Tag Archives: novel-writing

Breaking the 10 Simple Rules for Writing a Novel

Maybe check if you’ve got paper first…. (Writer John, by Onomatomedia. (Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0))

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. — W. Somerset Maugham

 Well, while surfing the net I stumbled across a lovely article advising people on how to write a novel in 2012 – you know, if that’s your New Year’s Resolution or something. And some of the advice is good. You really shouldn’t try to write a book based on what topic you think is “hot” right now (vampire novels are probably going to get stale pretty soon, by the way), or get distracted about what the “proper” way of going about writing is. But while lists like this usually bring up some decent points, there are always a couple rules that can be ignored or broken without hurting the novel too much.

For example, I’ve read numerous books that included the phrase “laughing eyes” or “warm eyes,” and have been guilty of using such phrases myself. Now, I don’t RECOMMEND you use the phrase, and I should probably re-edit several passages where I use the phrase. But I’d just like to point out that some editor probably noticed the poor author used a hackneyed phrase on page 282, and the book got published anyway. Remember, Twilight included the sentence, “He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare,” and it became a best-seller. My point is – you can’t predict this kind of stuff.

To take another example, a widely quoted review of Lord of the Rings complained both the work AND the characters were “anemic and lacking in depth.” You know how writing advice goes on and on about how you can’t have flat characters in your work? Well, as much as I love Lord of the Rings, I can’t claim the characters are the deepest things the literary establishment has ever seen. That, and the book goes through pages upon pages of description, poetry, and random characters that pop up and are never seen again. A classic? You bet.

Lastly, I’m going to mention Harry Potter. These books captivated me as a kid. I still have fond memories of them (though, sadly, I can’t love them as I once did). But some of the plot twists in them don’t exactly make much sense. The first book practically ends in a deus ex machina, just after a couple of kids get through protections that are supposed to keep the evilest wizards alive out. And the fourth book – tell me why the whole caboodle with the Triwizard Tournament really was the easiest way to get Harry to Voldemort? That’s still one of my favourite parts of the series, by the way.

So I feel better about the chunk of the list I’m planning to ignore. I’m not going to start outlining every story I write, because my mind doesn’t work that way. Shoot, I don’t even outline blog posts or university papers. I’m not going to shoe-horn a sex scene into every book just because it’s a “part of life.” And I never, ever have a title for my works till I’ve written a good part of them.

I guess my point is, readers and publishers overlook many, many faults in novels. Writers get nervous, because there’s absolutely no way to predict which faults they’re going to overlook. Perfectly reasonable, but you can’t let that stop you, and you’re never going to achieve perfection anyway. Just keep writing.


Ever read a novel yourself that broke all the rules but was fantastic anyway?


(Yes, finishing my current work-in-progress is one of my aims for 2012, but I really don’t need to finish another novel. I need to get the ones I have finished in publishable shape, and submit them. I’ve got so many stacks of writing, because apparently I find writing itself far more fun than the mundane reality of trying to get a book published. But in 2012 – who knows?)


Filed under Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, On Writing, Twilight

Update on the Splayed Novel

As you can see from the picture, my organizational system for keeping track of the plot of my novel is getting unwieldy. (For comparison, see the picture in this post). On the plus side, I am one tenth of the way through! The trick now is to not bog down in the middle part, but to keep my excitement going all the way to the end. I can’t believe I wrote a novel in eight weeks once, it seems to be taking a lot longer this time around.

For fun, I’m going to look at some of the tropes I’m planning to use. Go ahead and see if any of the tropes seem familiar to you (from other books, movies, etc.) “Tropes” are devices used by writers as a kind of storytelling shorthand, usually because of audience familiarity with that type of story (yet tropes are not clichés – click the link for more explanation). All trope descriptions listed below are from TvTropes.org, and are linked to the specific page.

The plot of the novel probably falls under the heading of “Romantic Comedy.”

1.) Heroes Want Redheads

From TvTropes: “Love Interests have always been Color Coded for Your Convenience. Traditionally, the hero’s significant other would usually be a blonde, to contrast with the brunette Vamp or Femme Fatale. But today, the passive Distressed Damsel have been replaced by a sassy, bold, brash, sharp-tongued heroine — easily compatible with the “spunky Fiery Redhead” stereotype.”

–       I was going to make my main character blond, but then I realized I’ve written tons of blond main characters (possibly because I am blond?) But I want her looks to indicate she’s popular with the guys – think Cheryl Blossom in the Archie comics. Ellie doesn’t quite fill the whole trope description though. While she’s a bit sassy, she’s more bubbly than sharp-tongued, though she does love to take down the Insufferable Genius (see below) a few pegs…

2.) Single Woman Seeks Good Man

“Frequently they’ve been burned by a previous lover; and generally they’ve matured. But it is not necessary. Any heroine who finds the hero attractive exactly for his more admirable qualities falls under Single Woman Seeks Good Man. This can range from liking his sense of humor, to appreciating his poetry skills, all the way to his Heroic Sacrifice.  Immature and hormonal souls may wonder What Does She See in Him?, but the heroine is much more likely to end up happy this way.

–       This is Ellie. She’s gone out with a string of jerks, and just wants to meet a good guy. She hasn’t exactly matured yet though…

–       She was attracted to her last boyfriend, Leroy, because of his “Good Man” qualities. Unfortunately, that relationship is currently on the rocks. Just one part of why Ellie’s life is currently spiralling downhill…

–       The “immature and hormonal souls” in my story are the rest of the “Good Man’s” friends, excepting the “Insufferable Genius,” who has other problems.

