1. Seylesx
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    Seylesx New Member

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    Writing a 'First' Novel: Where to start?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Seylesx, Dec 6, 2009.

    I would love to eventually write a novel...maybe even publish it?
    However, I don't quite know where to start. I have a few ideas, a few possible starts, but I'm not sure I have the imagination to turn them into a terrific novel. I know research can help with that, but I'm afraid I will end up turning my story into a national geographic book. Help? Advice on getting from point A to point B?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Start small. Write short stories to build confidence and to develop your "voice." Work on developing multidimensional characters, and putting them in conflict with one another.

    Don't worry about whether te idea for the novel is good enough. The idea is not that important. If your characters are interesting and appealing (not necessarily likeable, but identifiable with the reader on some level), and your writing is competent, you'll be in fine shape.
     
  3. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Relax and enjoy the process. Also, the first novel written is often not the first novel published, so it's not something worth worrying about yet. Focus on learning the skills and having fun with ideas and language.
     
  4. aniolel
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    aniolel Member

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    Concuring with Cogito here when i say that start small and work you way up, and relax.
     
  5. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    The longer I work at this job, the less forgiving I tend to be. But I still have a soft enough heart to be taken back to my beginnings with an armload of compassion and tenderness when I read something like your post. While your profile does not hint at your age, I can only imagine, however erroneously, that you are quite young. This is good news for you! You have plenty of time to hone your skills and fine tune your passion for writing.

    Whether you write a short story, a novelette, or a full-scale, epic novel is, at this point not a matter of importance. You, by the way, and your inclination, are the deciding factor there. (Some people naturally migrate to the longer fiction while others craft masterful shorts and novelettes but just cannot do any longer works.) Shorter works of fiction can be quite quite difficult to do well. They require a greater degree of succinctness, tighter, more focused writing and an almost instinctual ability to pack six chapters worth of characterization into a paragraph worth of words. Since you are dealing with fewer words, you have to be able to target for your reader what is really important and not dwell on the superflouous. Some writers simply cannot see themselves, or their work, molded into a somewhat miniaturized version of their vision.

    With longer works, you have the 'luxury' of taking more time and space to develop your characters and story lines. Some people, extraordinarily successful with shorts, find they are intimidated by all of that space.

    Some lucky souls, of course, are equally at home in either form.

    It seems as though you see your first effort as a full-length novel as opposed to the Cliff's Notes version. Go for it. Bear in mind, the first draft is not generally the last. It is a long way from the finished product. If, when you finish this first draft, you find you have written an epic 200,000 words - No sweat. This is where the pruning and editing comes in (And there will be a lot of that!) to bring it under half that size. It can be a long, drawn out process and, in some cases, painful. You will be so enamoured of your words you will find it difficult to break ties with them. Give yourself time and a thick skin to be able to really, objectively see what works and what doesn't.

    Lastly, it's a rare author whose first effort ever get published, so don't dwell on that right now. Although you may be in that rare company, your first objective is to get the words on paper. You say you "...have a few ideas, a few possible starts..." Do you have a vision of the characters entwined with these ideas? Get to know them ... intimately. Learn what got them into the circumstances about which you are going to write. Consider that you are not an author of fiction but a reporter of events in someone's life. Then let your characters lead you through their story. And, if you get stuck, just go back to them and ask them to tell you more. And, if they are overly wordy, remind yourself that you don't need to report on every little breath they take and filter what you know of them.

    Don't sweat it - Just write it. The rest will come later.
     
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  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    in addition to agreeing with the advice given above, i have to say the most important thing you must do, to learn how to write a novel is to constantly READ the best novels by the best writers... no one can become a good writer, if they're not first a good reader...
     
  7. Ecksvie
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    Ecksvie Member

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    The first book I ever wrote was around 25,000 words long. I loved writing it at the time, but now I look at it and cringe. It was awful! I really had no idea how to write. Of course, this was back before the time when everyone had access to the internet so I didnt really have much help. You're a step ahead of me already.

