M. T. Dremer is the author of four novels and received a Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing from Grand Valley State University.
I know what you’re thinking: how can this guy possibly teach me to write a novel in such a short article? Novels are vastly complex pieces of work and surely a single article couldn’t sum up everything you need to know. True, but I’m not here to teach you how to write, which is a difficult subject to teach anyway. Being a good writer does not always mean you have what it takes to write a novel. Writing a novel is more persistence and perseverance than it is brilliant writing. There are countless good writers who never manage to finish a novel for one reason or another and there are bad writers who churn them out, one right after another. So, for this article, I’m going focus on some basics for you keep in mind as you stare down the long road of novel writing and, hopefully, keep you working until it’s done.
One of the easiest ways to get discouraged when you set out to write a novel is the sheer workload that hangs over your head. If you sit down at your computer, or notebook, and tell yourself “Okay I’m going to write a novel” you will always fail (Unless you’re a robot, in which chase the novel won’t be interesting anyway). That would be like saying “I’m going to build a skyscraper” then being disappointed when you don’t have it finished on day one. It takes time to build a skyscraper and it takes time to write a novel.
For this reason, you will want to start small and there are a number of ways you can do this. The first is to write your idea as a short story. This gets the general plot and characters onto paper and creates a basic beginning, middle and end. Don’t worry if what you’re writing reads poorly. The first draft of even the best novels probably sucked. Don’t expect the first words you put down to be pure gold, the important part is just getting them on paper. Some people may find it more effective to write an outline, rather than a short story. I just find that the short stories are more valuable to me personally.
Another way to start small is to create attainable goals for yourself. My character needs to get from point A to point B. Once you accomplish this goal, then you can focus on getting them from point B to point C. By setting smaller goals like this, you feel a sense of accomplishment even though the novel isn’t finished. Without a sense of accomplishment, it is easy to lose motivation and give up. The goal can be as small as one page, or even one paragraph, written per day. That may sound like a small amount, but at least it is still progress. Even a small amount of progress can be held, measured and will eventually lead to a finished product.
Expand the Parts You Like
A lot of early writers believe that they need certain sequences in their book. For example, let’s say I want to introduce a new character, but before I can, I have to give the reader that character’s backstory. In some cases this might be fun to read, but very often it just grinds the narrative to a screeching halt. Back story is good, but not if it kills the main story. Too often, a writer will get bogged down in a section they aren’t interested in and it ends up killing the momentum of the story. In this instance you want to sit back and ask yourself “Where did the story go wrong?” At what point did the story stop being fun and start being tedious? Go back to that point and try again, branching off in a new direction until you discover what feels right and what is enjoyable for you to write. Remember that if you have fun writing it, chances are that your reader will have fun reading it.
This is also very true when it comes to expanding your book. Say, for example, that you decided to write a short story, like I suggested above, but you wish to turn it into a novel. Where do you go from here? Well, take a good look at that short story and ask yourself which parts you enjoyed. Ask yourself, where could I expand and add more information? Maybe one of your characters went off on their own for a while during the story and you find that you’d really like to follow them and discover what they were doing. I’ve seen many writers get caught up in a side story that they love, only to realize later that this is the story they should have been telling all along. Looking for ways to expand the good parts of your story is the first step towards creating enough content to fill a novel.
You don’t have to write the book chronologically either. Write the interesting parts first and the rest will fill in later. Otherwise, the problem that usually arises is that the filler material isn’t very interesting, so when you spend all of your days writing filler, trying to get to that sequence you really want to write, you end up getting bored before you ever reach the good part. What this means is that I, as the writer, may decide to write the final battle before the hero and the villain have ever met. I may write a character’s death sequence before they have even been introduced. Pick out the parts of your novel that are most interesting and write those. Worry about the things in between later, once you are sure this is a story you want to tell.
Don't Be Afraid to Write Crap!
If you've read any of my other writing articles, then you've probably heard this before (along with the suggestion to read more). But when you're embarking on a new writing project; do not be afraid to write crap. What I mean by this statement is; get the words on the page first, worry about polishing it later. This is especially important when writing a new novel. There are a lot of words to get down and if you get too hung up on doing it 'right' or 'perfectly' then you're never going to get anywhere. There is a method I use with my own novels where I categorize them based on their level of completeness. Bronze is the first version of the story that someone else can read, so it's complete and there aren't any unexplained gaps or disappearing characters. Silver is the version I've polished based on my notes and the suggestions of my readers. Gold is the version that I've worked near to death, where my edits have become nitpicky and I'm just beating a dead horse. Only then do I consider the book done. But notice that first draft doesn't have an associated metal. You know why? Because it's crap; a grade A stink pile. No first draft is ever perfect, and the sooner you realize that, the more freedom you'll have to write it.
