Monday, September 20, 2021

How to Write a Novel: Part 1: How to get started

page1image45450672 I'm going to write a series of posts on how to write a novel from beginning to the final revision and try to give some tips on how to keep going. I'll try to keep the entries fairly short. Hope at least some of these tips will be helpful. Brian

There are three secrets to writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.” ― W. Somerset Maugham


Martial Art of Writing

  • Similarities to martial arts and writing: both require skills and art. Training is similar.

  • Break-down movements to understand what you’re trying to do. Then practice. Then put movements together. Then practice. Repetition will build muscle memory. Same in writing. You will learn habits (through reading a lot and writing a lot) that will help you write without thinking about how you’re doing what you’re doing.

  • You have to get to a place where you are writing without thinking about writing. You’re just trying to live within the scene. You’ll have revision to be more analytical.


  • TELL A STORY/ USE LANGUAGE WELL. Be a story teller and a good writer and you’ll write novels and stories people want to read. These do work together, of course, but you need to understand that the skills come from different places in your mind. You have to see with different eyes.(Need specifics for this to be clear but step 1 is realizing these two essential skills come from different places)

  • Language—tone, pacing, dialogue, character building, especially through dialogue.

  • Story: plot, structure: various layers of plot and structure. These can be sentence level sometimes but are definitely: scene, chapter, complete novel. Character development as linked to story

  • Theme is important: you need to figure out what you’re writing about but it’s not something you have to know right away.

And also

  • Language and story are partners.

  • Language usage can create emotions by the choice of words and by creating word images (like the camera does in film) for the reader. They see what’s happening and become involved with it. Characters become real.

  • Story-plot and structure-hacks the mind of the reader to pull them along with action that keeps them turning the page but also involves them in the bigger story that makes for a satisfying read. Your reader needs to have a strong narrative and feel a sense of progression toward the end.

Excellent short short example

page6image39072320 page6image39073472

Why is this short-short good?

  • Boy kicks dog...conflict established...

  • Audience sympathetic for puppy—engaged because of this sympathy and how the boy is treating him.

  • The puppy keeps trying in DIFFERENT ways. The boy keeps resisting. Engages the reader with a question. Will the boy give in?

  • We’re still pissed and irritated by boy (I’m a dog lover)

  • BUT we want the boy to be won over by the puppy. We want it for the puppy but we also sort of want it for the boy, hope that it might make him less of a punk.

  • Then we see the boy. The twist/surprise/changes the story that makes us see everything we’ve already seen in a different way.

  • As the British says, Brilliant.

ALAS, FIRST DRAFTS SUCK. BE READY FOR IT. I ADVISE, LOW EXPECTATIONS. Keep writing your way through good and bad days.


  • Character in a situation...and the situation must have potential for CONFLICT

  • A boy and a girl from warring families fall in love. (this may have been done once or twice)

  • A boy’s father dies and he suspects it’s murder— worse that his uncle is involved and maybe his mother.

A girl wakesonashipthatseemstobeonthesea but realizes that she is dead. (Zevin, Elsewhere)

TO OUTLINE OR NOT TO OUTLINE: Are you a discovery writer or an outliner or a little of both? Most people are probably a little of both. 

John Irving is the ultimate outliner. Brandon Sanderson is also a big outliner. Stephen King is a discovery writer.  There is no one way to work. You have to find out what works for you. Experiment. 

  • A character in a situation is how I usually begin. This may include a setting idea along with story. This will get you started but you need more to keep going. If all I have is a cool situation, it’s hard to move past the opening.

  • I do one page of outlining to have a very general idea of what might happen in the novel. At least this way I can move beyond just the first twenty/ thirty pages.

  • Then I do a POINTS ON THE MAP—four or five points—from beginning to end that will help me move from point to point. Next step, I’ll try one sentence summary of some scenes in-between the points. All of the above will change in revision

  • I do outlining as I go along.

  • Sometimes I will try to just write what I want to do in a scene and write some dialogue as a way to get started on a difficult scene

  • I try to follow my own advice and keep writing and not let myself be stopped by the messy and ugly first draft.


  • Do an outline-–a points on a map outline for a story you’re working on (at least five points). Or if you don’t have a story, do an outline for one of the following:

  • A girl volunteering in an assisted living community notices that people die when they’re befriended by one of the women who lives there.

  • A policeman owns ten cats and comes home one night and they’re all gone.

  • A boy and his girlfriend (who cheated on him) meet at a party.

  • A father and his son, who have never gotten along, have to learn to live together after the boy’s mother/father’s wife dies. One scene that shows them trying to cope together—maybe after the funeral.

  • A boy suddenly realizes he has some kind of supernatural ability. Maybe he can read minds. He talks to his parents about it. They reveal a secret.


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

 I like dogs and I have a lot of dogs in the Poe Detective Agency novels. I made a little book of them, seventeen pages with pictures and descriptions, for my email list. Sign up if you're interested. Here's a sample—Charlie, Boss Dog, and Hamlet.

Writing tip of the day: Write what you care about. Find something to care about—small things, big things, tiny things, gigantic things—and you will be fine. You will be happy even if the story doesn't sell (and it is more likely to sell if you can communicate your love or disgust or joy or even, alas, your hate) because you care about the story and probably will have fun writing it. 

Friday, September 3, 2021

 As a writer and as a person I feel like I am constantly taking this sign down and putting it back up.

Maybe it's not such a bad thing though. You got to have hope.

Here is my newest hope, the third novel of the Poe Detective Series, Romeo Moon.

It's a fantasy, second-world, historical (set around 1915 except, you know, second world, so the bad guy is an evil magician), western, with attention to language and humor. In other words, a mutt. I write mutts. 

I do think that readers are more receptive to genre bending and blending than they once were. Why is that?  More reviewers from more diverse spaces? Maybe because the big five or four or three or whatever it is this week don't have the strangle hold they once did on the market? Whatever the reason, I'm glad for it.

Thanks for reading. Brian

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Here is today's brief lesson in writing fiction. You have to know your character. Do your best, your very best, to not force your character to do and say things that they would not do or say just because you think your plot needs them to. Do not give into the common problem of manipulating your characters to further your plot. BE TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTERS, Writers. Get into the mind of your spiders and your flies. That's where the magic is. Forcing your characters into false, illogical, manipulated actions and thoughts and conversations and so on will wake your reader from their fictional dream and they will be pissed and put down your book and maybe throw your book across the room and break a glass (oops, autobiography sneaking in). Let the spider be the spider and the fly the fly.

 Thanks for reading.