    I say write what you want to write. Don't worry about how long it is or how publishable it is. Most writers have to write at least one book, if not several more, before their work is of a publishable standard. If you want to get published, then you'll need plenty of writing practice. You'll find it easiest to get this practice if you're writing something you love.

    If you've got an idea, write it and give it your best shot. Don't worry about how long it is, just concentrate on making it the best you can.
     
  8. Seylesx
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    Seylesx New Member

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    Character Building?

    I have deeply thought about what you said, and it makes a lot of sense to know the characters. This though seems to be my greatest challenge, at least at the moment. I am having to fight myself to not build my characters off of people I know. I think characters should have a history, a reason..a compassion for how they act. Anyone have any advice or maybe how you might come to form your characters?
     
  9. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    My characters formed themselves.

    Before I came up with a story or characters, I decided on an overall theme - what I wanted to write about. Once I had done that, I had a good picture of the world they lived in.
    Knowing their world gave me the basis for what kinds of characters would be required, and their backgrounds, which led me to the plot, and how it all tied together.

    You not only need to know your characters, but you need to know them well - why they are a certain way. How they might behave if you give them different backgrounds.. siblings or not, who their parents were - were they hippys or martial artists, for example, and what values might that have instilled on the character.

    Before I started writing, I never believed I was imaginative enough to build a world, characters, or write an entire story either. I surprised myself when I sat down with a scene in my head. (I say with a scene in my head because if I sit down without one, I end up staring at a blank page for hours).

    Once you develop these ideas, you will probably find you are excited enough about what you want to write about, you will need to write down a basic plot outline just to get it all out of your head. The excitement builds from there. At least, it did for me.

    When I started writing the story, I didn't know the characters very well either - their personalities shone through as I wrote and got to know them better. Same with the finer details of the plot - my initial plot outline would never have worked or made sense, so it got changed and adjusted along the way so that the story made sense as a whole.
    Yes, that meant re-writes, and cut scenes, but that is the way it works. I couldn't have reached the end without the scenes I cut, and my story is much better for it.

    So don't fret, just write! :)
     
  10. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    I don't, per se, have any good novel advice since I've never written one. Additionally, I haven't been here all that long so as to think that I would be in the position to give advice about such a broad question.

    However, I have noticed that the advice I got here from the staff at the start advising to read others stuff and critiquing it before I offer up writing has been very helpful in what I think about good fictional writing.

    What I think happens is that a poster here begins to think in terms of being critical of their own work from the skill of critique in looking at the work of others. When I look at someone else' writing, I'm not emotionally attached to it and can see it with an impartial eye. From that, I've sort of re-written some rules in my head about what I would/will do when writing.

    I think my point is that, not unlike someone else said about reading the work of others, looking at and critiquing here may help build the abilities you need to look at your work the same way.

    So, not advice about a novel so much as something I've observed about myself in the short time I've been here and thought useful.
     
  11. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Start with short stories, but keep in mind that short stories aren't the same as novels, in more ways than just word count. How to prepare for a novel? Study what it takes to structure a novel. Study the craft. Start reading as a writer. Consider taking a look at books that delve into the elements of writing. (I can recommend a few if you'd like. PM me if you're interested.)

    Other than that, find your stride. Some authors plan out their novels to the detail before writing them (e.g. Orson Scott Card), others go in with little more than a premise and the "starting conditions" and take it from there (e.g. Stephen King), and others are most comfortable with something in-between those two extremes (e.g. myself). Just find what works best for you. :)
     
  12. Seylesx
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    Seylesx New Member

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    Wow...this is great! Everyone has good advice, and I really appriciate everyone sharing it with me. I'm going to try a short story soon, just for pure practice and critic. I have 'started' a lot of stories, though never actually finished one so this should be interesting. Thanks again guys!
     
  13. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't have to start with short stories. For one thing, they are quite a different beast from a novel.

    Which is not to say you shouldn't start with short stories.

    Your most useful method will be reading novels. Good novels, bad novels, mediocre novels. First you want to develop a sense of taste, then you want to learn why certain novels don't live up to your standards.
     
