Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writing Your First Novel

Check back here every Wednesday for a few thoughts on the craft. Here are today's:

Wednesday's Writing on Writing...

We at the Christian Writers Guild are excited about our annual Operation First Novel contest. The deadline is October 1, 2010. Are you hard at work on yours? Remember, first prize is $20,000 and a publishing contract with Tyndale House.

Three suggestions for a smoother, more successful process:

1. Set personal deadlines.

There is no secret to meeting a deadline. As an inveterate procrastinator I set a realistic daily page quota. I divide the number of pages I expect to be in the complete manuscript by the number of days before the deadline. I know how many pages I can write a day, so as I get closer the deadline, I keep refiguring, knowing I must not wind up with too many pages to write in too few days.

2. Outline, outline, outline.

Among experienced novelists, about half outline and the other half wing it. An outline will help keep you focused on your goal and keep the story running smoothly. But don’t feel handcuffed by your outline. Let it serve as a guideline. Fiction is organic and should be allowed to grow on its own. As I write I find out where the characters take me, where the plot wants to go. That’s how it works.

3. Show, don’t tell.

The movie Mission to Mars included one of the worst examples of exposition I’ve ever seen. The viewer watches a backyard barbeque the day before the astronauts leave for Mars. But instead of allowing us enough hints to get the situation, the scriptwriters decided to move the plot along with conversation.

It was almost this bad. Here’s my paraphrase: “I know you feel like you’re the commander of this mission only because your best friend died 12 years ago and then told you on his deathbed that it’s up to you now.”

Talk about subtle. That could have been shown in a flashback or in normal conversation with someone who didn’t know the history. Rather, we were force-fed the story. Give your reader some credit. Let him figure things out for himself.

Here’s a final tip about page one of your novel. Introduce the main character early. If he or she is not on the scene in the first page or at least talked about, you may have a problem.

With so many other books competing for attention, that first page had better grab the reader’s attention.

All the best with your entry.


Barbara J. Robinson said...

Thanks for the information and encouragement!

Barbara J. Robinson said...

My main character is introduced early and is on the scene in the first page.

Kristina Petrella said...

Thank you for the advice! I appreciate it and will apply it to my writing!

Mary said...

Thank you for the advice! I am in the revision part of my novel, and most definitely hope to submit it.

A book should almost ALWAYS start with the main character. After all, that's why the reader picked up the meet the main character.