Writing Is Good, But Editing Is Better
Out of all of the writing I’ve done in my life, the hardest part of the process is editing. I’ve also learned that it is the most essential. A lot of early writers will look at one of their pieces and think “it’s as good as it’s going to get, so I’ll just move on to something else”. Well, I’m here to tell you that it can always get better. I was once told by a published author that he still wishes he could go back and make changes to some of his finished works. In other words; don’t give up on a project because you don’t believe it can be improved, or because someone who read it didn’t like it. If you truly love a piece of writing, you will put the extra work in, to figure out how you can make it better and how you can make other people see the greatness that you yourself can see in it.
I’ve seen a lot of good ideas make their way into stories, but too often are they buried by spelling mistakes, poor character development and a complete lack of description. If you have this gem of a story that you want to tell, you want it to be as polished and shiny as possible so that when someone sees it, they won’t be able to deny its beauty. That may sound conceited, because it is, but as an author you’re going to have to be a little conceited. There is a lot of work to be done, especially with editing, with no guarantee of success. You have to believe, with every ounce of your being, that this story is good and that it needs to be published. If you doubt your story and your own abilities, the novel will never have a chance to take off.
There are some general tips for good editing that you should also keep in mind. The first, and foremost, thing to remember is that you have the final say. People may read your story and give you harsh criticism, but when it comes down to the manuscript you submit to publishers, you, and only you, will decide what is in it. However, this is not to say that you should ignore the comments of friends and family. If everybody says your main character is flat, then you should stop and ask yourself why they keep saying it. Maybe you don’t see the character as flat, but there might be a reason everyone else is.
Alright, let’s say you found a part of the book you would like to edit, now what? Well the first thing you want to ask yourself is, can this be salvaged or should I dump it and re-write it from scratch? Usually you can tell by how many problems you have with the sequence. If it gives you trouble every time you open your notebook or document, then you might want to consider re-writing it. If it sounds good, but is a little off, you can probably fix it up with some rewording. It is very important to remember, when editing, that if a part needs to be cut, do not hesitate to pull the trigger. You wouldn’t dream of building a skyscraper with a faulty support beam, so why would you publish the book with a section you don’t feel comfortable with? The nice thing about writing a book is that you always have the old versions in case the new version is even worse.
Like I said above; you have to love your story in order for this to work. You have to love it so much that you’re willing to kill it if the need arises. Let me give you an example. I was writing my own novel and I came to the understanding that the version I was editing was not up to snuff. Too many sequences weren’t working and it read like I had written it several years prior (which I had). I then realized that if I was going to save the story, I would have to scrap the old version and start brand new. Which I did. Now, before you accuse me of being crazy and closing this article, I want you to think of this: the version I have now is infinitely better than the old version. The reason for this is that the mind has a way of editing out unimportant things. So, by writing the novel based on my memory, I was removing all the parts that were dead weight and was focusing only on that which was most important. I’m not saying you have to delete everything you have, but when a sequence just won’t work, don’t be afraid to kill it and write a masterpiece from its ashes.
Take Breaks, But Don’t Lose Sight of The Prize
Writing a novel is a lot of work. It’s not going to happen overnight. So, one of the things you’re going to have to learn is patience. After you’ve made some good progress on your story, take a break from it. Pursue one of your other hobbies for a while, or write a different story that is unrelated to your novel. Taking a break from it will allow you to view it with fresh eyes when you come back, seeing things you wouldn’t have seen before.
Taking a break will also give your mind some much needed rest. Looking at the same story, day after day, will become tedious and you want to avoid getting bored with your novel. Not only can fresh eyes help with editing your story, but when you come back, you can also rediscover your love for it.
One of the potential dangers of taking a break, is getting back on the wagon when the time comes. Maybe you feel out of practice, or you fear you won’t be able to get back into the story. The most important thing to do in this situation is to try. Re-read some of the chapters you already wrote, especially ones that are unfinished. You might just find yourself filling in gaps and writing new sequences without even trying. You can also try reading other books that are similar to yours to get yourself back in the writing mood.
