Today I’m teaming up with the wonderful Alyssa Carlier of Random Morbid Insanity, to discuss some tips for writers in all stages of their novel, from the initial planning and outlining, all the way through to polishing your manuscript before submission.
Before the first word hits the page, many writers spend a long time thinking about their novel. This early stage can vary in complexity, and there’s a variety of approaches.
Here’s what Alyssa had to say:
Give your main character a clear motivation (why they’re doing stuff), goal (what stuff they want to do), and stakes (what they’ll lose if they fail or succeed). This will avoid your character wandering around for no purpose or reacting instead of acting. For a more detailed explanation, check out Janice Hardy’s post of what motivations and goals are.
Here are my own thoughts:
I tend to plan out my world, often using character profiles and timelines, with notes on various entities, people, organizations etc. I also plot out rough ‘milestones’ that the novel needs to hit, such as important chapters, character decisions or deaths.
I plan my chapters, detailing the overall plot in each chapter, along with the progress of the individual subplots. I have a bad habit of skipping over my original plans – that’s okay, as long as I stay focused on the eventual milestones.
Getting the words actually on paper is harder than it sounds. The ‘blank page’ can be intimidating to many writers, and persevering through doubts and writers’ block can be the hardest part of all.
Here are Alyssa’s thoughts:
Put together some multimedia for inspiration. Pinterest boards, Tumblr quotes, 8tracks mixes. These can help you build an emotional base for your scene and visualize your story. I’ve even blogged about essential elements in writing playlists.
Here are my thoughts:
The blank page can be terrifying, and sometimes I just freeze up, not knowing what to write or how to direct my way out of a scene. I tend to believe that if a scene is difficult to write – and I mean, if you have been struggling in vain for hours to crack it – then it’s not the right scene. Choose another way to move your characters through and around their obstacle.
Remember – the first draft is meant to be rewritten. Don’t focus on quality here, but instead, on writing your way towards the end.
Many novels go through at least two or three draft versions – and often entire rewrites – before they’re in a suitable shape. When it comes to editing your existing work, here’s some tips about how to approach it.
Ah, the dreaded revision process. There’s only one thing I’ll say here: critique partners, or CPs, are your saviours. CPs are other writers you swap chapters with and give each other detailed critiques, and an extra pair of eyes will spot some glaring plot holes you’ve missed. To find out more about the CP trade, take a look at Ava Jae’s vlog!
And from me:
I actually find editing more painful than drafting, as I’m never sure what I should be removing or adding. I create a list of things that I know should be fixed, and make sure that every component of the story is vital and important. There shouldn’t be superfluous explanation or backstory that has no relevance to the plot.
Oftentimes I skip over character interactions during my draft, and my revisions are usually about increasing the amount of dialogue, improving character thoughts and relations, and ensuring continuity between chapters and events.
When the final draft has been completed, it’s time to polish that manuscript until it shines. This is the last step before you present the finished work to an agent or publishing house, and oftentimes, the last-minute tweaks are the ones that can inspire agents to take a leap of faith with your novel.
Here’s what Alyssa has to say:
Don’t underestimate the power of robotic copyediting tools like Editminion or HemingwayApp. They’re really handy for spotting those adverbs you carelessly missed. And passive voice can be used less too. At the same time, don’t overestimate that sometimes a one-dollar adverb is better than twenty-dollar verb, and a ‘complicated’ sentence might be needed to mix up your rhythm. These tools are just flashing neon signs at possible errors; you choose whether to change it.
Here are my thoughts:
Polishing is your last chance to perfect your novel before you submit to an agent. You shouldn’t have any doubts about content, plot, place or characters. If you do, now is the time to fix those things.
Some people are worried they won’t know when to ‘stop’ polishing – when you feel like there’s nothing left for you to do. When you know that the opening chapter will grab you, when your critique partners have run out of things to criticize, and when you confidently feel like you have done everything you could for your book – then you’re finished.
The most important thing in the writing process is to never give up on yourself. While that might be the most over-stated (and under-appreciated) sentiment out there, you need to believe in your own work.
Which of these writing tips have you tried or are going to try? Any tips of your own to share? Alyssa and I will be around to answer questions in the comments, so don’t be shy!
Alyssa Carlier (@AlyssaC_HK) is a high school student in Hong Kong. She doesn’t have a day job, but at night she breathes ink and paper and Kindle. In between bouts of writing, she dabbles with laboratory bacteria and blogs at RandomMorbidInsanity.blogspot.com. She sends exclusive experiences on her writing process to her newsletter subscribers, because who doesn’t like bonus takeout?