follow a rookie writing his first novel

Archive for the tag “review”

Happy birthday blog

Well, here we are, a whole year has passed since I started this blog. I thought I would take a time out to review the progress so far. I have to say that if this was one of my old school reports it would probably read ‘could do better’ (which, by the way, they often did).

When I started this novel I thought (naively perhaps) that within the year it would be a done deal. There I would be, living it up in the Seychelles or somewhere similar, just popping home to do the odd chat show or attend a posh dinner. Having it all and then some.

The reality is though that I am just short of half way through the first draft. If this were ‘The Apprentice’ it would be the greasy spoon and recriminations for me, rather than the treat. Never mind; we are where we are.

So, what to do.

As I see it, here are my basic options:

PLAN A – Just keep plodding on as I am. An appealing option as it requires little or no thought (and thinking makes my head hurt). The downside is that at this rate, by this time next year, I’ll be about 80% through the first draft and another whole year away from the finish line (Seychelles and all).

PLAN B – Get a personality transplant. I think I’ve referred to my complete lack of urgency (aka bone idleness) before. It’s not entirely my fault of course, its in my genes. You see I managed to trace my family tree back to around 1460; well, my dad did or rather to be honest about it, he started and had the good fortune to stumble across someone who had already done most of the work. Anyway, the reason we can go back that far isn’t because we have noble connections, but rather that our family comes from a very small village and seems to have stayed there. In point of fact it took the family three hundred years to move seven miles up the road to the nearest big town – way to go! So you see, I come from a long line of procrastinators so what’s a boy to do? The pro’s of this option are I could have the thing finished in a fortnight and the cons are its science fiction and anyway, I rather like being me!

Plan C – The Homer Simpson option – As the great yellow-skinned man says ‘If at first you don’t succeed, give up, because it’s obviously too hard and do something else.’ Trouble is with this option, my Taurean nature steps in and says once I’ve started I will see it through to the bitter end – even if it kills me.

On balance then, it looks like Plan A has it and so you’ll be stuck with me and my blog for the foreseeable future. Onwards and upwards…



What do you like in a novel?

For some people it is the genre. A book just has to be crime/ romance/ fantasy or whatever before they get interested enough to read the blurb on the back cover. For others it is the storyline – it either has to be complex/ simple/ linear/ multiple strand or whatever before they reach for the wallet. For my friend I had this conversation with it has to have deep rich descriptions – well, each to their own I say.

For me, well, frankly its the language that matters most. A book just has to have those phrasings, often in metaphor, that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It can be pretty much any genre, it just has to have a plot (although I’ve read some really good writing that pretty much doesn’t) any plot will do, but without the clever turn of phrase it doesn’t really do it for me.

I know this is unfashionable at the moment, and the emphasis seems to be on short simple sentences. I don’t care. Last week, full of intent to write loads, I foolishly picked up a book by Ian McEwan – Enduring love. Its sort of about a person who is being stalked by someone with de Clerambault’s syndrome – maybe. Anyway, the writing is sublime and it ate up my week; ah well…

So, what does it for you. What is a ‘must have’ for your ideal novel?

To Plan or not to Plan…

So this week I’ve been looking at planning out the novel…..or not. From the books I’ve read so far it seems a pretty even split between those authors who do extensive planning prior to actually writing and those who do very little on the grounds that it might stifle their creative input.

I sort of see what the non planning camp is getting at; We might start out with a perfectly sound plan, but while writing it may become apparent that a particular character wouldn’t really do what we planned, however if we have planned something we tend to stick with it and end up with unrealistic character action.

My take is that I will plan; but if the plan becomes unrealistic I’ll adjust it. I have a project management background so using plans as a ‘living document’ (don’t you just hate jargon like that) is second nature. My worry is that without a plan – and in particular an ending that makes sense and is satisfying, the whole thing will just meander around or peter out.


So, I planned it out and have 18 steps to the novel. I wrote a couple of steps up and they averaged out to around 1500 words each – that’s a problem, because 18 x 1500= 27,000 and I need at least 80,000 words. I’m not going to worry about this yet, but it does indicate that I might need more sub plots, or fill out some of the characters. Apparently it isn’t too uncommon a problem but I would love to hear from anyone who has faced this and what they did when they got there.

I also read the book ‘The Novel Writer’s Toolkit’ by Caroline Taggart this week. The parts on writing the novel are pretty much the same as I’ve read before but the section written by agents and publishers was most useful. In addition, there are sections on actual publishers and agents with fabulous information on what they each are looking for, how they like work submitted etc – the book is worth its modest price just for that alone.

I’d also like to hear from anyone who has used an iPad in conjunction with Evernote and/or Scrivener, when their main computer isn’t a Mac but a PC – are the documents accessible from both platforms?


How to books

I thought a good place to start would be to do some reading around how to write a good novel.  My previous experiences with writing anything of length tell me that you can’t just sit down and rattle off 100,000 words or so (yes, I found out that is the average length of a novel these days) from start to finish.

I’ve read half a dozen books or so this week and they are fairly consistent with their advice – more to follow on individual themes as I proceed.

In my humble opinion there is one stand out book though that is brilliantly written, clear, methodical and just all round, well brilliant!  That is “The story book” by David Baboulene – a must read if you’re thinking of writing a novel, screenplay, or anything else.

Also worth a mention is “Writing the paranormal novel” by Steven Harper, which I really liked and is especially useful if your book (like mine) will contain a paranormal element.

The next issue I’m going to address before getting stuck in to the writing, is what to write with.  For work of this length a standard word processor is really a non starter.  I find any work over 15,000 words too unwieldy in  this form.

I’ve come across a software package called ‘scrivener’ which looks promising, so I’m going to look at that next.  If you’re already a user of this on the PC (rather than Mac), I would be grateful for your thoughts.

BTW, the other books I read are:

How to be a writer – Stewart Ferris

Your writing coach – Jurgen Wolff

How to write and sell short stories – Della Galton

How to write a novel – John Braine

and I’m part way through How to write damn good fiction by James N Frey.

Let me know if you would like an opinion on any of these….

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