If They Can Do It, So Can We
There are two authors I think of when I wonder how likely I am to finish and publish a book. The first is J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series. Say what you will about the series, the author managed to write the first book as a poor, single mother with very little time or assurance that she would succeed. Someone who was going through more hardships than me, managed to write a book as successful as Harry Potter. This gives me hope that, despite how much trouble I do have, it is possible to finish and reach my goal.
The second author, who is more of a collection of authors I dislike, will be referred to as Mrs. X. Mrs. X creates inconsistent and wooden main characters, zig zags her plots so badly that I forget why I’m reading the novel and butchers the English language down to whatever phrases are popular that year. I can’t even begin to imagine how Mrs. X got popular, let alone published with the poor writing skills she possesses, and yet there she is on book stands around the country. So, if someone can make that many mistakes and still get published, surely I can with fewer mistakes.
Everyone’s writing style is different, so some of my tips may not work for you, but I decided to write this article because novel writing isn’t always taught in school (college included). The majority of my knowledge is self taught; learned from reading novels and books about writing them. It has also been a significant amount of trial and error. Therefore, I’m passing this knowledge down to you. Writing a novel isn’t easy, but it's not impossible either. I cannot stress enough that persistence and perseverance are essential to being successful (patience comes on the publishing side of things). My hope is that, from this article, you take a little more knowledge on your long journey ahead.
Some Additional Tips:
- If you’re having trouble getting motivated or you think your writing isn’t very good, the best thing you can do, always, is to read. Find a good book and start reading. It doesn’t have to be a “how to write” book, because you will pick up tricks of the trade just from reading in the genre you like.
- If you have a teacher, or a how to write book, that tells you not to do something, don’t get too hung up on it when writing your novel. Write what you want to write, not what people tell you to write. If some part of it is truly problematic, you can always edit it later. Countless great authors broke the rules of writing, just know that you have to know the rules before you can break them.
- Following all of my tips will not guarantee that your novel gets finished or published. Ultimately it will come down to you and what method works best for you. This article is meant only as an aide to your own methods.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 27, 2019:
Writing is a skill and writing a novel is a mammoth task encompassing creativity, wit, skill and content.
A good novel will cling its readers to the end even if they could guess the end of the story.
You have posted an useful article. Thanks.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on December 08, 2014:
Novemberkeys - Congratulations on your first novel! Best of luck going forward and thank you for the comment!
Brian and Michael on December 07, 2014:
Having recently completed and published our debut novel November Keys, we are certainly able to sympathise with anyone starting out for the first time. We soon found that writing a book is not easy but very rewarding.
Looking at our first drafts, not many could have believed that our ramblings could have finished as a book. In short, they were pretty awful.However, we persevered and over time our manuscript at last became polished.
Concentrating on one chapter at a time, we introduced new and hopefully interesting characters whilst attempting to strengthen the plot. We did work very hard but the end product was worthwhile.
If you do have a good idea for a novel never let go of your dream. Do not worry about writing crap initially, practise makes perfect. If you too work hard, your end product will amaze you like ours did us.
Good luck for the future, if it helps please read our hub, from a doodle to a novel.
Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on November 03, 2014:
You hit the nail on the head! I am afraid of writing crap!
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on November 03, 2014:
Austinstar - The biggest hurdle when writing a novel is just getting words onto the page. Any way you can do that will help, whether it's a short story, one scene, or even a few sentences. That's why I always tell people to not be afraid to write crap. Crap is SOMETHING, and you can always edit it later. Thanks for the comment!
Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on October 30, 2014:
I've written quite a few short stories and I have a novel to write. I think you are right. I should write my novel in short story form first! Thanks for the tips.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on October 23, 2013:
Osome Sabri - You're welcome. Thank you for the comment. :)
Sabri BenChaabane on October 23, 2013:
Thanks alot for this hub
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on July 15, 2013:
Wasteless Project - Thank you, I hope you find lots to enjoy.
Wasteless Project from Worldwide on July 15, 2013:
You think so? I was so sure it was you;) I heard hubpages earlier had a bookmark option for great hubs, which isn't there anymore... what a pitty! And compiling hubs is a great idea - I saw one hubber who uses all of his 'in the spotlight' hubs to guide the reader into the different fields of his hubs - very practical! Either way, I will keep revisiting your page, more than enough great hubs are on it anyways;)
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on July 15, 2013:
Wasteless Project - Thank you for your comment and interest in my articles. I'm not positive which article you're referring to, but I like the idea of compiling them into a centralized location. I've done something similar with my humor articles by creating a primary hub that contains all of the links. It makes it easier to reference the guide in each individual hub rather than posting all of them over and over again. While I work on this novel reference guide, also be aware that sometimes HubPages links to related hubs by different authors. As much as I would like to take credit for a good article about novel structure, it is also possible that a different hubber wrote it.
