So, in parts 1-3 of ‘Confessions’, I’ve covered the pitfalls of writing a first novel, how to avoid falling foul of ‘writer’s confusion’ (that’s my own phrase, thank you very much), and how to stick to the target of completing your novel.
Today’s blogpost is brought to you with the collaboration of fellow writer Tom Benson, and the number 4 (that’s Part 4 to you).
With a little help from your friends
Recently, I approached Tom Benson, self-published author of Ten Days in Panama and Beyond the Law to ask if he had any useful tips for helping with the novel-writing process. He said that, for him, making use of certain tools and ideas makes the whole concept of writing much simpler. He passed on this list, which he produced during the writing of his novels, which I thought you might find it useful too:
*Make a simple timeline, whether it is set as days, months, years or whatever suits you best. A timeline combined with a synopsis is a real asset from beginning to end.
*Cast of Characters may sound obvious, but keep it handy:
It will help avoid the duplication of names or similar sounding names.
It will also help to remind if a character appears once for no good reason – get rid.
*Zodiac signs book. If you haven’t got one, it’s a useful tool for ideas on characteristics, personal likes, dislikes – and even star signs.
*Baby names book. A good one will give a range of nationalities.
*The Yellow Pages is good for both names and trades/professions.
*Body Language book. Say no more, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, fingers crossed.
*Fashion Catalogue. In case you’re no good at putting together an outfit. (Though remember, don’t describe too much of what your characters are wearing. Your reader doesn’t care.)
*Be aware of the ‘chewing gum on the mantlepiece’. This is where the writer makes a mention of something, (like the aforementioned chewing gum), but it serves no purpose in the story, and is only mentioned in one scene. It could be a person, a vehicle, animal, anything. If it doesn’t serve a purpose – leave it out.
*Page Numbers from the outset. They work in your favour in two ways:
As a navigational aid when editing on screen.
As a navigational aid when you’ve printed off several pages or a manuscript for editing.
*Obtain a perpetual diary. You can use it to define any date with the correct weekday.
*www.historyorb.com is a great site for checking out information.
*Consider writing the beginning and end, then work on the rest. It may work for you.
*Know every detail of your main characters as if they were real. You won’t be telling everything, but you must know everything.
*If you intend to use a location in the past, double-check its situation/condition at the time. I had to alter a date, because a meeting place I used was closed for refurbishment when the two characters would have met there.
From my perspective, I particularly like the idea of the zodiac signs book, the body language book, and the baby names book. I spend too much time fretting about names, and gestures, and characteristics when I’m writing. These are great tools which will surely help. I’d also say that when you’re flicking through the books, they’ll also generate ideas for future characters.
So, stop distracting me. I’ve got a novel to finish
My own novel is approximately half-way there, though I’ve got lots of concerns about how I’m going to tie up all the individual strands and subplots together. It’s in my head – can I get it onto paper? Will it all fit neatly together? I’m putting all that to one side for now, though. The writing’s the focus. Improvement later.
In the meantime, I hope that both mine, and Tom’s, experiences and advice will help you with your own novel writing.
I’ll let you know how I get on with the second half of my novel, which will (hopefully) be finished in December.
Watch this space.