Three rules for writing a novel

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

So said W. Somerset Maugham! What do we think? Are there really no known rules for writing a novel? Are any we are offered merely opinions that will not necessarily apply to us? I’ve been thinking about this and here are my – not three, but six.

Consistency: Keep running notes of who did what and when, or, plan as you go. Even if you hate planning, it is important not to contradict yourself within the text while you are writing the novel. Unless you have a perfect memory, you must keep notes of pivotal incidents in your novel. These will become blatantly obvious on the read through but if you forget even one small detail or make an error, it could mean making a lot of changes later on.

Avoid clichés: “Suddenly, out of nowhere” is an incredibly vague descrption as is “out of the blue”. Coin new phrases, they stick with people if they are succinct whereas stock phrases pass in and straight out again.

Make it flow: Using words with nine or more syllables and pages and pages of dense reams of text describing an open field might win you awards but most readers will be impatient at your You need to hold your readers attention for 300 or more pages so why make them feel they are running through treacle when they read your book? Why slow them down? At the end of an evening’s reading session I want to think “blimey, did I really read 100 pages today?!” NOT “what the hell? How did I only manage 20 pages, felt like 200!” It can be quite dull reading about a character’s every move as they walk up to a door, turn the handle, step into the room, close the door again, cross the room and back out the other side UNLESS these actions are specifically designed to create tension when the reader knows what awaits.

Always believe you can write better: I’m not talking about unhealthy perfectionism but always be sure to identify the flaws in your own writing so that you become better at correcting those errors the next time. Also, be sure to identify that the piece of work you have written is as good as it is ever going to get.

Be a reader: The best way to identify your own bad writing is identifying what you personally do and do not like as a reader and then avoiding or removing those flaws from your own work. Since I started reviewing books on this blog, I feel that my fiction writing has improved and I’ve identified my own bad writing quite a bit in the last few months editing my old short stories. I’m happy with the new articles – it is amazing what reading and critiquing more fiction can do for your own writing skills.

Have passion: Quite simply, if you do not love what you write, if it doesn’t excite you how can you expect it to excite anybody else? If you are not sat on the edge of your seat during the action scenes, if your sex scenes do not turn you on, if your scary scenes do not have your pulse racing, or if the death of a villain or the success of the protagonist doesn’t touch your emotions how will any of those things have the desired effect on anybody else?

Over to you…

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3 thoughts on “Three rules for writing a novel

  1. mrmonkey1980

    I’d keep it simple. My three rules: plan like a man. Never give up. Know when to stop. Each time I write a story I take the planning a bit more seriously and i think it’s impossible to write a novel without some planning. Secondly, novels are long endeavours and many go unfinished. Thirdly, editing can be a pain but also addictive. Many people want perfection. You have to stop somewhere though.

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