Tuesday, September 8, 2015

10 How to Write a Novel (and Actually Finish It!) in 8 Simple Steps -- Plus a DAMAGE DONE by Amanda Panitch Giveaway

Writing a novel isn't magic. I'd like to say that anyone can write a book--and truly, almost anyone can. The trick is sticking with it, making it good, and getting it published.

Ah, there's the rub. Frequently when someone asks me "How do you write a book?" what they're really asking is "How do I get a book published?"

There are a thousand ways to answer that, but the most honest one is that once a book is at a certain level of competency, no matter how good it is, or how many books you've written or previously published, sometimes luck is what separates a book that gets a book deal from one that doesn't.

You can't control luck. But there are a number of things that will make it easier if you want to write a book that has a chance of traditional or successful indie publication. You can boil that down to eight basic steps.

  1. Think of market appeal before you write. I don't mean you have to outline or suddenly become a plotter. I mean that at the basic level, you have to know why your book should be published. Why would someone think it is worth spending money to purchase? Here are some questions to ask yourself.
    • What's your story question? This really boils down to the reason that readers would buy your book--and why they keep turning the pages. What is it they need to find out? Will Character succeed in XXX? 
    • What are the stakes if your character fails? Think of this as why the reader should care.
    • What books would your books be shelved with at the bookstore? Is it primarily a teen romance? A teen fantasy adventure? A work of literary fiction?
    • What two books most directly compare to your idea? You can put this in terms of a "meets" that will help you focus. Compulsion, for example, has been called Romeo and Juliet meets The Raven Boys or Beautiful Creatures meets the Body Finder by my publisher, or Romeo and Juliet meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil meets the Sixth Sense by an agent I respect. The School Library Journal called it Romeo and Juliet meets Gone with the Wind. I think you get the picture. The meets is a shortcut way to describe the book, and the sooner you do it for yourself, the better. 
    • How is your idea the same but significantly different? You don't want to write the same book that's already been written. So what's your twist? What makes your book unique but at the same time familiar enough to appeal to readers.
  2. Have an idea of at least the seven basic plot points. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, you'll find it helpful to think through the essential architecture. You can always change them as the story evolves, but you will get to the end faster when you have at least a core game plan. Also, because basic architecture truly exists in almost ever single story ever written, you'll save yourself a lot of time thinking it through at the beginning. Sure, you can wing it. But your planning time will be put in as revisions later. One way or the other, before you write or after, here's a basic architectural blue-print to get your started:
    • Opening image and inciting incident--where does your story begin? At what point does something critical happen that launches the story events? That's the inciting incident. But don't start right there. Back up just far enough from there to give readers an image of the protagonist's life before things go wrong. What do they need to know to setup the character, the setting, the situation, and the story question, and the stakes for failure? How will this before show readers how your story is different from similar stories and why they will want to read it?
    • Point of no return--what's the first big thing the main character does that turns the direction of the story? After the inciting incident that jump starts the story, there must be an action that your character takes that sets her on a path that inevitably leads her into the rest of the book. It's best if this is something the reader isn't going to expect. 
    • Reverse course--what's the big change of direction in the middle? Everything your main character did in the first half isn't working, so what decision/action/growth does she undertake in the mid-point that reverses her course and sets her off in a different direction? This can be an emotional change or a physical change, but the reader shouldn't see it coming. It's a BIG change.
    • Victory is snatched away--why does your protagonist think she's about to win, and who does that go horribly wrong? What makes your protagonist feel like she's about to solve all her problems only to have something go drastically and unexpectedly wrong in a way that readers didn't see coming? This is also known as a twist. The bigger the twist the better!
    • Surviving the black moment--how and why does your protagonist get through the dark despair after victory is snatched away? How does she apply what she's learned so far to get herself back on the path to eventual success (or even greater failure)? What turns her into the person she will become? Why might she be able to succeed now where she failed before?
    • No holds barred, no quarter given--what's the final BIG confrontation that changes what we think we know yet again and determines success or failure for the protagonist? 
    • Closing image--how does success or failure impact the protagonist and how can you show us a snapshot of that so we know how her life and situation has changed?
  3. Write. Or write not. There is no try. Yoda is wise in all things, so put on your best Yoda voice and repeat that sentence several times before you sit down to write. Talking about writing is not writing. Blogging about writing is not writing. Thinking about writing is not writing, unless you are thinking mindfully and being very specific about a particular aspect of your story. Writing questions about what you're writing is perfectly valid--that's valuable and leads to forward progress. Progress doesn't have to be huge. Fifty words. A hundred words.  SOMETHING. Hold yourself accountable. As long as you add even a word or two every day, the book will eventually be out in a first draft. Don't worry about making it perfect at the drafting stage--that's what the revision process is for, and you can't revise what isn't yet on the page. 
  4. Get thee a critique group. Join a professional writing organization like SCBWI (The Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) or RWA (Romance Writers of America) etc., and use their mechanisms to help you find people online or local to you with whom you can exchange manuscripts. Make sure they are at least as determined and serious as you are.
  5. Get thee some perspective. Once your manuscript is written and your critique group has helped you revise and polish it up, find several beta readers who will be perfect honest with you--this does not include your family, your best friend, your babysitter or employee, or your dog. And whatever they say after they've read your story, listen to their opinions, say thank you very much, and put it all away for two weeks or a month and then read your manuscript again and really think about their suggestions. Revise. Polish. Revise. Polish. Rinse repeat. 
  6. Craft a kick-butt query letter that explains the wonderful stuff in points one and two. You can find lots of information here on Adventures or elsewhere online about how to craft a query letter. And here's the truth. If your manuscript is ready to be submitted to an agent or publisher, the query letter is easy to write. If you can't make your book sound interesting or marketable, it probably isn't interesting or marketable enough. In which case, go back to item one above and start over again. Not looking for an agent because you want to indie pub? That's fine, but don't skip this step. Write your cover copy. If you can't make it sound appealing while honestly describing what's inside the covers, you're not going to want to spend the money on getting the book published--at least not yet.
  7. Make up a list of agents who represent books similar to yours. Know WHY you think they'd be a good fit for your book, and be prepared to include a sentence or two about those reasons in the introduction of your query letter. Armed with your query and shiny first pages, submit your query to eight or ten agents. See if you get requests from at least twenty percent of them. If you do, then your query letter and idea are marketable. If you get requests but no offered, your idea is marketable, but your pages still need work. Go back to step two and start there.
  8. Write something new. You grow as a writer with every manuscript that you have mindfully written. If you're not having any luck selling your first manuscript, write a new one. That doesn't mean you have to give up on your baby. But once you have multiple babies, you'll have more perspective and better skills.
Writing a novel isn't easy. It's not for everyone. And the truth is, not every novel is going to be published. You have no control over that part of the process. 

