So, you’ve decided to take the leap and start writing a novel—and now you don’t know where to start. Don’t worry, that’s completely normal! Writing can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. We interviewed Deleyna, a best-selling writer and Anvilite, and she gave us crash course on novel writing basics!
Where to start writing a novel
Firstly, think about what you want to accomplish with your novel and what’s the story you want to tell. Then, you can start thinking about the big concept of your novel and the characters that fit with it. These beginning stages are also a great moment to collect inspiration sources (like music or art). We can call all of this the meta of your novel—and it’s extremely important if you want to get from idea to finished book! When you inevitably get stuck or feel unmotivated (all writers do at some point!), reminding yourself why you’re writing this story can help you stay focused and keep pushing forward.
It’s also important to figure out your process. Are you a pantser, writing whatever feels cool at the moment, or a plotter who meticulously plans out every detail? Knowing your process can help you approach the writing process in the way that works best for you. Whatever your process may be, though, at the end of the day you’ll write the novel by putting one word after the other. So keep at it, every day, and you’ll get there!
Writing your novel’s first draft
Words are not precious. Don’t be like Gollum—change them, throw them away, rewrite them… don’t be afraid to make huge changes in your first draft. This is how your novel will get better! So, yes, don’t try to find the perfect words and phrases at this point. Need to add a cool description but don’t have the inspiration to write one? Just type “[cool description here]” and keep moving forward. Think of your first draft as a diamond in the rough. It might not look like much now, but with some polishing (i.e. editing), it can become an incredible work of art.
Once you’ve finished your first draft… stick it in a drawer and don’t think about it for at least a few weeks! If you read it immediately, you’ll only disappoint yourself, but if you read it with fresh eyes in a few weeks, you’ll be able to see both the good and bad parts. Having this emotional distance from your work is crucial when editing, as you’ll be more objective in your approach.
Remember, the first draft is just the beginning. It’s the foundation of novel writing basics upon which you’ll build your novel. So don’t worry too much about making it perfect the first time around. Just focus on getting the words down on paper, and trust that the rest will fall into place with time (and hard work!).
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The magic of editing
This is where the magic happens! Read your first draft, and, now that you have a better understanding of your entire story, you can figure out what needs to happen in each scene. For example, if you know that something happens at the end of the book, think about how you can set it up in earlier scenes!
In any case, editing comes in waves. Don’t start polishing the prose—instead, focus on things like plot structure, characters, and cutting, adding, or rewriting scenes. This is where you take care of any plot holes, as well as any characters that need to be merged or split. Don’t edit the prose until the very end, otherwise you’ll find yourself having to cut scenes after having perfected their prose. And that’s not fun at all!
An alpha reader can be a great help here, but only if they’re someone you really trust! Make sure they understand the first draft is very early stages—and also that you can take any critique they give you. Speaking of which…
How to manage beta readers
Beta readers are very important if you want to really improve your novel—after all, you’re just a single person, even if you’re the author! So try to get several beta readers (but not too many, or you’ll get overwhelmed) and ask them specific questions (but not too many, or you’ll overwhelm them!). It’s a good idea to ask them to share their thoughts or feeling as they read the story. Encourage them to provide honest feedback, both positive and negative—it’s better to get negative feedback now than getting bad reviews later on!
Make sure your beta readers understand that you’re not looking for vague praise. Positive feedback is good, but it needs to be specific, otherwise you can’t do anything about it! “I like this chapter” isn’t great feedback, while “This line made me laugh” is awesome! If you think some of your beta reader candidates won’t be willing to give you negative feedback, don’t use them.
The reason it’s recommended to have multiple beta readers is that they’ll likely have different opinions and feelings about the story, which will be really helpful to you! And you should hear and act on their feedback, but at the same time, don’t forget that you are the writer—not them. Keep an open mind, but feel free to ignore some of their comments if you think they won’t help the story you want to tell.
Listen to the full interview to learn more about novel writing basics!
Who is Deleyna Marr?
Deleyna is the author of Sisterhood and Dominion of Darkness, teacher at Lawson Writer’s Academy, and runs Heart Ally Books (an indie publishing company). Plus, she’s an Anvilite too! Check out her Twitter for updates.
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