Wasteless Project from Worldwide on July 14, 2013:
I was actually searching a hub you had written before about structuring a novel... I scrolled through all your featured hubs, but must have missed it. Since I don't want to lose too much of my writing time I will probably not go back and search until I find that article again - which I really liked, but more or less remember. This made me think - it would be awesome if you would interlink your own related hubs more, that would make it much easier to find other related hubs of yours - and that for sure should increase your traffic! I sometimes find hubpage's design a bit impractical, as the more hubs an author has, the more difficult it might become to actually get an overview of the hubs related to a topic. And you have a lot of great hubs to read through! I'll for sure come back looking for that hub when I have more time at hands, but just thought I would share my experience with you.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on June 05, 2012:
MR B - I feel bad saying that any mainstream authors are bad because I want to encourage reading as much as possible. But there are just some books that I can't even force myself to get through, nor can I deny that they exist. Thanks for the comment!
MR B on May 22, 2012:
I knew S Meyers was 1 and just recently came to knowledge of Janet which is another perfect gag-fest to be sure!!
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on May 18, 2011:
Leptirela - Finding the right motivation can be tough, but don't think that writing each day is the only option. A lot of busier writers can only find the time to write on weekends. Find out what fits best into your schedule and start a routine. I'll admit that I don't always stick to mine, but always remember that it's never too late to start again. Thanks for the comment!
kaltopsyd - I often forget to take breaks as well. When there is a lot of pressure to get a book done, it's hard to take breaks, but we need to force ourselves to do it so we don't end up hating whatever we're writing. Looking at your story with fresh eyes is one of the best things you can do for it. Thanks for the comment!
trusouldj - Thank you for the compliment!
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on May 18, 2011:
jayjay40 - A short story is a good way to see if you like certain characters and establish a greater universe from which a novel can form. Good luck and thanks for the comment!
camlo - Throwing away an earlier draft of a novel is really one of the best things a writer can do. It helps eliminate all the fluff and really dig into the parts of the story that are interesting. The hard part is having the courage to get rid of it. Some of us are helped along by failing technology and others have to just file the draft away and refuse to look at it. Oh and Mrs. X is primarily Janet Evanovich who writes the Stephanie Plum mystery novels, though Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight, has been fighting for the Mrs. X title in recent years. I didn't mention the names in the article because its entirely based on my opinion. Mrs. X may be someone entirely different for you. Thanks for the comment!
Run Down Battery - That's a great motto to live by. :D
Old Guy - Thank you for the compliment!
LaZeric Freeman from Hammond on May 18, 2011:
Very informative. Good work.
kaltopsyd from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA on May 28, 2010:
Thanks for reminding me to take a break. I often forget to do that. I just want to spend all my time writing and writing and writing... And then I wonder why I have writers' block. Take a break. Thanks. All of this is great advice.
Leptirela from I don't know half the time on May 10, 2010:
'Read like a butterfly, write like a bee' hehehe Nice one!
I love the HUb above----- I agree with most stated :) I also believe everyone has a book within them and is able to write however, I lack motivation :) and cannot keep to writing every day which is my downfall... But everyones different I hope I find my strength and keep at it because I can do it too :)))))
Old Guy on February 26, 2010:
Thank you... Really thank you...
Run Down Battery from UK on January 27, 2010:
Read like a butterfly, write like a bee!
Camlo De Ville from Cologne, Germany on December 02, 2009:
This is good.
I can relate to all of what you write here.
My old computer crashed and died, taking all of my work with it. Now I've started to re-write the stories -- and there is no original to refer to -- and they're better than ever. Some that were not proper, rounded stories, now are.
A good thing about Hubpages, is that you can continue editing after publishing -- a good thing, too, as far as I'm concerned :-)
I'd love to know who Mrs. X is. Could you tell me? It would be very motivating to read a published author who writes even worse than I do. I hope she does, anyway :-)
Enjoyed your Hub!
All the best, Camlo
jayjay40 from Bristol England on December 01, 2009:
Loved this hub, I've tried to write a bokk a couple of times, but now I see where I went wrong. I will write a short story first and see how it goes