of the ins and outs of your story and it can prove difficult to remember what the reader knows and doesn’t know at various points of the scenario. But by following the reading order it becomes easier to remember what has been said and what is yet to be said, so you avoid forgetting to give explanations, referring to something that hasn’t happened yet, etc. It also helps diving into the story, even as its author, since it follows some kind of logic and rhythm. There’s a real atmosphere, whereas small text bits here and there make it harder to create a consistent universe.
Another reason is the fact that following the reading order makes it possible to add things spontaneously (things that weren’t planned initially). However if you write pieces only and then try to combine them, you can’t add something in the middle all of a sudden without having to rewrite a big chunk of the rest.

Nonetheless if you feel inspired to write some scenes happening in the future, better write them down right away (on a separate file); it’s very likely inspiration will be gone by the time you reach those scenes in your main document (= the document following the reading order). So better write when ideas come, even if it means adjusting a bit the first and last paragraphs when adding the scene to the main text in order to make a smooth transition with what comes before and after.

As explained before, in my case I had a file dedicated to already-written parts that I couldn’t put in my main file just yet. That being said, this document came quite late as I initially refused to write anything else than what came right after what I had written previously, until I understood I was letting moments of inspiration slip by… And it only included 13 scenes, some of them being very short (it’s a small number for an adventure in 6 volumes).

So, create a main file where you will write the story following the reading order and where you will spend most of your time, and another one where you will write a couple of specific scenes when you feel inspired (to be added to the main file when you reach those scenes).

5/ Organize your ideas in chronological order and keep the chronology up-to-date

You most probably have lots of ideas before even starting to write. Perhaps important scenes, some events or characters… You also certainly know more or less in which chronological order they appear; it’s unlikely that you have in mind every detail necessary to make the adventure smooth and complete, but you do know that this specific event happens before that meeting which itself takes place before that revelation, and so on (even if you can’t put a date or time unit on each element).
The first thing to do is thus to list all your ideas and sort them according to their chronological order, starting with what comes first in the reading order. Then, as you move on in the writing process, other ideas will appear, and from the moment you cannot write them down right away but you do know where they will fit in the story, you should add them to your chronology. You are thus making sure not to forget anything, on top of having a better overview of your story as a whole.

In my case, as explained above, I found a lot of inspiration in music, movies, mangas, books and Japanese anime. Most of the content I created at that time could not be included in the story right away. I’m talking about sentences, ideas to develop, events, scenes and so on that would happen much later compared to what I was writing. So I added everything to my chronology as soon as I could determine their place, and I’ve used the exact same method for ideas that came up while writing and had to be mentioned later on.
It was a very basic chronology: no dates, only a list of elements sorted by order of appearance and written down at the end of the volume I was working on. Once one of the elements had been included in the main text, I erased it from the list. Do note that the first element of the list could well be quite far in the scenario compared to what I was writing at the moment. Moreover I remember ending up at some point with 2 or 3 pages full of things to add in the story!
A concrete example: in the 1st volume, the hero Glaide finds himself talking with a weapon dealer who explains their characteristics. During the conversation, several pieces of information are incorrect or incomplete, on top of the questions the protagonist asks that his contact cannot answer. To make sure I would answer those questions eventually and also correct what was wrong, I added a couple of lines in my chronology that looked something like: “Glaide learns that this info is incorrect and remembers his dialogue with the merchant”. By writing these at the right place chronologically, I made sure I wouldn’t forget anything without having to constantly remember it. I just didn’t have to think about it until this element became 1st in the list.

So prepare a file where you will list all your ideas in chronological order, where you can add things when necessary and that you will keep up-to-date by erasing what has been implemented. This will give you a better image of your story as a whole, ensure you don’t forget anything even if your scenario is complex and thus free your mind. You’ll know everything that must be written is listed and will come in due time.

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