I sincerely wish I could write another novel in the near future. Unfortunately, right now I need to focus on other things. Still, I feel like I have no end of advice for the author in me starting anew, or any other writers out there embarking on their first book. I’m very proud of Io, but I would definitely do things differently the second time around.
Anyway, here are some tips that I really wish I’d known/bothered to pay attention to when I first started!
- Plan! FFS, plan! Yes, I know there are some famous examples of people who don’t use one and achieve great results, but do yourself a favour and at least try to lay it out properly to see if it works for you before going off-piste. I planned very vaguely, then set off hoping everything was going to sort itself out. It took me years to get my plot in line and even now it’s not perfect. A heavy-duty plan will shed light on basic impracticality and logical inconsistencies that may not show until such points are integral and difficult to lever out of the narrative. My book took me a very long time to write and a serious plan would have saved me literal months.
- Some conventions are there for a reason. Now I’m a firm believer that rules are meant to be broken, especially when it comes to being creative. However, a strong understanding of the effect this is likely to have on your reader is vital. For example, there is a reason the long held trope of ‘shallow nobody undergoes hardship to become caring hero’. This is what people expect, and setting yourself against this is not to be undertaken lightly. I cavalierly aimed to fart around with the standard fantasy narrative, but I almost regret it. I certainly wish that I had had a better idea of the forces I was playing with before I began.
- Written dialogue is not the same as real dialogue, nor should it be. I have always striven for natural speech in my writing. Unfortunately the fact of the matter is that human beings spend most of their time talking about bus timetables and supermarkets (or the fantasy setting equivalent). I learned the hard way that too much ‘umming’, ‘erring’, ‘hmm-ing’ and ‘ha-ing’ is a sure-fire way to scupper decent dialogue, no matter how realistic that might be.
- Remember you don’t have to get every thought you’ve ever had into one book. Just because it’s a stroke of genius doesn’t mean it’s going to work in your current project. How many films have you watched and come out saying ‘It could have been great, but they tried to do too much’? Listen to your inner smartarse. Which leads into my most important point…
- Sweet Zombie Jesus learn get familiar with the delete key! I cleared out the study shelves a couple of months ago; I had to heft stacks and stacks of notebooks jammed with characters and ideas that I toyed with adding, or even put in only to cut out later on. A certain amount of chaff is inevitable, but seriously, there’s a limit. If you have a promising idea but no idea how to use it, by all means note it down, but don’t shoe-horn it in where it’s not welcome.
- And finally, don’t pay too much attention to know-it-alls on the internet. No-one else’s rules need apply to you. One person’s mistake may well be your triumph.