Top Novel Writing Tips

Below are six of the most important novel writing tips to help make your novel a success. This is just one of many pages on this website with advice on how to write a novel. At the bottom, you'll find links to more pages about the elements of fiction and creative writing techniques.

Top tips for writing a novel:

1) Write a one-sentence summary. Try summarizing your novel in one sentence. Imagine you're writing the blurb on the book jacket. If you're not sure how to describe it in one sentence, your ideas might not be focused enough yet.

2) Know what you write. Creative writing teachers always say to "Write what you know," to take advantage of your personal experience. That's a good strategy, but if you really want to write about something outside your own culture and experience, then you have to do your homework. Research it, imagine every detail until you know it like your own living room.

3) Make your readers care. The easiest way to make your novel matter to your readers? The secret isn't to write about "important" themes such as war or death. The news of someone's death doesn't matter to most people unless it's someone they know. So the secret is to create characters that feel to your readers like real people that they know. Then put your main character in a situation where he has a lot at stake. He might lose his job; he has met the love of his life and has to win her; he might or might not get that sports car he's always dreamed of. The situation doesn't have to be "important" in an objective way. But it has to be important to the character.

4) Don't include everything you know. The more information you know about your characters and the setting of your novel, the more real you can make these for your reader. But your reader does not want to read a complete biographical profile of every character or census report on the town where the novel takes place. If you keep all this information in your head, you will be able to use the right details at the right moment. And the reader will have a sense of a reality that goes on beyond the edges of the page.

5) Create the scene. Some information is better summarized. Does your character, Jane, come from a long line of doctors? It's probably okay to say this in a sentence, instead of following each one of them day-by-day through medical school (unless that's supposed to be the subject of your novel). But if your novel is about Jane's marital problems, and Jane finally decides to confess to her husband about her affair, your reader wants to see and hear that confrontation. Don't just mention that Jane makes a confession. Show the reader what she says. Show what her husband answers. Show their body language. Show their daughter walking in on the fight. Show the orange juice stain on the wall after Jane throws her glass across the room.

6) Don't push your characters around. At every moment, ask yourself, "What would this character do?" "What would happen next?" And be true to the answers. If your character is someone who go to bed and cry quietly after a fight, don't have her scream and smash things instead just because your plot outline requires it. Don't force things to happen because you want your novel to go in a specific direction. If you do, your readers will notice the difference. Hemingway said that every writer needed a b.s. detector. Make sure that yours is working overtime. So you have a rebellious character who doesn't want to take a certain path? In this situation, you have two options. Either fire that character and rewrite your novel with a new one, or choose a different path for your novel.

Photo credit: Mimi Thian @ Unsplash

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