What you can control is getting the novel written and making it the best that you can make it at this particular point in your life and your career. Don't hold out for perfection. Perfection doesn't exist.

Success for writing a novel is measured only by your life and your story. If you get to the point where you can type "The End," that's worthy of celebration, and whether your novel ultimately finds a home with a traditional publisher,  get's put out in the world as an indie publication, or gets put back in the drawer of your desk will not change the fact that YOU wrote a novel.

You've got this. You CAN write. Now go on, have faith and give it your best shot!

What's YOUR Story?

What are you working on? Tell me in the comments below! Have you started working on a book? Have you been writing for a while? Do you have a story in the back of your mind?

This Week's Giveaway

Damage Done
by Amanda Panitch
Random House Books for Young Readers
Released 7/21/2015

22 minutes separate Julia Vann’s before and after.

Before: Julia had a twin brother, a boyfriend, and a best friend.

After: She has a new identity, a new hometown, and memories of those twenty-two minutes that refuse to come into focus. At least, that’s what she tells the police.

Now that she’s Lucy Black, she's able to begin again. She's even getting used to the empty bedroom where her brother should be. And her fresh start has attracted the attention of one of the hottest guys in school, a boy who will do anything to protect her. But when someone much more dangerous also takes notice, Lucy's forced to confront the dark secrets she thought were safely left behind.

One thing is clear: The damage done can never be erased. It’s only just beginning. . . .

Purchase Damage Done at Amazon
Purchase Damage Done at IndieBound
View Damage Done on Goodreads


  1. Great tips here! And so true about timing and luck. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for the tips! I'm still rolling around ideas in my mind so far....

  3. I wish I was a writer, maybe someday.

  4. I sometimes think about it, but never put pen to paper.

  5. I've started on several ideas but haven't finished anything. Maybe one day.

  6. Thanks for the tips, I will probably print them. I am hoping to participate in the next Nanowrimo. Still working with the idea and hoping to having a story from beginning to end.

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