A Novel Idea

I’ve recently embarked on a new journey into the world of novel writing!

Every November, there is an event called NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November, and even though that sounds impossible, this is actually a wildly popular event. In 2021, I decided to try writing a middle grade novel, but gave myself a more manageable 30,000 word goal. (I had read the middle grade word count “sweet spot” is around 40-45,000 words, so I thought 30k was a good start). It took a little while to get used to not having the word count restrictions I usually have with picture books and short stories. Being able to world build, craft backstories, and create B-characters was a lot of fun.

Although I didn’t finish the novel in November, I did eventually type the words “The End” in August of 2022! Wow, what a feeling that was!

Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  1. Of course the #1 piece of advice everyone will give you, is to read as many stories as you can in your chosen genre. This holds true whether you are writing a 500-word picture book or a thousand page epic fantasy adventure. Unless you’re Stephen King, there are industry standards.
  2. Your characters will surprise you and even take you in a new direction. Let it happen! Sometimes you just have to trust your creative instincts. I was writing a scene where my main character knocked on a door. I thought I knew who was going to open that door — boy was I wrong. It turned out to be a whole different character I hadn’t even planned for but who ended up definitely needing to be a part of the story.
  3. Don’t get stuck in “edit mode”. Editing is extremely important, but you can’t edit a blank page — you need to write it first! I found myself continuously editing the same chapters over and over rather than writing anything new. I work full time and I’m a mom, so when I’m able to carve out some writing time, I need to use it to WRITE. So, I allowed myself to re-read the previous chapter to get back in the “voice” of my story, but I did NOT allow myself to edit that chapter.
  4. An article I recently read said before you finish writing for the day, make a few notes about what you want to happen in the next chapter, so when you start to write again, you’ll remember what you were planning. (I wish I could remember where I read this! If I find it again I’ll come back here and edit this.) I love this idea and am definitely going to try this in my next book!
  5. Talk to your characters when you’re not writing. (It doesn’t have to be out loud). Learn everything you can about your main character. I used to say “Izzy, what would you do here?” or “What will you do next?” This was her story, not mine.
  6. Each character should have their own personality and voice. I wanted my reader to be able to identify who is speaking without needing a dialogue tag. I did this in small ways. There are three siblings in the story I just finished. The older sister is a little bossy, so I found places I could play that up. The younger brother is funny. I tried to capture him breaking the tension with a funny sentence here and there. The best friend is a bit of a nerd, so he had a habit of spouting off facts when he was nervous. I even tried to capture this in their text messages. One kid never abbreviated words and even used punctuation, while another used “B” for “be”, “U” for “you”, etc.
  7. If you’re stuck, try handwriting some notes. This helped me immensely when I had writer’s block. I wrote possible scenarios of what could happen next: If I do THIS then THIS will happen. What are possible negative and positives of going this route? I think this helped me decide where to go next without wasting a lot of time typing big scenes I would later have to cut. I also wrote down anything I thought would be a loose end, and made a note of how I wanted to resolve that particular problem later in the story.
  8. Each chapter should have its own beginning, middle, and end. Not to the same degree or detail as the overall story’s beginning, middle, and end, but something needs to happen in each chapter to move the story forward. I’m used to writing shorter fiction, so the very idea of a novel-length word count was very daunting to me. Instead, I focused on each chapter, one at a time. I also always tried to end on some sort of a cliff-hanger to make the reader want to keep turning those pages!
  9. I decided early on that I wanted to write short chapters for this story, because I like to read books with short chapters. I feel like short chapters keep the story moving… and it’s easier to make it to the end of a chapter when my eyes are too tired to stay open. (This is a personal preference and might not work for every genre or story). So, I set a 1,000-word goal for each chapter. Some are 700 and some are 1200, and that’s okay, too.
  10. Find a group of beta-readers that will read your story and offer critiques and then shower them with thanks. I know my beta-readers made my story better! They were able to see places that I needed to expand on, parts of the story that didn’t quite make sense to anyone outside of my own head, and found silly typos I missed.

I’m sure there’s more, but I’ll stop there. I’m definitely still learning myself, so if there’s something you found helpful on your writing journey, let me know!

Happy writing!

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