3.) Insufferable Genius

“At first glance, the Insufferable Genius appears to be exactly the type who’s doomed to learn a lesson: he’s very talented, knows he’s very talented, and doesn’t mind telling you repeatedly what a talented person he is. But the difference between him and your standard loudmouth is that he really is that good, and when placed in a difficult situation he can actually work his way out of it — so maybe he does have a right to brag…”

–       Writing this character amuses me. I didn’t know pretending to be a know-it-all could be so much fun. No wonder insufferable geniuses do this.

–       This trope leads to another trope known as Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness – using long words. Finally, a chance to use the words in my vocabulary that make other people stare blankly at me!

–       The Redhead, Ellie, drives my Insufferable Genius up the wall. He can’t figure out why his roommate ever went out with her…

3.) Nice Guy

–       This is Ellie’s last boyfriend, Leroy. His “niceness” is why she likes him.

4.) Those Two Guys

“Two characters, usually in a school setting, to be the mundane Greek Chorus. They may or may not be snarky, but they are completely ordinary. Often the best friends of the main character.”

–       To round out my group of friends are a couple characters (actually three, not two) who could be described as “Those Two Guys.” You know, just to fill up the empty spaces. They might get filled out a bit more, or get some minor subplots, or get cut entirely by time I finish. We’ll see.

–       They are useful for snarky insights into the main characters, though.

5.) The Power of Friendship

–       Can Ellie remain friends with the group, when her relationship with Leroy, might very well be over?

6.) Perpetual Poverty

“Despite always being desperate for cash, food or other supplies, some people never seem to actually run out. They might always be desperate for money, but somehow manage to live in the same house for the duration of their story, never getting kicked out once. Or they might always complain about being hungry but never starve.”

–       Another one of Ellie’s problems

So there you have it, a very brief idea of what I’m working with. Hopefully this will be enough to pull me through the other nine tenths of the novel! What about you, are there any projects you are currently working on?


Filed under On Writing

Luck of the First-Time Novelist

Guess my Statistics course was good for something…

Conventional wisdom in the writing world says that it takes at least three published novels to establish your name in the public eye. Don’t even think about quitting your day-job until then. But then, while leisurely reading the morning newspaper, I come across the name of Shilpi Somaya Gowda, whose first novel sold 300,000 copies in the first twelve months alone. Then I wonder, what’s the secret?

Because, while conventional wisdom may be accurate for the middle of the bell-curve, you’ve always got the extremes to think about. On one hand you’ve got workhorses like Diana Wynne Jones, or Stephanie Grace Whitson, who churn out books and become well-known but not household names. On the other, you’ve got phenomena like J.K Rowling (who lived off benefits until Harry Potter hit it big-time), and potentially Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Or even Margaret Mitchell (who wrote Gone with the Wind) and J.D Salinger (who wrote Catcher in the Rye) – two authors who only published one novel in their life, and yet said novels are incredibly famous.

I haven’t read Gowda’s book (entitled “Secret Daughter,” in case you were wondering), but I’m going to say there’s probably no reason she doesn’t deserve to be successful. The thing is, there are most likely hundreds of hard-working novelists out there right now, producing brilliant books which never see the kind of success Gowda found. What makes the difference? As someone who hopes to be publish a novel someday myself, is there anything I can do to reduce my chances of slaving away in obscurity?

Why, oh why, do some novelists strike it and some don’t? If I can figure out this pattern, I can turn my first novel into a sure thing.

Dream on, Harma, dream on.

The life of a writer is a bumpy road, full of unpreditabilities.


Filed under Gone With the Wind, On Writing

Yes, That Is My Novel Splayed All Over The Walls

This is my current workspace:

And that is AFTER I spent a couple hours last night organizing my notes. Since I have a lot more free time (in theory) than I do during school, I am trying to get a large chunk of writing completed on my latest novel. I’m posting this pic because I like how it displays the messiness of my thought processes.

For a long time I didn’t have a dedicated place to write. Since I can write just about anywhere, I didn’t see a need for it. But it is useful to have a place to spread your stuff around without having to pack it up all the time.

Where do you write? Do you tack your story ideas to the wall (bulletin board) just like me, or do you have a better system?


Filed under Randoms & My Life

Fantasy Clichés–Avoided!

OR, Not Another Prophecy About ‘The One!’

I just ran across this list of tired, overdone clichés in fantasy novels, and decided to post it up here. Since, after all, I didn’t get a proper post out on Thursday…

I was SO surprised to see the fantasy I’ve started posting on this blog doesn’t fall into too many of the clichés… which means it’s got a few original elements in it, I guess.

Here are the first couple items:

  1. Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?
  2. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?
  3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it?
  4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
  5. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?
  6. How about one that will destroy it?
  7. Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about “The One” who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?

The rest can be read here.

But I will be the first to argue that re-telling an old story is not always bad – see this previous post of mine. Also, this page on TVtropes sums it up quite well. But clichés can be quite tiring and irritating, especially in fantasy.

What about you? If you’ve ever tried your hand at fantasy, how many of these traps have you fallen into? And do you think any of these so-called “clichés” can still be useful for writers?

Check out Why Polly? to see for yourself if I avoided any of these clichés!


Filed under On Writing, Why Polly? Extras