And if you have already written one, you might still find these ideas helpful
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of attending a learning session sponsored by the self-publishing platform Lulu, which I am sure many of you are acquainted with. They were sponsoring a talk on how to write a novel, specifically “creative prompts to help you improve as an author.”
The talk was delivered by a writer from the UK writer community “Daily Prompt” which you can find at dailyprompt.co.uk.
Disclaimer: Kindly note that I have no relationship with either Lulu or Daily Prompt and have not been asked to write a review.
The talk began with some concepts that have worked well for me…the idea of understanding the story arc—what is the journey that you are describing (whether moral, physical, emotional, spiritual), and being able to articulate it to yourself as a starting point. This is quite different from the view outlined in Stephen King’s book On Writing, which is a superlative book on the craft. I have never read a better one. I can’t stand his fiction work, but this book is exceptional, and there is no denying that he is one of the greatest and most prolific writers of our lifetimes. Stephen King starts with a spark, an idea, which can be so simple, and then he takes it, and runs with it, until it becomes completely pathological. Stephen King’s books have sold more than 350 million copies. Yes, you read that right.
I digress. What both Daily Prompt and Stephen King would agree on is the importance of writing and being disciplined about it. Write every day. Write even when it isn’t convenient. Carry a notepad and pen everywhere, because those quirky little thoughts you get, will be soon forgotten, if you don’t write them down. Daily Prompt suggests a minimum daily goal of 500 words. I set myself a daily goal of 2,000 words. I don’t always make it, but on most days I do. 2,000 words means that you have written the rough outline of a novel every single month. Who cares if its crap. The point is, writing is like exercise, you need to do it, to hone the machine. A book is 10% first draft, 90% editing. You will be incapable of editing if you are not a writer who has put in the hours. Full stop.
Helpful tips from Daily Prompt
These are ten tips that were discussed on the talk, with personal embellishment, and I think they are all relevant and useful.
- Write a 100-word description of your main character’s physical appearance. Are they tall or short, old or young, garrulous or quiet, how do they stand or walk, what are the quirks, scars, defining features, how would you recognise them in a crowd?
- Write a descriptive narrative about the world your novel is set in…is it the past, the future, or today, what is the climate, is it dystopian, tropical, cold, what are the rules it has?
- Detail the average day in the life of your main character. What are they doing when the action is not on? What crosses their mind? How do they behave? What is their reality?
- Consider the main locations throughout your story. Make some notes about where they are, how they get back and forth…is it hot or cold, how do people get around?
- Consider the first scene that the reader will see the main character appear in…now write a story about what they were doing just before this.
- Choose an event from current news and place your character somewhere in the story
- Take your main character out of your book. Who is left? What are their lives like with the absence of your protagonist? Do they have adventures of their own?
- How is your novel unique? What aspect of it most embodies the story that hasn’t been told?
- Write a paragraph on each of 3 auxiliary characters who would appear in the book. Are they allies or rivals? Permanent or fleeting? What are their traits?
- Define who your ideal reader is…who are you trying to speak to?
- Write the dust jacket blurb for your book…what might be that thing that draws buyers in? What are the main plot points? What is the purpose of the story?
- Consider where you would like the tale to end. Now write a story detailing what happens the day after that final moment…
Of course, the danger with all of these prompts is that you spend so much time thinking and writing about writing rather than just cracking on, that you never actually crack on…and not all of them will ring true for each of you, but these and other ideas are potentially good ways to help you understand the richness and subtlety of the world you write about, and when your characters are in 3D in your head, what they say, how they act, and the flow of the story tends to be much smoother…so in that sense, this is quite helpful.
The other thing that Stephen King would say is that you can’t write if you don’t read. Read obsessively. Read whenever you can. Always carry a book.
Let me know if you do any of this.