Fiction Book Writing - 6 Things to Do Before You Start Writing a Novel
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Fiction Book Writing - 6 Things to Do Before You Start Writing a Novel

For most writers, especially beginners, writing a fiction novel is not a matter of sitting down at the computer and writing the story from beginning to end. There are many things that need to be considered before managing a book-length writing project can be achieved with confidence. This article provides an insight into 6 things that most beginning writers need to take account of before embarking on the serious task of writing a fiction novel.

For most writers, especially beginners, writing a fiction novel is not a matter of sitting down at the computer and writing the story from beginning to end. There are many things that need to be considered before managing a book-length writing project can be achieved with confidence. This article provides an insight into 6 things that most beginning writers need to take account of before embarking on the serious task of writing a fiction novel.

The intricacies of writing a novel

Writing a novel, in the majority of cases, is a laborious task that can seem daunting to the beginning writer. A certain amount of planning should be executed before you start the writing process. There are exceptions – writers who can start with an intriguing premise and craft a book without referring to planning notes or reference material. Writers of this type are generally very experienced or have the type of mind that can deal with huge quantities of facts and scenarios without reference to notes or planning data. For the rest of us, we need to seriously consider a range of things before we attempt the enormous task of writing a fiction novel. We should also keep in mind that writing the first draft of a book is just the beginning – but more about that later in this article.

Here are six things to consider before starting to write your novel. These are effective ways to ensure your book progresses with the least amount of difficulty. It is my experience and belief that whilst pre-planning is not a guarantee that your book will be accepted for publication by a publisher, some groundwork before writing will make the creative journey from Page 1 to the end of your book a much easier task.

  • decide the type of book you will write
  • complete detailed character analyses
  • ensure you understand correct book structure
  • prepare a detailed story outline
  • understand correct and acceptable writing techniques
  • realise Draft 1 is only the beginning of your quest for publication success

Step 1 – decide what type of book you will write

Before you even think about writing your novel, decide which genre it will be. This means researching publishing markets to ascertain the types of books that are successful. This includes reading titles of the type of book you envisage writing. Be aware that you need to produce a book that is identifiable with you and not a copycat book like that of a well known published author.

The often touted advice of “write what you know” is good advice. If you read a lot of science fiction, that could be the type of book you should write. Conversely, readers of romance fiction should stick to writing in that genre … and so on.

Only when you are sure about what you want to write, is it time to start planning your book.

Step 2 – Complete detailed character analyses

A novel is a story that has primary characters, secondary characters and minor characters. They come and go within the text of your story as it moves from beginning to end.

Before you can think about writing your book, it is necessary to complete a comprehensive character biography for your primary and secondary characters. Minor characters usually do not feature to any great extent, but if you want to complete an analysis of them, this is acceptable

Without going into great detail in this article, you should list as many character traits and information prompts as you can, then complete the analysis. The psychological aspects of your characters are very important as they can provide reasons why your characters behave the way they do in your story. Character motivation is a key element in writing a fiction book, so do not forget this important aspect during the planning phase of your project.

Step 3 – Ensure you understand correct book structure

In my work as a publishing editor, I have seen many submissions that were totally unacceptable in terms of the book’s structure. Trying to be cute or innovative just doesn’t work for first time submitting writers. There is no substitute for the mostly used Chapter/Scene structure that even best selling authors use.

A book can have as many chapters are is necessary to execute the story. A chapter should have between one and five scenes. Overly long chapters can reduce readability and slow the pace of the story.

Step 4 – Prepare a detailed story outline

I recommend preparing a detailed story outline for the entire book if this is possible before you start writing. If you do not yet know how your story is going to evolve, work at least three chapters ahead. This way, you will not get bogged down in where your story is going. Knowing what is coming next elevates writers’ block to a certain extent. Every time you sit down to write, you will have an idea about what you will be writing about in that session. This means productive writing in every session.

