Monthly Archives: June 2014

10 Things You Should Do Before Writing Your Novel

You get that novel idea and you can’t wait to start writing. Your fingers are itching to pick up that pen or start typing away at your computer.

Stop. Hold up. Here’s a checklist of things to do before you sit down to write. You don’t have to do everything. Read the list and choose what works for you.

  1. Why are you writing? Why are you writing this novel? What is it about this story? The story should engage you. It should excite you and scare you. Writing a novel isn’t easy. Writing one well is even more difficult. You need to care about the characters, the story, etc. If you don’t, you’ll lose focus.
  2. Check your expectations. Writing a novel is a long process. It’s not going to be all sunshine and butterflies. There are going to be days where you want to trash everything and give up, go do something else. Remember that this is your first draft. Some parts may be fantastic the first time through. Most won’t. Make time to clarify. Make time to revise.
  3. Know your characters. You need to know your characters inside and out. They have to be real to you. If they aren’t, they’ll seem fake to readers.
  4. Plan it out. You don’t have to do an outline, though they can be very helpful. And you should at least know how to write an outline. One day you may be asked to do so. At the very least, you should know what’s going to happen over the course of your novel. Hundreds of pages, tens of thousands of words, major and minor plots, multiple characters, settings, etc. all add up. If you go in blind, you’ll end up with plot holes.
  5. Create the rules. If you’re creating a world, your setting’s in the future, or you’ve got fictional characters, you need to have rules for your story. Vampires? They drink human blood. They can survive off animal blood for short periods of time, but it’s human blood that sustains them. They can’t go out in the sunlight, unless they’re Originals, those of the first bloodline. They turn others into vampires by drinking their blood until the point of death, feeding them their blood, and then killing them. You get the point. Make the rules and stick to them.
  6. Know your ending. Know your ending before you begin writing. Why? Because it matters. Your entire story is tailored to how the novel ends. Know the ending and plan for it. This doesn’t mean you have to stick to the original ending. Most likely you’ll think of a better ending as you’re writing, but you don’t want to be left scratching your head during the last thirty pages.
  7. Research. Get some of the research out of the way before you start writing. Even if you’re writing fiction, you’ll still find you need to do research, whether it’s creating hybrid creatures or figuring out what’s most likely to happen if a hurricane and earthquake occur simultaneously. What’s the emergency plan? How will the power grid be impacted? Flooding? How will people react? You don’t have to do all your research ahead of time. You can do it as you go, but it’s good to do some early, so you’ll know what you’re talking about. Nothing’s more irritating than having someone talk about something they know nothing about.
  8. Write the query. A query letter will give you a clear image of what’s going on in your story. Aim for two to three paragraphs that explain the hook, the story, etc. Make sure to include the critical pieces.
  9. Forget about it. Forget about writing for a moment. Instead, think about your idea. Go to bed thinking about it. Ask questions. Envision problems with the story or with what the protagonist will face. Research. Let your brain absorb all you read and think about.
  10. Commit. Commit mentally and physically. Willpower has a lot to do with writing. You are going to finish this novel. It’s not a question. You’re not wishy-washy. You will complete this. No more waiting. Sit down and write. Get it all out on paper. The time is now.

What are some things you do before writing?

How to Survive a Revise and Resubmit

Querying agents is usually a long process. You send out ten, fifteen queries at a time, each one crafted for a specific agent, each one checked countless times for errors. Then, you wait. And wait. Finally, you get a response.

“Thanks for thinking of me! I’m afraid this project isn’t a fit for what I am currently looking for, but I wish you the best of luck in finding a perfect home for it.”

So, you wait. And wait some more. Another response.

“Thanks so much for your query. I’d love to keep reading! Can you please send me the full manuscript?”

Whoot! You send off your manuscript. About two months later you get another e-mail from the same agent. This is where it gets interesting. The e-mail isn’t a rejection, but it’s not asking you to sign with the agent either. What it is, is an R&R, a revise and resubmit.

Yes! This means the agent likes your work enough to invest time in writing detailed notes on it. Now, don’t skim through the R&R letter and jump into making changes. This is your last chance to get this agent to sign with you.

So, what should you do if you get an R&R?