  14. hoodwinked
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    hoodwinked Member

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    I've never written a novel... but, like you, I hope to someday. Right now, I'm focusing on learning how to write.

    Which is why I agree Cogito and the others about starting small.

    It takes a lot of skill and knowledge to write a good novel. There's a lot of techniques to learn... and if you dive right into writing the big novel... you will miss learning about the little things, like how best to describe certain scenes (like scenes with humor or suspense), or how the words you choose affect the mood of the scene... etc. If you start small, and focus on certain aspects of writing, you will learn a great deal more, and develop your writing technique.

    I suggest buying some good books on writing, and on grammar. Browse around here on the forums. There are plenty of threads about those types of books.

    Right now, I've got The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, but I'm planning on finding some others. You can't have too many, as long as the authors are reliable.
     
  15. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most books on writing aren't all that great. You're better off hanging around in the critique areas. That will teach you almost exactly the same things, but it will cement the knowledge in your head much better.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you'd be best off just reading the best writing by the best writers [does not mean the most popular]...
     
  17. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    I think that depends on what you're trying to learn. If you want to learn how to write beautifully (i.e. pretty prose), then you should probably study literary fiction--you know, the stuff written by academic types who most of us have never heard of. If, however, you want to learn how to craft an engaging story that sells, you have good reason to study popular authors. Their mechanics may not be the best, sometimes downright horrible, but their books sold for a reason. And if you really want to cover your bases, no one's stopping you from studying both.

    By the way, telling someone to study the "best" writing by the "best" writers doesn't mean a thing if you don't give some kind of example. (Who, exactly, are these "best" writers?) That's like someone coming to you and asking, "What kind of car should I buy?" and you saying "A good one." Doesn't help them much.
     
  18. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It has more to do, I would argue, with marketing than crafting an engaging story. There are many lesser known books that I found as engaging as the popular books.
     
  19. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    Agreed; Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea is infinitely better than Twilight, for example. Likewise, although I haven't read it, I'm willing to bet that Gravity's Rainbow is better than Harry Potter.
     
  20. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Then those are the ones you should study. I recommended taking a look at popular books simply because they're accessible (everyone knows about Twilight and Harry Potter and Dan Brown's books). And regardless of what you want to say about marketing, their legions of fans love those books because of what's in them, not because of how they were pitched.

    Read Harry Potter, then you can comment on it. :rolleyes: And like I just said, even if Nausea is better than Twilight and Gravity's Rainbow is better than Harry Potter, that doesn't mean Twilight and Harry Potter aren't good. I read Twilight and disliked it greatly, but I can understand why the tweenage girls love it. Stephanie Meyer delivered to her target audience. If I don't like it, as a 23-year-old male, that's really not her problem. She didn't write it for me.
     
  21. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    I feel that I should point out; like everyone else in the nation, I gave J.K. Rowling money. I asked for Gravity's Rainbow for Christmas. ;)

    Twilight might be good for most teenage/tweenage girls, but most teenage/tweenage girls are stupid. I should know; I'm the right age to constantly be near them. Well, not tweenage, that would be weird and slightly creepy, but you get the idea.

    A book's literary merits are quite seperate from how much x audience likes it. Most people would like tax cuts; tax cuts inevitably lead to problems with healthcare etc. Twilight is entirely superficial and shallow.

    Harry Potter was competently written and moderately enjoyable, but I feel she was being slightly pretentious by the last few books (when she became exorbitantly rich). The mock-poetic style in Deathly Hallows particularly irked me. Harry Potter was an extreme case of 'right place, right time', though. If it had been released later, I doubt it would have enjoyed such success.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Let's wander back toward the thread topic, please.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    Phantasmal Reality;566005]

    I think that depends on what you're trying to learn. If you want to learn how to write beautifully (i.e. pretty prose), then you should probably study literary fiction--you know, the stuff written by academic types who most of us have never heard of. If, however, you want to learn how to craft an engaging story that sells, you have good reason to study popular authors. Their mechanics may not be the best, sometimes downright horrible, but their books sold for a reason. And if you really want to cover your bases, no one's stopping you from studying both.

