Friday, 31 August 2012

How to write a novel: Part two

You've read How to write a novel: Part one. 
You've come up with an idea, or been inspired by the Story prompts (more to come soon).
Your characters are fully formed in your head.
You have an idea of where your plot starts.

If all of the above apply to you, it's time to take the plunge and start writing your novel. Here's how ...
  1. Write something. Anything. If you're anything like me, then you'll find a blank page terrifying. The only way to banish the beast is to start writing. It doesn't matter if it's the first line of the story or the last line, whether it's a work of genius or not. But I promise, once you get that first line down, the next one will be easier!
  2. Keep writing. Well, that's obvious, right? But I think this is the hardest step. You won't always be in the mood to write. At some point (for me, always about half-way) you may well start to believe that you have written the worst book in the world, ever, and want to give up completely. You're wrong. You just have to keep going. Try and build writing into your routine. I don't think it matters whether it's a hundred words a day or five thousand, whether you manage to find fifteen minutes a day or five hours. JUST KEEP GOING!
  3. Read what you've written. Before I start my day's writing, I read what I wrote the day before. This helps me remember where I am in the story - not just in terms of plot, but in terms of the development of characters' emotions. This (hopefully) leads to a smooth, natural progression of the romance. 
  4. BUT Write without editing. This is not at all a hard and fast rule. Some people like to write one paragraph, or even one sentence at a time, rewriting and editing and getting it absolutely perfect before moving on. This is a perfectly valid way of writing. But it's not my way. If I tried to work this way, I don't think I would ever get past the first chapter, and learning to write first, edit later got my first novel finished. Try and find out what works for you. If you've a folder full of perfect first chapters, but no finished manuscript then maybe writing with editorial blinkers on will work for you too. 
And that's it. Although there are four steps listed about,what this post really boils down to is two things: start writing and keep going. If you can do that, you can write a novel.

Let me know how you get on!

Ellie x

How to write a novel: Part one
How to write a novel: Part three

Monday, 27 August 2012

Story prompts

So, you've read How to write a novel: Part one, have pen and paper at the ready, but are struggling with Step 1: Have an idea. Don't worry: it happens to us all! All you need is a prompt to get you started, and then Step 2 will take care of the rest.

Courtesy of  me and two of my nearest, dearest friends, here are some ideas:
Tears came to her eyes as they held each other for one last time. A kiss, a look, and he walked away ...
A classic: You arrive home from the airport, open your suitcase, and realise it has been swapped with another passenger's. Inside you find ...
You spend a week in paradise having a delicious holiday fling, but you never plan to see him again. Five years later, you decide to put a cheating ex behind you by travelling the world. Walking through an airport, guess who you see ... ? 
Feel free to use these prompts however you like. The most important thing is to pick one as a starting point, and see where it takes you. Brainstorm your ideas in the comments section, and let me know what happens to these guys!

Ellie (and friends)

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

How to write a novel: Part one

OK, so that's probably not the most accurate title for this post, because there is no one way to write a novel. But this is how I do it, so if you're still interested, read on. Oh, I should also say that the actual writing of a novel isn't covered in this post, this is all about the planning, but if you're still interested, here's how to do it...

  1. Have an idea. Sometimes this is easier said than done. It is especially difficult when sitting staring at a blank screen, telling yourself that you have to have a really good idea, right now. Take the pressure off by having really good ideas all the time instead. And, importantly, write them down so that you can come back to them when you need them.
  2. Ask yourself questions. If your inspiration is a location, then who lives there. If your inspiration is a person, then where do they live? Are they in trouble? How did they get there? How will they get out of it? I love to do this stage the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. I find that when I'm writing on paper, my brain is always a step ahead of my hand, so by the time I've finished writing the question, I know the answer, or I at least know which question needs asking next. 
  3. Find out who your friends are. Take all the information you have about your characters (from your scribbles from #2), and draw up profiles. Who are they? What makes them tick? What's brought them together, and what's going to keep them apart. Ask more questions. Really get to know your characters inside out. 
  4. Work out what they're up to. By this stage, a beginning and a middle may be making themselves known. Play around with different ideas thrown up by #2 and #3. How much detail you put in here really depends on how you like to work. Writers fall into two camps: plotters and pantsers (though of course there are many shades of grey in between). Plotters plan what they are going to write, and then write it. Pantsers start writing and see where it takes them. I'm a plotter, but only up to a point. When I start on chapter one, I'll have a pretty structured plan for the first third of the book, and know the major milestones for the middle and the end. But I don't plot these in detail at the start, instead I have a couple of big plotting sessions along the way.
  5. Do your researchOK, so this isn't really #5. It's a little bit of points 1-4, as it needs to be done all the way through. Research can be lots of things. It can be sitting with your eyes shut, glass of wine in hand, thinking about why your character reacts in the way they do; it can be reading historical manuscripts at the British Library; and it can be pretty much everything in between. The point is, you have to make your story believable, which means knowing the ins and outs of every character, every decision, every location, and every historical event. That's not to say that you need to include all this information in your book - in fact you really probably shouldn't - and it's not to say that you can't monkey with the facts a little, if it's what your story really needs. But if you're winging it, then something may ring hollow about your story. 
So there we are. Once all this is done, you just need a notepad and paper or a computer, and a few short, easy months later, you will have written a novel. Simples. Honest... Meet you back here for Part 2!


