Do some research on a totally random topic. Pick something you don’t know much about, or even something you don’t like, for a challenge. Type “squids” or “15th century Europe” or “pear trees” into Google and learn everything you can about the topic. Save this research, and maybe some interesting tidbit will turn into a story idea.
Stuck on your own novel? Delve into somebody else’s for a dose of inspiration. Pick a fantasy novel similar to your own, whether you’ve read it before or not, for an escape into the realm of imagination. Sometimes just the break from your own words does the trick.
Watch a movie, or read a script. Again, something similar to your own work, to recharge your writer’s energy.
Edit an already published book. Some of you may even do this already. Take a book you’re reading and pretend you’re the editor. See what corrections you might make, whether from spelling errors to even major plot changes.
Starting a novel or story is easy. Anyone can do it. But not everyone can finish that story, revise that story until it’s gold, sell that story, or publish that story.
You hear all over the web, and in books and magazines, how hard it is to break into the industry. It takes years to write and revise a novel, years to to get an agent to represent you, and even more years to find a publisher and finally achieve your dream.
Book publishing is not for a person who can’t deal with the slow and steady lifestyle the industry is known for. The key is to not give up, no matter how long it may take (and it may be way less time than you’re thinking!) and no matter how many stumbling blocks find their way into your path.
Trust me, it’s worth the effort.
Write down 5 possibly story settings. These can be any place, real or imaginary, a whole country or one house. Then, write down 5 times; a time of day or a season or a year, in the past or future.
Now, you have 25 possible places and times for a story setting. Write an opening paragraph for each of these stories, setting up the location and time as best you can.
When writing fantasy, too much or too little description in your novel can pull the reader right out of your story. Here’s something to try:
Take out one of your works in progress and pick a scene, any scene. As you read it, pay attention to the description you’ve used, particularly for setting. See if you can’t lessen the description in as many places as possible, or even omit it entirely. The focus for this exercise is to think of the impact your book has on your readers. You might be taking out some great writing, but your book will be better for the subtlety.
If you find none or next to no description in a particular scene, you might want to add some, just to give the reader some bearings. Read the scene out loud and imagine yourself doing what the POV character is doing. Can you see where they are and how they’re dressed, etc. or do your readers need a bit more guidance?
Whether you are an outline person or not an outline person, coming up with a viable, strong plot for your book is a must. Whether you plan ahead for how your characters’ lives will cross or discover it as you write, it is important to let it unfold naturally. Even for you outline people (I am one too), forcing the plot into a plan that doesn’t work anymore starts to bring holes and inconsistencies into your story.
Likewise, if you are writing from the seat of your pants, if the story wants to go in a different direction, let it. You can always rewrite or delete it later if you decide you really don’t like where it’s going, but who knows; you might just discover an even better idea for your book by indulging your imagination a little.
Think of your plot as a foundation of a house. There are a few things every plot needs, and if it doesn’t have, the house will collapse.
Don’t have your plot depend on a coincidence of any kind. Your readers will feel cheated, like the story has no real meaning, if it is based on something that wasn’t a choice (intentional or unintentional) of one or more characters.
Your plot should include an initial incident that starts the whole book moving, ups and downs in the middle, the climax (see my post series on structuring the climax) and resolution. No matter the genre, length or POV of your book, these basic elements should be present in some form.
If a problem or plot hole comes up, I usually do one of two things: think of the craziest, least likely solution and use that, or bring in a new character (or an old one you haven’t written about for a while). It isn’t the best idea to do this for every little snag, especially you don’t want too many extraneous characters, but for whoppers that you can’t seem to make sense of over a period of at least a few days, I find that works for me.
Here’s a suggested reading list partially from me and from recommendations from friends and other sources, for those of you interested in steeping your creative brains in some time-tested literature.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
- Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- 1984 by George Orwell
Please leave a comment if there’s a book you think should be on this list; give me the name of the book and author along with a few sentences about why it should be added.
Well, you’ve finished your first draft – go celebrate! But remember that your work is far from over…
The first thing to do is leave your book for a while. Start or work on another novel or just take a break from writing and read lots of other people’s books. Do this for several weeks up to a few months (don’t make it too long).
After that, reread your novel as if you just picked it off the shelf, as if it was written by someone else. Don’t jot any notes, don’t edit as you read, and leave even the glaring spelling errors; just read it and think about your overall impression once you’ve finished.
When you read it for a second time, now you can fix those spelling mistakes, take notes, delete scenes, etc and get neck deep into editing. This is the part that takes the longest and the most effort, sometimes even more than writing the first draft.
Next you need some beta readers. Friends and family that you trust enough to tell you the truth about how great (or not so great) your book is and why they feel that way.
After your own thorough editing and feedback from a few close people, incorporate the advice as much or little as you feel your novel needs.
Now, you’re ready to research agents/editors/self-publishers and submit, submit, submit!
These are just a few short, random story writing tips to get you in the mood to write:
- Give your main character a fear readers can relate to to make her seem more real
- Look for character names out of baby name books
- End your chapter and start a new one when your story needs a change – of pace, of setting, of mood, or of POV (point of view)
- Trim your long sentences for faster pacing
- Choose active over passive voice
- Develop a healthy curiosity for life; most of your writing will be based on research or experience
- Use index cards to sort scenes or chapters
- Think of 3 possible solutions to any problem in your story and choose the most surprising, unexpected one
- Make a cliffhanger by separating the action and the character’s reaction to a major event
- Only take writing advice from someone you really respect
Take your novel or work-in-progress and pick a scene, any one will do.
Then, write down what your main character or protagonist wants or hopes to accomplish during the course of this scene.
Think of 3 ways you can hint at your protagonist getting what he wants and add them into the scene. Also think of 3 believable reasons why he won’t end up achieving his goal.
After you’ve done that, reread the scene and choose where to put in the new information. When you go to rewrite it, leave out as much other stuff as you can and focus just on those 3 hints and 3 reasons.