How to Write a Book
To bring a novel from inception to publication can take two or three years. Publishers have to think ahead. So does the smart writer. Don't waste your time trying to cash in on today's hits. Write the novel you're burning to write, and make it as good as you possibly can. There is only one rule: don't bore your reader.
If you've never written a novel before, you would be wise to complete your manuscript before you approach the market. In today's fast moving publishing world, few editors and agents are willing to work with a new author on the basis of an outline and sample. You have to be able to show you can deliver what you promise.
Put your manuscript away for at least a couple of weeks, then read it right through, asking:
- Have you kept the spotlight on your basic theme and main characters? Sub-plots and minor characters should not overshadow these.
- Have you developed your characters fully, portraying them through their actions, reactions and interactions, and keeping them 'in character' throughout? Don't let them act out of character without a good reason.
- Has your protagonist changed (or been changed) by the end? A main character who neither changes nor grows in some meaningful way between the first and last pages will be static and unconvincing.
- Is your story logical? Even a fantasy needs to make sense within its own terms.
- Does the story maintain a satisfactory 'cause and effect' sequence, with each event following on logically from what has gone - before? A plot that relies on coincidence, for example, or the convenient arrival of a new character, will strain your reader's credulity. Coincidences do happen in real life, but they're seldom convincing in fiction.
- Have you kept control of your chosen narrative voice (or voices) throughout? Check for unintentional switches or slips of viewpoint?
- Does every scene take the action forward, enrich characterisation, increase tension, or provide a calming or reflective interlude? If it does none of these, ask yourself why it's there. Could it be cut without harming the story?
- Check every piece of dialogue - is it 'in character'? Does it contribute to characterisation and/or move the story forward?
- Have you been sparing with description and explanation, leaving room for your reader's imagination to come into play?
- Is the writing strong, evoking all the senses? Have you used passive voice where active voice would work better? Have you used 'to be' verbs supported by adverbs where strong verbs alone would be more effective? Flabby writing can dull the impact of the most brilliant story.
- Look again at the story as a whole. Is the structure balanced? Have you begun in the right place? Don't jeopardise your chances by starting the story too early, providing too much background and taking too long to get things moving. Many a story has been saved by cutting out the first chapter and plunging straight into the action.
- Have you sustained momentum through the middle section, moving the story on through cause and effect, action and reaction, tightening tension as you build to the climax?
- Have you left your reader feeling satisfied that the whole story has been told? Make sure you haven't left any unintentional loose ends.
- Are you absolutely sure your novel is as good as you can make it?