How to write a novel: Part two
How to write a novel: Part three

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Old friends

August is the time of year I start to think seriously about my NaNoWriMo project.

Although November still seems like forever away, I know that if I want time for my characters, plot and setting to develop gradually and organically in my mind, and then be firmed up enough to actually get writing on the 1 November, I need to start early.

This year, though, I'm already slightly ahead of schedule, because I'm pretty sure which idea from my notebook I want to explore. Remember those characters that were causing me sleepless nights last month? (They're here... Well, I think the time has come for me to try and work out what is going on.

One thing that I'm absolutely sure of is that the time between now and November is going to be filled with a huge amount of research - because I've had a sneaking suspicion all along that these aren't contemporary characters.

I read a lot of historicals, and historical non-fiction, but I've never written a historical story before, and at the moment research seems like an impossible chickenegg-type situation ... What do I research first? How do I know what to research if I don't know the plot? How can I outline a plot without knowledge of the historical context? So I'd love some advice from anyone who knows more than me (ie very little) about going about writing a historical novel, or anyone who has ideas for how to get started. Please help!


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

In praise of punctuation

In my day job as an editor I seem to spend a lot of time battling with commas - in particular, comma splices. (A comma splice is where two independent clauses are joined by a comma.) Now, a comma splice isn't always a mortal sin - at times, it is the only sensible choice: I came, I saw, I conquered - but it is generally considered grammatically incorrect.

I'm not suggesting that getting your commas right makes the difference between a brilliant and not-brilliant book - great writing shines through even the dodgiest punctuation - but why ignore this valuable tool for making your writing glow?

So, what are your options when it comes to joining independent clauses? Here's a run down:
Use a conjunction: He was gorgeous and I had to kiss him.
Use a semi colon: He was gorgeous; I kissed him.
Use a conjunction and a comma: He was gorgeous, but not very bright.
Use a full stop: He was gorgeous. He wasn't very bright. 
Use a colon (where the second clause explains the first): I couldn't fancy him: he was stupid.
Make one clause dependent on the other: If he weren't so dim, I might fancy him.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that the punctuation you choose affects your tone. Compare the breathless excitement of: He looked so gorgeous and I know it was stupid but I couldn't help myself and I just had to kiss him. with the more reasonable, more considered: He looked so hot. I know it was stupid, but I couldn't help myself. I just had to kiss him. to see for how much influence punctuation can have.

I hope this is helpful! If you have any punctuation question, ask away and I'll do my best to help.


Friday, 3 August 2012

Tough love

I came to the realisation this week that the part of my novel I'm having most trouble with - a couple of chapters in the middle - is problematic because my characters are too darned happy. I ramp up the tension at the start; I build to a crescendo at the end. But for a fair few pages, right in the middle of the story, everything is going marvellously for my hero and heroine, and, frankly, it's boring me.

So at the risk of sounding like a sadist, my job this week is to make these two (mostly) lovely people unhappy. I'll keep them apart. I'll bring them together with unfortunate timing. I'll make them jealous and peevy, nervous and awkward, and really quite frustrated - in every sense of the word. Anything really, as long as they're not too happy about it.

Why do I take such pleasure in making them suffer? Because I'm writing romance! So I know they'll get their happy ever after soon enough, and they (and I, and hopefully you) will enjoy it all the more if they haven't taken the quickest, smoothest path there. I know they'll thank me in the end.


P.S. Feel free to share any ways you like to torture your characters in the comments box (within reason - no actual torture please :) )