New ideas can be slotted into your story outline with ease. If you think about something that is going to happen in the story towards the middle or end, enter it into your story outline so you won’t forget about it when you get to that point in your story.

Most writers learn about the “sagging middle” in a novel. This can be prevented by planning exactly what is going to happen at that part of the book. In fact, it is easy to ramp up your story in the middle to keep the momentum going and provide your reader with a point of excitement that makes them want to read on to the end of the story.

Step 5 – Understand correct and acceptable writing techniques

I can’t stress strongly enough that every writer who wants to write a novel should firstly study and become proficient in all the writing techniques that make up the content of a novel. I have seen too many books that have a great storyline, but fall down badly when it comes to writing techniques.

Some beginning writers might think that the publishing editor is the one to correct all that in a book. Wrong! Books are accepted for publication based on the expertise of the writer shown in the submission. Your work must be as close to publication standard as you can make it. Editors do not have time to coach new writers in any aspect of novel writing. Their job is to find books that are marketable and only those that are of a very high standard creatively and technically will be considered to go into editorial development.

Gaining a high level of expertise in writing techniques is a process that can take years not months. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get started on your book. Time spent on honing every aspect of your writing skills is time well spent. It will always stand you in good stead as you move forward with your writing career.

Step 6 – Realise Draft 1 is only the beginning of your quest for publication success

I have always considered writing to be a “business” and have earned my full time living from writing for more than 30 years. This qualifies me to comment on many aspects of the craft.

In too many cases, I have reviewed submissions that, to be absolutely honest, are less than first draft standard – yet the writer had the nerve to submit the work to a publisher. I put this down to complete naiveté on the part of these writers. Just writing a book does not qualify it to be published.

I consider that at Draft 1 stage, only one-fifth of the project is complete. Four-fifths of the exercise is in the re-writing and editing of the book. This phase is painstaking and requires a high level of knowledge about what to cut, what to re-write and what to add to the story. After that comes the laborious task of line editing which includes eliminating any excessive words, checking punctuation, and looking out for such things as missed words and incorrect spelling. I never rely on spellcheck to do my work for me.

Step 7 – Fine-tuning your novel

With my own fiction writing projects, I spend an insane amount of time on re-writing and editing. I actually love this part of a writing project, whereas a lot of writers do not. I set my sights on 6 drafts. One of those is to fix the story (deleting, inserting and re-writing). After that I have another 5 runs of editing. Each run is divided into about 20 different things that I look for within the text in each run. That might sound excessive. I have heard it said in writing circles that “too much editing can destroy a story”. I do not agree with this. A book needs as much editing as it needs to be as close to perfect as it can be. There is no strict rule about how much editing you should do with your novel. A lot depends on how well written it is in the first draft and how much time you are prepared to spend on the most important part of writing a novel.

Summary

These are just six things a writer should consider when planning to write a novel. There are many more aspects to a book-length writing project that need to be considered. Spending time to learn as much as you can about writing techniques and associated tasks before commencing your novel will ensure that you have a relatively trouble free writing experience.

Sources:

Personal knowledge and experience

An excerpt from my book Being a Successful Fiction Writer – from the chapter “Pre-planning your fiction novel”

© 2012 – Susan Jane

http://writing-poetry.knoji.com/how-to-enhance-conflict-in-fiction-writing/

http://writing-poetry.knoji.com/how-much-talent-does-a-fiction-writer-need/

http://writing-poetry.knoji.com/10-tips-for-beginning-fiction-writers/

http://writing-poetry.knoji.com/how-to-avoid-writers-block-and-enhance-your-writing-productivity/

http://writing-poetry.knoji.com/writing-for-publication-what-makes-a-book-publishable-and-marketable/

http://writing-poetry.knoji.com/why-some-creative-writers-are-a-bit-eccentric/

http://writing-poetry.knoji.com/professional-development-for-fiction-writers/

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Comments (2)

Great job, Susie!  You detail this well.

Excellent advice for fiction writing, helpful for many! : )
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