Writing Tips #1, Tips on Writing a Novel from an Aspiring Author

Possible one of the most painful yet rewarding experiences I’ve had, writing a novel has really helped with my own sanity. For the past couple years it has taught me some lessons in how to write a story that is entertaining to read (depending on your audience of course). Normally credentials are necessary to prove that the writer is a valid author. However when it comes to writing a story, literally anyone can do it. Anyone. I just happen to be a University Student who studied Literature for 3 years and learned a bit of Creative Writing.

Writing a novel serves as an amazing outlet for the imagination. Creating a world, characters whose decisions and actions are based on the whim of the writer, it’s like playing God! Well not as powerful if you plan on writing a decent story. But the core point is that you do play God to a certain extent in creating your world. This isn’t solely restricted to writers creating their own fictitious world as a writer can determine where on earth the story takes place as well as what happens in that location.

Feel like the City of Vancouver is a boring setting? Throw in a Tornado!

Which brings me to my next point that if you do, for some reason, throw a tornado into the City of Vancouver, at least make sure that it makes sense in the context of the story. Is the story set in the future where Global Warming allowed for such a thing to happen? Is there some kind of weather machine used? Is there just a pissed off wizard who was too angry with the Canucks? Honestly it doesn’t matter what the reason is as long as it is a reason that the writer can explain logically to the reader so that they don’t sit there, scratching their head, thinking that the writer is a lunatic.

Often times it helps to think of a theme before writing a story. Is it a romance novel? Adventure story? Set in the Future? a Mythological World? A World that the writer created to play with as they choose? It’s a simple part of the creative process but nonetheless very important. It can be seen as a way of focusing the novel. Despite everything I said about playing God and doing whatever the writer feels like, it helps to restrict your options to make everything connected. Sometimes it helps to look at it in reverse, from the origin of one character which leads to the description of the world and setting.

  • The main character is out for vengeance. Why?
  • His Parents were murdered. Why?
  • They spoke out against the regime. Why?
  • The government in question abuses its power over the citizens. Why?
  • Drunk with power? A valid reason but rather boring. Authoritarian rule in order to achieve a certain objective? A bit more interesting and adds to the mystery of the Protagonist’s parents’ deaths. Perhaps there is an external threat in which the Government must do everything in their power to prepare for.

I find that, in writing a story that captures the interest of the reader, there must always be some mystery as well as almost everything being connected in a manner that is logical and entertaining for the reader to discover. This does not only apply to detective novels and mystery novels, but to any story. Who doesn’t enjoy a story that makes the reader think, especially when they look back at the clues the writer has left to help them reach the revelation scene. Everyone likes to deduce the outcome.

With this in mind, a writer must always be thoughtful when adding to their story. Even though I have emphasized the fact that the Writer can do whatever they wish,  it must be logical and, when questioned by the reader, it must be answerable by the reader when they look back at earlier events and tie everything together. But the writer can also choose to add in elements to a story that may seem random, but still fit in the context of the story. For Example:

  • The main character is meeting someone in an alleyway for information. Suddenly he is shot and left bleeding on the floor as he sees a dark figure looming over him. He blacks out and then wakes up in a hospital to find that he was robbed and left for dead.

In this situation, the main character may have been in a very poor part of town with little police presence and a mugger may have taken advantage of him. It is a random mugger who came into the story. Though it is random, it makes sense when the reader considers that the main character was foolish enough to wait for someone in a dark alleyway in a dangerous part of town. Maybe the main character learns something. Maybe not. Maybe he’s an idiot and he’ll go back. As long as the setting of the story allows for something random to happen, its allowed to happen. But it would help if it leads to something.

I’ve discussed much about what to do when writing a story, now it’s time for some “how-to” when it comes to achieving this. When explaining the world the story takes place in, its history and culture as well as describing the characters in the story, avoid just coming out and describing the character.

  • Jon is funny

It explains that Jon is a funny person, but its horribly boring to read. The best way to describe a character is by having another character describe them in a colourful way or through a scene in the story.

  • Jon is always a delight to have around. When he steps into a room, in a few short moments everyone is smiling and laughing and having a good time.

It isn’t the most eloquent way to describe a character, but it’s certainly more interesting to read than “Jon is funny”. In describing a character or setting, a writer can do so either through an action scene or an exposition scene. An action scene could be a fire fight in which the Protagonist and his rebel forces are battling Government troops, but more Government troops keep swarming in with better weaponry and pushing closer as the rebels slowly begin to dwindle as their own guns malfunction and they start dying. Such an action scene can tell the reader that the rebels are at a technological disadvantage as well as a disadvantage in numbers. I often find that is a more entertaining way of explaining a setting as opposed to simply saying that the government had better weaponry and more numbers. Exposition is a simpler way of explaining characters, themes and settings as it is closest to simply stating facts. But it is more important to describe these facts in an interesting way when possible. At the beginning of a novel, the main character or side character can describe the world and situation they are in through their own eyes. Putting their own personality into the description makes it more personal and less artificial, aiding in the establishment of the setting that can be challenged later by another character. One important consideration is that a writer cannot have a story that is all action and no exposition and vice versa. There needs to be “Hills” and “Valleys”, parts of the story that are intense, dramatic and exciting (Hills) and lulls in the action used to discuss and explain what happened during the action and have character interactions (Valleys). It also helps that Valleys make Hills more exciting as opposed to having all hills. Think of a movie that’s all explosions and gun fighting. If there’s no moments of quiet between them, none of them really stand out and become memorable.

Character development is probably one of the most vital elements to writing a story. I will write another piece on character development as I feel it deserves its own written piece.

Finally, I must stress this point, any aspiring writer does not have to listen to a word I’ve said. This might be a strange way to end this but I feel it is valid to point out that, you can disagree with anything I said here and still produce a very interesting story. The point of me writing this is that it is what I’ve learned in the past few years I’ve spent working on my own novel as well as a short story. At one point I realised that my story felt ridiculous and decided to re-write the whole thing. As you write your story you’ll find yourself maturing more as a writer and understand your own writing style better. For me, having studied Literature for 3 years, I found that literature can be very depressing and chose to try and refrain from being too depressing. I understand that, if nothing ever goes wrong, a story would be very boring to read. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have a happy ending. It also helps to read several different books to see what authors do right, but more importantly, what you feel they do wrong and think of why it is wrong. Maybe you don’t like the fact that the main character is not relatable, maybe the fact that the setting is too bland. Take note of it, you may not be the only person who feels the same.

Of course, in choosing to write a novel, always make sure that you enjoy writing and working on your story. The most important fact to understand is that it is your novel. Unless you’re writing a novel for sales purposes, try and make the story something you look forward to working on and not just another task to complete.

Hope this helps!

– Raphael

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