Writing a novel can be a huge undertaking but there are so many important things to consider before putting pen to paper or fingertips to keys. Here are my top 8 writing tips I always consider when I start a new project.
Make Sure Your Protagonist Has an Overarching Objective
It may be something you hear all the time but in all honesty, I believe it’s one of the most important things any novel needs and it just so happens to be one of the things most aspiring writers tend to miss. Regardless of what happens in the novel, your main character will want something by the end of the story. This something has to be tangible, and by that I mean physical, like getting a promotion or getting a girlfriend.
If your protagonist has no objective, it can often feel like they’re just going around in circles and doing really meaningless things, only to allow the plot to happen around them. This kind of storytelling can feel pretty boring and lazy. Make sure your protagonist is being proactive and striving for that objective.
Make Sure Your Protagonist has Motivation
Again, it’s something us writers are told to have in our novels, but what is motivation and why is it important. Many writers think motivation and objectives are the same thing. The difference is, motivation is the emotional reason why your protagonist wants the objective.
For example, your main character may want a girlfriend because he or she wants to feel loved. See how easy it is there to think motivation is the same as objective? Some writers may feel like “wanting love” is an objective in itself, but it’s too emotional and abstract and it needs something physical to finish it. Motivation deepens your protagonist and makes them more believable.
Make Sure Your Protagonist Has a Past
The protagonist’s past is what leads to their motivation. Back-story can always be fun to write because it gives you a chance to make your character even more believable all whilst adding something dramatic and terrible to spice up your main character’s plight.
The back-story must always be the leading cause of a motivation, for example, a character may be motivated to find love, because their parents were never loving to them and used to beat them up all the time. It’s dramatic, heartbreaking and terribly entertaining to have a protagonist with a scarred past. And with a dramatic back-story it also leads to…
Make Sure Your Protagonist Has a Flaw
A flaw! A flaw is so important as to not make your character too perfect. We as writers have a tendency to fall in love with our characters, and so we make them utterly perfect and beautiful, but the truth is, nobody wants to read about a perfect flawless character because they’re just too darn boring.
Make your character difficult to get on with or make them cowardly so they shy away from danger. Good storytelling is all about drama and bad things that happen, and your protagonist has to be a cause of some of that.
Make Sure Your Protagonist Has a Character Arc
What is a Character Arc you ask? Put simply, it’s how your main character goes from being flawed to less flawed, or having a false belief to shedding that false belief. A character arc is all about your main character developing and learning something.
By doing this, we as the readers can feel satisfied with the outcome at the end. If you have a character who stumbles and makes mistakes and terrible awful dramatic things keep happening to them, it’s fun at first but towards the end, if they fail to overcome a flaw or show no development whatsoever, the reader may feel cheated for having stuck with your novel the whole time only for their to be no satisfying emotional pay off. Is your protagonist stingy and mean? Perhaps make him kind and giving at the end.
Stakes are the Heart of Tension
Giving your protagonist an objective, motivation, a dramatic past and a flaw they must overcome is all very good. Having these elements makes sure your character isn’t boring. But to ensure that the plot isn’t boring, your character is going to need stakes. Put simply, stakes are all the terrible things that will happen if your protagonist doesn’t achieve their objective or objectives. By having something bad happen if the objective isn’t met, then we as the reader are not really going to care so much for the character in question. For example, let’s say Bob needs to run for the bus.
In Scenario 1, if bob misses the bus, the stake is he’ll be late for work, oh dear, can you feel the tension? But in Scenario 2, if Bob misses the bus, the stake is he’ll be late for work and he’ll get fired because it’s happened too many times and his boss has threatened him. And if Bob get’s fired he won’t be able to pay his loan shark, and if he can’t pay his loan shark then Bob will be murdered! Oh deer, poor Bob. As you can see, the more bad things that will happen (stakes) the increase there is in tension.
When I write a novel, the easiest way for me to create a big pay off is to work backwards. By that I mean think of the ideal scenario you want at the end of your story. Does the hero defeat the villain in an epic showdown only to be hailed the ruler of the land? Is the rampaging monster finally taken down only to crash into a building?
If you can think of the ideal ending to your story, it can be an easier task to work backwards from that. A big problem for amateur writers, myself once included, was not knowing where their final destination would be. Many writers have a cool idea at first but won’t know how to finish it and therefore may write a book that’s way too long, or give up not knowing how they’re going to end the thing.
Write What You Know and Research What You Want to Know
Too many times I come across the saying “write what you know,” and quite frankly it irritates me all the time: especially if you’re a young writer. I know I wanted to be a writer from a really young age, and even though I wasn’t very smart, I was still intelligent enough to know I didn’t know enough about life to write a book when people told me only to write what I knew.
I may as well have written a book about my walk to school and back. The reason why we hear this so often is because writers always produce their best work when they are well informed about the topics they’re writing about. But that doesn’t mean writers don’t have interests in other topics. I for one have an interest in robots but goodness me I have NO idea how they work. But that isn’t to say I will never include them in my novels, it’s just worth taking some time to research them so you can portray a certain topic accurately.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas at how you can also start your own novel. I know there are many more elements to writing a book, and this here is only a fraction of them. But in all honesty, if believe if you have these elements at least considered, then your writing will be more organic and you’ll enjoy the writing process more so.
Do you have any other writing tips you want to share with everyone, please go ahead and put them in the comments!
Happy writing. x