My Rules For Writing A Novel

Okay, let me be the first to say that I’m probably not the correct person to ask for advice on novel-writing. But, as someone on the verge of publishing his second novel, I’ve been asked for advice by emerging indie authors and figured I should really sit and think about what works for me, and offer that my advice.

1. Write a story you’d love if someone else wrote it 

I’m a big believer in the idea that you should write a novel that would be your favorite if someone else had written it. If you have a favorite author who inspires, think about the novel you’d love for them to write, and write it yourself. If you love your story, others will too.

2. Write love interests you’d fall in love with if they were real people

I think this is self-explanatory, but if there’s a romantic plot or subplot to your novel, the best way to make that romance feel genuine is for the love interest to reflect the qualities you admire and are attracted to in a partner. That doesn’t mean if you write a dozen novels with a love interest that each one will be the same. Far from it. The love interests in my two novel, Alli and Kaylee, are very different people, with different backstories, interests, and attitudes. Yes, there are similarities between the two, but for the most part, they are are unique characters, each with their own set of qualities that I find attractive.

Also, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be flawed characters either. Your characters should not be perfect personifications of your ideal mate. Characters need flaws to be realistic. You shouldn’t be afraid to have these characters dabble in behaviors and attitudes you don’t approve of. No one is the perfect mate.

3. Write multiple arcs to help move the story forward 

One thing I realized from reading a lot is that a novel needs multiple arcs to be interesting and to keep your attention. Both my novels feature multiple story arcs that occasionally bump into each other. Not Dressed, for example, is both a romantic comedy and a workplace comedy. In addition to those primary plots, there’s a sibling rivalry arc that is generally a minor plot point until the last third of the novel, but it’s still very important. 

4. Don’t share your novel until your first draft is done

For me, writing a novel is a private process. I don’t discuss details with anyone, or share snippets of my work until after the first draft is written or even after a preliminary edit. You are writing your first draft for yourself, not for the readers, and your writing process should be unsullied from outside opinion until you got the story down in it’s complete, but rough form.

Once you’ve done the first draft, let your trusted beta readers have at it to point out its strengths and weaknesses.

5. Write with the knowledge you’re gonna cut stuff out.

Editing is part of the process. When I finished my first novel, Not Famous, it was over 104,000 words long and I couldn’t imagine cutting a signal word. It ended up around 94,000 words after my beta readers helped me identify areas that weren’t necessary. Eventually, editing actually became fun for me because I knew that the tighter the novel was the better it would be.

6. Write in whatever order you want.

Some authors write from start to finish. Not me. I write out of order, as scenes come to me, and then piece everything together afterward. There’s no right or wrong way. I just happen to find it easier to write what I’m inspired to at a particular time, not to write in the order scenes are supposed to appear.

7. Don’t write with an agenda.

Fiction lets people escape from the real world—so let them. Everyone has an opinion on various issues, but if your story feels like you’re pushing an agenda, it can easily overshadow your story. Write for everyone, not just people who agree with you. Even those who do agree with you might be turned off. Your characters have their personal politics and religious belief systems, and that’s important to who they are and how you developed them, but don’t alienate your audience—especially if you’re an indie.

8. Dialogue and action don’t always cooperate in real life, so they shouldn’t in your novel.

I’ve been told I write realistic dialogue. I attribute that mostly to the fact that in real life, people struggle to come up with words on the spot, and get interrupted by other people and events. That’s just how it is. I think this is something that many authors do not reflect in their writing. Everyone, for the most part, gets their point across before someone else speaks or something happens. The phone or the doorbell almost never interrupt dialogue. Is that how real like works? I don’t think so. I like to incorporate stutters, awkward pauses, and abrupt breaks into my dialogue because that’s how it usually goes in life. Not everyone has the perfect punchline either. Dialogue and action don’t cooperate all the time in life, and they shouldn’t in your novel, either.

9. Take a break if it ever stops being fun.

When you’re writing a novel, you’re using your imagination to create a world or a universe. If you’re not enjoying the process, you need to step back from it and allow time to pass to allow yourself to look forward to entering that world again. If you’re not enjoying the process, it will reflect in your writing. I’ve taken breaks from writing, and each time I knew when to come back into it full throttle.

Published by Matthew Hanover

Lad lit author of two novels, 'Not Famous' and 'Not Dressed.'

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