  • Send an acknowledgement e-mail. Let the agent know that you received his/her R&R. Thank them for the feedback and say you’re working on the revisions, or ask for time to think about the revisions if you’re unsure you agree with the way the agent wants to take the novel. If you say you’re going to think about the revisions, then let the agent know in a few days whether or not you’re going to tackle them.
  • Read the R&R notes multiple times. Read them when you get the e-mail, then walk away. Wait a day and read them again. On your second reading, highlight the major changes, the ones that you feel you should have thought of.
  • Re-Read the entire manuscript. Read your novel without editing. Take notes, but don’t edit. This will give you a fresh perspective, especially if you haven’t read your novel in awhile.
  • Organize. After reading your novel, take the notes you made and the R&R and compare them. Highlight the most important changes (the major ones).
  • Revise. Go through and revise. Don’t rush. Agents aren’t expecting the manuscript back in a few days. After revising, read through it again. Edit a second time.
  • Sit on it. Give your revised manuscript to a few trusted readers, while you don’t look at it for a few days.
  • Check on your revisions. Re-read your notes and the R&R. Then read your novel again. Listen to what your beta readers or critique group says. You’ve made a lot of changes so don’t go looking for obvious mistakes. Take your time. You may have missed something. You may have introduced some problems that weren’t there before. Edit. Edit again. Once you’ve done that, read the novel one last time.
  • Send. Now, send it off to the agent. No matter what happens, pat yourself on the back. An agent thought your novel was worth the time to give an R&R. Be proud, and regardless of the outcome you’ve got a stronger manuscript.

Have you been successful with a revise and resubmit?

Writing From Blah to Wow: Kicking Your Writing Up a Notch

Writing is no easy task. Whether it’s poetry, short stories, or novels, writing takes time and dedication. As Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Sometimes nothing comes to you. Sometimes what you write is just awful. But the point is to write. If you keep writing, the muse will come.

Here are some tips from famous authors:

Jump right in. “A short story must have a single mood, and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Allen Poe

Now, while this quote has to do with short stories, it can also apply to novels. You want to begin your writing with a sentence, a paragraph, a scene that grabs readers’ attention. In school, you learn how introductions are paramount for essays and papers. This isn’t school. This is creative writing. Skip the introduction and go straight for the meat.

Keep the action going. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

Don’t lump all the action in one place. Spread it out. This is fiction, not real life. In novels not everything can be happening at once. Layering all the action right on top of each other jumbles things, makes things frantic. Extend the excitement.

Say it out loud. “If you are using dialogue – say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” – John Steinbeck

Write your conversations the way you’d speak. People tend to talk in shorter sentences. We don’t describe every little detail and we don’t always use proper English. If you’re alone, searching for your car in a multi-story parking lot and say, “I cannot find my car. I remember parking in lot 2B, but now I’m not so sure,” that doesn’t sound legit. Maybe if you were talking to another person, but to yourself? No. Saying, “Where the hell is my car?” Does, especially if you’ve been looking for you car for twenty minutes.

Even with the best advice, you still need to find what works for you. It’s good to know what successful authors advise. And it’s important to read. A ton. Reading novels, both in your genre and outside of it, will help you figure out what works in a novel and what doesn’t work.

But, sometimes, advice and successful novels can lead you astray. We all have those few novels we’ve read where we can’t understand how they got published, how they became so successful, or why people loved them so much. Try to figure out why, but in the end you need to write about the characters and plot you can’t stop thinking about.

What advice from famous authors do you follow?

Finding the Perfect Title for Your Novel

Are titles important? Yes.

Titles are the first aspect readers see. If the title’s interesting, readers will read the back cover blurb. They’ll open up the novel and read through the first pages.

Titles also represent your work to the world. Therefore, your title needs to appropriately represent your novel.

Strong titles are distinctive. They’re not over-the-top. Finding a balance between a forgettable title and one that causes people to roll their eyes is key. You want readers to think your title is fantastic.

Here are some tips on how to get that reaction:

  • Research. If you already have a title in mind, Google it. Make sure it’s original. You don’t want a title that’s been used countless times, and you don’t want one that’s already attached to a recognizable novel. For instance, you wouldn’t want to title your novel To Kill a Mockingbird. That wouldn’t help you sell your book because people associate that title with Harper Lee’s novel. Now, if you’re set on using that title, you probably could. Titles aren’t copyrightable. However, agents and publishers might not pick up your book. If you don’t have a title in mind, find books on Amazon that are in the same genre as yours. Write down titles you like and figure out what attracted you to those titles.
  • Make it easy. Choose a title that’s easy to remember. When word of mouth starts spreading about you novel, you want people to recall the title. That way, when they get home, they can go buy your novel. Plus, complicated and unclear titles can turn people off from even reading the back cover blurb. Some good examples, Carrie, Angela’s Ashes, and Cold Mountain.
  • It’s appropriate. The title must match your story. Think of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. If you’ve read the book, then you’ll know just how appropriate this title is.
  • Multiple meanings. Successful titles usually have a deeper meaning. Often they mean one thing at the beginning of a novel, and something else at the end. Having hidden layers of meaning within a title adds an extra punch. Think of The Silence of the Lambs or Catch-22.

Some people choose titles easily. Others don’t. However, titles should be thought out and not simply slapped on the title page of a novel. You’ve spent a lot of time writing and editing your book. Give it the title it deserves.

How do you choose titles for your novels?