    ...i never mentioned learning to write 'beautifully (i.e. pretty prose)'... i said 'to write well'... not exactly the same thing, y'know...

    and to learn what truly good writing looks/feels/sounds like, one does have to read the good stuff... and all good/best writing is not found only in the 'literary' genre...

    some of our 'best' writers have turned out sci-fi [i.e., heinlein, vonnegut, asimov], westerns [i.e., grey, mccarthy, mcmurtry], mysteries [e.g., christie, doyle, hammett], adventure [e.g. conrad, burroughs, london], even horror [e.g., poe, lovecraft, koontz] and so on...


    By the way, telling someone to study the "best" writing by the "best" writers doesn't mean a thing if you don't give some kind of example. (Who, exactly, are these "best" writers?)

    anyone who wants to be a writer should have some knowledge of who the 'best' are... most of us are introduced to them in school... see above, for just a few of those who are generally regarded as the 'best' in their field

    That's like someone coming to you and asking, "What kind of car should I buy?" and you saying "A good one." Doesn't help them much.

    don't you think you're exaggerating somewhat?... besides, i didn't say 'a good one'... i said 'the best'... and even with cars, would you not consider some makes 'the best' without having to be told which they were?...
     
  24. averylynne
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    averylynne New Member

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    i agree with all the advice posted here. but I must put in one word of advice myself. you say you have "...have a few ideas, a few possible starts..." so do as a published writer once informed me to do. Do a mind dump. sit in front of your computer, pad of paper, type writer, whatever instrument you use and let all those ideas come forth from your mind as they enter it. doesn't matter if the ideas or blurps are from a story you are intending to write just let the creativity flow. if what you write from your brain dumb or free writing, then put it in a book or a folder for later at which you can refer to it for the story you want to write or for another down the road. Sometimes a brain dump or free write helps get the creativity flowing. once it's flowing pull in the reins a tad bit and see where your creativity takes you when focused on the project at hand.
     
  25. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would love to be a professional baseball player, but don't know where to start. I'm not sure I have the talent, or drive, but I would like to try. Can you give me any help getting from A to B?

    If you asked that question, instead of how to write a novel, would the nature of the advice be any different? No. You would be told to start with components of the skill. Batting. Fielding fly balls. Fielding grounders. Running bases. Bunting. How to steal. Reading signals. Positioning for right-handed or left-handed batters and pitchers. And once you begin to learn the elements of baseball, then you must practice, practice, practice...and then, practice some more, until you get it right. Even after you get really good, then, you must beat out all the other baseball players (writers) who are competing for a coveted few spots at the professional level.

    Can you do it? Are you willing and prepared to invest the time and repetition necessary to move from novice to semi-pro to pro? Is your ego strong enough to handle the failures? Failure ALWAYS accompany growth.

    Of course, you won't know the answers until you try. So, where do you start? Obviously at the basics, but does that mean "short stories"? No. Should you attempt novelettes, novellas or novels? No. What about short articles? Again, no. The shortest "story" you can tell is in one sentence. Start there. Learn to craft a single sentence that tells a story.

    Hemingway's famous shortest story ever was, "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn."

    Look at this thread. It was an outstanding exercise in writing "a story" in the fewest words possible.

    http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=19912&highlight=shortest

    Notice how some of the one-line stories provide vivid imagery, action and some conclusion and with very little description. So, where do all the vivid images come from? The reader supplies the imagination. The writer merely provokes the response in the reader.

    I would suggest a parallel process to develop your writing skills. I agree with mammamaia, that "watching" the best ball players will help you understand the level of performance that is needed to make the "pros". At the same time, you need to begin your training at the most fundamental level. Individual sentence structure. You might try your hand at writing some of these one-sentence-stories. They're fun and stimulate creativity. Then, do the same with short paragraphs. See if you can tell an entire story in a paragraph. You might even want to subject those brief tales to critique on this site. See if they create the desired impact with your readers. Over time, you will develop the skill to string paragraphs into longer stories with more complex characters and plots. But, in my opinion, it all starts with a single sentence and that's where I'd start.
     

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