10 handy things to keep in mind when writing
My first attempt at novel writing
For as long as I can remember (probably since high school), I wanted to write and publish a fiction novel. More than ten years ago, I started writing one. I never made it past page 35. Why not? Well, my storyline and characters were not developed enough and I couldn’t figure out how to go further. In my head it was a great suspenseful book!
In 2017 (the year Canada celebrated its 150th), I was inspired to write and illustrate childrens’ books about Canada. In 2018 and 2019, I published three: My Great Canadian Adventures and my series – Winter Moose Visits Montreal and Winter Moose Visits Alberta. Check out: www.CanadianAdventureBooksbyMonica.com
I loved that experience and will continue to work on my Winter Moose series, but I still long to publish a novel.
Ding! An idea.
I knew I wanted to write a fiction book based on my parents’ lives, because their stories are so crazy and unreal. But again, the problem was, I didn’t have my “catchline” to get me going. Suddenly when I was driving one night in February 2019, I had my “Eureka” moment – the first sentence of my book. That first sentence was all it took to start the brain gears turning. I am more than half-way through my manuscript now.
While I knew my general story line, spinning a whole story out of it would be a challenge. I realized that I had to breakdown the task, by brainstorming and jotting down my preliminary ideas down on paper. The writing process can be overwhelming and daunting – but rewarding too. If you ever read, David Usher’s “Let the Elephants Run” (a great read by the way) – when faced with writer’s block, David recommends that you just start writing. In my interview with my friend, Tony Wong (writer for the Toronto Star), he suggests the same thing: “My advice is just to start writing. Get something down on paper. It might not be your best stuff, but good writing is really in the re-writing.”
Is reading the same as writing?
I don’t think so. Even though I have read so many books, I found that writing is something different altogether. When I was trying to organize my chapters, I realized that I had no idea how to do it effectively.
I am by no means an expert writer, but I did some research online about novel writing. Here are a few things that I found really useful to keep in mind when writing my own novel.
10 things that I keep in mind when writing
- Draft an outline for your book. Spend some time jotting down some rough notes about your storyline, story setting, mood and characters. When I read the first short chapter of my book to my 6 year-old, he asked me to stop because it was “too scary”. That means that I was successful in setting the “mood” through the choice of my words. You can update your outline when you feel you need to build your story more.
- Don’t be over-wordy. Unless you really need to be wordy, keep your sentences as concise as possible. Example: The spring flowers looked really lovely with the sun shining brightly on them. Try: The sun shone brightly on the lovely spring flowers.
- Keep sentences short. Run-on sentences like the example above are not only hard to read, but are hard to follow as well. When reading books with long and overly detailed sentences, I find myself needing to re-read. Often I set aside those books because I can’t get past the first chapter.
- Work on catchlines. English is a great language as each word means something and can convey a deep message. Here’s a line from one of my poems titled, A Whisper: “time is like the steam rushing to escape the kettle…only to be left with none.”
- Create cliff-hangers. Cliff-hangers are not only for the end of a book in a book series. Make your reader want to flip the pages quickly by creating suspense at the end of each chapter.
- Develop your characters. Write down as many characteristics for each person as possible. Think about their temperament, passions, weaknesses, etc. It could be helpful to write down a description of what your character looks like physically and to explore their nervous habits or movement (such as jerkiness).
- Chapter character revelations. Your protagonist can go through ups and downs every chapter. Maybe at the beginning of a chapter you think they are succeeding, then at the end, there could be a set-back – or vice versa. For example, a shy girl is overjoyed as she overcomes her stage-fright during the rehearsal, but then she finds out that she is cast out of the play.
- Create a suitable environment for writing. Find your own space. Pick a time of day that you can channel your creative juices.
- Copy edit. You can ask a trusted friend to read your finished manuscript. You may not want to do this too early in the process, as the expectations may be too high. There are professional copy editors as well, who for a fee, can provide you with a lot of excellent feedback. I found that copy edit was a very important part of my childrens’ book publication process. My grammar is not as good as I thought!
- Don’t beat yourself up. If you haven’t written as much as you hoped for, or get stuck – just give yourself some space. Find some inspiration. Then get back to work.
In this thing called life, an idea may strike – but it’s the hard work that produces your final written piece.